Saul among the prophets – an interesting worship experience

Do you remember the Old Testament story of Saul among the prophets (1 Samuel 19)? Poor Saul’s been rejected by God as Israel’s anointed king in favour of the popular hero David, and has begun his descent into madness, badness and dangerous-to-know-ness.

And on this particular occasion, he’s on his way to kill David when he runs into a bunch of prophets who are, well, prophesying. And unexpectedly the Spirit of God comes upon even Bad King Saul, and suddenly he’s prophesying away ecstatically with the best of them for hours on end (and lying naked on the ground into the bargain).

It’s an odd story, and hard to understand. Was God simply protecting David, or was he giving Saul another chance?

The reason I mention it is that just recently I’ve been feeling a tiny bit like Saul among the prophets. Let me explain.

Sliding away?

I kind of hope I’m not following Saul’s overall trajectory, though some evangelical friends might see it that way. What’s certainly true is that for a long time I’ve felt like I’m not really a ‘proper’ Christian, and experiences of church have often contributed to that feeling.

Readers of this blog may also have noticed that my theology has gradually become less evangelical, as I’ve started to question and rethink many of the touchstone doctrines of Reformation Christianity – biblical inerrancy, penal substitution, hell, homosexuality, who gets ‘saved’ and what that even means.

And for a long time I’ve felt pretty uncomfortable with this move. I’ve feared that in shaking off the conservative shackles I may simply be backsliding headlong into apostasy and heresy. Not unlike Saul.

But then, just in the last few months, I’ve finally started to feel more settled. Going to Greenbelt festival recently felt like coming home and breathing the free air – a sense of relief at being among people who think and feel as I do.

Yet at almost the same time another movement has been re-starting in my spiritual life, and apparently in a very different direction. While my theology’s becoming more liberal, my worship’s becoming surprisingly charismatic – again.

Charismatic worship and me

Perhaps it isn’t so unexpected. For a long time I’ve been involved in (jargon alert) ‘leading worship’ in the moderately charismatic, fairly open evangelical Anglican church where I re-found faith 20+ years ago. I took a break a couple of years ago, partly because of life circumstances and partly for spiritual reasons, but just recently I’ve returned. And a few weeks ago I led worship again for the first time in a full Sunday morning service.

If you’re not familiar with charismatic Christianity, worship and worship-leading are big things. The often extended times of worship carry an expectation of entering into God’s direct presence through heartfelt singing, perhaps also with singing in ‘tongues’ and occasional outbursts of spontaneous praise. There’s a belief that the Holy Spirit will move upon worshippers, touching hearts and changing lives.

And it was in this worship context that I first found a sense of connection with God years ago, in a way that academic theology or Bible preaching hadn’t been able to achieve (and still haven’t). I love theology, but it’s in sung worship where I feel I most directly and deeply encounter something of God’s presence. And that’s even so when, as now, I’m not sure I can agree with the words of the songs I’m singing, and even sometimes query the whole theological framework of charismatic worship.

Furthermore – odd as it may sound – I’ve long felt that I’ve somehow been gifted, even perhaps called, by God to lead others in sung worship. In doing so I’ve frequently felt caught up in something bigger and better than myself, and often others have responded too, reporting that they’ve experienced something of God’s presence.

I say all this because right now I find it confusing and contradictory. My mind and my theology have become increasingly liberal (cynical even), but somehow my soul still comes alive and sings in worship. And I’m glad of that but also unsettled by it, unsure what to make of it or do with it.

An experience of worship

And so it was this time. Before the service I felt nervous, unsure of whether I could even do this thing any more, at least with any integrity. But as I gave myself to the music, my doubts fell away and I felt that sense of being caught up and carried along on a greater tide. And the response from the congregation was incredibly positive and affirming. Suddenly I was in a very different role and position to my accustomed (largely self-chosen) one of disaffected and disengaged outsider.

Hence Saul among the prophets. Here’s me, seemingly backsliding, cynical and liberal, unsure if I’m even really a Christian, suddenly leading the faithful in praise, and God’s Spirit apparently showing up.

Now it’s not that I’ve felt no sense of God’s presence throughout my supposed ‘backsliding’ phase. But what made this time different was the church context; the head-on collision between the liberal and charismatic parts of my faith.

Where now?

So do I now simply set aside all my theological questioning and doubts, and plunge back wholeheartedly into charismatic, even evangelical Christianity? Part of me would like to, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

For now I probably just need to accept that there’s something of a disconnect or tension between my theology and my worship; between my Christian head and heart. But maybe that can be a creative tension rather than a destructive one. I hope my experiences of worship can stretch and challenge my theology, and my theological questing can inform and deepen my worship.

Of course I may ultimately need to let go of some cherished ideas, or some beloved ways of doing things, if I’m to be true both to myself and to wherever God may be calling me. In the meantime, perhaps I should just re-title this blog ‘The Charismatic Liberal’… or just start peppering my posts with random Hallelujahs… 😉


About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
This entry was posted in Charismatic, Liberalism, worship and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Saul among the prophets – an interesting worship experience

  1. abideinhim2 says:

    Hallelujah !
    I could have written this (though not as well)
    My journey seems identical .
    Big blessings to you.


    • Wow, very encouraged that your journey has followed a similar path – I was secretly wondering whether I was the only one. Most people I know are either out-and-out liberals who wouldn’t touch charismatic worship with a 100-foot bargepole, or charismatic evangelicals who’d shy away from anything liberal, or conservative evangelicals who are suspicious of anything Holy Spirit-y. Great to know that there are people who break the mould!

      Big blessings to you too 🙂

      Let me hear you say Amen… 😉


  2. Terry says:

    To be honest, Harvey, a lot of your theological stances aren’t particularly unique, even if they’re not cherished among the conservative. But what if you were to marry your charismatic worship leading with your theological leanings by writing your own songs for worship? Then maybe those of us (such as I) could sing charismatic-style songs knowing that we’re not going to be singing near-nonsense.

    (Am I the only person who thinks Good Good Father and TMBG’s I Am a Paleontologist are too similar?)


    • Aw shucks Terry, I thought I was all special and unique – don’t shatter my illusions!

      I guess I tend to hang out in polarised either/or church settings, liberal Anglo-Catholic OR conservative evangelical OR charismatic, and I don’t quite feel I fit in any of them. And a lot of my family and friends are evangelical – in their company, my views feel borderline heretical.

      I’d never spotted the Good good Father / I am a Palaeontologist link but now you mention it…

      Right, off to work on setting the writings of Julian of Norwich to funky upbeat charismatic chord sequences.


  3. Comic City says:

    I appreciate following your story these last few months and encourage you on as faithfully as you can. I am struggling with the phrase “touchstone doctrines”–not because you chose badly, but it doesn’t seem to me those things you list should be evenly weighted (as I suspect you might agree).


  4. Sorry, I was signed in on my son’s account and may have left a “comic city” thought! I’m Brenton from the A Pilgrim in Narnia blog, and I have appreciated following your journey. I’m struggling with the phrase “Touchstone Doctrines.” Are all those things really meant to be equally weighted? Should they be touchstone? I’m not critiquing you as much as thinking through the questions of faith (in set theory, I guess).


    • Thanks Brenton! That’s really encouraging to hear.

      No you’re right, these ‘touchstone’ doctrines aren’t all equally weighted at all, and I was maybe being slightly provocative with that list. I suppose they’re all things that I feel evangelical Christians often get quite bothered about and that I generally disagree with them over. And often evangelical Christianity feels like a package deal – that you have to accept all these parts of it, sign up to the full creed including the less central parts, or you’re not ‘in’. And I can’t any longer sign up to most of the classic evangelical understandings of these issues.

      But if you asked me to choose which ones I’d see as genuinely most important, I’m not sure what I’d come back with! But I wouldn’t see something like a person’s stance on homosexuality as a particularly vital issue, for example.


      • I think this is one of the key questions. A “test of fellowship” may not be a central doctrine. For example, some that appose homosexual practice may argue that even if we live in a system of grace, it demonstrates something else about a person if they choose to sleep with someone of the same sex–i.e., says something about the value of the Bible or morality or whatever. I don’t know how valuable that is, but it is there and it goes up a level, so that someone who is not gay but who isn’t against homosexual practice may be cut off for the same reason. And so on.
        So perhaps they need not be weighted the same.
        However, I’m sort of Augustinian on these points and wanting to draw us to more central questions while allowing more diversity on the outer questions.


        • I’m with you on wanting to focus on more central questions and allowing diversity on the others. I suppose the question then is, what really are the key questions?

          For me, I think everyone has to be allowed space to question even the most central doctrines at times, and I’m not sure it would ever be helpful to ‘put someone out of fellowship’. But there may come a point where someone feels unable to call themselves a Christian any longer, based on their beliefs and practices.

          Liked by 1 person

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