October 20, 2020

Miguel Ruiz: A Response to “Annoying Things in Worship Songs”

psalms microcall

Psalms (microcalligraphy), Leon Azoulay

Note from CM: Miguel is a regular reader and commenter on Internet Monk. I appreciate his personal and theological insights as one who is working in a congregational context and share his passion for worship and for the music that is such an important ingredient in our worship. Today, Miguel responds to a recent article that uses the Psalms to reflect on contemporary worship music.

* * *

MiguelA Response to “Annoying Things in Worship Songs”
by Miguel Ruiz

Jeremy Pierce has an article up on Justin Taylor’s blog over at The Gospel Coalition. It is a satirical look at some of the critiques leveled against recent church music that holds these critiques (or rough caricatures of them) up to the Psalms in order to see if they would condemn the sacred texts.

Now, I understand the purpose of the article was to be humorous and make the point that we ought to be careful how we criticize Contemporary Christian music. It takes inarticulate lines of reasoning to their logical absolutes, and I commend his idea of careful, critical reflection on doxological practices. This purpose of this response is to engage his reasoning and provide a rebuttal for the sake of promoting a deeper reflection on the purpose of music and singing in worship.

In his caricature, I believe he too quickly brushes aside legitimate critiques of poorly written music. But more importantly, the article deflects valid critiques with a seemingly poor understanding of what the Psalms are and very little engagement with their substance.

It begins: “Here are some of the things I really hate in a worship song” …

1. Too simplistic, banal, lacing in depth, shallow, doctrine-less: Consider this one that just talks about unity among brothers that only mentions God in passing at the very end. [Psalm 133]

“Simplistic, banal, lacking in depth, shallow, and doctrineless” is quite a hefty label for any portion of Scripture. Psalm 133 is rich in Biblical allusions and instruction. See Christ’s prayer in John 17 (especially verse 21). It is a perfect illustration of how the Psalms are Christ’s own prayers. Do the songs we sing in church reflect the heart of Christ?

2. It’s so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat “His steadfast love endures forever” before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? [Psalm 118 and 136]

These are not the same as some of the simplistic mantras we call “worship” these days. The refrain is repeated, but what about the rest of the text? It makes Wesley’s 17 stanzas of “O For a Thousand Tongues” look like an introduction. Consider these psalms likely had more of a liturgical use to them, rather than comprising a song festival prior to the sermon. Also, the simple refrain made it possible for worship assemblies prior to the invention of the printing press or projection screen to participate interactively with a text that was more complex than they could easily memorize. Do our songs recount God’s might works on our behalf in detail?

3. For some songs, the focus is too much on the instruments, and the sheer volume leads to its seeming more like a performance than worship and prevents quiet contemplation. [Psalm 150]

There is a difference between the use of instruments and a focus on them. They didn’t go off on a 16 bar shofar solo after the predictable post-chorus buildup. Not that solos in church are always wrong (I do them), but there is a difference between instruments used to support group singing and the shameless pursuit of “cool.” There is also a difference between being loud, and being always loud. Psalm 150 does not preclude silence before the lord. Does our worship provide the sort of balance that includes jubilant rejoicing, quiet reverence, and silent reflection?

4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate [Psalm 27] a relationship with God, using first-person [Psalm 13] singular pronouns like “me” [Psalm 6] or “I” or second-person pronouns like “you” instead of words like “we” and “God.” This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates and atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God? [Psalm 34]

Psalm 27 is so much more substantive than a “Jesus is my boyfriend” jingle. Psalm 13’s use of the personal pronoun is for supplication. You can’t ask for God’s aid without it. Many worship songs use it to express how much we love God and are wholeheartedly dedicated to him and are going to serve him. One highlights the necessity of God’s work on our behalf, the other highlights our own works offered up to God. Oh that contemporary songwriters would lament over sin and model repentance in their songs like Psalm 6. This is truly a lost art. And “tasting God” is only an offense to non-sacramental churches, where the idea should at least be entertained metaphorically on the basis of John 6. Do our songs have the kind of substance that implores God for help, portrays sin rightly, and confronts us with Biblical metaphor?

5. Some songs have way too many words for anyone to learn. [Psalm 119]

If you stick with the same repertoire long enough, you’d be surprised how much people retain. Disposable songs rotated out after 2.5 years weren’t worth memorizing to begin with. A song that is older than your parish and will likely outlast it is worth memorizing: it can bring you comfort in times where you are unable to attend a worship service. Do we sing texts that are worth reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting?

6. It patterns its worship on experiences that not everyone in the congregation will be able to identify with. If you’re not in the frame of mind or don’t have the emotional state in question (e.g., a desperate longing for God [Psalm 63]), then what are you doing lying and singing it? Worship leaders who encourage that sort of thing are making their congregations sing falsehoods.

Just a second there. A desperate longing for God is not quite a stretch as “surrendering all.” There is room for the totality of human emotional experience to be expressed in worship, as the Psalms model. Indeed, there is the necessity for most of these to be at least touched on for the sake of balance. The problem with “I’m so in love with Jesus” ditties is they tend to dominate the repertoire and never leave room for the hurting and struggling, those whom Christ came to comfort, to voice their faith in song. Do our songs equip us to process our emotions through trust in Christ?

7. Then there’s that song with the line asking God not to take the Holy Spirit away [Psalm 51], as if God would ever do that to a genuine believer.

I know. The Bible is just so full of bad theology, isn’t it? I guess King David just wasn’t a Calvinist. There are texts like this which provide interpretative difficulties for different theological systems. Should we hide from them? Or rather, can the songs we sing help to explain difficult passages?

8. Then there’s that song that basically says nothing except expression negative emotions. [Psalm 137]

Yes please. More of this. In fact, the Psalms as a whole are about 69% lament. A diet of saccharine pop will poison your soul. Learning to lament will prove a invaluable aide when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death (and you will). What songs are we singing that enable us to cope with suffering as Christians? “You give and take away” just doesn’t comfort me much in times of trouble, especially when my heart is not choosing to say “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Does our repertoire have room to, as Christ does in Psalm 22, question God in times of trial? Singing through these kind of passages can help us to process out doubts in the light of God’s faithfulness to us.

9. Finally, there are those songs that have like four or five lines [Psalm 117] that people just either have to repeat over and over again or just sing briefly and never get a chance to digest.

But are they four or five divinely inspired lines? Or is it four or five recycled and worn out cliches? Is there room for both simplicity and complexity in our singing?

* * *

Let’s not defend bad songwriting by pointing to the Psalms. They are the greatest treasure in the history of literature, priceless works of poetry that will endure forever. Too many of the products of the CCM industry are disposable, trend driven ear-worms written to evoke an emotional response rather than to cause the word of Christ to dwell in us richly. The industry is largely owned by secular interests and driven by a bottom line, not accountable to the church or primarily concerned with its edification. Would that songwriters these days were more engaged with the Psalms, emulating their style, substance, structure, and most importantly, tenacious Christo-centricity.

Oh that those writing songs for today’s church would look deeply into these texts as the true lex orandi, models of right doxology and spirituality.

Oh, wait… they do. We call them. hymn. writers.


  1. Could you say a little more about the graphic used to illustrate this piece? It’s very intriguing!

  2. I see this not so much as defending bad music as skewering kneejerk snobbery about church music (which has become very fashionable in some circles), and as such, I approve. And I say that as someone who would go to a church that played nothing but Bach without thinking twice.

    • I agree.

      And I’m not in the habit of agreeing wih much of anything from TGC.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Am I right in assuming “Annoying Things in Worship Songs” tried to defend 7/11 P&W by claiming “Jeesus is my Edward Cullen — Sparkle! Sparkle! Sparkle! SQUEE!” is directly equivalent to the Book of Psalms?

  3. This is probably the best and most compelling point in this whole piece, Miguel: “The industry is largely owned by secular interests and driven by a bottom line, not accountable to the church or primarily concerned with its edification.”

    • I’m glad you isolated and pointed this out, Damaris.

      I think there are two separate forces at work here: I disagree with the general pushback against the original article. I thought it was a surprisingly gracious post from TGC which legitimately went after the critical/religious mentality of many church folks. Because in the end, those who are critiquing are still quite close to a consumeristic “I want what I want out of church” mentality, only using educated and theological language for their critique, and not deferring to how real people may or may not genuinely connect with the Divine.

      On the other hand, the quote that Damaris highlights here needs lots and lots and lots of critique and attention. The corporate interests that lie behind the worship music industry do need to be exposed and evaluated.

      This is a heavy tension. Because of less-than-honorable motives, and some shallow theology, do we tear down that which may genuinely connect the average person with the Spirit of God?

      Seems like the age-old story: God uses the not-so-great people, methods, and means to ultimately bring his family together. Let’s recognize this fact so we can critique with humility, without settling for less. (and for the record: THIS IS VERY HARD TO DO)

  4. Thank you. Well said.

  5. The new trend I see in contemporary worship songs is verses talking about raising an army. It could be revivalistic enthusiasm, but can’t help wondering if there is more – such as an appeal to political action/culture war, or even sedimentality for Tea Party calls to overthrow the government after the most recent presidential elections. Then again, Battle Hymn of the Republic is even a tough one for me; even though it is loaded with scriptural allusions, it’s hard to forget it was an anthem of the Civil War and other military conflicts in the past.

    • Don’t you remember the Arrmy of God in the 80’s? I forget the label.

    • it comes from a number of aberrant beliefs (including Dominionism and the New Apostolic Reformation), and is, I’m sure, a reflection of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Wish someone had turned these guys on to Warhammer 40K instead of Christian Culture War. Then they could WAAAAUGH DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA without forcing all the rest of us into the game as Orks and Chaos Creatures.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It could be revivalistic enthusiasm, but can’t help wondering if there is more – such as an appeal to political action/culture war, or even sedimentality for Tea Party calls to overthrow the government after the most recent presidential elections.

      Remember last year’s deadlock in Congress over Obamacare?
      Who got in the news calling for a Military Coup?
      (Hint: The same ones who years ago gushed over how many military personnel were “Born-Again Bible-Believing Christians”…)

  6. I just finished a three week class on worship for my Sunday School class, but only a part of it was devoted to “singing”. Miguel, I absolutely agree that many of the choruses used today are calculated to evoke an emotional response, but that is exactly what people believe that worship IS! Very few of these “ditties” we use recall God’s character, or mighty works, neither do they evoke mankind’s unworthiness to come before a Holy God while expressing gratitude that we, indeed, CAN come before Him, thanks to His Son.

    Personally, I am sick of singing about “love”, as if THAT were God’s greatest and most important attribute. It may be ONE of His attributes, but so is holiness, which is almost never sung about. If we look at Revelation chapters 4 & 5, and Isaiah’s vision of the throne room, and Ezekiel’s encounter, we can glean a more accurate account of how creation responds to to an almighty God. And we sing about a sentimental god? There is a place for extolling love of God, but not to the exclusion of all else.

    • Revelation, Isaiah, and Ezekiel? 2/3 are sung every week in the Divine Service. When heaven meets earth in the person of Jesus (and His presence at the table), the saints join with the song of the angels. We shouldn’t find it so odd that where Christ is not present at a neglected table, the song of the saints becomes far less heavenly. Our services generally confront us with the dominant themes of God’s holiness and his mercy in Christ. My concern is not so much a disproportionate emphasis on love so much as it is an understanding of love apart from holiness.

    • Personally, I am sick of singing about “love”, as if THAT were God’s greatest and most important attribute. It may be ONE of His attributes, but so is holiness, which is almost never sung about. If we look at Revelation chapters 4 & 5, and Isaiah’s vision of the throne room, and Ezekiel’s encounter, we can glean a more accurate account of how creation responds to to an almighty God. And we sing about a sentimental god? There is a place for extolling love of God, but not to the exclusion of all else.

      I don’t know… Perhaps the issue is that many things trivialize the love of God by making it into something more like romantic love. I don’t agree that love is simply an attribute of God – it’s His essence. So the attributes of God flow from that.

      • Phil M, I agree with you:

        1 John 4:8
        Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

        1 John 4:16
        And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

        • Yep. Love God, love others…the two greatest commands.

          Also, Romans 13:8 – “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

          It’s gotta start with God’ love and end with God’s love. Jesus showed God’s love.

          Frankly, all our praises should be about His love, thankful for His love, worshipping His love, etc.

      • That Other Jean says

        I think it’s easy to confuse romantic love and (don’t know how to do the italics thing) caritas in today’s Christianity. Caritas isn’t the sentimental “Jesus is my boyfriend” kind of love, but what is meant by “loving” your neighbor–not necessarily sentimental affection toward them, but kindness, friendship, and a willingness to help when they need it. It is also the root of “charity,” which is another word that some parts of modern Christianity often get wrong. Perhaps because today’s charity is too often “I’ll give you my leavings because I’m supposed to, poor person, even though I think you’re not worthy of the things I worked hard to get,” the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity” are generally translated today as “Faith, Hope, and Love.” Which would be fine, except that “love” in America means the squishy, sentimental, romantic emotion. I hope that’s not what God feels for us, or expects us to feel for Him.

  7. Of course there are bad, self-focused lyrics.

    Change them.

    My pastor does it all the time. Make a dicey hymn into a Christ centered hymn (song- whatever).

    • Many songwriters and copyright holders have very strong objections to this. At the end of the day, if a song is so bad it needs heavy editing, many would say it is better to just find a different song. Some songwriters, however, welcome suggestions and improvements to their music.

      Sometimes it is good for the songwriter to object. Keith Getty kept “In Christ Alone” out of the new Presbyterian hymnal solely because he would not permit them to drop “the wrath of God was satisfied” for “the love of God was magnified.” Good for him!

    • In a kinda flip to this, I’m often changing lyrics to very inspiring secular music to make them worshipful and praiseful of God and Jesus. Don’t know if it’s heretical or not, but it works for my relationship with God and Christ!

    • I read somewhere that the Presbyterian USA Church wanted to change the lyrics of “In Christ Alone” from

      “Till on that cross as Jesus died,
      The wrath of God was satisfied”


      “Till on that cross as Jesus died,
      The ‘love’ of God was ‘magnified'”

      and that Getty and Townend refused.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I assume this means the Presbyterians (or at least Getty & Townsend) subscribe to Penal Substitutionary Atonement?

        • I’m not sure what Presbyterian USA subscribes to, but I believe that other more conservative Presbyterian branches do subscribe to some notion of PSA

          As for Getty & Townend, I have not read anything they may have written in this respect.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      I have some serious objections to that premise. Well-intentioned, for sure, but I have the same concerns that I would have with a version of the Bible that changed a few problematic verses to make them more “accessible.” I know what the author’s true intent was, and I suspect many of the people in the congregation would as well, so if I can’t sing the author’s original words without choking on phrases like “sloppy wet kiss,” then it isn’t appropriate for the worship service, even if I just change out the phrase. Besides, if I do my homework as a worship leader, I can usually find a more appropriate song.

  8. You know this is an interesting topic, deeper than music. Many a Christian is paradoxical. Driven by true repentance, baptism into a new community, graced with faith. Driven by wanting to be cool, putting life into words that make sense now, a sense of impressing the value of experience on to others.
    I think of many Contemporary Christian Artists of say Nashville and surrounds that don’t look much different than people on a stage who never have a thought about Christ. And they choose clothes, instruments, buses, venues- paraphenalia of all types that is culturally the same as anybody else. And this corresponds directly to any of us, considering how you live in the culture of your situation.
    Annoying things in worship songs corresponds directly to culturally annoying things. This is the experience of a thousands of missionaries returning to a culture( and church) that now has a paradoxical take by them.

    • Right. Too often church trends so closely ape cultural trends that it looses what should distinguish it from the culture. I get that culture has a huge impact on local expressions of worship. But this needs to be balanced by a historical rootedness and ownership of the church’s aesthetic past to guard against the kind of chronological snobbery which breeds generational narcissism.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Right. Too often church trends so closely ape cultural trends that it looses what should distinguish it from the culture.

        “Just like Fill-in-the-Blank, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!” is the type of joke that’s funny because it’s true.

  9. Richard Hershberger says

    Repetition is a tricky topic. Repetition can be a very effective tool in the composer’s toolbox, but it also can be lazy and banal. For an example of the former, consider “Deo gratias” by the Dutch Renaissance composer Johannes Ockeghem. “Deo gratias” is in fact the entire text, repeated for six minutes. The piece is, however, anything but lazy. It is a canon is thirty-six parts: musically sophisticated, and gorgeous. It can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESCA19ZGPBE. The simplicity of the text complements the complexity of the music, resulting in a meditation on the theme of divine mercy. Few, however, have the musical chops to make something like this work, or even to make a good effort.

    • Wow, great music there! Something to add to my bucket list.
      There is also a place for simplicity in repetition. Some people connect with and better digest shorter texts repeated. The important thing it to ensure what is repeated is worth the focus it gets. I like long strophic hymns without refrains. Many people find these challenging to follow. The right thing for me to do, pastorally, is to challenge them with some more eloquent texts and bring them along with things they can more easily grasp. I try not to turn worship services into an intellectual exercise, but I think no exercise in confessing the Gospel is fruitless. It’s all about balance, and theoretically, the better a balance you can achieve, the more inclusive your services are to different kinds of people. Here is my favorite example of repetition done right: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LW_cU7TeOWw

  10. Overall, I share the concern that much of contemporary worship music is thin on theology and artistic merit. However, I use some of it because it communicates truth (the better songs) to our congregation.

    This week, we sang “The Solid Rock” (Higher Ground, whatever — the traditional hymn) and the congregation sang it with a deep sense of ownership–it was what every worship leader hopes to see. Part of the reason they know it so well is that new folks were reintroduced to the words through Hillsong’s version, called “Cornerstone.”

    Generally, I prefer the original hymns to the revamped contemporary versions some are producing, but I am grateful for this move to re-teach or re-reach–new church-goers with older music. (Sovereign Grace, Sojourn, and Red Mountain Church do it better, but I can’t help it my church listens to K-Love…..)

    Worship leadership choices are always a balance…. How to help the church learn and grow and honor God for his goodness…. How to encourage our people toward deeper faith and understanding (without leaving too many people behind in confusion….?)

    I’d also say, there is a significant attempt in contemporary worship to correct the error of too many touchy-feely me-focused songs. (See “At Your Name” – Tim Hughes/Phil Wickham, for example, or “Revelation Song”)

    Anyway, thank you for the thought-provoking, insightful article. I agree that we ought not to cheapen the Psalms by using them to defend crappy music 🙂

    I missed the opportunity to introduce myself when the ‘newbie’ post was made (Feb 5?) but I shall now. My name is Julie, I live north of Pittsburgh, PA, in the town where I grew up… I lived in Ukraine between 2000-2010. I teach as an adjunct at two colleges—one community, one Christian liberal arts–and am working on a doctorate through Biola University on issues regarding worship and Ukrainian culture. I’m married to a man raised in the Lutheran Church (LCMS) tradition, and we serve (volunteer) in worship leadership at the Free Methodist Church that raised me and supported me throughout my ten years as a missionary. I’m a Holiness person 😉 Thankfully, there are some who use their minds for Jesus in that tradition too. I’m fascinated by liturgy, have studied a bit in the area of Eastern Orthodoxy, enjoy attending Anglican and Lutheran services when I can. But in my cross-cultural ministry, helped to develop simple/organic house churches.

    So you can see, I’m very mixed up. Lord have mercy.

    I’ve been trolling around here for years and thought it was time to say hello. And thanks!


    • Welcome Julie, from a fellow Pittsburgher (South Hills). I think you will find great discussion and some posters who have the gift of writing on this blog. Sadly I am not one of them but still share my high liturgy point of view from time to time.


      • How’s yinz doin’ down there? Been snowing n’at, I hear. Thanks for the shout-out 🙂

        I think I’ve read some of your comments–wouldn’t say you are writing gift-less! And it’s always good to hear from the high-liturgy folk.

        Some of my favorites on this site – over the years have been Jeff Dunn’s music reviews. I share his fondness for Over the Rhine and the Chieftains, and there are several albums in my iTunes list as a result of checking this blog…

    • Glad you decided to join the conversation! I’ll check the Hughes/Wickham song. I’ve used “Revelation Song” in the past, but primarily because our parish has a good number of K-Love fans too. I think it has a good text, but the verses are too melodically variant to foster much participation. It’s one of those songs most people tend to join on the chorus, which is okay, but we just have so many great settings of the Sanctus in the Lutheran church it kind of renders this one redundant. I generally use it by request only.

      I’d agree that I see many contemporary songwriters coming around to 1. embrace deeper substance and 2. keep things more Christ-centered. Unfortunately, the more I see this kind of writing pop up, the less I see it at the top of the CCLI charts or on Christian radio. Pastorally effective music just isn’t the same things as market-savvy entertainment. Our churches need to do a better job of distinguishing between these.

      When we sing hymns, it is almost always with the original melody. Many of our people already know this and it helps foster stronger participation to rely on what is more familiar. Most re-writes make good ear candy, but aren’t necessarily improvements.

      • Interesting–I was nearly going to share that we used “Revelation Song” as the sanctus in our communion service last week. But yes, if I were Lutheran, like you, I’m sure I’d stick to the wealth of great liturgical resources you already have! And yeah, the melody in RS isn’t terribly congregation-friendly (as my husband, who is quickly trying to learn contemporary worship, frequently points out!)

        And yes, a thousand times yes–Good writing, when it happens, doesn’t make it to Christian radio much. Wonder why that is?

        I also agree that most hymn re-writes aren’t improvements. It’s often my pastor that requests we use the rewrites, and his best argument for that is, the extended choruses (the simple repetitive lines that are often added) give people time to let the meaning soak in. This is particularly for newcomers, who weren’t raised with hymns (or any church at all), who are meeting the (four-six verses worth of) words for the first time.

        I get his point, but I’m not entirely sure what I think of that yet. I think that, often, contemporary worship is slowly struggling to cover the bases that traditional liturgy has had covered (e.g. repeated, simple, “Kyrie Eleisons” and such at key meditative points in the service….) Not sure the now-mandated P&W song “Bridges” and “Tags” work in the same way tho…

        Anyone here familiar with Cardiphonia, by the way?

        • I’ve used the refrain from “Be Unto Your Name” as a sort of contemporary Sanctus, and considered RS. I usually employ similar contemporary music during communion if we abbreviate the liturgy and omit the Sanctus. Personally, if we’re going to sing the Sanctus, I’d rather use traditional versions which include the whole text rather than just singing something about God being holy, but I admit these contemporary pieces to make for interesting variation.

          I think there is a difference between completely re-writing a hymn (like the lovely stuff from Red Mountain) and simply adding a new refrain. We tend to use contemporary versions that add refrains if the melody in the verse can be left intact, ‘casue that way people still recognize enough to participate right away. This last weekend we just introduced Stephen Miller’s version of “O For a Thousand Tongues,” which is the best contemporary adaption I’ve been able to find. The refrain is simple, singable, and brief, yet it adds focus and summary to the text. Check it out!

          And yes, I have definitely heard of Cardiphonia. Bruce Benedict is my hero. I’m working very hard to try and bring similar ideas into the Lutheran church, but it’s an uphill battle. LCMS worship wars are very polarized, with hard-core traditionalism on one side and hard-core iconoclasm on the other. Fortunately, people in our congregation don’t really fight over it, they’re willing to just take turns, and have responded well to the eclectic amalgamations I’ve foisted on them.

          • Wow! So you’re serving in an LCMS church and doing all this. I can relate to the challenge (and fun) of foisting ‘eclectic amalgamations’ on a community 🙂 And what a blessing it is to serve a flexible & forgiving congregation!

            I’ve had a lot of great conversations with my LCMS husband about worship, and we’re both learning a lot. I think the Lutherans have a lot to offer the post-evangelical conversation.

            Gave the Miller “O for a thousand” a listen. Nice! Yeah, though I personally enjoy the more entirely redone hymns (Red Mtn, etc), they are less useful for church, since they are too unfamiliar to carry the benefit of being ‘known’

    • Thanks for the introduction.

      “The Revelation Song” is one of my all-time favorites, right up there with “In Christ Alone.” Those two never fail to move me toward tears of joy and thankfulness.

  11. Miguel, excellent analysis of Jeremy Pierce’s nine points on contemporary music. Thank you for your insight on worship music.

    I have a question for you and would very much appreciate your response… What is your opinion on Keith & Kristyn Getty’s and Stuart Townend’s music? Do you consider it appropriate for corporate worship? If so, why? If not, why not?

    • Huge fan. I use it all the time. You’ll see I linked them in the second to last word of the article.

      • Thank you, Miguel.

        One last question I just now thought of… Have you read “Worship Matters” by Bob Kauflin? If so, I would very much appreciate your opinions on the book?

        • Yes, I have. I have mixed feelings. At the end of the day, I am VERY angry with it.

          It had some useful insights on the centrality of the Gospel to worship, but I find these ideas better articulated in the Lutheran sources I am currently reading. He relies too much on this culturally determined concept of the “worship leader” as somebody who leads music, which is to be expected since he’s charismatic after all. His focus on the glory of God above all things was appealing to me at the time, it smells very much like the Westminster standards. However, the glory of God ought to be seen primarily through the suffering of Christ, and for all their rigorous theology, Calvinist theologians writing on worship tend to gloss over that.

          Most importantly, though, is his section on relationships. He staunchly advocates the typical charismatic ecclesiology I grew up with, where you don’t question the Pastor because he is anointed of God and it’s your job to get in line with his vision and support whatever he decides. This is a flat out poisonous doctrine that breeds spiritual abuse. I drank the cool-aide and followed his advice. I paid a heavy price for it. I’ll give the guys this, he at practices what he preaches, but his uncritical devotion to CJ Mahaney is hardly what I’d call admirable. Pastors need to be held accountable, and where they are not, the people suffer.

          I have enjoyed much of Bob’s music and used it in the past. Sovereign Grace music is generally a refreshing exception to trends in CCM I find unsettling. But his doctrine has such bizarre quirks in it I feel like we’re living on two different planets at times. Calvinism and Charismaticism are NEVER a good combination, they’re far better left in their separate doctrinal camps.

          • “Calvinism and Charismaticism are NEVER a good combination, they’re far better left in their separate doctrinal camps.”

            In many quarter there is a huge overlap. The Acts 29 Network, for example, has many churches that represent both.

          • Thank you for your response to my question. I am aware of his relationship with Sovereign Grace Ministries and also of problems (to put it mildly) arising from that organization. I know that Kauflin was at one time close to Mahaney, but whether that is still the case or not I do not know.

            I am Reformed but not Charismatic, but I don’t see why “Reformed Charismatic” is a bad combination. Neither the Reformed nor the Charismatics are monoliths. In fact, I find Reformed Charismatics such as Sam Storms bringing a fresh perspective to this tradition.

            Regardless, you have helped me understand some things, primarily in your post but also in your responses to my questions.

  12. I’ve got to say that in my church-hopping, I don’t find the whole criticism of music being sung on for an emotional response to be entirely true. It might be the intent, but my biggest criticism of the church music I’ve heard over the last three years in various churches is that there’s no dynamics, no life, nothing that really makes it, well, musical. A pet peeve of mine is when there is a hymn that has five or six verses, and every verse is sung exactly the same. It’s like, “please kill me now”.

    While I do agree that music shouldn’t necessary be emotion-driven, I see many churches trying to take the emotion out of it completely. I’ve seen this even in churches with very professional sounding bands. There’s no life at all. People can’t relate to the lyrics because the music is dead and lifeless. Perhaps this is just my bias as a Pentecostal, but, man, I think a lot of church musicians need to learn to play with some life. Oddly, enough, the churches where I find this to be not so much of an issue are where there’s minimal instrumentation or none. The Orthodox services I’ve been to, for example, are compelling from a musical perspective. There is a natural focus on dynamics and making the music serve what is being sung. I just wish other church musicians could understand this.

    • There’s truth in your perception of worship bands. Some of the best worship services I’ve been involved in was while witnessing the band members BELIEVING in what they were singing. I’ll never forget one of my first witnesses of this when a drummer stopped drumming to raise his hands to The Lord. To this group, it wasn’t about THE PLAYING, it was about THE WORSHIP. I’ve seen it quite a few times now, and even my own church worship band has moved more toward true worship. They still PLAY great, but their expressions are much more in tune and focused on worship of Him.

      • …so raising your hands is what constitutes genuine worship? Should we judge the condition of the heart solely by the outward expression? Dangerous territory, my friend. It’s good to believe what we’re singing, it’s better to sing texts worth believing because they give Christian hope. It looks like you’re defining worship here as emotionally connecting to God through music. You also seem to imply that the playing of their musical instruments was not an act of worship. I’m not sure the scriptures would agree.

        • Geez, Miguel, that’s coming on a little strong there. I’d caution you to be a little less “I’m right, you’re wrong” in your responses and taking such leaps in logic. I wasn’t defining worship at all. I never said “raising hands is what constitutes genuine worship.” I WAS saying that worship bands often seem more about playing ability and performance AND it’s great to see bands whose outward expression matches the lyrics being sung. No, a person’s heart is judged solely by outward expression. In fact, I do NOT often show outward expression in my worship (you might – MIGHT – catch me bouncing to a particularly upbeat song, or crying during “The Revelation Song), but I DO enjoy seeing OTHERS in their outward expression. We have a guy in our congregation from Trinidad and he’s ALWAYS vocalizing and lifting his hands during worship. It’s very far from the way I worship, but I absolutely LOVE seeing this guy worship the way he does.

          • Well thanks for explaining, but I didn’t say you were wrong about anything. I just repeated what it looked like to me for clarification. I’d agree that expressions can be good as far as they can assist in communicating. There’s nothing more unconvincing than a song leader who would clearly rather be elsewhere. I also enjoy seeing expressive people, especially from where I stand. It is encouraging to think the message is getting through and they are connecting with truth. I was just talking with our team the other day about those specific people in the pews we always enjoy watching because they’re ALWAYS singing, they’ll join in on an anything, ’cause they’re there to worship.

            But I am also very cautious with expression-ism, because you can never know for sure. An extremely expressive person can be really into what they’re saying, really into the beat, really trying to force sincerity, really trying to fool those around him, really on autopilot, or really trying to hide the fact that he’s really not buying any of it. I’ve personally been just about all of those. As a result, my personal expression these days is kept fairly minimum, and definitely driven by text instead of music. And for those who look completely dead in the pews, I assume the best case scenario.

            I also take great care to ensure we don’t create an environment where there are felt expectations of particular expressions. I’ve also been the guy who got browbeaten for not looking enthusiastic enough, and I’ve been the leader who tried to look enthusiastic when I was emotionally dead inside. Neither of those scenarios are wins, so I work hard to avoid them.

          • Thanks for clarifying some of your cautions, Miguel. I realized after I wrote my second comment that you come from a place where you’ve seen and experienced unhealthy worship music and probably have your radar up for that. Browbeating people to fake enthusiasm…Ugh.

            The band members (and even congregants) who I enjoy watching worship…they are clearly doing it as an expression of a connection with God and Jesus. It’s been fun to watch the band members of my church change a bit. I’m not sure in the past they felt the freedom to show and express themselves, but now – after a change in worship leaders a couple years back (a complicated matter, don’t read anything into it) – I sense these people really enjoy playing AND enjoy worshipping.

            And regarding the lyrics…I bought a CD produced by local worship band primarily because it was an awesome mix of God- and Christ-focused lyrics AND wonderful musicianship. The person who put the set-list together did a stellar job of compiling only Christ-centered praise and worship songs. I even gave a copy of it to a friend and said, “Let me know if you pick up on something that I’ve picked up on.” Several weeks afterward, he said, “I think I know what you mean. These songs are nothing but praising Jesus.”

          • OK… you guys can beat me up here but I will share anyway. I don’t really care about the music frankly. If it is there that’s good (unless its cheesy lyrics then no- but then I am more of a traditionalist) an I see it as a form of praying, not as some worship connection bringing me closer to union. From an emotional experience well – There was a time when I could get high off of any good music, let it wrap around me, sent me off into Nirvana (not the band), and I am talking non-christian stuff (early seventies acoustic or whatever – unless we’re talking Blind Faith’s Presence of the Lord).

            Get me playing acoustic and harmonizing with someone same thing. If I am getting into an emotional plane because of the music in Church (some praise band or something), is it because of my connection to God, or is it the music itself? Because of that I try not to find that Ecstasy because for me I am just feeding the music part that I enjoy and translating it to feelings of ecstasy for the Lord…And anyway I am Catholic… we don’t have praise bands ; )

          • Well said, Radagast. I agree 100%. The solution, though, isn’t to make the music bland. The solution is, as Augustine says, to ensure that the truth being sung is even more moving than the sound of the singing. If our lyrics preach the Gospel, there is not music beautiful enough to compete with it.

    • I’ve got to say that in my church-hopping, I don’t find the whole criticism of music being sung on for an emotional response to be entirely true.

      I think you’re right, meaning there’s no conscious intent to do that. But I think, and I can’t prove this, that an emotional response is the assumed response. It’s built in to the style. So, if one is singing in the right spirit and with the right attitude, the emotion will follow. Maybe and maybe not. Part of that expectation is based on the assumption that contemporary music is the right and proper music for the church today. It’s in keeping with the spirit of worship that most churchgoers have. Other forms are elitist or ritualistic or what have you. Because it is naturally appealing one can sing it sincerely and the emotion is evidence of that. That’s my theory anyway.

      I almost never sing in my church because I don’t feel comfortable with the music. Another aspect the emotionalism is, well, everyone should show it. I’m not that kind of person so the singing can make me uncomfortable. Sometimes, and maybe I imagine this, I think there’s a judgement against not being emotional in church, as if not singing means one is uptight and has the wrong attitude. If you’re not that kind of person, however, it just ain’t gonna happen. Lately I’ve been attending Evening Prayer on Wednesdays at the local Anglican church and when they have music, which is subject to the organist’s presence, I don’t really feel self-conscious about singing hymns, even when I don’t known them. They’re pretty easy to pick up and if you can find a hymnal with music instead of just words (something you can’t do with CCM), all the better. Hymns are made for corporate singing, after all.

      • Well, I guess my problem is that I don’t know how you can separate emotion from music. Even if you go to a classical concert, the performers are emoting on stage.

        I do understand that people have different levels of comfort with expressing emotion in public, but it just seems to me that too many churches err on the side of caution. They try to make everything bland and flat. Again, I admit my bias is coming through, but it’s very hard for me, as a musician, to sit through a lot of music at church.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          I don’t think churches try to make songs bland and flat; that is usually just a lack of skill being demonstrated. I seriously doubt those worship leaders were in rehearsal thinking, “How can we sap the joy out of this?”

          So, while you cannot separate the emotional draw of a musical number, you should be able to distinguish the hymn sung in a worship service from a musical number in a concert. If you get that emotional high, and that’s all that you’re left with (i.e., no affirmation of Scripture, no invitation to the cross), then that wasn’t a very productive use of that number, IMO.

          • Well, personally, I’m a very low-key person. I don’t really experience a lot in the way of emotional highs or lows on any given day. I’m not looking for an emotional experience, per se. I’m hoping to see something that confirms to me that the person singing or playing the instrument believes the songs has some meaning, and that they aren’t simply going through the motion. And in my experience, it’s a rare thing to find. I’ve seen some very talented bands where musicians and singers seem more like robots than actual people. So it’s not I want to be emotionally manipulated. I want to see some conviction, though. Is that asking too much?

            It’s the same reason I hate hearing a sermon being read from a script. The message cannot be separated from the medium. Delivery matters, and it matters a lot. If the speaker doesn’t connect with the audience, develop pathos with them, then the audience is less likely remember anything she said. It really isn’t about being emotionally driven. It’s about believing the Gospel should inspire some passion in people.

    • Having a liturgy that takes you on a journey often leads to built-in dynamics. Emotion for it’s own sake will always be stale. But if there is a textual impetus behind the emotion, you then have multiple layers drawing you in. This is present in the liturgy and hymnody of the church. Singing six stanzas without dynamic variation might be boring, but if those texts give you the Gospel, I’ll take that any over singing an ambiguous refrain repeatedly at differing dynamics. Having six meaningful stanzas, however, gives you a wonderful canvas upon which a moving arrangement can be built.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “A pet peeve of mine is when there is a hymn that has five or six verses, and every verse is sung exactly the same. It’s like, “please kill me now”.”

      If we are talking about congregational singing with an organ, a good organist will put some variety in. Alas, many churches lack a good organist.

      • “Good organist”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? 🙂

        I kid, I kid… I know there are some excellent organists out there, and playing a pipe organ well is a bit like flying a plane – all the knobs, levers, and pedal and all that. But, personally, I really don’t like the sound of pipe organs. They occupy so much sonic space.

    • It might be the intent, but my biggest criticism of the church music I’ve heard over the last three years in various churches is that there’s no dynamics, no life, nothing that really makes it, well, musical.”

      Great point. The deficit, it seems to me, with much syrupy, rockified contemporary church music is, not that it’s too emotional or not doctrinal enough, but that it paints with a very narrow palette of colors. You have you’re candy-cliche uptempo dance-songs, your cliche ballad-like, pour-my-heart-out songs, and maybe a couple other cliches thrown in. The way we expect music to be sung and played is basically conditioned by ClearChannel Communications, Inc, more than any sort of real appreciation for the art form. Do anything beautiful that’s in, say, an uncommon mode, or that has real dynamics, or is “through composed”, and you’re playing a game no one really understands all of a sudden, and most likely aren’t going to put any effort into appreciating.

      Our taste in music, during the 20th century, became much like our taste for food- basically geared towards children and adolescents, without any expectation of maturity or refinement.

      • Our taste in music, during the 20th century, became much like our taste for food- basically geared towards children and adolescents, without any expectation of maturity or refinement.

        Excellent point, there. I think that sums up very nicely what I was having a hard time putting my finger on. It’s not that I’m looking for everyone to be a virtuoso, but I do want authenticity. It’s the difference between getting a Cajun-flavored dish at Applebee’s and going to a real Cajun restaurant. If you’ve experienced the real thing, the copy will always fall short. And perhaps that’s a big issue, we have a lot of people trying to copy the celebrity worship leaders or bands, and in doing so, they have no voice of their own.

  13. Randy Thompson says

    “Trend driven ear-worms.”

    Sometimes, one phrase makes the whole essay worth reading.

    However, this essay is worth reading even if Miguel hadn’t come up with this.

  14. Ahh, the worship wars.

    Too contemporary. Too stodgy. To trite. Too old. Too gospel. Too country. Too rock. Too archaic. Too fluffy. Too doctrinal. Too repetitive. Too complicated. Too quiet. Too loud. Too much about us.

    Worship is honoring God above every thought, trial and circumstance. It is not for edifying the body, not for entertainment, not for teaching doctrine. It’s not the warm up act for the sermon. It’s not to get us in the mood. It’s not about us. Period.

    It is possible to worship regardless of what you think of the style of music, when you realize that The Lord doesn’t care if there’s an organ, an electric guitar, a Hammond B3, a bell choir or a capella four-part harmony. He doesn’t care if there’s power point, hymnals, or overhead projectors. He wants your heart. He wants you to acknowledge Him in every part of your life. I’m so tired of people complaining about worship that doesn’t speak to them. It’s not supposed to. Worship is for The Lord.

    So, you honor the Father with a Gregorian chant, and you honor Him with a praise chorus and you honor Him with a 17th century hymn, and you honor him with silence, and you…

    Is The Lord honored? Revered? Exalted?

    That is worship.

    • No, that is only a part of worship. Your definition, which proposes to make worship all about God, actually makes the worship all about what we are doing for God: exalting him, honoring him, etc…

      The only way for worship to be genuinely “God centered” is if there is an interplay and dialogue between the creator and creation. The sacrificial (what we do for God) must be balanced with the sacramental (what God does for us). The pattern is revelation and response. If God’s Word is at the heart of your worship (which I hope it is, as Christ is the incarnate Word), then God is active and doing things for us in the service, whether or not we realize it.

      It is not for edifying the body, not for entertainment, not for teaching doctrine.

      Colossians 3:16 begs to differ.

      • By way of analogy, there are many things that I do for my wife: I earn a living wage to put a roof over her head, I do repairs around the house, and I speak highly of her to other people. However, all those things seem to fall short in describing my relationship to her. (In fact, they could all be done by someone who has no relationship to her.)

        In the same way, I think there is an incompleteness in describing worship as what we do for God. I know it is popular to say “all of life is worship”, but it seems to fall short.
        If we said that worship is what I say and do, and how my heart responds, when I’m aware I’m in the presence of the One I love, then I think we’d be getting closer to describing the intimacy of relationship between creator and creation.

    • “I’m so tired of people complaining about worship that doesn’t speak to them. It’s not supposed to.”

      I’ve heard quite a bit of this sentiment in my day.

      We ought to constantly be entertaining the possibility that what we’re hearing OUGHT to be speaking to us, but our hearts are hard. In which case, what’s called for is not a change of scenery, if you know what I mean.

  15. Back in the day when CCM wasn’t a brand, when many worship songs that swept around the world began at a congregational level, before the rise of the Neo-Calvinists, before you were born, Miguel 🙂 ….

    … there were some songs that carried good doctrine, were offered with attention to musical nuance, and fulfilled a deep need in young people to be able to express their emotions before God. This is something the hymns with which they grew up – if they grew up in church – did not allow; those hymns were all so very cerebral. (Exception: Much of Catholic hymnography, esp of the late 19th/early 20th century, was very emotional, to the point of sentimentalism – which also alienated some people. On the rising Evangelical side, there were also some “In The Garden” – type songs from the same time period, but not nearly so many as on the Catholic side.) There was a longing to bring one’s whole person before God and worship with all of one’s being – mind, soul, heart, strength – not simply the brain. Yes, the doctrinal strength of the lyrics was sometimes lacking, but a good worship leader would realize this and seek to bring balance using a variety of lyric sources.

    In the ’80s, something notable happened. Baby Boomers came of age and realized that all in their lives was not sweetness and light in the “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” scenarios. Specifically, they got honest about how their fathers’ lack of expressed love for them, whether the fathers were present in the family or not, had affected their lives. So very many songs that came out of that period came out of that pain and were about connection to The Father.

    Perhaps the next generation that came along did not have the (dashed) expectations about their fathers the Baby Boomers had; divorce was the norm for them. This is the generation out of which the “Jesus as my boyfriend” songs arose, perhaps reflecting a deep desire for the most stable of relationships… This is also the time that CCM was taken over by those secular business interests. I think this resulted in the perfect conditions for the spread of the hyper-emotional songs against which there is so much reaction nowadays. It’s when the notion of a sound track for everything emerged, the louder the better… Interestingly, it’s also when the same crazy “secular” notions about romantic love and marriage found a firm place among (mostly) non-liturgical Protestants and perhaps especially Fundamentalists (the Quiverfull- type ideals re girls and their fathers are a bizarre funhouse mirror-image of the dating culture, imo).

    All that to say that culture and cultural trends play a significant role, and have done for a long time in the churches of the west – Luther and beer hall tunes, for example, but even earlier than that. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It has been the case to a much lesser extent in Orthodoxy, where, like the painted iconography, no “innovation” is to be expressed in the musical iconography, either. An Orthodox liturgical composer is to use the centuries-old eight tones and chant melodies (or parts thereof) as the basis for musical composition, which is meant to be iconic in its way. Like the rules by which Bach composed, rather than being restrictive, this results in considerable variety, from monastic simplicity to the Rachmaninoff Vespers. (And no two painted icons are exactly alike, either…)

    Often when I tell people only a cappella music is sung in my church, they are surprised, mainly because of the lack of instruments altogether. Some who know me have asked if I miss the contemporary music. Truthfully, every once in a while I do; I have always been a proponent of bringing one’s whole self before God in worship, and I’m Italian already… (my favorite composers are the Romantic pianists from Beethoven through Debussy/Rachmaninoff) I have also found that the chant melodies and even the Russian harmonies tend to center me. Though the music is somewhat cerebral and doctrine is uppermost in the words, the words also very often convey exceedingly deep emotion. But the emotions aren’t leading and neither is the brain… With attentiveness and with the helps there are in the Orthodox Liturgy, I present my whole self before God in worship, I think in a more holistic way than I ever have before. I have never once left the Liturgy thinking that I haven’t worshiped God (imperfectly though that always is). I don’t have to have an experience of “God showing up” in the overly-emotional or Pentecostal/Charismatic sense; this has been freeing for me in a very unexpected way after +30 years in that milieu. As a worship leader in the capacity of being a member of the choir, I don’t have to make something happen; worship doesn’t “depend on me” (though I am to use the skill I have to contribute to its beauty). The choir was there before I came along, and it will be there after I die. As a congregant in whatever capacity, and as a member of my worshiping community, I can simply enter into the reality of the worship of God that is always going on…


  16. I still have this visual imagery stuck in my head…. It was the very early seventies and I was about 8 years old… My Catholic Church happened to be deep into the Charismatic movement (though I didn’t know it at the time – and it originated from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh if I have my facts straight).

    I remember the girls on the acoustic guitars, blond hair ironed straight, very hippyish if I was to analyze it now. One song they played continues to stick out in my mind… I later learned it was called “Sons of God” (I heard a comedian from that area of New York doing a comedic sketch about it on one of our Rock radio stations here).

    It went something like:

    Sons of God, hear His holy word,
    Gather round the table of the Lord,
    Eat his body, Drink his Blood,
    And we’ll sing this song of love
    Allelu,Allelu Allelu Allelu -u -u-ia

    To the ignorant ear it might seem like we were singing about a b rated horror picture…

    Anyway… talking about bad Christian music… I thought this fell into that category on the Catholic side…. catchy beat though (its actually on youtube)

    • Dear God! You’ve had to sing that too? I’ve been specifically requested to do that once. I’m still in recovery. The text is not bad, but the melody is just plain hoakey! It was so bad that, since I was leading from the piano, I actually began playing “Heart and Soul” over the top of it, and nobody even noticed. I have an extra week in purgatory coming for that one.

    • My personal hell is “I Was There to Hear Your Bourning Cry”. I was serving at a church that sang it at EVERY baptism.

      As a Christian Formation director, I didn’t enjoy the perspectives on the human condition and the tune drove my husband to distraction.

      • Wow, I’ve had to do that one too. On FB a friend quoted another abysmally schmaltzy song I’ve been forced to inflict. I’m pretty thankful that I’ve gotten away with doing these only once. No matter how bad a song is, I think I can survive it one time if it makes somebody happy that I was willing to do it for them. But I will put my foot down somewhere.

    • I think I remember that song being sung in the movie “Rosemary’s Baby.” But I could be wrong. 😉

  17. Here’s a somewhat oddbal. question I’ll throw out: Whatever happened to those “Jewish” choruses I remember as a kid in the late 70s and early 80s?

    Now by “Jewish” I mean “sounds sorta like Fiddler on the Roof when they’re celebrating in the tavern and the Gentiles are bustin’ a Cossack move or two.” But still. Given the almost non-existent contact between the evangelicals I grew up with and actual Jews (who were otherwise known only in flannelgraph form or from photos of them holding Uzis during the Yom Kippur War), it’s maybe no surprise that this was the best we could do.

    But I still think they were awesome songs.

    I’m talking “Then Shall the Virgin Rejoice in the Dance”, “Jehovah Jireh” (K. Copland thing???), “The Zeal of God Hath Consumed Me,” and a few others that I can’t think of just this second. These choruses were largely, if not entirely, Scriptural texts. The music wasn’t anything like you’d find on the radio or on the nascent CCM scene at the time. They appealed to all age groups. Etc. etc., etc., I mean, yada, yada, yada.

    Does anyone still sing these in evangelical circles?

    • The Ukrainians do! 😀 But then, well, that’s where “Fiddler” is set, so….I guess that makes sense!

      Oh you’ve brought back some wonderfully hokey memories. I think I may have even participated in some awesome circle dances to “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (thanks to these “Jewish” songs, we were even allowed to dance!)

      • Glory, (clap) Alleluia?

        • I could never really “lai lai lai lai” with a straight face — I just went with “la la la la” on a Midwestern phonetic principle that seemed emphatically reasonable at the time.

          KoKaLoL was pretty awesome, even though, unlike yourself, we never got a circular groove on. (And don’t worry: circular dancing can’t lead to anything untoward simply because there’s no beginning or end. But maybe that’s just the mathematician in me saying that.)

        • Sorry, Derek, comment meant for Julie above. But I will say that I recall it as more of a (clapclapclap) than a one-off.

    • Sure, Stephen Colbert does:


  18. My eyes are getting weaker so I haven’t read all the comments; my 2 cents are I don’t like it, I find it much like elevator and phone music. IIt all seems alike to me, my own feelings, of course.

  19. Hmm, is this where I bring up the sticky point that instruments did not come inside the church building until close to 1100? That the Calvinists banned musical instruments until the 1800’s. That in the 1540’s, a vote in the Church of England to ban instruments lost by only one vote, and only when the proxy votes (representatives who could not personally attend) were counted?

    Did you know that many of the Early Church Fathers wrote against the use of instruments in the church as being something that was of the Old Testament and no longer was part of the New Testament? Did you know that John Calvin agreed? Did you know that there are still many non-instrumental churches, though they are now the minority of the worldwide Christian community?

    Note that musical instruments were used in processions. However, there is extremely meager evidence that they came directly into the church and were used in worship until the 1100’s.

    Just thought I would throw this in under point 3. That is one good way to solve overactive instruments.

    • Fr. Isaac (or possibly Obed, but definitely not Fr. Obed) says

      Over the last couple of years, I’ve been learning Gregorian chant. At the parish at which I’ve just recently been hired as the assistant rector, we typically chant the introit and some of the liturgy on Sunday mornings, but use the old Episcopal Hymnal from 1940 for the hymns. On Wednesday night, we chant either Evensong or Compline (the processional and recessional are still from the 1940 hymnal). But we rarely chant anything a capella. Granted, Anglican chant is typically four-part harmony accompanied by organ, but even when we do plainsong/Gregorian we typically have it accompanied by the organ. Our choir is awesome for its small size, and the organist is so much better than we should be able to hire for a parish our size (this guy has played for the Queen, I’m told). But, I really, really, really like unaccompanied plainchant. To the point where I’ve taken it upon myself to lead a couple of our intercessors and the thurifer in chanting the Canticles from Mattins while we cense the chapel before the first Sunday Mass.

  20. Miguel, thank you for this article. I have one question.

    Just to get a feel for what you mean (ok, to name names), can you mention
    – A common contemporary CCM worship song that you think is well written and not banal
    – One that completely fails to be worthwhile (yet is commonly sung)
    – And one that is almost good…. but not quite


    • Ok, I can name names. But it’s really a matter of degrees more than black and white. A song can have an amazing text but be impossible to sing, or it could have a lovely melody but no lyrical substance. And songs that I object to are not necessarily bad songs. They’re just not effective for Christian worship. They could otherwise be lovely pop songs.
      Well written: Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me), Wonderful Merciful Savior, and Jesus Messiah (even though it doesn’t quite speak in complete sentences).
      File under “Please don’t ever make me sing it in church”: How He Loves, God’s Great Dance Floor, Undignified.
      Not too shabby, I’d use it on occasion: Tomlin’s “Forever,” God of Wonders, Lord Reign in Me.

      There, I gave you three of each. And a Chris Tomlin song for each category.

      • Thanks, Miguel. I don’t listen to CCM so it is sometimes difficult to understand what people refer to in these critiques. I can usually tell if a worship song during service is usually taken from a CCM – especially if there is some out-of-nowhere musical flair. (why did the guitar player know to knock on his guitar twice suddenly?)

        Boy, I’ll second How He Loves – my church unfortunately plays that one from time to time and I just tell myself to not pay attention to the lyrics and turn my brain off.

  21. “Let’s not defend bad songwriting by pointing to the Psalms.”

    I’m so glad you mentioned this.

    It’s an extremely destructive paradigm that I’ve heard Christians use (and in the wider world as well): that there is no such thing as objective quality in art/music. It’s all just a soup out of which we pick whatever we prefer, and our preference makes it “good.” The main thing is that our hearts are right (whatever that means).

    I won’t argue that the heart should be in the singing of it, but my heart could also be in singing the Spice Girls, and that’s not going to change the basic banality of the work.

    It may be difficult to define, but one thing is sure: in an effort to glorify God, the psalmists didn’t ever create bad literature. And it wasn’t meritorious simply because the content was factually true or correct. The actual use of language is beautiful, and deeply reflective of the human condition before God, and able to be appreciated as such by anyone who spends time with them.

    Quality doesn’t depend on complexity, or simplicity, or catchiness, or depth of theological content. In fact, I don’t know entirely what it DOES depend on. But seasoned observers will know the good from the bad.

    To be certain, there are degrees, it’s not completely black and white. And I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade: we all create bad content at some point, and the artists (if they’re true artists) shouldn’t be discouraged by that. But when an entire culture sacrifices any notion of objective goodness on the altar of trash that makes me feel good or charges me up, well….that’s kind of what has happened all over American landscape- as Bill Kinnon would say, “in my never humble opinion…”

  22. My take on music has changed drastically. I no longer go and keep up with the newest music or trend. There are some things that annoy me deeply…the biggest being the lack of lament in worship songs. Too often you have this “God is always great” and when you are suffering and want to scream out “why”? too much of what exists will tear you down. Life is hard…and some evangelicals in their musical trends can tear you down further.

    That said, I don’t think modern music should be eskewed…remember even hims like Amazing Grace and others were new at one point. Also remember that many composers wrote music to please the King or the State at the time. That doesn’t get mentioned often (recalling this from Music Appreciation)

    That said I avoid the Neo-Cal music…they make a point at times with “Jesus is my boyfriend” but when that some pastor is plagiarizing up the wazoo, many points that he makes are lost. And when your minsitry is engulfed by scandal I don’t care how good the music is (ie SGM) I still want nothing to do with it.