Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Music Selection

This blog is having some interesting discussions on contemporary Christian music, dissecting the words of the most popular CCM songs and debating how much CCM is good for you. There's more discussion here. I just about died laughing at the critique of the AWANA Cubbies song--it's true, they're not happy all day long; I've lived with several. Makes me think more carefully about what songs I want to teach Baby.

OK, making fun of the vapidity of modern Christian music is fun, but the bigger question is, What should we be singing about? Which is especially relevant since DOB leads singing at our church and we pick out the music. After all, the week before the same blog deconstructed "Amazing Grace" from a Lutheran perspective. And some of the people on the discussion seem to take the position that every Christian song to be worthy of the name must explicitly refer to Christ and his work. Which seems unbalanced the other way to me--yes, that is the centerpiece, but there are times to talk about other things or refer to it implicitly.

Worship music is sort of a diet. I would be very interested to study the Psalms as a model of a balanced diet and see how much various topics came up. But for now I will just put up my rough dietary recommendations:

Bread (6-11 servings): The work of Christ. That is what being a Christian is all about, and the preponderance of our singing should be about that.

Meat and Milk (5-8 servings--these aren't quite the USDA recommendations but I like the analogy better this way): Doctrine about who God is, the Bible, etc. People in early growth stages (new Christians, children) probably need more of this category.

Fruits and Vegetables (4-7 servings): Personal testimonies of salvation, life as a Christian, songs of challenge, etc. Salvation is personal and it's good to talk about it, but some churches (especially conservative evangelical ones who haven't succumbed to CCM) spend the bulk of their time here and don't get into the more substantial stuff. Give us some protein, folks!

Fats and Sweets (Use sparingly): Songs about how I feel about God. It's OK to do this once in awhile, but not at the expense of losing sight of who God is and why we love him. This stuff tastes good and can fill you up temporarily, but doesn't give you any nutrients. (I haven't conducted a survey or even heard much of it, but it seems like the bulk of modern praise and worship songs fall in this category.)

Some other general comments on music selection: Bad grammar, illogic, and faulty doctrinal statements ought to go, no matter how beloved the song.

Scripture set to music is a great concept, as long as they put big enough chunks to music that one has the proper context. i.e., it's not an improvement over stupid lyrics to sing "God is love" over and over, even though that phrase can be found in the Bible.

As for styles, setting aside the question of whether any particular form of music is evil, couldn't everyone agree that not all forms of music are appropriate for all purposes? I doubt anyone would seriously contend that polka is demonic, but I don't know anyone suggesting that it's appropriate for church. Music written for dancing should stay in dancing settings; music written for seduction should stay in seductive settings. Music used in worship should sound worshipful.

As for time frame, I think everyone, whatever their inherent preferences, should make a serious effort to include worship music from different genres (with above caveat) and time periods in their diet. Every musical style and time period will reflect the prejudices and predominant issues of the people writing it. To get a balanced diet, you need to get outside one timeframe and hear from the saints of God through the ages. (This argument shamelessly stolen from C.S. Lewis, "On the Reading of Old Books.")

I might note that the aforementioned more conservative evangelical churches tend to dodge the modern praise and worship timeframe where we spend all our time singing about I Feel So Good About Jesus and instead stick to the music of the previous hundred years, which is predominantly about What Jesus Does for Me. It's still unbalanced (and the music tends to be dull, too). And the lack of doctrinal content paves the way for the I Feel Good About Jesus songs.

Wow, I think this is my longest post since same-sex marriage.

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