Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Should we Rock the flock? In defense of Hymns part 1

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 19, 2009 at 1:04 pm

I know a secret about the Pastor. Only a few other people know. Lurking in his downstairs closet is a collection of Stryper records. That’s right, Stryper, the Christian 80’s hair-metal band. In his defense, the Pastor doesn’t even own a turntable anymore (his old one is in our front room), and if he did, he probably wouldn’t be caught dead air-guitaring around the living room to Shout At The Devil these days. But there they are, a testament to a time when bee-striped spandex body-suits seemed totally and unironically awesome.

My wife and I took them out to snicker in high school. While this may seem mean-spirited, if you can’t snicker at a group of grown men in bee-striped spandex body-suits, what can you snicker at? Obviously, their Godly Crue (Van Heaven?) shtick has not worn well. And yet, there was a time when Stryper was the future of Christian music: exciting, relevant, and appealing to young people. They were contemporary.

Over the last several decades, “contemporary” has been the buzzword of evangelical liturgy. It is offered as an upbeat foil to the stogy, dirge-like hymns that marked Protestant worship for the preceding centuries. Contemporary worship borrows existing tropes in popular secular music, and refurbishes them for sacred purposes. The idea is, one imagines, that if people like it on the radio, they’ll like it in church, and the church’s duty is to give the people what they like. In practice, this means a very narrowly defined set of signifiers preferred by the broadest base of consumers (or the broadest base with the deepest pockets) gets churchified, and that becomes “contemporary.”

One of the problems with “contemporary” is that it was always a moving target, and now there are a lot more targets. I often wonder when I hear a service is contemporary, which contemporary they mean. Carrie Underwood? Animal Collective? Lil’ Wayne? The notion of contemporary Christian music as a descriptor is nonsensical, because there is no monolithic “Contemporary Music” at all. Instead, there are a million contemporary musics. We are no longer in an era when musical tastes are dictated by a handful of record labels and radio stations. The primary method of music consumption for my generation is the computer. This has both democratized and fragmented musical tastes. I have as much access to Sri Lankan rappers, Seattle madrigal singers, and an Icelandic guy who makes music with rocks as I do to the winner of last season’s American Idol.

Never mind the fact that notions of “current” have become de-moored from chronology. I teach at an art school where my kids have a keen grasp of what is going on in music, and I am more likely to see the Beatles (40 years past), Tupac (15 years past), or David Bowie (30 years past) on a t-shirt than whoever is currently in the top 40. Not a few kids would be sporting a Miles Davis shirt if they knew where to find one. So which of these should I expect to hear at my local “contemporary” service? Saying that your worship music sounds contemporary is like saying your communion wine tastes contemporary because it has been replaced with Mountain Dew. As tastes fragment and become less homogenized, the claim that Contemporary worship is somehow more democratic because it appeals to a broader base is becoming more tenuous with each download.

What’s more, Contemporary Christian music is rarely contemporary in the most meaningful sense. It rarely introduces actual musical or aesthetic innovations, but rather co-opts them second hand, and usually a solid half-decade after the actual innovators. This explains why much of what is called “Christian Contemporary” is lousy with the sort of post-grunge mule-braying that wasn’t even cool when it was introduced in secular music at the end of the 90’s; or more recently, the bloated prefab majesty Coldplay lifted from U2 in the middle part of this decade. In its quest to be current, Contemporary Christian music fails at its own game. It always lags behind the ever changing tastes of secular music with a “can-we-play-too?” There is a new Stryper every decade.

This criticism would be more relevant if “contemporary” were used as a descriptor, but increasingly, it is simply applied as a genre tag. Listeners don’t flock to Contemporary Christian Music because they want something truly contemporary, rather, they want a particular genre of music targeted to their demographic in the same way hip-hop is targeted to appeal to inner-city youth. CCM has its own (borrowed) vocabulary that listeners expect and enjoy.  This vocabulary is culled from the most innocuous elements of popular music of the last generation. Heartfelt guys with guitars, using essentially romantic language, and repeating the same stuff a bunch of times as the music steadily increases in volume. Finish off with a quiet, double-heartfelt voice-crack ending, and it is sure to rock minivans in subdivisions all across the country.

As purely a genre, poking fun at Christian Contemporary makes about as much sense as poking fun at Thomas Kinkade (you know, the Painter of Light), or light beer. It might be valid, but nobody likes a snob. But we are not talking about music as entertainment, rather, we are talking about music for the utilitarian purpose of accomplishing the task of worship. Because of this, it is our duty to critically engage in this music in the same way we ought to guard the theology of our sermons.

The conversation concerning the “Worship Wars” has been handled with a shucksey shuffle on the side of traditionalists for the last decade or two. Traditionalists have been too afraid of being labeled curmudgeons to advance a robust advocacy of the hymns. Much of this is the result of a godly deference to our Contemporary-minded brothers and sisters (and, of course, they are our brothers and sisters), but, part of this is because we have lost the vocabulary and disregarded the gravity of meaningful musical criticism, especially in worship where it is most relevant. The conversation has broken down to the vague, insubstantial language of personal preference and a whatever-floats-your-boat shrug.

It is tautology to simply acknowledge a plurality opinions and tastes and assume the discussion ends there. This doesn’t pass in secular music, where there is still a robust critical conversation, why should it pass in our liturgy, the most important application of music in the Universe? The problem isn’t that the importance of music has been inflated; rather, the importance of entertainment has been inflated to the detriment of music. We’ve been told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder so often, that we’ve forgotten beauty is in the eye of The Beholder.

Justin Longacre is 26 years old and is a member of Providence Reformed Baptist in Toledo Ohio, where he has taught a series on competing philosophies. He teaches high school English and American literature at Toledo School for the Arts, and has his own rock band. Sort of.

  1. For the record, “Shout at the Devil” is not a Stryper song. It’s a classic Motley Crue song. Stryper’s hit was “To Hell with the Devil.” 🙂

  2. Justin,

    You’re addressing a hotly debated but relevant topic. Thanks for your courage. The general thrust of your article seems to be something like an indirect critique of (some? much? all?) contemporary worship music and a call for a principled (and I assume biblical) defense of a more traditional kind of hymnody. Is that sound right? Will you be posting some follow up articles that provide a biblical set of criteria for assessing what music is and is not appropriate for church worship?

    I have a few other questions related to your post. According to most dictionaries, “contemporary” does not always denote that which is very recent or “cutting edge.” It’s a somewhat flexible and relative term, referring to something that belongs to the same general time period or era as another reference point that belongs to the present. Hence, anything within my life-time or my father’s life time may still be considered “contemporary.” You seem to agree that the term is used in a somewhat fluid way. Do you believe that this fluid use of contemporary transgresses the bounds of lexical propriety?

    Second, you seem to argue that the failure on the part of Traditionalists (which, btw, is also a quite fluid term) is (at least in part) a reflection of their godly deference to fellow brothers and sisters who prefer contemporary genres of music. Do you think that the reverse might be true as well? Might there be some brothers and sisters who prefer more contemporary genres of worship music (CWM) but who attend churches where traditional hymnody (TH) predominates and sing the older hymns out of godly deference to traditionalist brothers and sisters?

    Third, you seem to imply above that the importance of good music is being sacrificed in light of an overemphasis (or inappropriate emphasis?) on “the importance of entertainment.” How are you defining “entertainment”? Your use of the term may be self-evident to some, but it’s not to me. “Entertainment” may simply refer to that which is “pleasing” or “agreeable” according to some English dictionaries. I think “pleasing” or “agreeable” can be one dimension of spiritual edification. Often, however, entertainment is used with negative connotations. How are you using the term? And in what ways should music in the church aim to provoke a response of pleasure and agreement in the worshiper if any?

    In closing, thanks for your piece. I think it’s a good start. But, as I’m sure you’re well aware, the debate is much larger and complex. I’ve read essays by both defenders of TM and also defenders of CWM that contain lots of flowery rhetoric, catchy slogans, and sweeping generalizations. Moreover, these critiques often focus on the extremes of the other side (e.g., morose Gregorian chants [traditional] vs. Stryper [contemporary]). Such flyby critiques usually fail to get my conscience. What I prefer to see is a case made on the basis of careful exegesis and comprehensive theological reflection (that considers all themes and principles related to worship, not just a select few). Moreover, I think critics on both sides should avoid broad-brushing or focusing their criticisms merely on extreme examples either from the right or left, but they should seek to be fair and even-handed in their assessment of the breadth of both traditional and contemporary worship songs and music. I say this not to deprive your post of all value. It’s certainly a good “ice-breaker.” But some of us like a number of CWM songs and believe (on the basis of biblical exegesis and principle) that they’re appropriate for Sunday worship. If we’re naive or erring in our judgment, then we need someone to provide us with a solidly biblical case to capture our conscience and to alter our convictions.

    Respectfully yours,
    Bob Gonzales

  3. Okaaay so we will put Dean Gonzales down as a yes vote

  4. “Yes” to what? Having the band Stryper play for the Sunday morning preclude? Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever heard one of their songs. So I’m unable to make an assessment regarding the quality of the lyrics or the appropriateness of the music for congregational singing. I did see a poster of them once with their “bee-striped spandex body-suits” and what looked like a woman’s cosmetic makeover. Chances are probably high that I wouldn’t approve of them “rocking my church.”

    On the other hand, I don’t believe “the devil’s in the beat.” Nor am I opposed ipso facto to the use of guitars or drums in worship since the Bible itself provides some precede for the use of instrumentation in worship, including stringed and percussion instruments.

    So, my answer to the question raised by the title of the post would more accurately be something like, “Perhaps … it all depends on what one precisely means by ‘rocking the flock’ and ‘a defense of hymns.'”

    Hope this clarifies.

    Bob G.

  5. Sorry about the two typos above: First, “preclude” should be “prelude.” Second, “precede” should be “precedent.” I need to type more slowly 🙂

  6. Justin, wonderful post! I look forward to reading more on your thoughts and historical proofs on such a heated, emotional debate in our day. It truly is intriguing how we have seen all sorts of “contemporary” trends influence the general flow/movement within modern Church practice as we know it. I often wonder if the contrasts defense is based on the thought that modern “contemporary” rock is truly Glorifying to God? Or, is it the melodic chord structures, cadence, rhythm and resonance strike a particular chord within the cerebral cortex of man? These are genuine questions.

  7. Thanks so much for reading and responding to my article, guys.

    First off, my apologies to members of both Stryper, Motley Crue.

    To follow up on a few questions:

    I intended this article to be the first in a series of at least two pieces. In this first article, I intended on introducing some of the ways in which the concept of “Contemporary” worship is in itself problematic. In a future article, I am hoping to explore ways in which the “traditional” hymnody, or a robust contemporary (small c) hymnody, is superior.

    Concerning the term “Contemporary” (big c), the way I was using this term was as a genre identifier, without any particular reference to chronology. As I stated, Contemporary has become a genre tag for a certain set of signifiers rather than a description of the time period in which a piece was written, in the same way “Modernist” literature applies to a particular literature produced in a particular time period, not simply the literature produced in modern (now) times. Certainly, what is contemporary (“with time”) is by definition fluid, but Contemporary seems to apply to a particular narrow genre. When some says their service sounds Contemporary, you know what they’re talking about. You wouldn’t go to a contemporary service and expect it to sound like, say, the Animal Collective, even though what they are doing is chronologically more contemporary than the music from which Contemporary derives. I’m indifferent to the lexical propriety of the term “Christian Contemporary.” It has simply become short hand for a set of attributes, like Jazz or Hip-Hop. Though I do think the tag reveals something about the genre, namely its striving after a certain with-it-ness, at which it fundamentally fails. In other words, “Christian Contemporary” has come to mean more than simply music being written by Christians right now, in present day.

    Second, I certainly hope it is the case that there is godly deference on the part of listeners of Contemporary. I do think that it is more often the case that the Contemporary minded leave their traditional services because of the music than vice-versa. But this misses the point: the appropriateness of liturgical music is directly related to the degree that it facilitates corporate worship and exhortation, not the degree to which it matches the genre preference of the listeners. I love Neutral Milk Hotel, but I would never expect a worship service to cater to that taste before I was willing to participate, nor would it facilitate the same functions that liturgical music should, biblically, accomplish; rather, it would be quite detrimental.

    By “entertainment,” I mean an experience whose primary focus is to induce the desired emotional response in the listener for its own sake. In other words, the experience is both the means and the end. Entertainment should not be the primary goal of worship; rather, worship should. This is certainly not to say that one should not experience joy in worship, indeed there is something wrong if you are not. The problem comes when it is the feeling itself being pursued rather than the desire to worship. The goal of worship should be to move the congregation to a greater reverence, understanding, fear, and love for Christ. I should think that if music does this, it will be pleasurable and agreeable for the Christian. The question becomes, what type of music is best suited for these tasks?

  8. Justin thanks for your gracious discussion of music in liturgy. You have done a good job arguing that “contemporary” as a concept is hard to define. And you have presented a good case that we should be critical analyzing music used in worship, to which I agree. But it seems that you have assumed that “The Beholder” ( I think you mean God by this) thinks that the traditional western form of hymns is more beautiful than other forms. This is a huge and often unproven assumption. What divine revelation do we have that shows that God finds Gregorian chants or four part harmony more beautiful than other forms? And how do we answer this question actually from the Bible, without granting various kinds of musical philosophy a kind of canonized status? This question is important to me, especially when I consider that the genre of music we sing in traditional worship is nothing like what Jesus or the apostles would have sung. I love these forms and don’t have any problem with them; I just think that God is glorified by many more kinds of music throughout the world (and the U.S.) than this.

    I think we can all agree that CCM is full of excesses that should be avoided. But is it a Biblical response to baptize one genre of music and lyrical structure as the only kind that is capable of conveying beauty, truth, joy and reverence? If scripture is sufficient to guide us then I think it is dangerous to pontificate where the Bible is silent. True, freedom is dangerous, but slavery to personal preference (either contemporary or traditional) is dangerous as well. Finding the middle road is much more difficult and uncomfortable; it calls us to look to our hearts.

  9. Seems a bit austere. I’m quite certain that we could find a christian or two who listens to ‘contemporary’ music, who truly knows and loves Christ. Adversely, I’m sure that we could find a christian or two who listens to and sings only older baptist hymns, but knows Him very little. I appreciated what Mr. Troupe wrote in that “freedom is dangerous, but slavery to personal preference is dangerous as well.” It could also be stated that freedom is very necessary, and the reverse side of the coin can potentialy tend toward a form of legalism.

  10. Yes, I also appreciated very much what Mr. Troupe said. God, in his wisdom, didn’t give us a music theory book. Certainly, we must be very careful of taking our ephemeral cultural tastes and adding “thus sayeth the Lord.” God has certainly made use of other music from other times and places to be worshiped. I love Christian music from different times and places. For example, I love old American gospel. Field recordings of Sacred Harp and folks like Revered Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, and the Carter Family. They are quite removed from my cultural experience. Praise God that he makes use of different peoples and cultures for his worship.

    Which is not to say God is silent on how we ought to conduct our worship. We ought to strive after that worship that is most glorifying to God and most edifying to the saints, agreed? Our worship should also be orderly. My argument is simply that we can and should have the discussion about which music best accomplishes that purpose in our given time and place. Which teaches more robust theology? Which inclines the heart not only to joy in the Lord, but also reverence and even fear?

    Part of what gets my goat about Contemporary is exactly that prescriptive nature that Mr. Troupe mentioned. As I said in the article, it makes use of a very narrowly defined set of tropes, those preferred by American middle-class white listeners around the turn of the 20th century. Our Trinity hymnal features songs with melodies from ancient Ireland (Be Thou My Vision) to American slaves (Amazing Grace, probably), to Renaissance Germany (A Mighty Fortress), to Welsh tunes (Immortal, Invisible). As an outsider to the fin de siecle youth-group culture, I felt much more alienated by Contemporary than I do currently by hymns, which for my money invite participation rather than simple observation. After spending 3 years in a “praise band,” I couldn’t and didn’t start singing until I stepped down and we started singing hymns.

  11. Thanks Justin. May I say that one of the things in which I rejoice concerning this discussion is that it is taking place on a Reformed Baptist blog. As one who shares RB convictions, but has never been convinced by the arguments for “traditional” over “contemporary”, I am pleased to find that the there is greater diversity among RB’s than I had suspected.

    I say that, even though the music in my church would fall into the “traditional” category. Even though we do utilize some contemporary songs, even they “sound” traditional when we sing them. But that is much more a function of how God has presently gifted our church, rather than a philosophical, or certainly, theological decision regarding musical styles.

    Others have raised many of the same questions that came to my mind as I read this article, most having to do with the fact that many of the criticisms raised in regard to contemporary worship music can equally be applied to traditional. But I was struck by this statement from your last comment:

    “My argument is simply that we can and should have the discussion about which music best accomplishes that purpose in our given time and place.”

    Precisely! “…our given time and place.” It seems to me that with that statement, you have largely conceded the ground upon which you stand. Our time and place is constantly changing. We do not now live in the time and place of the Reformers or the Wesleys or Fanny Crosby. We live in our own time and place. We do not sing Gregorian chants any longer. That was another time and place. To divide music up into artificial distinctions regarding “style” is akin to what we find in the political realm. If we can label something, then we need not give any serious thought to it. Rather, perhaps we should determine what are the biblical criteria for music in corporate worship, and evaluate everything in that light.

    I remember decades ago at the height of these controversies (isn’t it interesting that almost no one else is still talking about this?) listening to the late Larry Norman playing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. It began slowly, sweetly, even reverentially. but in the course of the song, almost imperceptibly, he moved through various musical styles, concluding with a version that could only be described as Rock and Roll. I thought as I listened, at what point in that song did it cross the line? When did it stop being a moving spiritual and become Devil’s music?

    I guess that’s what troubles me about most of these discussions. So much seems to be subjective, as you yourself admit when you move the discussion into the realm of “our given time and place”.

  12. Also, of course there are people who worship earnestly and acceptably using Contemporary. I know this because our congregation was among them for a number of years. You can pound in a nail with a screwdriver if you’re determined enough.

    I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m advocating anything approaching a legalistic application of a set of musical conventions. Rather, I hope to ask people to examine how (and perhaps in some cases if) their musical conventions facilitate the unique application of worship. My argument is that some musical conventions facilitate this better than others.

  13. Jim,

    Saying that we should strive after what’s appropriate for our time and place is not the same as saying that these things are completely subjective at all. As I also said, we should have the discussion about what BEST accomplishes the task of worship for our time and place. Some types of music are more apt than other for various reasons. For example, I sometimes enjoy sound-collage/noise music. This would not be appropriate for worship for obvious reasons, even though it is in several ways directly relevant to both my personal preference and my cultural context. Regardless of time or culture, some things ought to be preserved, as I also stated: Which teaches more robust theology? Which inclines the heart not only to joy in the Lord, but also reverence and even fear?

    Also, you assume that Contemporary is more relevant to my cultural experience than Gregorian chant (by the way, are there any churches who actually use Gregorian chant still?). In the culturally fragmented milieu of the internet age, that’s not an assumption you get to make. Ever heard of Fleet Foxes? They made the top 10 lists of most relevant critical outlets (including Pitchfork media, who called it the best of 2008). It was very influenced by the polyphony of Gregorian chant. Part of my point was that “Contemporary” is can neither make claims of a greater cultural relevance, nor a greater effectiveness at the actual task of worship.

  14. Thanks, Justin…and BTW, “Moths and Rust” is the best album of 2008.

  15. Aww, shucks=)

  16. Justin, I did not say that these things are “completely” subjective. I believe that there are biblical principles and precepts which are to lead and control us in our worship. But you yourself acknowledged that style is, at least in part, subject to time and place. Although western hymnody certainly has served and serves the people of God in their worship, He has not sanctified it as THE form for all peoples, places, and ages. That makes it, in certain ways, subjective.

    I guess what I’m interested in hearing from you, or from others, is this: What are the specific qualities of “traditional” worship music that are not, and cannot, be found in contemporary worship music. I’m not looking for good examples of one as opposed to bad examples of the other. I’m looking for inherent differences that make one better than the other.

    As for the relevance of Gregorian chants, let me respond to a couple of point in your comments. First, I never mentioned “relevance”. I was responding to your words, which had to do with what might best accomplish the purpose for which we use music in worship. I thought that we agreed at least on that much, that music is an instrument, pardon the pun, to facilitate the worship of God’s people. The idol of “relevance” is not on my radar screen unless it is understood in terms of usefulness in time and place rather than primarily the appeal to whatever the “cutting edge” happens to be at the moment.

    Secondly, I don’t know why you choose to personalize a discussion of corporate worship. If Gregorian chants are your thing, God bless you. Enjoy. But we’re not talking about you. We’re talking about the corporate worship of the people of God in the 21st century. And to answer your question, No. I have never heard of Fleet Foxes. I’ll add that to the myriad of other things I haven’t heard of. Frankly, I stopped trying to keep up with these things 25 years ago when I got out of college. But you know what? I don’t know your church, but unless its very unusual, I doubt that very many of them have, either. So I can’t see that your enjoyment of Gregorian Chants is at all relevant to this discussion, unless you’re considering making your church not traditional, nor contemporary, but Gregorian.

    You close by saying, “Part of my point was that “Contemporary” can neither make claims of a greater cultural relevance, nor a greater effectiveness at the actual task of worship.”

    Leaving aside what “claims” are being made, I’ll come back to my previous question. What are the qualities of traditional worship music not present in contemporary worship music, that make it “inherently” superior?

    Thanks for the conversation, Justin. Iron sharpens iron.

  17. Jim I think that your question may have to wait for future installments. As a pastor, I am sure you know all too well that you cannot say everything all at once 🙂

  18. Justin, let me say something a little bit different. As I read your article, I couldn’t help but smile and simply enjoy what you were saying. It was well written, well thought through, and I loved many of the “turns of phrases” that you used.

    If someone comes up with the “definitive word” of how we should sing in church, and convinces everyone (actually anyone), I will be quite amazed. Singing was controversial to our Particular Baptist forefathers too. I enjoyed your contribution and look forward to reading more!

    Here is a place — where we need to show due Christian charity. Of course, if everyone would just use the Baptist version of the Trinity Hymnal, we wouldn’t have to do that. But, since they don’t — charity must rule the day. LOL. I do hope you will proceed with more in this series — I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this issue.

    Let me just say that in our church’s “very traditional” song service — where we sing only hymns — but sing them quite fast — we find it is not to everyone’s liking. The tests we use are 1) are the words true 2) are the words trite 3) are the words appropriate — as the Psalms of Scripture are appropriate for worship and experience 4) and we must never forget, our people learn doctrine from the songs they sing (free will-ism has spread and prospered because of bad doctrine in music as much as it has from preaching).

    My advice to those who visit us and nicely complain about the music has been, “We sing 4 hymns each Sunday morning. Feel free to buy a CD player and listen to whatever you wish during the week.” I now realize I must become more contemporary and say, “Buy a computer”.

    Keep the good word coming, Justin.

  19. Of course, Steve. Did you see something in my post that you thought necessitated this response? I made no demands, but simply responded to Justin and asked a question. Clearly, Justin is free to answer when, or even if,he wishes. I thought that was assumed on these forums. If there was something in my previous post that you interpreted in such a way, please let me know what it was, as the demand for an immediate response was never my intention.

  20. Jim,

    Though this will be the substance of my future article, here’s a quick outline of things I think the traditional hymnody does better than CWM as a genre:

    -More theologically robust lyrics.
    -Tunes crafted for corporate participation rather than observed performance.
    -Music that supports words rather than vice-versa.
    -A greater and more apt representation of the more difficult areas of the Christian religion, rather than simply the ones that make us feel happy.
    -A decreased emphasis on transitory genre preferences.
    -A decreased emphasis on the musician as performer.
    -A seperation from the cult of personality.

    Could Christians write music that possesses these qualities today? Yes, absolutely! In fact, that is perhaps my greatest desire in writing these articles, that it would incite our people to both demand and produce new music that meet this criteria.

    My point in bringing up the Fleet Foxes and Gregorian chant was neither to claim that it is the new norm (that would be chasing my tail), nor to prove what a hip, relevant dude I am; rather, to show that claims of CWM being the more relevant musical form for worshipers in the 21st century while the old hymns are by contrast are irrelevant to my generation is much more tenuous than is often portrayed.

    Steve, thanks for the encouragement.

  21. This has been a good discussion and I too appreciate the diversity found within the RB world. I think that the call for charity has been good too, and it needs to flow both ways. I think we all know “traditionalists” and “modernists” alike who get unnecessarily cranky.

    I have observed in myself, and occasionally in some of my brethren a really bad sin that can raise its head in these kinds of discussions. It is a failure to show discernment. I think discernment is the ability to make a difference between the baby and the bath water. I can easily come up with a long list of bad things about some CWM. Some churches are guilty of “vain repetition” in their songs. But it would *highly unbiblical* to say that repetition itself is unbiblical. If anything, we find that repetition is given to us as an example, almost to the point of embarrassment at times (Psalm 136 repeats the same phrase 26 times! Certainly not in vain!) There is a reason for such repetition, and it comes from God Himself.

    Whatever principle or rules we come up with for worship music need to pass the test of the psalms. If we come up with a policy that keeps us from singing God’s word then we should probably start over. I actually know of a case where one cranky brother refused to sing scripture in a worship service because it wasn’t from the hymnal!

    Furthermore, when we come away from the Bible with our principles for worship music, we ought to apply the principles to music old and new. I personally think there are some rotten tunes in the Trinity Hymnal, but many I love dearly, and some others are probably good and bless others but are just not my favorites. When assessing music it is easy to make broad strokes in a sloppy way. I think integrity calls us to acknowledge biblical principles when we see them, even when they are not our preference. I have more respect for someone who is honest enough to say that they just don’t like a certain song, rather than trying to make their opinion a Biblical judgment.

  22. Thanks Justin. I will merely point out that although the items in your list may be more or less applicable to one or another specific piece of music, it is not intrinsic to one genre or another. That has been the substance of my argument throughout our discussion, and really the only point that I have been attempting to make. In the end, do the categories really make a difference? I think you have agreed that contemporary music can be found which does is not characterized by your list. If so, why categorize it at all? Why not simply thank God for it, and allow it to lead our people into worship? Whether Luther, Wesley, or Kauflin?

  23. Jim, great points, and I like how you put it. I think that there may be one value in some kind of catagorization. My own goal is to lead our congregation to sing and utilize music that represents our rich theological tradition, and shows how the gospel and truth can be expressed in forms more familiar to our culture. I don’t see it as either or, but as “both/and.” One pastor friend of mine points out that this is one part of our fellowship with the saints past and present.

  24. A great deal having been said, what I think has unintentionally been skirted is the underlying basis upon which all functions of the church, including song, is founded. Hymnody’s purpose, as I understand it,is twofold: to teach and admonish one another and to worship Christ. I don’t believe that anybody reading this would fail to acknowledge that, but it is at the forefront of the preceding debate. The issue we have at PRBC is that so many contemporary hymns are derived from a Theology which states as its foundation that God has orchestrated everything to our ends and that we are the first thing on His mind; as such, the Theology upon which such music is founded is inherently and horrendously flawed. Let me further state that this is by no means determinedly so in every instance. The doctrinal Theology of most hymns, on the other hand, is steeped in the very person of Christ and His glory alone. It’s true that those who write and sing these more contemporary songs wish to honor Christ, but oftentimes they also are coming from a perspective whereby God is as concerned for or, frighteningly enough, more concerned for our welfare as for His own glory. What it comes down to is that I believe deangonzales had some valid points and his comments are well-spoken and by no means intended as derisory. I also believe this is an unfinished work and look forward to part 2.

  25. I do not think the Reformed Baptist camp appreciates what they have. To be able to express in worship beautiful theology and to have the high praises of God in their mouths expressing such things as the atonement and God’s holiness-wow. I am sick of the meaningless bridges and fluffy fillers in choruses in worship services I have attended. This effeminate romantic weight watchers is really for men but actually for women spirituality makes me sick. I so desire men of God to lead worship in such a way that it gives people chills. I love music but when I worship, I want to be able to meditate on the scripture not regurgitate pop music with a religious message.

  26. I believe that I do appreciate (as many others do) the richness of our tradition. But I don’t think that appreciation means that there is nothing more to be added to worship music until Jesus returns. Several have said that traditional worship music is better at “this” or “that.” It would be more accurate to say that the traditional hymns that we have chosen to sing do a good job at being deep, theological, beautiful, etc. But it would be a mistake to make broad generalizations about traditional music. Wesley wrote over 6,000 hymns and we only still sing a few of them. Anyone who enjoys browsing old hymnals will admit that they find garbage within this older genre as well. Remember, there have been theological and musical debates among traditionalists as well. It is dangerous to characterize “old” as good and “new” as compromising. The styles of music within the Trinity Hymnal are very diverse in the technical aspects of poetry and music. Additionally many of the tunes that we consider classics were later added by a musician far removed from the author. There was a moment when every classic song did not exist, and someone was constrained by the present work of God in their own life to write a new song. It is not that the old ones are bad, but they are in sufficient. A perusal through any book of hymn stories shows that writing new words and using new genres of music has been a consistent feature of church history. Every generation needs to preach its own sermons, write its own books, and sing its own songs.

    If we are able to use Biblical principles to sort through a very mixed bag of “old” songs, why can’t we do the same with a mixed bag of “new” ones? I am also sick of meaningless romantic music, that’s why we don’t sing it. But I am also weary of flaccid arguments that seem to want to canonize tradition rather than apply Biblical principles. I believe that scripture calls us to think in terms of revealed categories, not simply old vs. new.

    There is a growing body of music that would NOT be accurately described by the descriptions that some (like the soul doctor) have made about CWM. Additionally, there is a growing body of old classic hymn lyrics that are being adapted to new tunes. In especially this latter case none of the verbal or theological critiques will stick.

  27. Matt,

    We see what’s in your hands. A guitar!!! There’s now no question where you stand in this debate. 🙂

    Bob G.

  28. I’m actually looking forward to Justin’s next installment. He’s helped us prepare by outlining above some of the arguments he’s planning to advance. I’m particularly interested in his argument in favor of (presumably traditional) hymns because they have “more theologically robust lyrics” than does CWM.

    Possible meanings for “robust” in this context might include “strong and healthy” or “rich and full-bodied.” When used in connection with the adverb “theologically” and the noun “lyrics,” I assume Justin will attempt to argue that the lyrics of the songs we sing in worship should be more than merely doctrinally accurate. It would seem, and I could be wrong, that he’s thinking of doctrinal depth (complexity) and breadth (comprehensiveness). At least this is the way I’ve heard the phrase “theologically robust lyrics” used in other contexts.

    If so, this raises some important questions that I hope Justin will address. First, must all the songs we sing in corporate worship be equally deep and comprehensive in doctrine? Second, how doctrinally deep and comprehensive must the lyrics of a song be to qualify for corporate worship? IOW, are there clear biblical guidelines that specify the minimum amount doctrinal depth (complexity) and breadth (comprehensiveness) requisite for a hymn or praise song to qualify for corporate worship. If so, where are those guidelines found and are they consistent with the “whole counsel of God”? Third, are more “theological robust lyrics” always better? Or might there be circumstances in any given church that would render less theologically complex and comprehensive lyrics desirable for the edification of the flock? If the church consists of members who are at all levels of Christian knowledge and maturity, is it wisdom to include only hymns with the most theologically robust lyrics? Or would it be wiser to select a blend of songs, some with more and others with less theologically robust lyrics? Finally, how do the inspired Psalms compare in theological complexity and comprehensiveness with the kind of “ideal” hymns Justin will commend to us? Moreover, are theologically robust lyrics absent from CWM?

    These are some of the questions I’m hoping Justin will address in his next installment.

    Bob G.

  29. Agreed.

  30. Yes it is a guitar, but it is NOT an electric guitar.
    I am guilty, but not that guilty.

  31. Just thought I should add one extra remark for Justin’s sake.

    Justin, I hope that the various questions and caveats some of have raised in response to your first post do not discourage you from following up with a second post. A number of us have been involved in numerous debates over this question. Perhaps we were attempting to offer some “preemptive” criticisms in the hopes that our remarks would prompt you to answer some of the questions that we feel need answering if this debate over worship music is to advance. It may be that some of our caveats were premature and that you had already planned to address them in your second installment.

    In any case, I want to thank you, sincerely, for addressing this hot topic. In my opinion, it’s a challenging subject to address and there are strong opinions on all sides. I think a number of the points you listed above, which you plan to discuss in your second post, are relevant to the debate. You are a very articulate writer, and I know that your desire is to promote the kind of praise in worship that honors the Lord and edifies the saints. In aiming for that goal, we’re all on the same page with you. Moreover, we will pray not only that God grant you guidance in addressing this topic further but also that God might grant each of us a teachable spirit to learn from you.

    So press on, my brother!

  32. Criticising modern praise and worship in favor of traditional hymns or even gospel music is like defending the position that that oranges are better than apples. The reality is that apples and oranges are both excellent fruit and that each serves the purpose that God intended – nourishment for his people. The fruit of our love for Christ is the desire to praise him through music.

    Traditional Hymns were praise and worship when they were written and the message in them is no less powerful today than when they were written. Today’s modern praise and worship has the same level of power and has a tradition of its’ own. However, the fact is that it will be replaced someday with another style of worship music.

    in Ephesians 5:19 Paul writes: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”.

    All “psalms, hymyns and spiritual songs” are valid if they exalts the Lord, if they edify and encourage His people, and if they bring us into a better relationship with Him.

    Jesus Said in John 12:32 “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me.” Let’s focus on that – Let’s lift Him up and lead people to Christ – through our unity, because we’ve been dividing ourselves long enough.

    Let’s stop bickering over which fruit is best and encourage the praises of His people. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. Encourage freedom in the Church and freedom for those that simply want to praise Jesus – regardless of how they praise Him. Remember, the fruit is awesome – no matter the flavor.

  33. I like apples and oranges, but have you ever tried to make an orange pie?

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