Thinking Out Loud

February 3, 2019

Hymnophobia

hymnophobia \ hɪm-noʊ-‘foʊb- \ – (adj) – having or possessing the fear of hymns or (n) the fear of hymns

I think many contemporary churches suffer from Hymnophobia.

By hymns, I don’t mean the classic hymns that have been adapted by contemporary songwriters, sometimes with the addition of a bridge. That works sometimes.

By hymns, I don’t mean some of the ‘gospel’ hymns that came in the period of around 1940 and following. That’s the period that the present period is a reaction to, and it’s okay to set those aside. It’s many of those pieces which drove us to a more modern church in the first place.

I’m talking about the real, absolute classic hymns: All Hail the Power and A Might Fortress and other songs of that ilk.

Hymnophobia is really a fear of doing something that’s outside the only homogeneous, modern style that’s the trademark of today’s churches, especially megachurches.

There’s no variety.

I’d have no problem with a church doing a classic like Our Great Savior if they did it in the style in which it was originally presented.

In other words, not with “an organ” but with a high-church pipe organ sound, played in the manner that an organist would have played a pipe organ. Something that mentally transports you to one of the great 19th century cathedrals.

And let’s not forget that today’s modern keyboards have that sound built in.

Or for that matter:

  • a song sung in an authentic bluegrass style by people who really know that style of music
  • a song presented in a barber shop quartet style by people who really understand that genre
  • a song performed in a genuine operatic style by someone trained in that form

Not every Sunday, not every month, just not being afraid to try something different every once in awhile.

With the condition that it’s done so well, nobody considers it a caricature or a mockery of those forms, but actually finds the form works to communicate a particular set of lyrics.

Honestly, what are we afraid of?

Furthermore, why do we exclude people whose rest-of-the-week involves participation in a musical forms that are so removed from what we do at church on the weekend?

Why does every church service now have to 100% resemble what we hear on the local Christian radio station?

I rest my case.

 

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July 12, 2016

Retro Reviewing: Pagan by Frank Viola and George Barna

Filed under: books, Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 am

In 2008, books about ecclesiology were selling briskly. Bloggers were consuming and recommending books about the church and church planting at rates never before seen, and the market included both clergy and laity, with the latter group feeling empowered to take an interest in a subject previously left to the professionals. (Historically in North America, while you might need theological degrees to be the pastor of a church, the work of planting includes colorful stories involving all types of people.)

paganPagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices was an important book during this time. The Tyndale House-distributed title with the bright red cover was presumably an update of a previous edition in 2002. According to what I wrote at the time, George Barna’s contribution was added for the revised edition. I have to assume that included much of the research; up to 25% of each page contains exhaustive footnotes. Those notes give the book an academic air, but in the end, especially re-reading this today as I’ve been doing, you realize that some of what is being offered up is based in opinion; specifically a preference for less-institutional, more organic worship setting, specifically the house church type of gathering. The book seems to want to call for a more radical paradigm shift than is realistically possible across the entire spectrum of churches.

In 2008, the market was ripe for a book like this. It was a time for deconstruction, and many were re-inventing the wheel. The terms emergent church and emerging church were on everyone’s lips, as was the idea of being missional, but this book doesn’t necessarily go there, since many emergent forms consisted of a blended worship which continued to incorporate the very traditional elements the book decries as rooted in medieval Catholicism, academia and even forms from other religions.

Where the book shines however is in terms of giving us an historical understanding of why we do the things we do.  The use of church buildings. The sermon form. The robes and vestments. The clergy. The paid church staff. The Choir. Our expression of Baptism and Communion. Christian Education.

In 2016, as I’ve gone through it again, I believe the book continues to speak into our tendency to do church as it has always been done. Reading it eight years later provides a different lens however; many models were considered and not those churches which were implemented succeeded. Rather, the book inspired church planters to take a salad bar approach, to pick and choose which elements they wished to refine or delete altogether. 

However, this time around, I also got more of the sense of walking in on a heated argument; a reminder that there are two sides in a debate, the other being traditionalists. It could be argued that we came through this micro-period in church history and not much changed. Or, it could equally be argued that in 2016 we have a much greater variety of churches doing very different types of things, and giving expression to their worship in unique ways. 

For the latter group, the book Pagan may have been a big part of that.

 

May 15, 2015

Keeping Your Church’s Energy Level High Will Cost You

Rarely do I repost an article in full. But this one really needs to be seen by a variety of people in various aspects of ministry in the contemporary Evangelical church.  I do hope you’ll send author Brady Boyd some stats love by clicking through and reading it at his blog. Click the title below:

The Price We Pay for Exciting

 by Brady Boyd

Have you ever sat and watched an entire baseball game on TV? I mean, from the first pitch to the last out?

Brady BoydReally?

Baseball on TV is boring. There, I said it. I mean it, too. I will not apologize.

I love baseball. I played baseball. I was the third baseman for my high school team that won the state championship.

The Grand Old Game limps along when viewed through lenses because it was meant to be watched in a stadium or park while eating hot dogs, sitting on bleachers in the middle of the summer. Baseball is rhythmic and filled with strategic moves by managers and players. Each pitch can be scrutinized and every at-bat has subtle nuances. There is a plenitude of secret signs and pregnant pauses. But, it’s still boring to watch on TV.

That’s why I wait for the highlights on TV each night. The miracle of sport’s television allows a three-hour pastime to be condensed into 30-seconds of the best parts. I see all the home runs, the key strikeouts, the controversial plays at the plate without having to watch the entire game. If all we studied were the highlights, we would think baseball is the wonder of all sports, certainly made for live TV. It was not.

Church was not created for TV, either. The activity of discipling people from spiritual infancy to maturity is rarely exciting. In fact, it can be quite mundane. Somehow, we’ve come to believe that church should be exciting, made for TV, full of buzz and emotional fervor. There are certainly zenith moments like baptisms, weddings, baby dedications and encountering the Holy Spirit through prayer and worship. Stirring stuff, for sure. Other things like fasting, lingering intercession, hospital visits, unhurried conversations with grieving widows, and bringing food to a sick family are not as electric.

Jesus called us sheep, not lions, bears or race horses.  Have you ever watched a shepherd with his flock in a field? It does not qualify as thrilling cinema. Sure, there may be predators that sometimes need to be thwarted and occasionally, the shepherd will have to hurry his flock into a shelter when a storm surprises them.  Most days, though, the sheep eat grass, drink water, and nap while the shepherd stands in the shade nearby.

In my vocation as pastor, most of my work would miss the cut for the 30-seconds of late-night highlights. I doubt most shepherds see their work as scintillating, but it is indeed proficient. In fact, skilled shepherds tend to avoid rushing their sheep to distant pastures or exciting the flock with loud noises. Sheep do best in stable, secure environs. There is a steep price to pay for constant excitement.

Recently, I was speaking at a leader’s conference in the Los Angeles area. My message was about sustainable rhythms for healthy ministry, taken from lessons I have learned the hard way. As soon as I finished, a young woman approached me with tears in her eyes. Her pastor had told her and the team that he was going to have an exciting, growing church, which meant everyone had to give 110%. He told them if they could not keep up with him, they could all be easily replaced.

She wanted to be a part of the weekly highlight reels, so she tried to maintain the insane pace. Predictably, she failed and was left in the ditch of ministry with many others. She was hurt because church life was not about the sheep flourishing anymore, it was about creating a false sense of excitement that simply was not sustainable. Her ambitious Senior Pastor is now out of ministry altogether, burned out for trying to run too fast for too long.

I prayed for the young leader, then reminded her that what we do is a sacred calling that should be taken seriously. We do get to be a part of some incredible highlights as God transforms people in front of us. That’s exciting stuff and should be celebrated. I also reminded her that when Jesus called his disciples, he did not tell them, “Come follow me, and keep up if you can.” He promised them hard work, sleepless nights, criticism and persecution. He also said he would be with them always, like a faithful shepherd on a long, obedient journey that would sometimes be exciting, but would always be leading people home.

June 28, 2013

To P or Not To P, That is the Question

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am

Out of Ur recently reported on a survey which asked pastors about sermon length. Personally, I think some pastors are capable of going 46 minutes, and some are done after 23. You can read that report here.

Frankly, as interesting as the results were, I particularly enjoyed this item someone left as part of a comment. I offer it to you as originally punctuated:

Paid – Professional – Pastors – in Pulpits – Preaching – to People – in Pews…

Prevent – Public – Participation – Promoting – Passive – Pew – Potatoes….

Procuring – Power – Profit – Prestige – for the Prevailing – Parsing – Pastor…

November 20, 2012

The Church is Changing, But is it Changing Fast Enough?


Heard on U.S. election night:

The Republican Party needs to realize that the country is changing faster than they are.

As soon as she heard this, Mrs. W. saw an immediate connection to the church, or rather, The Church. While some within the institution are somewhat resistant to changes taking place — changes which include

  • midweek meeting to small home groups
  • traditional hymns to contemporary choruses
  • suit and tie to casual dress
  • Authorized Version to the NLT and The Message
  • sanctuary decorum to coffee cup holders

— these superficial changes either belie attitude adjustments which never happen or are simply too superficial, not drilling down to the bedrock of the decision-making process which guides objectives and intentions.

In other words; “Yes, we’ll add drums and electric and electric guitars as long as understand that we’re just doing this to reach out to the community, and not because it’s our first choice. And we’re leaving in Amazing Grace and Blessed Assurance.”  Which is to say that we don’t really embrace change, it is simply something that has been thrust upon us.

At a certain level, that’s okay. Reaching the community is a valid goal. But the world at large does embrace change; you could say the broader culture thrives on change.

So we change, and the pace of change is increasingly accelerating, but meanwhile the pace of change in the wider marketplace is accelerating faster. All of which leaves us with churches with ‘relevant’ preaching that is becoming irrelevant and contemporary music in a world where ‘contemporary’ is somewhat of an adjective fossil.

Or worse, we go casual and informal only to discover that the next generation actually craves liturgy or even pageantry. Or we go with slick multimedia not realizing the cry of peoples’ hearts is for interactive communication. Or we add some rap to the opening song in a city where the top radio station plays country. Or we address employment needs in a place where the greatest issue is depression and mental health. Or we build gigantic mega-churches which mitigate against the authentic community life some are seeking.

Like the Republican Party, we’re left with a system that simply hasn’t responded to a changing world, because we’ve become so expert and so efficient at being the church to speak to the culture as it existed in 1995.

Make more changes? I can hear the groaning at that thought, but as changes come faster and faster to every facet of life, we need to rewrite the playbook and the rulebook continually.

Now excuse me while I nail this to a door somewhere.

 

March 7, 2012

Wednesday Link List

As Harpo Marx once said, “

  • A mother of four is yanked out of a Georgia church for breastfeeding. Meanwhile, Caryn at ThinkChristian wonders how Jesus handled this situation (if there was one) say, while giving the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Also at ThinkChristian, Karen says we shouldn’t sweat the new TV show, GCB, because it doesn’t have the right mix of ingredients to last.
  • I though we’d send some traffic to Reylo, the latest blog at Alltop Christian, and to get you there, he’s got the official trailer for the Blue Like Jazz movie.
  • “Ring by Spring or Your Money Back” — If you’re at a Christian college and not yet engaged, you just have a few weeks left.  Brittany Johnson guests at SCL.
  • 50 people, representing 10% of the head office staff, have been laid off at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, as the organization focuses more on online initiatives.
  • “I can do all things through Christ…” says the opening part of Phil. 4:13. But Bill Mounce points out that for Paul, it wasn’t true. “There are many things Paul could not do. He couldn’t fly. He couldn’t remove the thorn in his flesh. He couldn’t get released from his second Roman imprisonment…”  So in a departure from every other translation, check out what the NIV 2011 does with this text.
  • Kirk Cameron does his best to defend his beliefs as Piers Morgan relentlessly goes after Cameron’s views on gay marriage and homosexuality. Here’s a response to the show’s repsonse from Denny Burk: “Are we really at a place where a Christian who is pressed for his views on a matter can no longer state those views without being tarred and feathered?”
  • Worship Leaders: Carlos Whittaker offers you ten-plus-one ways to improve your worship leading. Of course, his title was a little more blunt.
  • Digging deeper into worship, Internet Monk has an article expressing the limitations modern worship has expressing lament.
  • At the above article, a reader offers this song as an example of worship in the wilderness. (click the mp3 link to play)
  • Catch the irony: A pastor loses his temper while preaching about God’s love. Or did he? The scene is one every church-goer would like to see happen at least once. The blog is A Brick in the Valley.
  • William Hamilton, the Oregon theologian who declared in the 1960s that God is dead, is dead. Another individual for whom, “The image of God as all knowing and all powerful couldn’t be reconciled with human suffering, especially after the Holocaust.”  Story at Oregon Live
  • An new Amish ‘fish out of water’ story, though not sure who is the fish and who is the water. An Amish woman decides to raise money by teaching quilting to a mix of people from the broader community. The new book by Wanda Brunstetter really should be made into a film.
  • In other publishing news, Justin Bieber’s mom, Pattie Mallette releases her own story Nowhere But Up, in September with Revell Books and a foreword by Justin…
  • …Meanwhile, basketball sensation Jeremy Lin has the book Linspired coming in May from Zondervan in both an adult edition and kids edition; though the latter is not even on the corporate website.
  • “You can’t get to heaven in a mini-skirt.” A good devotional post, but with a lead line like that, I just wanna see how many clicks it gets. The blog is called Moment of Selah.
  • Another edition of David Platt’s Secret Church happens on April 6th and you can simulcast the six-hour event where you live. Check the website or read more at Desiring God. In the book Radical, David admits that there’s nothing like seeing thousands of people quietly taking notes in church at 12:30 in the morning!
  • In Ontario, the most populous province in Canada, you can’t shop on holidays, which include New Year’s Day, Family Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. The City of Toronto, the most populous municipality in Ontario is surveying residents to see if they want that to change.
  • The cartoons today are classic Rob Portlock, from Way Off the Church Wall (IVP, 1989)

December 9, 2011

Preaching in Your Pajamas*

No, this isn’t about a recurring nightmare that your pastor has, although, as a regular in a church orchestra, I can honestly say I had the dream where I was sitting among my fellow church musicians in sleepwear. 

Nor is this a rant about the trend in the last 20-30 years of preachers losing the three piece suit, or at least the jacket and tie.  That shipped sailed long ago.  While I agree with the maintaining respect or decorum for the ‘spiritual office’ of pastor, I also appreciate that the slightly more casual look is (a) more welcoming to visitors and (b) more affirming of the principle that the pastor is a human like the rest of us.

Years ago, in order to catch a piece of history, I visited The Vineyard church in Yorba Linda, California while the late John Wimber was the pastor.  (If the trend in my Charles Shultz and Bil Keane pieces holds up, someone will now turn up in the comments section to speak ill of Wimber.  Trashing the deceased is apparently acceptable now, to some anyway.)  Wimber was also a musician, so he was playing in the worship band and was probably the last person you would pick out as being the one who was about to deliver the sermon.  Dressed in a sky blue jogging outfit or track suit, he then got up and gave a passionate message for the better part of an hour, and if you walked away only remembering the way he was dressed, you probably needn’t have bothered to go at all.

I say all this because, as part and parcel of the ongoing Rick Warren bashing, I’ve noticed a few people talking about his Hawaiian shirts.  I’m not sure if he still wears them on a regular basis, or if it’s just a stereotype, but it appears to some these shirts represent less than the minimum standard for a respectable pastor.

I’m not so sure, however.  I keep thinking back to Wimber and wondering if maybe it’s just a Southern California thing, something reflective of west coast culture. Of a pastor who is trying to connect with the local culture in order to, as the Apostle Paul put it, “win some.”

It also occurs to me that some of the Warren bashers have run out of things to say, and in the process have noticed that despite their ravings, Warren and Saddleback haven’t gone away, so they fire a cheap shot across the bow that’s in the spirit of, “Your maternal parent wears military footwear.”  Or the virus that got into my computer years ago and sent people a note that simply said, “You are fat;” hoping to strike injury at some deepest level. By their clothing ye shall know them.

Makes you wonder who is really showing up for church in their p.j.’s… and perhaps their recurring nightmare should be the one where they are keying in their latest hate rant on their blog and suddenly realize they have absolutely nothing to say.

*For the record, I originally titled this “Preaching in Pyjamas” using the spelling I grew up with in Canada, and the one known to my UK readers; but again my spellchecker would have none of it; so in concession to the sheer numbers of my U.S. readers, I caved, but only for numeric reasons; the Brits did (literally) invent the language after all.

October 24, 2011

First, The Bible Wars; Then, The Music Wars; Next…

Collectively, churches and changes don’t go well together.  Whether it’s change in the way people dress for worship; the addition of multiple service times and Saturday night services; replacing the choir with a worship team; or the preacher switching from the NASB to The Message; we tend, as a group, to be very uncomfortable with the transitions. 

In Evangelical circles, the ongoing tension is often expressed as, “The Bible Wars,” or “The Music Wars.”  Like the weather, everyone has an opinion on these topics, and some people simply vote with their feet and move on.

For Roman Catholics, the parish system dictates where your primary place of worship is located.  Catholics actually led the rest of us in the switch to contemporary music, with the folk masses of the early 1960s, so it’s not a prime breeding ground for music battles.  Their scripture readings form a smaller part of a much larger liturgy, and use the NAB (New American Bible), NRSV, Jerusalem Bible and even the Catholic edition of the Good News Bible allows some flexibility.

In fact, the NAB went through a revision this year; a revision somewhat ignored by the rest of the Christian community, and totally overshadowed by the release of the 2011 edition of the NIV.  But it was not without controversy especially over — you can pause and make a guess here — the use of inclusive language.   So now we hear the NABRE (revised edition) is “approved for private use and study.  It will not be used in the mass. “

While we wait for that story to sort itself out, comes word this week that changes are coming to The Missal, a book which really has a larger place in the structure of the mass than the Bible itself.   What might be called “focus groups” are getting together across the USA to “test drive” the new order of service, as USAToday Religion reports:

…They [are] preparing for a revised text of the Mass that will take effect on Nov. 27, the first Sunday of the liturgical season of Advent and of the church year.

The revisions reflect a new translation for the English-speaking world of the Roman Missal, the official Latin-language set of worship documents. It includes words and instructions for conducting the Mass, the central act of Catholic worship, in which priests bless and distribute bread and wine as essentially the body and blood of Jesus.

Virtually every prayer and proclamation in the Mass is undergoing at least some revision, marking the biggest change in worship for American Catholics since they began having Masses in English rather than Latin after the reformist Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.

Much of the debate within the church is over whether the changes, ordered by the Vatican to achieve more literal translations from the Latin, are good or bad.

Proponents say the new version is a more precise reflection of the original Latin. They say it is richer in its poetry, more reverent in its references to God and fuller in its allusions to the Bible and church creeds.

Critics say the Vatican dismissed years of work by scholars who had been working for the bishops of English-speaking countries. They call the new version rigidly literal — difficult for priests to recite and lay people to understand.

It contains technical theological terms — such as Jesus being “consubstantial” with the Father, replacing the current phrase “one in being,” and “oblation,” replacing the term “offering.”

But for many Catholics, such discussions haven’t even registered.

A national survey released in August found that three-quarters of Roman Catholics are unaware of the changes to come.

continue reading the story at USAToday

Other highlights from the article:

  • [Michael] Diebold sees the revisions as showing “symbolically where Rome is headed” — away from a cooperative vision of church as the “people of God” toward one defined by its hierarchy.
  • Others worry about how young people — whom Catholic and other churches are already struggling to retain — will react.
  • The Rev. Joseph Fowler, a retired priest, said the phrasing is “going to be very foreign” to people.
  • The vocabulary is “not the language of the street, it’s not the language I may pray on my own,” [Archdiocese worship director Judy Butler] said. But it reflects the current Vatican emphasis on using a “sacred vernacular” — which people recognize as devotional language.
  • “If any priest picks up that Missal on that first Sunday and has not read it out loud, he’ll be in over his head,” said the Rev. Paul Scaglione, pastor at St. Barnabas.

So for non-Catholics, how does this affect you?

I think that for the most part, Protestants and Evangelicals have done a decent job of surviving the Bible wars and music wars, but not so good a job at “refreshing” the liturgy.  We still tend to lapse into dated and awkward phrases at time, and the repeating of the ‘words of institution’ at The Lord’s Supper or Communion could easily be refreshed since they are straight out of I Cor 11 and the other translations already exist.

While mainline Protestant churches focus more on liturgy, Evangelicals focus on the sermon, and this is another area where help is needed.  One Atlanta pastor is known as “one of America’s top communicators;” but I wonder if the issue is not the number of people in the pulpit on Sunday morning who simply aren’t good communicators, or are perhaps really bad communicators.

The Roman Catholic church is working to address a badly needed change; but it’s insistence on a “sacred vernacular” that is difficult to grasp may signal change that is moving in the wrong direction.

Some excellent articles on the new missal can be found at Catholic San Francisco:

Again, from a non-Catholic perspective, it would be great to see so much thought and consideration being poured into the words spoken during our worship services, especially given the Evangelical penchant to speak extemporaneously, or as one pastor told me years ago, “to wing it.” Winging it simply doesn’t respect people’s time, intelligent or the place of things sacred.

July 25, 2010

Checking The Vital Signs

Prayer is the source of the Christian life, a Christian’s lifeline.  Otherwise it’s like having a baby in our arms and dressing her up so cute — but she’s not breathing.  Never mind the frilly clothes, check the child’s vital signs.   It does no good to talk to someone in a comatose state.   That’s why the great emphasis on teaching in today’s churches is producing such limited results.   Teaching is good only where there’s life to be channeled.   If the listeners are in a spiritual coma, what we’re telling them may be fine and orthodox, but unfortunately spiritual life cannot be taught.

Jim Cymbala in Fresh Wind Fresh Fire (page 50); Zondervan, 1997

June 17, 2010

Why Johnny Chooses Not To Sing Hymns

While some blogs are content to work their way through books on a chapter-by-chapter basis, I may have erred last Friday in presenting a partial review of Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns by David Gordon.   I think the early review I presented was valid as far as it went, and if you missed it, pause now to click back to it; my final conclusions are somewhat different.

In the end, I believe that as powerful an argument as Gordon makes, this is mostly an emotional argument placed in an academic frame.   Where I think he betrays this is with the assertion that our present culture is “paedocentric.”

Literally, we are not a “child-centered” culture, and neither is the church.   The places where I served in worship leadership covered a wide swath of music, including items borrowed from the youth group and from camp ministry; but we never did “Jesus Loves Me;” or “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”

Rather, our culture is definitely music-saturated, as Gordon admits, and that music (as well as the larger culture) is very definitely “youth centered.”  But neither condition should be considered “infantile;” the law of entropy is not at work here.

For example, Gordon rightfully acknowledges that the loss of print music to overhead and computer projections has meant a loss of actual staff notation and four-part singing.   That is true, and I miss that also.

However, is it any less complex for people to learn tunes by memory as opposed to reading them?   Wasn’t playing the four-part game often a distraction for those of us who knew how to read music?   Is not the addition of bridges and codas to the familiar routine of verses and choruses not more complex than the simple verse-chorus rules that governed the hymns?

I’m not saying that I don’t sometimes find the bridges particularly irritating, but I don’t think we should lament the loss of something (i.e. four part SATB) when we have also gained other things (i.e. tune memorization, more symphonic forms, etc.)

Plus what are we to say of modern choruses like “I Will Give You All My Worship,” and the incredible intricacies of “You Are Holy (Prince of Peace)”?   The only hymn I know of that comes close is the chorus of  the Diadem tune to “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” (or possibly “Wonderful Grace of Jesus”) and I don’t for a minute believe that if Johnny can learn the former he can’t learn the latter.

There are also inconsistencies in Gordon’s argument.   He acknowledges having a liking for modern works such as “In Christ Alone;” but then he seems to have less admiration for “How Great Thou Art” because it was translated into English only in the early 1950s, and therefore can hardly earn the “traditional” handle.

Gordon would have us sing “A Mighty Fortress” much more often, and many other lost songs of that era.   I agree that there is great theology contained in the verses of true classic hymns.   But nowhere does he address the difficulty we find today with people understanding lyrics such as “a bulwark never failing.”   Growing up, I always thought “this terrestrial ball” was a party; one that I looked forward to attending. Music has changed, but so has spoken English. No wonder I think Johnny can, Johnny simply chooses not to.

Rightly or wrongly, the present generation is choosing churches which have a presentation that is contemporary in nature.   Gordon despises “contemporaneity,” using the term as though it were a vice.

To “reach” the young by propagating youth culture would be analogous to Jesus’ “reaching” the rich young man by giving him money.   Money was part of that particular sinner’s problem, part of the reason he needed to be reached.  Extended adolescence is part of what our youth need to be delivered from. (p.162)

The first two sentences work, the third one undermines the force of what he’s saying.  Forgive me for thinking at that point that this is your kindly great uncle decrying the culture from his chair in the corner of the family room.

I agree with his suggestion that the music of the church ought to speak with a distinctive voice to the larger culture, but he offers no quick fix for how to attract 20-somethings and 30-somethings to a service of classical worship and preaching.

But I’m also not sure that the voice of today’s church music is not distinctive.  I remember decades ago hearing someone say, “There are secular parallels to a lot of contemporary Christian bands, but then you find a group like The Second Chapter of Acts for which there is simply no parallel.”

I also wondered, while reading, what the late Robert Webber would think of David Gordon.   Webber was a strong advocate of blended worship (something old, something new…) but might find this book a little off the balance he was trying to suggest.

On the positive side, this was a good read.   It’s one of the few books I’ve done in the last five years where the footnotes were perhaps more engaging than the main text.

Charles Wesley was surely one of the most prolific, and arguably one of the more accomplished hymn-writers in the English speaking world.   …[He] wrote at least 6,500 hymns.   Yet not all his hymns succeeded in making their way into the hymnal.   The United Methodist Hymnal has 862 hymns, only 41 were written by Charles Wesley.   So out of 6,500 hymns that Wesley wrote, only 41 are found in the hymnal of the denomination most influenced by him… That’s barely over half of one percent.  Are our contemporary hymn-writers superior?  Probably not.  Is their success rate higher than one out of every 158 they write?   Of course it is, because unlike Wesley, they get a “free pass.”  As long as their music sounds contemporary, virtually every other criterion for measuring hymns is discarded. (p. 44)

Some of our worship songs are incorporated into Sunday morning too easily — I agree with Gordon on that — but many offer something that is unique.   Furthermore, while I know it may not be everyone’s favorite, I can’t find any significant lyrical or musical difference between “How Great Is Our God,” and “How Great Thou Art.”

But other observations are not so kind such as referring to the Awakening of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield as an “alleged awakening.” (p. 151) Gordon is decidedly distanced from Evangelicalism and prefers to refer to those of that movement as revivalists.

Some of his tangential observations are helpful, such as the fact that among his students, while they all prefer contemporary worship, they almost always choose classical pieces for their weddings; though he may place too much weight on this observation.

I’m now curious about his earlier Why Johnny Can’t Preach (also P & R Publishing, also paperback)  and I have placed a copy on order.   However, I shudder to think he might complete the trilogy with a book on Bible translation.

I still think if you lead worship or have an interest in this topic that this constitutes one of those “must read” titles.   I just think that in the end, particularly in the long chapter ‘Strategic Issues,’  the emotional argument overshadowed the possibility of a completely academic treatment.   I feel he too often betrays his attempt at objectivity, while still having something worthy to say.

***

A video of You Are Holy (Prince of Peace) is available here.   Or just click the comments section of this post.   It’s a fitting song with which to conclude this.

P&R Publsihing did not supply a copy of this title for review.

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