Neo-Baalism: Experience-Driven Worship

James Oord summarizes a provocative passage from Eugene Peterson about worship:

Peterson points out that experience-driven worship was the hallmark of Baalism, the religion of the Canaanites in the Old Testament era. Their entire worship structure was focused on catering to emotions. ”When you were terror-stricken you offered a sacrifice; when you were anxious about the crops you made a visit to the temple prostitute; when you were joyful you ingested the wine god. You did what you felt like doing when you felt like doing it” (184).


In his book, Peterson warns against what he calls “Neo-Baalism,” a contemporary revival of the mindset of ancient Baalism. Neo-Baalism complains when we “don’t get anything out of worship.” Neo-Baalism lets “feelings call the tune” in our services. Neo-Baalism is all about the experience, regardless of content. ”We may be entertained, warmed, diverted, or excited in such worship; we will probably not be changed and we will not be saved” (185).

Contrast neo-Baalism with Heidelberg Catechism Q. 96:

96. What does God require in the second Commandment?


That we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.

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  1. What a great way to categorize it. Definitely not what most contemporary worship proponents think they are doing, but nonetheless, exactly what is taking place. This is precisely the sort of mindset that I was raised under. My family chose churches that placed worship (CP&W) at the top with preaching somewhere near the bottom, not even having categories for discipline and sacraments.

    But to put it into the realm of a Neo-Baalism, that should rightly unnerve people who subscribe, to a lesser or greater degree, to a normative principle for worship.

  2. Excellent description of a lot of what goes on in the name of worship. I had to endure, during a visit to a friend’s church recently, constant emotional, loud, repetitive ‘worship’, which was briefly interrupted for a short ‘sermon’. I’ve struggled to describe it – but Neo-Baalism is very accurate.

  3. Interesting article. I feel I have read as many books as I could get my hands on about worship by many westminster professors and even went to a most recent debate where i had the pleasure of listening to pastor mike brown debate about worship. Having loved and embraced much of what they say, so you know what side of ye fence I sit on. So i’m looking forward to fostering some good conversation with those of you who probably know a lot more than I. That said, I would like an objective definition of “contemporary worship.” does the definition have to with the intention of worship considering the author was speaking of emotionally “DRIVEN.” or is it lyrics devoid of Christ and his gospel. Is contemporary worship contemporary if it has a band or certain instruments or newer songs. The regulative principle contains in it a scale of wisdom leaving it subjective, not objective. My point being “contemporary worship” is a subjective term. And of subjective he has no objective basis to object to it. Please note, these are only first thoughts, not final thoughts after only a first read. I’m very open to objection and learning more how I can think about it so be easy on me 🙂

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