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July 28, 2005

Comments

Daniel

"We either sing songs that open our eyes to the vastness of the Christ event and our responsibilities to the rest of the world in light of that event, or we sing songs that affirm for me that Jesus did things for me. He did, and does, but that's a little too much dessert. You need the main course too."

This is a great statement. Many of the older hymns have great theological statements and did inform their congregations about the nature and character of God. What I wonder is if we can forulate new hymns that can inform us today like they did back then? Can the songwriters of today ever do what hymnwriters did in their day? I am unsure that they can, but we can hope.

Ben

Greg,
Have you ever listened to a band called "Lost and Found"? They're considered the best-known Lutheran band. I didn't see them on the top 25 CCLI list, but the chapel I go to sings a lot of their songs regularly. A lot of their lyrics, especially the upbeat songs, are pretty simple, but often are lifted directly from scripture.
Convinced, for instance:
[chorus]
FOR I AM CONVINCED THAT THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD [X2]

Not height nor depth
Not life nor death
Not anything that ever has been
Or anything that is to come

Not danger or trouble
Not hardship or struggle
Not angels or demons or powers
Or anything in creation

[bridge]
IF GOD IS FOR US WHO CAN BE AGAINST US [X3]

If you're interested in their story and/or more song lyrics, their website is called speedwood, which is also the genre they consider themselves. I often find myself reading something you wrote and remembering a song or line from Lost and Found that also makes the point. I can think of several songs of theirs that would give fundamentalists and Joel Osteen pause. Strong Feelings or Opener, for instance. God's peace with you.

Kevin Powell

Great post! Worship songs that focus on the individual's personal relationship with God (a phrase that is conspicuously absent from the bible) only serves to alienate people from accountability with other believers. While it’s true that many psalms use the first person singular, it was generally understood that one could not be under covenant with God outside of God’s community.

Another issue I have with many worship songs is the lack of biblical language in them. Too often, worship songs are of the “Jesus you are so cool” or “I want to know you more” variety. I’ve wondered out loud if these types of songs are contributing to the growing biblical illiteracy among Christians, if not the cause.

kgp

kenosis

Greg,

Our church sings many of these popular and contempory songs. Though many seem to enter in to a "personal" sense of Presence, there is clearly something missing in these choruses. They speak of an itimacy with God that seems to be based on a human dynamic and effort without a necessary presentation of doctrine and the Cross, which breaks our hearts with the love of God and is the key to the relationship the choruses speak of.

Also, and please get my understanding, many of these choruses speak of intimacy in worship from a feminine perspective (intimacy with the bridegroom, ) that, in my opinion, leaves the men present in the worship time without real connection with the Mighty God, All Powerful, All Knowing, with the power to help in life's battles, difficulties and challenges of reaching out with his purpose in the world. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect and opening a whole can of worms, consider "Why Men Hate Going to Church" by David Murrow and "The Church Impotent: the Feminization of Christianity" by Leon J. Podles).
While I don't agree with all these book espouse, they do make a very valid point.

Kevin Powell

***many of these choruses speak of intimacy in worship from a feminine perspective (intimacy with the bridegroom, ) that, in my opinion, leaves the men present in the worship time without real connection with the Mighty God***

My wife likes to point out that women have been left out in most of the hymnody throughout the centuries because of the dominance of male imagery in hymns, theology, prayer, God-talk, etc. So, I think we men can stand a little time in the wilderness.

kgp

skg

Regarding Redman's 'Heart of Worship', I do understand the background of the song and see it as confessional. I struggle with it, though, from a congregational perspective. While we typically neglect confessional features of worship in music, Heart of Worship confesses one particular thing. I'm not sure most of my congregants personally suffer from a performance-based worship infection. In other words, I see the confessional element - we (the congregation) just can't normally identify with it, though it's possible we'll come across some isolated situations where its one confessional feature will be an authentic expression for us as a people. Even so, it's predominant first person language undermines (too strong a word?) community-consciousness. I'm not sure H of W says much beyond that.

kgp - Assuming, arguendo, that kenosis makes a point, should the church take the men-it's-you're-turn approach to address centuries of neglect? We are, after all, a people - (ideally/spiritually) one. You do make a good point, but isn't it a bit overstated? Perhaps we should aim for getting all peop's out of the wilderness.

Kendra

I frequently find myself like-wise frustrated as a music director. The expectation to use modern worship music in the contemporary service often means singing what congregants hear on Christian Radio (another highly questionable 'ministry'). Are you aware of any theologically sound corporate worship possibilities?

kenosis

kgp

to clarify, I enjoy many of these choruses and am not in favor of chauvenising (a word, I hope) worship. Many worship hymns, songs, and choruses are gender neutral, reaching the heart of all, encouraging all to worship the Lord.

Specifically, I was in a worship service recently where all the worship team leaders were women and all the songs were quiet, syrup-laden songs. All of the men sat down with their arms crossed (not ever a good sign). skg makes my point - a need for variety and balanced enclusiveness

skg

kenosis,

I don't necessarily disagree, but I would add to your last characterization. The bridegroom imagery, for example, is biblical even if our/their musical applications of it might be questionable. If believing men don't like it, they should take it up with God (too few take up their problems about God to God anyway). What I hoped to imply, though, was that the gender-wrangling might miss the whole point altogether, regardless of a person's theological sympathies, and would go back to greg's early idea that worship is about God, God-ward, etc. If it is, then the concept that I'm approaching worship in the context of a community, conscious of the others around me who belong to me and I to them, would lead us to a different and maybe better criteria for musical 'church worship'. I'm hesitant about the idea that we really could 'balance' gender-centric expressions of worship, while God-centric and 'we' expressions of worship would tend toward what worship at essence should be in community AND inclusiveness. That's not to say that the gender issues aren't there. I just wonder if they would be less troublesome to resolve if the lionshare of our music contemplated God's Godness and the lyrics led us to do that together.

greg

Kendra,

Some of the British stuff coming out (Hughes, Townend, Smith) really is good. Hillsongs even does some decent stuff in terms of God's holiness, character, etc. You just have to avoid some of their Word of Faith influenced songs, and you'll probably want to do a different arrangement of some of it. Overall, I'd say Stuart Townend has written some of the best new hymns that work well with contemporary services. Also, Indelible Grace (they have a website you can Google) has rearranged several old Reformed hymns with beautiful results, including Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken, Day of Rest and Gladness, and On Jordan's Stormy Banks. Passion's hymn collection wasn't bad if you're looking for different arrangements to make hymns more do-able in a younger setting. Crowder has always included hymns on his stuff, and Jars have a few, especially on their new project (although I haven't heard much nicer than Hymn on their second cd).

sylvie

I would just like to say that as a woman, I feel just as alienated by the syrupy-feel-good-saccharine-laden songs that I commonly encounter, and I know just as many women who are turned off by the aforementioned lyrics as I do men. The only times I feel moved to worship are times when I am singing old hymns that have a definite strength, meaning, and intention behind their lyrics. This is not a gender issue, it is an issue of intellect and emotion (and contrary to popular belief, men are not exempt from emotional manipulation...) *ahem*

In fact I would say that I know more men in my church who approach worship in a way that is more "me me me, i i i" in nature, and who engage in a more emotionally driven worship time.

To me, the dumbing down/over-emotionalization of worship is also a direct reflection of the direction that most pulpit teaching has gone.

kenosis

skg

I absolutely agree with everything in your post. The imagery of the bridegroom and bride is a key to understanding John 14 "I go to prepare a place for you" (the jewish husband making a place for his bride to be in his father's house), Eph. 5 "Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church, and the book of Revelation.

Perhaps I am wrong, but it would seem the reality is, (in all we say that worship is "about God, God-ward"), that most people in a typical church are not ready to jump into Godward abandonment in unity with the others present when they walk in the door.
The role of the worship leader, choir, or worship team is to prepare themselves and help lead the people Godward in unity (not denying the individuals responsibility to come with a prepared heart). This is all I am saying, as you have said, about embracing all of God.

And, it would also seem that we are individualist, and might I say, self-thinking, in that we all like a certain worship style and worship form (hymns, psalms, spiritual songs) to the dissing of other styles. Perhaps, being totally Godward is not automatic and is a work in progress for all.

kenosis

one more thing (sorry) skg

greg has shared that 65% of baptist do not attend church; the number of men that have lost interest is much higher. My concern is not to placate men at the expense of women, who are generally the prayer and service foundation of any church. I am not saying replace a Godward focus with a man-pleasing focus, but to make a positive place in worship, serving, and marketplace ministry. I will never be satisfied to leave them in "the wilderness". Worship is most certainly part of this.

skg

kenosis,

I agree that 'most people in a typical church are not ready to jump into Godward abandonment in unity with the others present when they walk in the door.' While I'm not sure that the typical church gives them that opportunity, I think it brings up a good question, one that the churches typically (dead horse beating) attempt to answer only pragmatically and thus ineffectively (it's not merely a pragmatics puzzle). What do we do about indifference? Well, the answer seems to have been in how to make it about the individual. But aesthetics, approaches, genre are all, I think, woefully inadequate prescriptions. Maybe the reality is that some men (and women) will always come to church or meetings with an arm's-crossed-across-chest approach. We typically enjoy and participate in the things we have a vested interest in. And if they don't have a vested interest in Christ? I dunno. Encourage. Pray. Befriend. And even consider the pragmatics/logistics. I think that 'interest' is the substance underlying the form; it's what makes the form meaningful. I definitely agree, though, with what you're saying and the heart you seem to have behind it. 'I will never be satisfied to leave them 'in the wilderness'. Worship is most certainly part of this.' May we see God's favor in community-conscious worship. There are vast implications at stake. Peace.

Joe

This is off subject but I thought since you started theology on tap in OKC you would find this interesting. It's about a man starting one.
http://www.mmiblog.com/monday_morning_insight_we/2005/07/theology_on_tap.html

Kevin Powell

When I said that "men can stand a little time in the wilderness" I was being flippant. Maybe I should have put a smilie after the comment ;).

But still, being gender conscious does not necessarily mean becoming "syrupy sweet" in worship, or overtly emotional. It means finding ways to talk about God that includes the experience of women. This means excavating the bible for hidden inclusive treasures, as well as using the world around us to describe or even incarnate the Living Word in our hymns and spiritual songs.

But yes, worship is God-ward, but God also speaks to God's people in worship through the word proclaimed and the songs we sing. The theology, our understanding of God that informs our worship also informs our relationship to God. So worship isn't just one way communication. Worship brings God and people together so that both may enjoy life together under covenant.

kgp

kenosis

Kevin

You obviously have a keen mind and a heart for God and his church. I couldn't have said it better. My statements were not to make gender separations, really, but rather, in reflecting on what greg said at the top, and hopefully holding to the spirit of the current postings, an observation is that many of the contemporary choruses are not, in my observation, the way many men express themselves to God or each other (sometimes I not sure there is to be that much of a distinction in how we express ourselves either way). I think we truly understand each other and agree.

blessings and peace

Scott in Houston

Greg, Kenosis & Kevin

I'm enjoying the conversation about worship music. As a worship leader, I struggle with some of the same issues and look for material that is an expression rather than a conversation among "friends" of God.

A thought that I try and maintain when using material and writing original material is the thought that God himself initiated Worship. We respond to God's holiness, love and acts of Christ. I think worship IS about us in that it is meant to be OUR expression of God's holiness, love and thanks.

Of the newer stuff out there I agree with Greg that Hughes and Townend are good. I also like Most of Hillsongs material, although all are not for corporate worship and have a "pop influence" which is a little quirky. I also like David Crowder a lot. His older original stuff is great; lyrically very deep and meaningful.

I'm interested in hearing Greg's comments about "response" being a core facilitator in personal worship. If God is who he is, and that very fact along with the Christ act being the initation of love then worship is the response of the heart that recognizes the acts and greatness of God. Can you give me some elaboration or criticism of that idea?

andy (alias kenosis -might as well use real name)

Hi Scott,

Great post. 2 cents while I'm here - look into "Springhill Worship" (a division of springhill music group). On worshipmusic.com you can get free downloads.

I agree that worship that makes real connection is our response to the acts and greatness of God, rather than just a focus about how I'm going to approach Him (ie I worship you, I bow down, I'm gonna do this or that).

If you already know this, please forgive me, but I observe that many do not understand that our response to Him is more than during the worship service but how we respond Monday through Friday in private devotion and public service. Hearing comments from congregants like, "I enjoyed the worship today", or "wasn't that great worship", or even "I didn't get much from worship today" or "why wasn't the worship longer", shows that many see worship as just singing and not the loving sacrifice of ourselves to God and others in "response" to all that God is and has done for us.

Patrick Narkinsky

I should preface this by saying that I was "saved" (sorry if the term doesn't suit), discipled, mentored, licensed and ordained in a contemporary, Baptist church, and now pastor a small, rural Baptist church. So, I think i've seen both sides of the equation.

What I think is missing in your analysis is that contemporary and traditional worship use song and sermon in diametrically opposite ways. In traditional services (at least in the southern Baptist tradition) the sermon is usually long, boring, repetitious, and distinctly thin on theological content. The sermon is not there to teach, but to motivate. On the other hand, at least some of the songs are rich in theology, and the congregation's theology is more often informed by the songs than the sermons. Think about it -- what's the last sermon you actually paid much attention to? However, in the contemporary church, the *songs* are repetitious, rhythmic, and motivational, while the sermon is much less motivational and much more educational.

Underlying that distinction is a totally different philosophical emphasis in contemporary worship than in traditional worship. Contemporary worship seeks to involve the emotions, often to the detriment of engaging the mind. This is why contemporary worship songs are so often in the first person -- people don't get emotional about objective facts -- they get emotional when the facts are made personal. On this point, I think, the contemporary worship movement is to be applauded. They have helped people to experience theology, not just know about it.

This is more or less in line with what I believe regarding the word of god. The word of God is not something to be experience third hand, it is something to be taken into your heart. And if sappy lyrics about loving Jesus are what it takes for people to internalize the theology they believe, then I'm all for it. That doesn't mean it's for everyone ... it's not. But give credit to the contemporary church that it has reached people that more high church approaches never could have with the truth of the gospel.

greg

Patrick,

Not much time to reply now. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I'm gonna have to disagree with this part: "However, in the contemporary church, the *songs* are repetitious, rhythmic, and motivational, while the sermon is much less motivational and much more educational." The sermon is anything but educational theologically. In fact, part of the problem is that the sermons are as thin on theology as the songs, or worse, the theology they do contain is more wrong-headed than the songs. I'll be more specific about this when I get back. You'll find that my animosity to what contemporary churches call the truth of the Gospel knows almost no bounds. This truth they proclaim is a greatly truncated form of the Gospel. I hate to keep referring to my own stuff, but google my salvation entries for more on this subject. They may have been called Salvation for all I can remember. Peace.

skg

Greg -

You write that 'The sermon is anything but educational theologically. In fact, part of the problem is that the sermons are as thin on theology as the songs, or worse, the theology they do contain is more wrong-headed than the songs.' That is true about much of the preaching I've heard (though not all) and typified the church I grew up in with its Revivalist Methodology (idols deserve to be capitalized, don't you think?). Assuming that the mega-mindset is merely an updated version of that, I certainly don't object to your characterization of its effects, viz., 'a greatly truncated form of the Gospel,' though we might disagree about each place to apply that characterization. I'm concerned that the Gospel of kingdom preached today, or a form of it anyway, rarely contemplates the kingdom itself, its ethic and nature, or its other citizens along with those who should be invited to make entry. I suppose that's part of what happens when unexamined methodology lingers through generations; said methodology becomes the theology, leaving an assumed orthopraxis.

On the other hand, the thin theology problem seems to me to be no respecter of ideologies. I'm not sure, but you seem to intimate it is? While you and I might disagree about what constitutes an over-corrective with respect to proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom (I admit that I'd probably fall into your 'or worse' category above), it seems we both feel a corrective is due, or long past it. Some of all persuasions ('liberal' and 'conservative' and so on) do seek to educate theologically and, imperfect as their attempts may be, embrace the ethic of the kingdom; many don't. Given that, I agree with what you said about preaching, at least as a generalization - I simply apply its import to a broader audience, I think, than you do. It's a sound-bite age, even on religious fronts. Flimsy rhetoric abounds no matter what color the jersey. But that's probably a conversation for another day.

I hope I haven't mischaracterized your thoughts. You said you'll be more specific when you return from vacation. I look forward to it.

By the way, I think you should refer to your 'own stuff'. Why have a blog if you don't want others to read it? I'm new to your site, but your posts have been thought-provoking and helpful to me. Peace.

Porky Fedwell

Greg, I am old enough to have seen this whole Christian pop music thing grow up from the 1970s (as are you). Having been there during the formation of parts of this culture, I can attest that the "personal" or "I" aspect of these songs were/are highly reactionary to the detached, impersonal, ritualistic services and music that were common in the mainline denominations of the time. I think this "popular" music movement also happened in the Catholic church at that time. I haven't kept up on what happened to it since then.

I wouldn't totally dismiss the "born again" experience if I were you, as Jesus did say "you must be born again," he didn't say it was optional. Of course, I realize you may simply be disputing what that means, rather than the necessity of it.

You've told us what you disdain as far as worship music - what would you cite as being "legit" lyrics for worship? Which songs express true worship, in your opinion?

Porky

greg

Porky,

I don't believe that I disdain "born again" experience. What I disdain is fundangelicals trying to flatten the metaphor; it's obvious he's speaking metaphorically in the passage. I've posted at length on the subject in the past.

Rather than submit a list of worship songs, like some sort of parish-approved rotation, I prefer for churches to ask the question: does this song take the focus off me and put it on God, or what kind of person is this song more likely to shape me into being? Those seem better questions to begin with than simple issues of pronouns, lyrics, etc. I don't want to pick on music too much. The entire worship service is sort of up for critique in the issue of shaping.

Porky Fedwell

Greg, I understand. Are there particular denominations that excel at what you are describing as the ideal worship service, or does some of it exist across all denominations, depending on the location?
Pork

greg

Well, I like to think it can exist across lines. For a longer, better, and more thorough treatment, see Marva Dawn's A Royal "Waste" of Time. I don't know that I could point to a local congregation that is doing this well, although the church I attend is trying. Re-narrating an entire community is an arduous task. Re-narrating what it means to be the Body of Christ is even more difficult, especially when we've been telling people all along how easy it is to belong. I'd be curious to know if anyone reading knows of churches that are doing this at any level. I may post this comment as an entry like a call for submissions.

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