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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Getting the Ooshy-gooshies: Music, pt. 2

Let's rehearse, in a nutshell, the history of the recent worship wars. Until the late 1960's, music in the American church was pretty consistent across the board, no matter what denomination one was in. (There were some variations between traditions, some greater than others, but they weren't as great as the gap between what are now considered "traditional" and "contemporary" forms of worship.) But with the cultural revolution of the sixties came the beginnings of a revolution in church music. And now, there is scarcely a denomination that hasn't since been affected by the shift in music.

So has the change been for the good? It's a simple question that one might think would yield a simple answer, but I don't think it does.

Often when people address the question of whether or not a certain type of Christian music is good, the rationale that people will give is something along the lines of this: "It must be good, because the Lord blessed me through it." But just because the Lord uses something for good in a person's life, that doesn't mean that we should regularly seek that thing out. God once spoke through a donkey (Numbers 22), but that doesn't mean then that we should make a regular practice of ordaining jackasses to the ministry (though some denominations do this fairly frequently). Equally so, God uses all sorts of things to bless his children, whether or not those things are good in themselves (Romans 8:28).

This sort of thinking is what is called "pragmatism". Pragmatism says that a thing is justified by its effectiveness. If it works, then do it. But pragmatism excludes all other moral claims. The easiest way for me to get money may be to knock over a convenience store. But God says it is sin, and therefore it's wrong.

Also, when talking to people about worship music, I frequently find there is little rational thought behind why they like the kind of worship music they like. "It gets me pumped up," or some variation thereof, isn't a good argument for why a certain type of music is appropriate for worship. Based on that argument, maybe we should replace the bread and wine (or, I suppose for most, grape juice) with giant candy bars and Red Bull. This isn't to say there shouldn't be an emotional response to music in worship, or that worship music shouldn't be pleasing to the emotions. But when that is one's main focus in assessing worship music, then there is a need for them to do a little deeper thinking on the subject. This would also suggest an erroneous way of viewing the world in general that goes deeper than the question of music.

This isn't a problem confined to the younger generation of Christians, either. Part of the problem in the worship wars has been that the older generation hasn't been able to intelligently articulate why they think the music they were accustomed to worshiping with is superior. And in some cases, the music they were accustomed to wasn't superior. That's where we'll pick up next time.

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