Those of us who are baby boomers and grew up in evangelical churches in America experienced firsthand the birth of "contemporary Christian music" and the battles it has spawned. The cultural revolution of the 1960s affected every institution, including the church. For one of us, living in Southern California during the 1970s meant witnessing the culture shift brought to the church by the Jesus Movement, giving rise to Maranatha! Music and Christian rock bands playing every Saturday night for thousands of young people at the original Calvary Chapel, in Costa Mesa. On the other hand, it also meant being lectured by ex-rock-musicians-turned-Christians who warned Christian teenagers to stay away from rock music, even when it had Christian lyrics, because, as everyone knows, "volume plus pulsation equals manipulation."
As the large response to John Stackhouse's recent Christianity Today article ("Memo to Worship Bands," Feb. 2009, page 50) attests, the worship wars are alive and well. In part, that's because more than ever, churches strive to make their worship culturally relevant, and when they do, this invariably raises questions about the nature of Christian worship. What we haven't seen articulated enough in these disputes, however, are theological principles that can help worship leaders incorporate culture into worship in such a way that the church's worship remains authentically Christian.
Culture and the Spirit of God
The symbols of popular culture transmit the shared meanings by which a people understand themselves, identify their longings, and construct their world. There are no truly neutral symbols, images, or rituals in popular culture.
Whether popular culture and its symbols are inherently evil or good has been a matter ...