January 17, 2021

Riffs: 06:18:09 Bill Kinnon’s Worship Lament/My Essay “Looney Tunes”

carsingBill Kinnon looks back on his contribution to being a worship leader and has a bit of lament. He notes what we’re now hearing and not hearing. A post well-worth reading.

Several years ago, I wrote a critique of some of the most often heard theology of contemporary praise and worship music. I love good contemporary worship. I don’t like what you hear in between some of the songs.

I haven’t put this essay over here in the current post format, so some of you may have never read this one. Remember, it’s an oldie, with quite a few references to things that aren’t true anymore (like me leading worship at a church on weekends.)

iMonk 101: Looney Tunes: “Praise and Worship Theology” is goofy

I defend myself from false accusations

Nothing stings the iMonk quite like the charge of hypocrisy. As a man of principle, I seek to avoid having the wagging finger of the disappointed public in my face, accusing me of phoniness.

So I must answer a recent charge made by a nameless autograph seeker who was briefly allowed inside the Internet Monk compound. With shock and not-a-little awe, this friend observed the Monk’s collection of contemporary Praise and Worship music. “Hey! I thought you were, like, really down on all this contemporary Christian music? How come you’re listening to it in the same office where you write all that stuff saying it’s bad for the church?”

It is, in fact, true that the Monk’s vast collection of music still contains a generous amount of CCM, and a considerable stack of Praise and Worship music. I must, however, say that my friend is sadly mistaken if he’s read my work and concluded that I have no place for contemporary Christian music in my life. Such is not the case, nor do I ever expect it to be the case in the future. Even though the vast majority of CCM is, in my opinion, boringly bad, I still find many artists worthy of my support.

Am I a rank hypocrite for listening to music at home that I do not use at my church? I’ll admit that I have a strange adherence to my own version of the regulative principle that excuses me from any sin accrued from listening to this music, some of which I would probably not use at church for reasons only crack-smoking Calvinists can understand. So unless you are willing to read the Puritans on worship, put that finger back where you got it.

Since you stopped in, however, I can tell you in a sentence why I enjoy contemporary Praise and Worship music a thousand times more on the stereo here at the Monk’s compound than in any church anywhere:

Here at home, I don’t have to listen to the drooling theological nonsense that comes along with Praise and Worship music use these days.

The iMonk said it.

Yes, the iMonk said: Evangelicals can’t stop turning methodology into theology. It’s astonishingly simple, and frighteningly common.

Do something. Roll over. Sit up and beg. Start using Powerpoint. Set up an idol of Baal in the parlor. Marry Larry King. Anything.

If it works, then an appropriate theology will be quickly supplied. Methodology, i.e. what we choose to do, if it works, becomes theology, i.e. what we believe about God, and what we believe God has endorsed.

Take the public invitation as an example (a subject I may have exhausted in three IM pieces this year.) Baptists started telling people to walk the aisle if they were responding to God. People walked. Within a year, theologians published the well known book, Everything God Has To Say About the Invitation. Here’s a quote.

“We now know that the Holy Spirit is pleading with you to walk the aisle. We know that if you hold on to that pew, you are resisting the Holy Spirit. We know that whatever goes on down front is the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Bible is talking about invitations in Southern Baptist Churches when it says “Take up your cross and follow me.” We didn’t know any of this stuff UNTIL we figured out what worked. Then God opened up our heads and poured that theology right in there.”

Understand this, and you may understand more than you want to know about evangelicals. Increasingly, the only theology that matters is the kind we cook up to justify whatever circus we are trying next. And THAT is why I can listen to P&W at home, because I can just listen to the music, and not to the worship leader explaining to me the following spectacularly looney theological revelations.

Gotta Love a List

WARNING: The following list contains a near-lethal dose of theological malarkey. There is so much raw blarney here the page is glowing. Take it easy, be careful, and don’t try this at home. In other words, please understand that this list is all wrong!

1. Contemporary Praise and Worship music is especially anointed of God. Advocates of P&W have lost the capacity to realize that Christian music companies will say anything to sell product. Once a couple of thousand units are moved, then “God is all over it,” and the artists, producers, musicians and girls working at the checkouts are all anointed by God with a special anointing.

This cynical use of a powerful Biblical concept to sell CDs is number one on my list of stupid things said by Christian worship leaders. I don’t want to be insulted by being told I have to like the next tune because God gave the lyrics in a dream or manipulated by testimonies of how this song has been anointed for the salvation of teenagers from broken homes.

God doesn’t anoint songs, bands or songwriters in any way differently than He anoints any other Christian. Worship leaders and Christian musicians need to call off the ego mania and read the Bible.

2. God has sent contemporary Praise and Worship music to…..

A. Revive the End Times Church before the Rapture. This is patently ridiculous.
B. Break down “religious strongholds” in the church. I think this means that God wants us to act strangely and say it’s the Holy Spirit. Losing a “religious spirit” seems to be Churchspeak for doing something that used to get the ushers on your case.
C. Minister to the special issues of “this generation.” “This generation” seems to be a movable term that most often applies to young people willing to fight you to turn the front of the church into a mosh pit. Apparently, this generation has special needs that preaching, teaching and prayer can’t reach. We’re supposed to believe that contemporary Praise and Worship music was sent by God to help young people from single parent families experience His love. God loves those kids, but this little bit of Hallmark card theology can get lost.

This type of spin gets lots of applause with people devoted to the idea that the Gospel isn’t nearly as exciting as what God is doing in the weekly dramas happening in these last days, end-times, free-in-the-Spirit churches. Churches that use lots of contemporary Praise and Worship music want you to know that God gave this tool to them, and you can see the results for yourself. How dare you say it’s marketing?

3. Praise and Worship Music evangelizes without preaching. I’m fairly used to hearing Christians “amening” their favorite music, and I’ve heard the occasional comment following a great song, “We don’t need a sermon. Let’s just have the invitation.” I’ve always figured this was about wanting to get on to the restaurants as early as possible.

But now, advocates of contemporary Praise and Worship music are saying that their music is anointed for evangelism, and preaching just gets in the way. After mesmerizing the crowd with 20 repetitions of their favorite anthem or ballad, these folks think the invitation ought to be next on the agenda, no preaching needed. Heck, a lot of these people would walk off a cliff if the cute worship leader said so, so why not have an invitation?

(I will confess bitterness here. I was once asked to speak for 10 minutes after an hour set by a local P & W band. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. Dozens of girls and guys immediately ran out of the congregation and straight after the band, wanting- I suppose- advice on the Christian life. I’m not bitter. I spoke to the exhausted crowd, who really appreciated the chance to sit down and relax after an hour.)

With apologies to those who actually put a comprehensible Gospel in their music and presentation, it appears to me that the majority of Praise and Worship music falls somewhere between pretty good use of Bible texts to complete nonsense. (NOTE: This has greatly improved since I wrote this essay.) Preaching, when done right, proclaims Christ and how to be saved every time it opens its mouth. Any theology that says God can preach through whatever He chooses is good by me. Any theology that says leave out the preached Word is a loser, in my opinion.

4. Praise and Worship Music brings down the Holy Spirit. Among systematically goofy theology, this is one of the patriarchs. Starting innocently as the constant quotation of “the Lord inhabits the praises of His people,” (metaphor alert!) we are now told that if we really get into the music, and keep singing, “God will show up.”

I’ve heard this so often that I can’t believe I haven’t stood up and screamed yet. We are talking about telling people 1) That despite what scripture said, God isn’t with gathered Christians 2) until we make it happen by singing praise choruses. We bring God down into the room with music. (Gulp.)

Of course, what we are really doing here is identifying God with some good feeling generated by electronics and people singing together. (Idolatry alert!) “I just really felt like the Lord was in the worship today.” Well so what? When are any of our feelings the measurement of God’s reality? God PROMISES to be present with His people when they gather in His name. Music is completely irrelevant to the intention of God to keep his promises to His people.

5. Praise and Worship music brings a unique experience of God’s Glory. I’ve dealt with this in another essay, but it deserves a smack up sida the head here. Not only do these overconfident worship leaders claim special anointings and powers in P & W music, but they frequently assert that the music is mediating an encounter with the “glory” of God.

God’s glory is a major Biblical theme, and encountering the glory of God would qualify as the greatest trauma a sinful human could experience. The contemporary Praise and Worship crowd apparently believes that Christians are now invited to become like Moses, and experience the glory of God routinely.

In order to keep the encounter with the divine manageable, it turns into an event mediated by the church worship band. And seems to have a lot to do with getting “into” the songs. (Is this starting to sound vaguely familiar? Is anybody getting irritated yet?)

6. The overridingly important factor in deciding what church to attend is MUSIC. Sometime in the last 5 years, the majority of evangelical Church-hunting Christians I know have made the decision about where to go to church based almost solely on music (or “worship” as they perversely call it.) The deciding vote is usually, “We like the worship.” Which means we like CCM, and we like the band, and we like the fact that going to a church service is kind of like a concert, the kids like the music, and it’s the same songs I hear on the radio.

This is, of course, personal preference, and not theology, so have I broken stride? No, there is theology all over the place here, and it’s some of the most serious theological nonsense of the bunch.

Scripture hasn’t exactly left the church-shopper without a list to go by. Even with the divergent views on what scripture teaches about the church, it’s clear that church government, leadership, the sacraments, preaching, teaching, discipleship, doctrine and church support of the family are all areas where scripture gives some guidance of importance to any of us who are picking a church. Yet, I am not aware of any way to read the Bible that places music in such an important place in church life.

Music is part of Christian worship and Christian art. We’re interested- as we ought to be- in how music participates in the life and worship of the church. But there is simply no way- in normal circumstances- to justify music as the deciding factor in church selection. To do so is to betray a consumerist mentality rather than a Biblical worldview.

Theology? The implication is that the Holy Spirit is leading in such a choice. Even more importantly, the message is that music is the important factor in Christian growth and discipleship. My Christian consumerist friends are quite certain that it’s what happens during the 45 minutes of music at their church that will make the greatest different in the life they lead during the following week.

That’s outrageously wrong, and I can’t imagine why evangelicals are tolerating it. The demotion of preaching and the elevation of music is an invasion of the church by a culture that wants less content, less authority and more experience and feeling. Post-modern apologists may make the case that preaching is passe’ (and some forms of it always will be) but preaching as a divinely sanctioned methodology has Biblical theology on its side.

(By the way, a big iMonk salute to my friends who bucked this trend this year and joined churches where the Word was the main thing, and music had its appropriate, and secondary, place.)

7. People worship better with contemporary Praise and Worship music. Now….how can we put this nicely?…….We can’t. It’s arrogant and stupid to call a bunch of choruses played by a band “worship.” This little inanity has made it into mainstream Churchspeak and shows no signs of going away. (Even Rick Warren agrees. Ha!) Ever heard these lines?

“We had about 40 minutes of worship, and then the Pastor taught on giving.”

“I can’t worship at any church that doesn’t have the words on an overhead. I just can’t do it.”

“I think you’d like the worship better at our church. We’ve got three bands now.”

Are any comments necessary? How lame is it to say that a mini-concert with hand motions is “worship” and everything else is what we did before, after or instead of “worship”? Since when do we worship “better” based on whether we are singing “A Mighty Fortress” with piano or “Shout to the Lord” with a band? Do these people have any idea what worship is anyway? Maybe this will help:

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

So am I saying that music can’t facilitate presenting myself to God in response to his mercy? Music can facilitate that response, but saying that we, therefore, should choose a church based upon music is saying that it isn’t the message, but the presentation that makes a spiritual difference, and that’s terribly wrong.

8. Contemporary Praise and Worship music is used by the Holy Spirit to bypass the mind and go directly into the human spirit where real change can occur. I feel dirty typing such an absurd sentence, but it’s the unfortunate claim of many people who ought to know better. Advocates of P & W get all bleery-eyed talking about how this music just goes right past all those mental objections and barriers and ministers directly to the spirit. This kind of kookicity seems to come from the spiritual warfare camp, where tales of doing an end run on the devil by slipping in through music are pretty common.

What’s bad about this piece of theology is its rejection of the mind and its promise of getting people into the Kingdom without a fully aware decision to embrace Christ. Some might say this seems to be honoring the sovereignty of God and ought to be good news for Calvinists, but Reformed Christians are not looking for mindless Christians. We want to follow Paul in appealing to the mind and heart, persuading with a message and a ministry. Paul who, by the way, repeatedly rejected any kind of manipulation.

9. Contemporary Praise and Worship Music is taking music away from the devil and using it for God. Theology at work here: giving the devil credit for the appeal of the larger culture, especially music, and then sending the church on a mission to raid the pantry.

This reads like some nitwit prophecy that the Beatles were supposed to make music for God but Satan took them over and it wasn’t until CCM that God got the music back. Maybe evangelicals can’t find a positive way to do ministry, so they need to loudly proclaim just how close they are to the world in order to draw a crowd?

In other words, if the culture likes it, make a Christian version of it. That’s our appeal? Come down to church where the band is better than the group at the bar? “Taking back what the devil stole” sounds like a t-shirt at a TBN telethon.

Whatever music we make and however we make it, let’s do it for the glory of God and our joy in Him!

10. Using contemporary Praise and Worship Music is necessary for a church growth breakthrough. Little theology is evident in this, my last observation. It’s pure pragmatism. I hope you have caught on by now that we can expect the theology to follow. And, of course, it has. Read the above nine points. Articulated by the church growth gurus and evidenced by 23,000 people and nine services at Saddleback Valley’s Easter services, who can argue? It’s a God thing. Right? Perhaps. Or better, let’s hope and pray so.

I don’t believe that a “church growth breakthrough” in suburban America is going to need everything that is contemporary Praise and Worship music. Many good churches utilize such music in services that include strong Biblical preaching and other elements of Biblical worship. But then my argument isn’t against using the music per se, and it’s certainly not a quarrel with churches that seek to do worship Biblically with as much music as leadership believes is appropriate.

What I want to say is that if such growth occurs, the extent to which music is responsible for that growth is the extent to which we ought to be suspicious of that growth, and ask if the Gospel is being openly proclaimed? If growth occurs, we ought to be able to say with Luther, “The Word did it all!” However that Word came into the life of the church and bore fruit in the lives of Christians matters little, because God is great. But the same Word says that God is pleased to honor scripture, preaching and His sacraments as proclamations of the Word. Music is an echo, a teacher, an underliner. And in that role it is to be commended.

I commend those churches whose use of Praise and Worship music has avoided the theological numbskullery in this essay. May they grow and grow and grow some more. I commend every worship leader and musician who can see the proper place of music and works to keep music as the constant servant and encourager of the Word. I intend to keep enjoying praise and worship music, and encouraging it to have a God-centered, Biblical and God-glorifying purpose. Let’s pray that churches who are foolishly building an empty theology based on methods that work will humbly seek the truth that brings the power of freedom and life in Christ.


  1. The church I go to has intentionaly focused on being cross-generational and has so far, in my mind, maintained a balanced blend of hymns and CCM; not just any old CCM nor just any old hymns. This is most probably due to a gentle yet firm leadership that has gained the consicence of the congregation in regard to these issues.

    My own perspective is that if the world is still around in another 100 years, the high quality (in both words and congregatinal singability) CCM will remain and the trash will have fallen by the wayside. How many hymns have been written over the last 3 to 4 hundred years have been relegated to the dust bin and rightly so? How did the early 1st century church make it without amped up guitars and pounding drums, or an overwhelming organ drowning out all hearing of the words?


  2. I think there is something to be said for energy and passion and variety when it comes to corporate worship in the church. And as ridiculously exteme as worship music has become in some churches, I think that CCM and CWM have injected some much needed energy, passion, and variety into mainstream Christian culture.
    Growing up in a very traditional First Baptist Church, I can remember being thankful when the song director assigned only the first, second, and last stanzas of a hymn, freeing us from the drudgery of singing (or pretending to sing) the other two. And I can remember wishing the place would catch on fire or get hit by a tornado — just to break the mind-numbing monotony of it all.
    I became a fan of Christian rock back when it was still a vile instrument of the devil, according to most preachers and televangelists at the time. And, through the years, artists like Kerry Livgren, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, and Glenn Kaiser have had a much more significant impact on my spiritual life and growth than any preacher or televangelist. Not that I idolize these artists by any means. The biggest human influences on my spiritual life have been close friends and family (as it should be). But if there were a soundtrack to the spiritual journey of my life, Christian rock music would definitely make up the biggest part of it.
    Sure, some moderation probably needs to be brought into some situations in some churches, but, truth be told, I’ll take a little loud and extreme over unbearably boring and stuffy any day of the week.

  3. 路过,顺便顶以下

  4. The Reformed Presbyterian synod is producing a new metrical psalter. MP3 samples are available on the site.


    I’m not a proponent of regular worship standards; I think Isaac Watts was wrongly criticized for the changes he brought to worship, which lead to the departure from exclusively using the psalter in worship. I do believe a metrical psalter could be used with music other than 200+ year old hymn tunes. New music could be written for the psalter which could compliment contemporary style and instruments. Contemporary worship music isn’t wrong, but simply one of the biggest blown opportunities. Rather than being used to put on a show, it could be used to reach a new generation.

    I do agree that a theological paradigm has been place on contemporary worship, which is man-centered rather than incarnational; inspirational but scripture-weak; Christian without mentioning Christ. It is not new, but was introduced through nineteenth century revivalism. The challenge will be how to reform that paradigm without throwing out contemporary worship with the bath water.

    I use the term, “man-centered” lightly, because it can be used to dehumanize worship.

    We can be a little positive; there are some very good worship song writers out there who are bringing needed change; but no matter how good Chris Tomlin is, his music can never carry the service. Seminaries need to rediscover the lost art of hermeneutics. Communion, regardless of your view, needs to be treated a needed blessing, rather than a quarterly interruption to the worship schedule. Visual aids are helpful, but they, too, can’t be the meat of the service. A good thing can become nauseating through over-use or misuse.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Joel, I hate to sound ugly here but it appears from the outside that churches will gobble up anything that is labeled as “Christian.” Christian Films? Christian Fiction? Contemporary Christian Music? No matter how low the quality (musically or theologically), it seems like many Christians feel like they have to consume it. — Scott Ferguson

    Tell me about it. I belong to the Lost Genre Guild, and that guild was formed SPECIFICALLY to give genre writers an end run around the Conventionally Christian (TM) market.

    Because the Christian (TM) market reminds me of nothing so much as Furry Fandom. Drooling fanboys who don’t care how crappy it is, just so long as it floats their boat. Whether that boat to float is “Everyone has to have FUR! And TAILS!” or “Subjects limited to ‘Just like the latest fad, except CHRISTIAN (TM)!’, Uber-Squeeky-Clean G-rated (not even the word ‘breast’), a Bible quote every X pages and the required Altar Call Ending Where We Present The Plan Of Salvation to the Reader.” I mean, a lot of the CHRISTIAN (TM) genre stuff — from Left Behind to bonnet romances — is as checklist-formulaic as porn, complete to the “money scene” every X pages — Slacktivist’s blog coined the term (for Left Behind and its sub-genre) “Pre-Trib Porn” and “Porn for Christians” to describe such writing.

    There is better stuff out there, but so far limited to small presses. It’s an uphill struggle against a Christian (TM) establishment dedicated to the Christian (TM) equivalents of Eragon, Twilight, and JIMBee bubblegum.


  6. I find this very encouraging:


  7. rampancy says

    “Sufjan Stevens is quite good, though he stays completely disconnected with the CCM industry, which is quite understandable.”

    I’d hardly consider Sufjan Stevens “Christian” (though he does have a lot of good stuff for Christians to listen to). His music seems to defy any conventional attempts at classifying. (Is it Folk? Alternative?…)

  8. Sufjan makes me want to drive nails through my ears. The butterfly wings concert completely loses me.

  9. The Guy from Knoxville says

    I have to ask this and at the risk of getting absolutely blasted into next year but, sometimes you just gotta. Folks (and Ron) what is it about traditional worship and music that you so dislike -why is it so bad??!! Quiet honestly I’m quite tired of being drummed and blasted out of these “so called” worship servies. I just about can’t handle “church worship” anymore – I can’t get away from it…. it’s everywhere and it’s to the point that I’ve just about given up on ever finding a church that has any decent service of worship period. Church is not a rock concert people!

  10. There’s nothing “bad” about traditional worship, and I’m sorry if it seemed that I was suggesting that there was. I was just expressing my own experiences through the subjective lens of my own tastes and preferences. I like energy. I like to rock’n roll. I love variety and the unexpected. It gets under my skin if the radio plays the same song twice in the same day — so you can probably guess how I feel about doing and observing pretty much the same thing, Sunday after Sunday.
    But that’s just me. My ideal worship service would probably give most people a nervous breakdown.
    And you’re right, church shouldn’t be a rock concert, nor should it be a mere venue for good preaching or hymn singing. My tastes aside, I think the church should be more of a collective expression of the spiritual activity going on in the lives of every single member — rather than just a spotlight for the most spiritual or most talented few.

  11. I confess I was guilty of the presentation mentality for most of my Christian walk. And God took the desire to play and lead away from me. Wasn’t asked to step down – in fact, I left a small gap when I did.

    However… excellence for Him is important. I think that, by allowing inaccurate notes, words on the slide show, or words sung, we’re communicating to those around us (on the odd chance that there were some seekers in the congregation) that our God isn’t worth our best. He is, was, and always will be.

    I didn’t care for the mindset of one of the musicians I was leading where she’d not come to rehearsals but then expect to play on Sunday morning. Often rushing and missing some chords and notes.

    I like 13ths and 9ths. dim7ths are so yesterday.

    Now, we enjoy a home/family experience that is a bit freer, letting the kids pick some music that might be in the “book” or on the iPod. We include hymns and CCM stuff.

    I see that the other worship / music thread doesn’t allow comments. Maybe because there are 200 of them already?

  12. The Guy from Knoxville says

    Hey guys, I think the whole traditional/contemporary issue, on my part, is just that – my part. I’ve thought long and hard about this issue and have begun to realize the issue has been me all along…. a big thing for a musician to admit and especially so for a traditional musician such as myself. Admittedly there is nothing necessarily wrong with certain aspects of contemporary worship music yet some of it just has no place in worship and the same can be said for traditional as well. It would do us good though to realize that music, like most things, has a foundation and that which we are so quick to throw out so many times these days is a big part if not the major part of the foundation of worship music in the church (speaking universal church from its beginning to now).

    Bottom line is you can’t throw out the foundation without the entire thing collapsing into chaos and it’s somewhat easy to spot this if you look at some of the congregations that have gone wholesale contemporary in all its forms having tossed out all the sacred music and hymnody that makes up the greater body of church music.

    I definately choose to stay with my traditional approach but keeping in mind, more so than in the past, that contemporary worship music has its place and some of the good ones will be in the hymnals and song books in the future…. I mean who thought, back in the 1970s, that Gaither would be in hymnals? Some of their music was/is good and made it into our hymnals today so anything is possible.

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