Awe: A Vital Bridge Between Science and Worship

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“Perhaps it isn’t the arguments about religious beliefs and scientific discoveries that matter; rather, it could be the attitudes that people adopt. After all, if you consider the stance of believers and non-believers alike towards what is known about our world, and what is unknown, one feature stands out: the vast majority confess feelings of awe and wonder.”

This is how journalist Mark Vernon summarizes a key insight from a gathering “of scientists and thinkers, of various faiths and none” hosted by the Fetzer Institute several years ago. It comes in an article where he considers a variety of approaches to bridge faith and science, most of which he finds lacking.

Science for the Church also considers a wide range of ways we can constructively approach faith and science. We consider the importance of arguments and knowledge, we consider values and attitudes, and we consider awe and wonder.  As you know, we really have doubled down on the importance of relationships through our Standard Model—approaching faith and science through intentional bonds established between the scientists and leaders already in our churches.

We also consider how science can inform the work of the church in the formation of disciples, justice work, children’s and youth ministry, missions, and even worship.

This year, thanks to a Vital Worship, Vital Preaching Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by Lilly Endowment, I expect awe and wonder to feature more prominently as we help churches implement our Standard Model to experiment with science in corporate worship.

The Experience of Awe

Do you know that tingling feeling when you experience something greater than yourself? I felt it the first time I saw a star-filled night sky in Arizona and again standing below the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge. I felt it in high school and college physics courses as I learned the remarkable ways mathematics maps onto the physical world. Nowadays, I feel it watching my eldest daughter round third to score a run, when my middle daughter plays the upright bass, and when my youngest improvs a hybrid dance-gymnastics routine.

That tingling sensation gets me outside of myself, in awe of nature, a higher power, or my amazing kids. It is the same feeling I often get in worship. Sometimes it is during music or preaching when God’s amazing grace feels particularly profound. I’ve also felt it while hearing God speak through a child’s voice during a children’s sermon or when my wife walks a newly baptized baby down the center aisle and reminds us of our commitment as Christians to the well-being of that child.

I invite you to pause and remember moments when you have experienced awe. Maybe you were out in nature or had an insight into how nature works. Maybe it was through family or friends. Perhaps it was a memorable time of worship. Savor those moments; they are powerful reminders of a God that is greater than anything we can possibly imagine. They are a vital part of how we worship that same God.


  • Browse our current collection of resources on awe and wonder as well as those materials we have on preaching and worship.
  • Contact us if you want help thinking about how you might experiment with science in worship.

Vital Worship, Vital Preaching

I’m excited about our Vital Worship, Vital Preaching Grant. It will allow us in 2024 to work closely with five churches to help them partner with science professionals to develop and implement a handful of experiments bringing science to corporate worship. In the coming months, we will share those experiments with you as we seek to inspire others to explore how science can enhance the ways you gather and praise God.

Throughout the year, this weekly missive will feature those congregations and their experiments. We will also bring you interviews with preachers and worship leaders who have experience utilizing science in worship. Finally, the grant allows us to commission a few worship resources we will make widely available.

Altogether, this year we will expand our collection of science-themed worship practices and resources that in the words of the grant program “generate renewed interest and energy for public worship at the local, grassroots level.” We hope that a year from now you will be looking to our collection to find innovative ways you can utilize science and scientists to generate renewed interest and energy in the worship experience of your congregation.

The Focus of Worship

Awe has been described as the experience of self-transcendence. According to the Greater Good Science Center, it shifts “our attention away from ourselves, make us feel like we are part of something greater than ourselves, and make us more generous toward others.”

But the focus of Christian worship is not us or our experience of awe. Nor is it science. Worship is about recognizing God’s glory, proclaiming the truths of a triune God who is our creator, redeemer, and sustainer, and then giving our thanks and praise to our God.

As we wrote in our grant proposal, all our work at Science for the Church is built on the conviction, rooted in the Bible (Psalm 8, Psalm 19, Romans 1:19-20), that God is made known through creation. That means the natural world, the object of science, is a source of revelation that can be brought into worship. It is never the object of worship, but it can inform it and that is especially powerful in an age where many people are more likely to praise science than God.

In his reflections on awe and wonder, Vernon continues, “The impressive scale of the cosmos; the delicate intricacies of evolution; the beauty of the theories derived—not everyone agrees that the heavens tell of the glory of God, but few doubt that the heavens tell of glory.”

Vital worship should recognize that the heavens tell of God’s glory. In as much as science reveals what the heavens tell us and inspires experiences of self-transcendence, it can renew interest and energy in our worship of God. Join us this year as we experiment with what that might look like.

Cheers,
Drew

 

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