transcendence

Far then Near – Worshipping the Transcendent then Immanent God of Wonder(s)

          Worship pastors and worship leaders have the unique privilege of placing the very words of worship into the mouths, hearts, and minds of the people we lead—an enormous assignment carrying with it profound implications.  We have the responsibility not only of providing the words for the worshiper in the dialogue of worship but also, and more profoundly, of representing God, his words, his actions, his character, and his nature in the dialogue of worship.  We must faithfully represent both sides of the worship conversation—the overtures, character, and nature of the Creator and the responses of the creature.  The very idea that we are called upon to represent God in the discourse of worship should bring us to our knees in humble submission to God and to God’s word.  

            The Christian worship service is spiritually formational; therefore, it is a vitally important event in a believer’s life perhaps only trumped by his or her daily devotional life with God.  Because the worship event is so important and formational, the worship service requires our thoughtful care and attention to the meticulous details of planning and preparing the drama of the worship dialogue that will be played out Sunday by Sunday in churches throughout the globe. 

            To tell the story of God well, order and sequence matter.  God was transcendent first before he was immanent.  Convey God’s transcendence first in your worship service, either through song, through Scripture, through prayer, or through a brief reflection about God in his transcendent otherness.  Where you start matters.  Where you start can affect your final destination.  Use the biblical models as your scriptural mandate to provide a theological substructure to your worship that incorporates the rhythm of transcendence then immanence throughout your worship service, but especially at its beginning.

            As we lead our congregations to celebrate God’s amazing work of grace through Christ’s great redemptive act on the cross, we must remember that the cross and the gospel can only be most clearly understood against the backdrop of God’s holiness and his sovereignty, both of which represent profound transcendent attributes of God.  As we tell the story of the gospel, reenact its profound passion, and celebrate the wonder of redemption, we must always remember that the gospel does not begin at the cross but begins squarely with this foundational truth: “God is holy”—arguably the most profound representation of the transcendent nature of God.  The cross of redemption must always be considered through the lens of God’s transcendent wholly otherness in order for the gospel to be most clearly communicated. With transcendence in full view first, the starting point of the gospel becomes God and God’s holiness rather than man and man’s corruption by sin.  As a result, the transcendence of God and the immanence of God in Christ will both be magnified to their appropriate levels of significance.

            God’s transcendence singularly provides the appropriate context for understanding most fully and completely God’s immanence. We must fight modern culture’s propensity to casually bypass the transcendence of God while running ill-equipped to embrace God’s nearness, God’s provision, God’s care, and God’s works on our behalf—all of which will be misunderstood (or incompletely discerned) without the appropriate transcendent contextualization.  How often do we sidestep the mysterious, fearful, awe-full, righteous transcendence of God to embrace him primarily as the one from whom all blessings flow?  Praising God for what he has done is not wrong; in fact we are commanded to praise him for his magnificent work on our behalf.  However, it is a mistake to praise God for his work without establishing first who God is.  Without transcendence perpetually operating in the foreground of religious thought, both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence are diminished leaving incomplete and malformed thoughts about the character and nature of God. Transcendence unlocks the full meaning of immanence and uniquely provides the answer to the question, “who is this God who draws near?”  Immanence prior to or to the exclusion of God’s transcendence weakens the church, diminishes a believer’s capacity to worship rightly, and ultimately creates a picture of God in the minds of Christians that is incomplete, inaccurate, and dangerous.  Likewise, transcendence without immanence renders a believer’s thoughts about God as distorted and his knowledge of God truncated.              

            To reverse the “rush to immanence” propensity of modern times will require effort and intentionality.  We must fight our own acculturated tendencies and inclinations and, as worship pastors, establish the transcendent otherness of God as we call our people to come in fear and trembling before a God who is above, beyond, and other than we are.  Worship pastors, we must ensure that believers understand the God they worship, the wholly other, transcendent God for whom their transcendence-starved souls hunger.  Then, the work of God and the blessings of God (expressions of his immanent care and concern) may be all the more valued and appreciated.


This article is written by Chuck T. Lewis, Ph.D.  Dr. Lewis serves as Associate Professor of Church Music and Worship at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Lewis is also currently serving as Worship Pastor at Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and has formerly served as Worship Pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida.

Scriptural Models of Worshiping the God of Wonders

The Rhythm of Transcendence and Immanence—
Reflections on Christian Worship of the God of Wonder(s): Scriptural Models

(Blog Article Part 5)

As I set out to write about the rhythm of transcendence and immanence depicted in Scripture, I was compelled by the Spirit to read the entire cannon, cover to cover, in one sitting (actually, in one sitting spread out over about three months).  My goal was to discover every Scripture passage relating to the transcendence of God, every Scripture passage relating to the immanence of God, and to discover if the rhythm of God’s transcendence then immanence is a recurring pattern represented in Scripture specifically in personal and corporate worship encounters with God and in prayers offered to God.  If accepted as true, the rhythm of transcendence then immanence should have a profound impact on the development of a liturgical theology that would apply this rhythm to the conception and planning of corporate worship services.  In addition, acknowledgement and application of this descriptive pattern have the potential to influence the mindset of worshipers as they approach God and the entire ethos of worship in many houses of God throughout Christendom.  Here is what I discovered. 

The Bible as a whole moves in a large cycle revealing God first as transcendent and then immanent.  The scriptural authors never depict God as simply immanent; moreover, Scripture does not present the possibility of fallen man to intimately commune with the holy and transcendent God apart from mediation.  Because God is always transcendent first, God's immanence finds its appropriate grounding, definition, and interpretation in his transcendence.  All immanence derives from God’s transcendence.[1]

Though transcendence and immanence are complementary characteristics of God, they must be understood by believers in the appropriate sequence for God to be rightly comprehended.  Specifically, divine transcendence must be acknowledged and understood first in order for the immanence of the divine to be rightly interpreted.  Hence, the starting place for understanding the beauty of divine nearness is the infinite incongruence between God and man.[2]  God is not like man.  Man is finite.  God is infinite.  Man’s life is short.  God is timelessly eternal.  Man is sinful.  God is absolute purity.  Man is frail.  God is strong.  Man’s knowledge is limited.  God’s knowledge is exhaustive.  Man is contingent and dependent.  God is noncontingent and independent.  Man is needy.  God needs nothing.  Man is earthbound.  God is free in every way.  Yet, this God who is independent of the world he created chooses to draw near to his creation, to be active in and with his creation, and to love those he created in his image—in a word, to be immanent in and with his creation.  In the words of Bruce Ware,

The divine immanence is made far more meaningful and can rightly be understood, only when we comprehend the astonishing truth that the God who relates to us is the God who stands apart from creation, in the fullness of his infinite and eternal glory and perfection, needing no part of what he has made, yet longing to give himself to this very world that contributes nothing to his own existence or fullness.  In this sense, then, transcendence takes priority over immanence.[3]

God’s nearness, love, compassion, and condescension can only be properly understood when interpreted against the backdrop of the God who exists “eternally in the infinite fullness of his own intrinsic beauty, truth, joy, goodness, godliness, and all perfection.”[4]  Therefore, the proper sequence of the rhythm of transcendence then immanence becomes vitally important to the proper formation of liturgical theology.  Does this pattern indeed appear in Scripture?  Indeed it does.  In divine-human encounters, the Bible demonstrates a repeated pattern of conceptualizing and understanding God in his transcendent otherness both prior to his immanence and as the framework within which his immanence can only be rightly understood and experienced. 

The rhythm of transcendence then immanence is a dominant feature of the worship scenes and divine-human encounters captured in Scripture.  As the newly emancipated Hebrews were summoned to Mount Sinai by God, his transcendent holiness required them to approach only so far and no farther.  As the temple of God was inaugurated and later reestablished, it is God’s unfathomable transcendent uniqueness, holiness, creator-ness, and sovereignty that form the context for the unimaginable decision of God to abide with his people.  In the interaction between Job and God, we are allowed to listen to God describe himself as one who is unmatched by anything of this world, the transcendent God who is the master architect of the world and who sovereignly, meticulously, and wisely governs every detail of human history.  Isaiah and the Apostle John were given a rare glimpse of celestial divine glory that few have experienced.  They saw the glory, majesty, righteousness, and magnificence of their transcendent Lord and were undone—the brilliance of his holiness unequaled, the greatness of his power and strength unrivaled. 

Not only is God’s transcendence in full view in the worship scenes and divine-human encounters listed above, but also his wholly otherness is proclaimed and represented in the prayers of God’s people throughout Scripture.  The great kings of Israel extolled God’s transcendent timeless eternality, his unmatched greatness, and his boundless power.  They knew their own power was derivative from the one who grants or takes away power and authority.  The prophets understood God as the transcendent, all-wise, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the cosmos whose home is not of this world.  Nothing is too difficult for the Lord of hosts who is eternally boundless and free in every way.

God’s transcendence also forms the backdrop for prayers of lament, confession, supplication, thanksgiving, and benediction.  Likewise, God’s transcendence is an ever-present reality shaping the heartbeat of the Psalms, canticles, and other songs of worship recorded in both Testaments.  God is magnificently majestic—the Most High Lord—whose greatness and splendor are incomprehensible by the human mind.  Sometimes explicit, at other times tacitly acknowledged, the transcendence of God is the biblically attested beginning point for worshiping the God who demands the exclusive and right worship of his people. 

As the Old Testament gives way to the New, Christ is presented in glorious splendor with God—co-equal, co-eternal, and co-transcendent.  While on earth, Christ taught his disciples to pray with the transcendent distinction of God’s dwelling, holiness, and dominion as the appropriate context for how to approach God and how to understand God.  Paul and the believers in Acts saw God as transcendently glorious, infinitely powerful, and utterly sovereign.

Each prayer, each worship scene, and each divine encounter depicts the God of heaven as first gloriously transcendent.  Therefore, it can rightly be said that all biblical prayers—either explicitly or implicitly—are grounded in the reality that God is wholly other than his creation, separate from his creation, and infinitely greater than his creation.[5]  However, this first and supremely important concept of understanding God in his transcendent otherness is indeed the first step of a two-step pattern or rhythm.  God is never only to be understood exclusively by humans as infinitely transcendent.  God is also profoundly immanent.  He is near and with his creation.  He hears and answers prayers.  He feels compassion for those in need.  He dwells in intimate relationship with those he created in his image.  This is an unbelievable truth.  The transcendent God of the universe—the one who needs nothing, the one who is totally and completely independent—graciously chooses to draw near, to dwell with, to care for, to love, to provide for, and to redeem those he elects to be his own.  The God who is transcendent is also immanently intimate.  Yet, his immanence—this love, care, and concern for his people—can only be rightly understood and rightly interpreted through the rubric of God’s transcendence.  If Christians are to properly worship God, they must first correctly understand God.  Therefore, the rhythm of transcendence then immanence is essential to rightly understanding God, rightly approaching God, and most effectively worshiping God.  God’s transcendence gives the proper context for God’s immanent interactions with his people.  When transcendence is understood first and his immanence is rightly understood through the interpretive framework of God’s transcendence, both God in his transcendent otherness and in his immanent nearness is more fully comprehended and, therefore, more fully magnified and more completely worshiped by believers. 

As a result, I conclude that the rhythm of transcendence then immanence should have a profound impact on the development of liturgical theology and must provide a necessary rubric that shapes the worshiping church of the twenty-first century.  In the next two blogs, I will offer some practical implications and application of the rhythm of transcendence then immanence on worship service planning and design.

[1]Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 152.

[2]Ibid., 46; see also 159. 

[3]Ibid., 61. 

[4]Ware, God’s Greater Glory61. 

[5]Miller, They Cried to the Lord, 329.


This blog article is written by Chuck T. Lewis, Ph.D.  Dr. Lewis serves as Assistant Professor of Church Music and Worship at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Lewis is also currently serving as Worship Associate at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and has formerly served as Worship Pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida.  Lewis’s complete research on the rhythm of transcendence and immense can be viewed under the “Complete Dissertation” tab found at worshipdesignproject.com.  Also, worshipdesignproject.com features the findings of a nationwide survey of the largest Southern Baptist Churches in America designed to discover the prime influencers on how worship pastors select elements to be included in their worship services and how those elements are sequenced. 

Defining Immanence Through the Lens of God's Transcendence

The Rhythm of Transcendence and Immanence—
Reflections on Christian Worship of the God of Wonder(s):  Defining Immanence through the Lens of God’s Transcendence

(Blog Article Part 3)

As transcendence is a descriptive term used to characterize the Creator-creature distinction, so also immanence expresses an aspect of the Creator-creature relationship.  Immanence refers to God’s choice to be intimately involved in the world that he created.  Though God in his intrinsic self-sufficiency could have remained apart from creation, in his great love and care, he chose to interact with creation rather than stand completely apart from it.[1]

Creation marked the beginning of non-divine otherness.[2]  All that is can be divided into two categories: (1) God and (2) all that is not God.  All creation stands apart from the prime mover, from the one whom its entire existence finds its source.  The act of creation grounds both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.[3]  God in his transcendence is totally and completely separate from and other than his creation.  Simultaneously, God in his immanence graciously dwells with his people.  The imagery of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple was a vivid reminder to the children of Israel that their God was one who was pleased to dwell with them.  Yet, the temple veil separating the inner court from the Holy of Holies was a poignant reminder that God was utterly holy and wholly other than sinful humanity. 

Though the Bible clearly defines holiness as a characteristic of divine transcendence, God’s holiness is often recorded in tandem with a clear expression of his immanence.  He is not simply the “Holy One.”  He is also described as the “Holy One of Israel” and the “Holy One in your midst” (Pss 71:22; 78:41; Isa 5:24; Hos 11:9).  In his transcendent holiness, God chose to dwell in, with, and near his people.  In the New Testament, Christ was a walking, breathing exclamation that God is pleased to abide with his people.  Christ was Immanuel, the transcendent God who drew near to his creation.  At the moment of crucifixion, the rent temple veil powerfully symbolized the reestablished access to God and the restored nearness to God that was inaugurated at Calvary and will ultimately be consummated upon Christ’s return. 

The story of God coming nearer, a rich and recurring scriptural theme, permeates the whole of the biblical narrative.[4]  From the moment of the great separation of man from God recorded in Genesis 3, the Bible chronicles the journey of God drawing near to his people again with the ultimate goal of being with his people for all eternity in heaven.  In the end, God will be with his people.  The spatial divide that separates God and man will be replaced with intimacy and nearness.  As the psalmist reflected in Psalm 59:10a, “My God in his steadfast love will meet me.” 

A. W. Argyle in God in the New Testament said, “The emphasis of the Bible falls upon God’s activity, God’s initiative, God’s approach to man preceding man’s approach to God.  Both in the Old Testament story and in that of the New, he is an intensely personal God who visits His people and hears and answers their prayers.”[5]  God is always the initiator.  God is the one who moves, comes, and acts in and with creation.  As initiator, God, through a free act of grace, lowered himself from his place of exaltation and condescends to reveal his name, his character, his righteousness, his will, and his love to those who would have never known him apart from his self-disclosed revelation.[6]  God’s immanence is not a divine necessity.[7]  God could have decided never to create or, in creating, to stay totally veiled or aloof remaining detached and disconnected from the world he made.  Yet, his choice to create was voluntary, and his decision to draw near to his creation was also voluntary—a free choice and a gracious act of an involved God.  In God’s divine freedom, not divine necessity, he voluntarily created the world, and he willingly chose to remain involved in that creation.[8]  Nothing intrinsic to God’s nature or extrinsic to his person required him to reveal himself immanently.  The decision to abide and dwell with creation was an uncoerced choice of the graciously transcendent, yet immanent God.[9] 

Ultimately, Christ is the fullest manifestation of divine immanence.[10]  In Christ, God actively sought to restore man’s broken relationship with himself.  In Christ, God incarnated himself in the finite without in anyway ceasing to be infinite.[11]  In Christ, God ultimately and maximally demonstrated his desire to dwell with and redeem his people.  In Christ, we see “the full impact of the revelation of God’s immanent self-relatedness. . . in light of humanity’s sinful rebellion against God and God’s indefatigable and self-sacrificing determination to restore and refashion that relationship to its intended fullness.”[12]

The wonder and significance of immanence is only correctly understood against the backdrop of properly understood and acknowledged transcendence.[13]  In the words of Donald Bloesch in God the Almighty, “God is never immanent without being essentially transcendent.”[14]  For this reason, I believe that God’s immanence is best interpreted as an outflow and extension of his transcendent attributes.  When immanence is interpreted against the backdrop of transcendence, God is appropriately viewed in the grandeur and majesty he possesses.  When the immanence of God is contemplated in isolation, the knowledge of God is incomplete.  When the immanence of God is considered independently, man’s understanding and view of God is diminished.  When the immanence of God is perceived separately from the transcendence of God, the worship of God will ultimately suffer. 

With this in mind, I would like to make a bold statement.  For God to be rightly understood and rightly worshiped, he must be apprehended in the arrayed splendor of one who is first and primarily transcendent and only then as one who is intimately involved in and with his creation.  This concept, this rhythm—the rhythm of transcendence and then immanence—is the framework through which Scripture reveals God and the way men of the Bible meet with God in personal or corporate worship settings.  The rhythm of transcendence and then immanence is key to an accurate view of God, a healthy worship planning paradigm, and a necessary antidote for the 21st century Christian tendency to rush to God’s immanence at the expense or neglect of considering his transcendence.

[1]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 267.

[2]John M Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002), 148.

[3]Rob Lister, God Is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 191.

[4]For a more comprehensive exploration of the story of God coming nearer, see J. Ryan Lister, The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

[5]A. W. Argyle, God in the New Testament (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1965), 11.

[6]David Cairns, God Up There? A Study in Divine Transcendence (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967), 10.

[7]Lister, God Is Impassible and Impassioned, 197; see also 282.

[8]Ibid., 219.

[9]Donald G. Bloesch, God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 24.

[10]Asher Finkel and Lawrence Frizzell, eds., Standing Before God: Studies on Prayer in Scriptures and in Tradition With Essays in Honor of John M. Oesterreicher (New York: KTAV Publishing, 1981), 23.

[11]Bloesch, God the Almighty, 85.

[12]Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 52.

[13]Goris, Rikhof, and Schoot, Divine Transcendence and Immanence, x; and Ware, God’s Greater Glory, 36.

[14]Bloesch, God the Almighty, 24. 


This blog article is written by Chuck T. Lewis, Ph.D.  Dr. Lewis serves as Assistant Professor of Church Music and Worship at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Lewis is also currently serving as Worship Associate at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and has formerly served as Worship Pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida.  Lewis’s complete research on the rhythm of transcendence and immense can be viewed under the “Complete Dissertation” tab found at worshipdesignproject.com.  Also, worshipdesignproject.com features the findings of a nationwide survey of the largest Southern Baptist Churches in America designed to discover the prime influencers on how worship pastors select elements to be included in their worship services and how those elements are sequenced. 

How Do We Define Transcendence?

The Rhythm of Transcendence and Immanence—
Reflections on Christian Worship of the God of Wonder(s): Defining Transcendence

(Blog Article Part 2)

Deus non est in genere encapsulates the motto of the early church fathers: “God is always greater.”[1]  No matter how vast, expansive, or complex the human conceptions of God are, he is always grander than the mind can imagine or language can articulate.[2]  Paul exclaims in Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”  God is always greater.

The difficulty of defining divine transcendence lies in finding or creating human language to describe and quantify that which is fundamentally ineffable and measureless.  Essentially, transcendence is an all-encompassing term that describes the difference between God and all that is not God, between God and all that God created.  Transcendence is central to how God reveals himself in Scripture and foundational to the proper development and application of liturgical theology (I will use the term liturgical theology to describe biblical concepts that govern how Christian worship is planned, approached, and presented).  God is not the sum of all human virtues.  Neither is God a superlative amalgamation of humanity’s greatest strengths or the “highest abstraction of human thought.”[3]  God is supranatural and suprahuman. 

God’s transcendence cannot be defined without also considering God’s immanence.  Although neither term is found in the Bible, transcendence and immanence are foundational concepts woven throughout the Old Testament and intensified by the New Testament writers who characterize God as both the one who is unapproachable and the one who dwells with his people.[4]  He is high, exalted, and separate; yet, he is pleased to abide in the hearts of his children.  God is great and big, though small enough to reside in the human hearts of those he has redeemed.  He is self-existent as well as self-relating—independent of all creation, yet intimately involved with the world he spoke into being.  The idea that God who is absolutely and utterly other than his people would also dwell within his people by the Holy Spirit is a paradoxical irony.[5] 

Though inextricably linked, transcendence will initially be highlighted in this blog and immanence in the next blog in this series.

In Genesis, God begins his self-revelation to mankind by establishing this truth: God and humans are not alike.  God is qualitatively different from humans and all created things. This fundamental difference of the divine from the mundane is captured in the word transcendence.  God is transcendent.  He is wholly other, he is beyond, he is other than.  God is not continuous with the natural world.  He is discontinuous.  Geoffrey Wainwright in Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life makes this statement: “Nothing within creation can depict God in so far as he, the Creator, is transcendent over creation.”[6]  God’s transcendence makes him ineffable and incomparable.  He is both independent of creation and superior to it in every way.[7]  God’s transcendence essentially means two things: God is above, and God is beyond.  David Wells, distinguished professor of theology and noted author, remarks that Scripture declares that

God is exalted, that he is “high,” that he is “above.”  They celebrate the fact that God in his being, character, and will is not subject to the ebb and flow of life, to its limitations and distortions, that such is the power God has that even in a fallen world he is able to effect his will, exercise his sovereign control, and act in the fabric of its life.[8]

God is distinct from his creation.  Creatures are weak, finite, physically bound, limited, and sinful.  God, on the other hand, is infinite, limitless, invisible, eternal, and holy.  God knows all and sees all.  He possesses all knowledge and all power to do anything he wills to do.  God is timelessly eternal and temporally everlasting.  He is the Alpha and Omega—the one who has no beginning and will have no end.  He is infinitely wise, infinitely holy, and infinitely powerful.  He is inescapable, incomprehensible, and the unmoved mover.  From him and through him and to him are all things.  Nothing is above God.  Nothing is beyond God.  Nothing is prior to God.  Nothing is grander than God.  God transcends our world, and God is so far above that the human mind will never be able to fully comprehend him. 

For humanity, transcendence is the appropriate and essential beginning place for the proper understanding of God.  God is above, and God is beyond.  However, when examining God’s transcendent attributes, care must be taken not to diminish or jeopardize God's immanence, nearness, care, or concern for his creation.[9]  This gloriously unfathomable God chose to dwell with his creation in nearness rather than remain wholly remote.  Though the Creator-creature distinction is first characterized by God’s transcendent otherness from his creation, the Creator-creature distinction is secondly characterized by God’s immanent nearness with his creation—the subject of the next week’s blog.

[1]Donald G. Bloesch, God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 34.

[2]A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1961), 45.

[3]Bloesch, God the Almighty, 84.

[4]Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2006), 45.

[5]Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal (Carol Stream, IL: Hope, 1993), 110.

[6]Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 33. 

[7]Erickson, God the Father Almighty, 256. 

[8]David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1994), 122.

[9]Ware, God’s Greater Glory, 36. 


This blog article is written by Chuck T. Lewis, Ph.D.  Dr. Lewis serves as Assistant Professor of Church Music and Worship at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Lewis is also currently serving as Worship Associate at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and has formerly served as Worship Pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida.  Lewis’s complete research on the rhythm of transcendence and immense can be viewed under the “Complete Dissertation” tab found at worshipdesignproject.com.  Also, worshipdesignproject.com features the findings of a nationwide survey of the largest Southern Baptist Churches in America designed to discover the prime influencers on how worship pastors select elements to be included in their worship services and how those elements are sequenced. 

The Rhythm of Transcendence and Immanence— Reflections on Christian Worship of the God of Wonder(s)

For almost twenty years, I have been engaged in worship planning and leading.  Being a Southern Baptist in the “free church” tradition, I have always been free to construct worship services in any way that I wished.  Other than my pastor’s occasional directives and the general worship language of my church, no other outside governing body has dictated which songs I selected, what prayers were prayed, what scripture was read, or the sequence of the worship elements of my services.  Freedom is an awesome thing!  Each week, I began with a blank slate and asked the Holy Spirit to guide me.  Week after week, I would begin fast and celebrative and then end slow and reflective.  The concepts of transcendence and immanence never entered my mind while worship planning.  It’s not that my fast to slow services were bad or wrong or dishonoring to the Lord.  I believe that, generally speaking, my heart was in the right place.  I truly wanted to make much of Christ and to celebrate the good news of the gospel, his greatness, and his glory.  I truly wanted the worship services that I planned to be transformative…that at the end of the day, we would be more like Christ than when we entered the gathering place of worship.  I’m thankful for the Lord for his grace to work despite my shortcomings.

My reflection back on those days has led me to a new reflection on “that thing we do” (to borrow a phrase from Louie Giglio) week by week.  Is there more to worship planning than simply fast to slow or celebrative to reflective?  Are there glimpses of worship planning paradigms hidden in the pages of the Old and New Testaments?  Having given this question considerable reflection and research, I believe the answer is an emphatic YES!   The next several blogs will help unpack the ideas of transcendence and immanence as it relates to worship planning and prayerfully provide a biblical rubric that can be used by worship planners/leaders to fill their white sheets of paper with songs of worship, the words of worship, and a biblically-modeled sequence of worship.  Let’s begin the journey with a few additional introductory thoughts. 

To know God, to love God, to worship God, to glorify God forever—these phrases describe the ultimate goal for all people of God.  A more profound knowledge of God’s self-revelation in Scripture enables a deeper love for God and a deeper worship of God that is faithful, authentic, pleasing, genuine, heartfelt, and transforming.  God wants his people to know him.  According to the Bible, the summum bonum, the highest good, is to know God.  Isaiah 11:9 states that “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord” [emphasis mine].  In Jeremiah 31:34, the Lord declares that his people will all know him, from the greatest to the least.  In Hosea 2:20, God speaks these words to his people Israel, “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.”  Through the New Covenant, Christ makes it possible for people to know God more fully.  Jesus reiterates the Old Testament’s theme of knowing God and indeed expands on it in John 17:3 to include himself, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (NRSV).  The apostle Paul declares, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8a).  For Paul, nothing was more valuable than the ability to know God, full of grace and truth, now revealed in Christ who is the exact image of his father.[1]  Knowing God, the highest good and the ultimate human quest, defines our created purpose and is the wellspring from which the love and worship of God should and must flow.

If proper, God-pleasing worship is predicated on knowledge of God, then the Christian journey must include an ever-deepening pursuit of this knowledge of the one the Bible calls holy.  If knowing God is a prerequisite for acceptable worship, believers are wise to continually ask two questions: (1) what is the nature of this worship that humans are beckoned to perform, and (2) who is this God who demands to be the sole object of human worship? 

The Bible gives multifaceted answers to the question of the identity of this mysterious God.  He is the Creator of the universe, the giver of life, the great I AM, the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was and is and is to come.  In a broad categorical sense, the God of the Bible is depicted in two ways; he is both transcendent and immanent—far and near, within and without, inside and outside his creation.  He is simultaneously separate from his creation and intimately close with his creation.  On the one hand, he is Yahweh—the one whom no man can see and live (Exod 33:20).  On the other hand, he is the God who draws near to his people, who hears their cries, who comforts them in times of trouble, and who provides for their every need. 

Exodus provides a vividly clear depiction of the juxtaposition of God’s transcendence and immanence.  After the great emancipation of the people of God from Egyptian slavery, God summoned Israel to Sinai Mountain to worship and to receive his covenant commandments.  In Exodus 19, God’s transcendence—his separateness from his creation—is highlighted.  Here, God commands that no man may touch his holy mountain.  To do so would result in immediate death.  This restriction of human approach to God instructed his people of his transcendent otherness, his infinite holiness, and his sovereign authority.  Yet, in his transcendent otherness, God purposed to be near and with his people.  Exodus 25-30 chronicles God’s meticulous detail for the construction of a place where he and his people would tabernacle together.  Yahweh himself designed the physical structure and the means by which sinful man could approach him.  Yet, God was careful to remind his people that human approach to him is and always will be limited; they may only come so far and no further.[2]  Transcendent in Exodus 19, immanent in Exodus 25-30—God is both.

In the New Testament, the revelation of God in Christ is incarnated immanence.  Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us.  In Christ, God reveals himself as one who is intimately personal and near his people.  Yet, the juxtapositions continue to stand firm.  While Christ is near and with his people, he also remains ontologically distinct from creation, sovereign ruler over creation, and ultimate judge of sinful humanity.

In summary, Scripture is replete with examples of the juxtaposition of God’s otherness with his nearness making clear that he is not one or the other; he is simultaneously both.  Therefore, if Christians are to rightly and most completely worship God for who he is, they must dually affirm their God as both completely separate from his creation and simultaneously present with his creation.  Once the believer acknowledges that Scripture depicts God as both transcendent and immanent, he or she can then ask how these two facets of God’s being are to be considered.  Does the Bible indicate how believers are to approach their transcendent and immanent Creator in worship?  Does the Bible give any indication of a proper order in which these attributes are to be considered, especially in individual and corporate worship settings?  

Be watching for future posts as we unpack the concepts of God’s transcendence and God’s immanence while exploring how scriptural patterns may potentially influence how worship is planned and how Christians approach God in worship.

[1]Jesus states in John 14:9, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” and in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”

[2]“And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it.  Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death’” (Exod 19:12).


This blog article is written by Chuck T. Lewis, Ph.D.  Dr. Lewis serves as Assistant Professor of Church Music and Worship at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Lewis is also currently serving as Worship Associate at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and has formerly served as Worship Pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida.  Lewis’s complete research on the rhythm of transcendence and immense can be viewed under the “Complete Dissertation” tab found at worshipdesignproject.com.  Also, worshipdesignproject.com features the findings of a nationwide survey of the largest Southern Baptist Churches in America designed to discover the prime influencers on how worship pastors select elements to be included in their worship services and how those elements are sequenced.