He makes the following points:
- “Charismatic worship” tends to portray the worshipper as very passive, and God as active
- The worship experience as a whole tends to be individualistic, subjective, self-indulgent, and therapeutic.
- As such, it provides an emotional outlet and form of empowerment for women in a church culture where often only men are given official leadership positions
- Love is portrayed in an idealised, adolescent, simplistic manner, and people sing about a fairytale happy ending where God comes along and solves everything
- Related to this, God/Jesus is often portrayed as a Prince Charming-style superhero, who turns up and magicks everything better
- Songs portray Christians less as sinners in need of forgiveness than as unfulfilled people in need of healing. The cross of Christ is almost absent, and is replaced by an emphasis on the majesty and closeness of God.
- Most of the songs talk in terms of I/You, and focus on subjective experience
- The Christian is portrayed as passive in the “Potter's hand”, but this passivity gives no account of suffering or pain – the source of problems is ignored.
- “Lord” is used of God in a way which encourages trust in a community where everyone worships the same God.
- In the end, Percy argues, what we find in charismatic worship is just a sacralised version of a secular culture which is steeped in erotic imagery, where love is like the love you find in a Mills and Boon book – there's no cost, no commitment to working through difficulty and pain, and it's all about feelings and subjectivity.
There are clearly some bones to pick here. To the extent that charismatic worship is erotic, that's nothing new – go read some mystical theology, some Hans Urs von Balthasar some old commentaries on the Song of Songs, or even the Bible and you'll find plenty of (often surprisingly explicit) uses of erotic language to talk about our relationship with God.
I think Percy's more interesting not for the suggestion that charismatic worship is erotic, but for his criticisms of the sort of erotic love that is portrayed – shallow, individualistic, adolescent – these are the things that struck home when I read him. He's describing, I think, quite a particular moment in the history of charismatic worship. The songs I remember singing in the late 80s were much more about being bold and strong, strongholds tumblings down – all weirdly military. And more recently there's been a bit of a shift, I think, towards songs which deal with suffering, "Blessed be your name" the classic example. Maybe the songs Percy talks about are adolescent because so, in many ways, is the charismatic movement, which hasn't been around that long. But still, something there strikes me as quite insightful.
And whether you buy Percy's reading of charismatic worship or not, it highlights the theological element of the songs we sing – the words matter, because they shapes how we see our relationship to God, the church and the world. More meaning, less na na na na na, please.