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Old Paths and New Ways

Negotiating Tradition and Relevance in Liturgy


Robert Lilleaasen

The relationship between tradition and relevance is a core feature in religious practice in general and public worship in particular. On the one hand, worship is a bearer of religious traditions, i.e. traditions are maintained in the practice of public worship, and the worship enables individuals to connect with these traditions. On the other hand, it is a quest for relevance in public worship. In order to maintain existing worshippers and attract new participants, congregations have to consider their ability to connect their core values to the needs and expectations of existing and potential participants. This dual purpose of the worship causes a need for negotiation, and it is this negotiation between tradition and relevance that this book investigates. Old Paths and New Ways is a case study of the negotiation between tradition and the quest for relevance in liturgy.

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Chapter Two: Theory


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The research design employed in this study is inspired by Don S. Browning’s model of fundamental practical theology and the Verstehen approach coined by sociologist Max Weber. Browning (1991, 7–8) outlines a “practice to theory and back to practice” model for theological research. This model is derived from the questions arising in the ecclesial practices within the liturgical assembly. The theoretical examinations of these questions are carried out with a view to relevance for ecclesial practice. The study starts from practice and returns to practice. Browning further arranged the traditional theological disciplines into four sub-movements: “descriptive theology”, “historical theology”, “systematic theology” and “strategic practical theology.” The merit of this model is twofold, according to Hegstad (2011, 83): “It attempts to keep the different theological disciplines together in a comprehensive understanding of theology, and it proposes a way of relating practice and theory to each other.”

My analytic approach to the practices of public worship can be summarized as a Verstehen approach. Verstehen was a term coined by Weber, and used by liturgical scholar James Steven in his Charismatic Worship in the Church of England (Steven 2002, 37). According to Steven, the strength of this approach is its suitability for uncovering the relatively subtle and complex social processes of liturgical action. I draw on Steven’s experience in developing the research design for this project on worship practice. By using Verstehen the researcher is committed to...

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