Notes of Praise
I loved Christianity Today's worship music package [March]. One of my greatest frustrations in churches is the near-obsessive focus on praise songs. Our church's worship team sings about one hymn per month, and accompanies it with a concession to the "older folks" in the congregation. At age 43, I have not begun to consider myself "older."
Why must relevance and hymn-singing be mutually exclusive? To exclude hymns alienates an entire class of church attendee, telling hymn-lovers, "You are not welcome here." As this group is generally older, local churches push out some of their greatest resources in terms of time, talents, and treasure.
I completely share T. David Gordon's appreciation for our rich hymn heritage ["Pop Goes the Worship," March]. The younger generation's minimal exposure to this heritage robs them of a chance to make a wise choice.
C. S. Lewis, in one of his best-known quotes, crafts an analogy that applies to their situation: "Our desires [are] not too strong, but too weak," he writes. "We are … like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
I enjoy many contemporary praise songs, but feel badly for those who have never waded into the salty tides for which Gordon is so passionate.
Winona Lake, Indiana
Gordon mentions the change from music as a participatory experience to a passive one. This is due, in my experience, to worship being thought of as entertainment. Also, not mentioned in CT's worship package was the volume of contemporary music, which is often unpleasant and harmful to the ears. The volume makes it difficult to sing along.
Gordon's argument reminds me of those who believe the KJV is the superior Bible translation because of its refined language. Yet the KJV was written in the vernacular of 17th-century England in language the common person could appreciate. The same could be said about much church music written since the Reformation.
Before the advent of mass media, church music was arguably "pop music," in that it was the music of the people. Luther's organ hymns were for the people; hymns at the Wesleyan revivals were suited for non-instrumental singing; Baptist hymns of the 20th century reflected the gospel and country tastes of the rural South. Popular tastes have always shaped church music.
Great hymns will survive the waves of populist worship in every generationamp;mdash;and so will the best of the new songs of those generations. Thankfully, God did not give us one form of worship for all times. He left it to the Spirit to give each generation its own expression of worship. Gordon would do well to listen to the Spirit in today's generation.
Gordon makes many laudable points, but like many traditionalist "worship warriors," he argues from essentially an aesthetic perspective, when the real problem with contemporary Christian music is its creation, or rather the motivation thereof. The vast majority of contemporary Christian music is written to be recorded and sold—to make money. One cannot love both God and mammon.
After I'd made fun of praise choruses, calling them "7/11 songs" (7 phrases sung 11 times), a pensive friend said to me, "You would never make fun of someone who prayed simply. Why would you disparage those who sing to God simply?"
Then I heard a pastor explain that the command to sing "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (Eph. 5) is a sub-point of being filled with the Spirit, as is the command to submit to each other. Thus, the older generation—hymn snobs, like me—should submit to the younger generation, learning to appreciate the simplicity of spiritual songs. And the younger generation should submit to the older generation, learning to love hymns. Can we not, as editor Mark Galli said, learn from one another's worship? What glorifies God is not only worshipful singing but the love we show by submitting to one another.
Kansas City, Missouri
I read with great interest "Worship in Black and White," about racial reconciliation via hymns, and "The Hymns That Keep on Going." It struck me that the 28 hymnals in the latter were all from white churches. In light of racially diverse hymnals, I wonder what the results would have been if the African American Heritage Hymnal had been consulted? Would all of the top 27 still make the cut?
Witchcraft accusations in Africa are harmful ["Warning on Witches," Briefing, March], but in our Western context we sometimes miss biblical teachings about demons (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:20), who are apparently sometimes active in connection with human agents (e.g., Ex. 7:11-2; Matt. 24:24; Acts 8:9-1; Rev. 13:13-5). My own experiences in Central Africa incline me to wonder if, despite some syncretistic excesses there, we in the West have not committed our own syncretism with deism.
Professor, Palmer Theological Seminary
In light of the many assertions these days concerning faith, doubt, and certainty, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway's "In Praise of Confidence" [March] was refreshing.For both those who declare that "the opposite of faith is doubt" and those who assert (with certainty) that "the opposite of faith is certainty," might not the simplest answer be that the opposite of faith is "no-faith," or unbelief?
Along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we can assert with "proper confidence" (Lesslie Newbigin) that "faith alone is certainty.Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith."
Mark Jalovick Cable, Wisconsin
What got the most comments in March's CT
30% Pop Goes the Worship interview with T. David Gordon
13% The Trajectory of Worship by John Koessler
10% The Hymns That Keep on Going by Robert T. Coote
The most praised piece in March's CT
In Praise of Confidence
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway
"It is sad that this unfolded and will taint the reputation of our school and other Christian schools, but one man does not make a school."
Erica, on the resignation of Lu Hardin, president of Palm Beach Atlantic University.
CT Liveblog: "Fallen Christian College Head Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud, Money Laundering," by Trevor Persaud
"Parenting has always been a challenge, but with mass media and marketing, it has become a real jungle. We all struggle between living in the world and not being of the world, but never so much as with our kids."
Suzy, discussing today's culture in relation to the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
Her.meneutics: "Toddlers, Tiaras, and Surviving Princess Mania," by Sharon Hodde Miller
"She says the way we are born is what we should embrace; actually, we were born into sin and should hate our flesh. God doesn't say to us, 'You're perfect the way you are, don't change.' "
Nadine S., disagreeing that pop star Lady Gaga's lyrics contain the gospel message.
CT Entertainment Blog: "Going Gaga over the Gospel?" by Mark Moring
"If Jesus returned today, he wouldn't take the bus to Washington to lobby for additional aid for the needy. He would head straight to his church and ask why his people were not doing more."
Neil, arguing that Christians, not government-funded programs, are responsible for assisting the needy.
CT Politics Blog: "Evangelicals Issue Warning on Budget Cuts," by Alicia Cohn
Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
The March issue is available on our website.
Letters to the editor must include the writer's name and address if intended for publication. They may be edited for space or clarity.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
More from this Issue
Read These Next
- TrendingJunia, the Female Apostle Imprisoned for the GospelWhat Scripture tells us about the story of this “outstanding” Jewish woman in chains.Português
- From the MagazineIs It Time to Quit ‘Quiet Time’?Effective biblical engagement must be about more than one’s personal experience with Scripture.
- Editor's PickAfter Nashville, Moral Numbness Is Our EnemyShootings have become normal to the American public. But as Christians, we know better.