James K. A. Smith builds on this train of thought. The primary actor in worship is the triune God; if it is not, then the primary actor is me, and worship becomes little more than self-expression where I declare how devoted I am to God. The important thing here, Smith notes, is that worship must be sincere and novel: ‘If I worship in order to show God how much I love him, I might start to feel hypocritical if I just keep doing the same thing over and over and over again.’ (James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016), p. 75). Thus anything that approximates to ‘traditional’ worship is regarded as poor or inauthentic or even as ‘works righteousness’ that tries ‘to “earn” God’s favor’ (p. 76). The problem here, as Smith recognises, is that ‘the worship-as-expression paradigm makes us the primary actors in worship [and] breeds its own kind of bottom-up valorization of human striving that slides closer to works righteousness’ (p. 77, emphasis original).
But if worship is not about me expressing my love and commitment for God, what is it? Smith continues,
Instead of the bottom-up emphasis on worship as our expression of devotion and praise, historic Christian worship is rooted in the conviction that God is the primary actor or agent in the worship encounter. Worship works from the top down, you might say. In worship we don’t just come to show God our devotion and give him our praise; we are called to worship because in this encounter God (re)makes and molds us top-down. Worship is the arena in which God recalibrates our hearts, reforms our desires, and rehabituates our loves. Worship isn’t just something we do; it is where God does something to us. Worship is the heart of discipleship because it is the gymnasium in which God retrains our hearts. (p. 77, emphasis original).
Is it possible that the common but implicit identification of worship with singing fosters an understanding of worship as self-expression? If so, is it time to place less emphasis on the songs, even the hymnody, and focus instead on the psalmody? Or will even this lead to self-expressionism?