Dluxe's World

Saturday, February 4

Thoughts on "Give Praise to God" - Part 2 of 7237

I got an email today encouraging me to post the 'bombs' promised in yesterday's little review of "Give Praise to God". *Then* I find out that there are a couple more people who are actually tuning in. This makes posting seem even more unnerving than it has been.

Anyway, here goes:

Picking up from yesterday, I stated my agreement that God has defined what worship should be like in the Bible. When reading heady books, this is often referred to as the 'regulative principle of worship'. If that's true, how could I (as a professed Bible-thumper) have something that made me grit my teeth at this book I've been given. At least, you would expect it to have taken more than 3 little essays (out of 18) before I was ticked off.

I'll throw out and respond to two quotes, and you'll prolly quickly gather where my bias departs... First, Pastor Boice:
One of the saddest features of contemporary worship is that the great hymns of the church are on the way out. They are not gone entirely, but they are going. And in their place have come trite jingles that have more in common with contemporary advertising ditties than with the psalms. The problem here is not so much the style of the music, though trite words fit best with trite tunes and harmonies. Rather the problem is with the content of the songs. The old hymns expressed the theology of the church in profound and perceptive ways and with winsome, memorable laguage... Today's songs reflect our shallow or nonexistent theology and do almost nothing to elevate one's thoughts about God.

This little snippet makes me want to tear my hair out. On the one hand, I also lament the departure for the great hymns of our faith. They are woven into who I am as a believer, having sung them in church week in and out since I was five. They are meaty in what they say and connect us to those who've come before in a valuable way.

However, I have three issues here as well... First, though Dr. Boice states that the problem is not really musical I'm not sure I think he really feels that way. The next comment ("...trite words fit best with trite tunes and harmonies...") seems to suggest that there is some musical superiority to hymnody that makes it a more lofty vehicle for worship. I feel this is a comment made, largely, in musical ignorance.

Even having a formal background in music, I believe that there are melodies being written today that are just as captivating as those of any hymn. In addition, the majority of hymns are not masterpieces of harmonic motion or innovation. In fact, I think the harmonic/melodic colors available to modern songwriters is far broader and more interesting. I personally feel that those hymns that we consider iconic in our faith (like "Holy, Holy, Holy!", perhaps) have earned that badge because they incorporate lyrics and music that makes a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Second - Lyrically, I can buy into Dr. Boice's point... A lot of songs we sing today are saccharine in what they have to say. However, it's important to recognize that what we have today is the distilled output of the hymn-writers of all the church age.

When Martin Luther was penning "A Mighty Fortress", I'm sure there was someone else on the other side of Germany writing hymns that were marginally 'popular'. Interesting that they haven't survived into the hymnals of today, isn't it? The reason is simple... As a music professor once told me, "Time is the world's greatest censor and judge of taste". The hymns we call classics today are the wheat that was left over after years of blowing the chaff away. I would imagine that far more crap than masterpieces are written, painted, or sung on any given day. Today, as then, we must pick through the rubbish to find the jewels.

There *are* wonderful worship songs, both lyrically and musically, being written today. The work of Keith and Kristyn Getty, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and others represent some of the best...

Take a look at the hymnals of the 60s (my church has one if you need it) and take note of some of the 'classics in the making' that were included. We don't sing them much anymore. History has worn off the luster of the new to reveal the true patina of crap underneath. I know that's stongly worded, but I wanted to use the word patina.

Lastly on the musical issues - I think this little quote is important from Dr. Boice's comments: "The old hymns expressed the theology of the church in profound and perceptive ways and with winsome, memorable laguage..."

Winsome and memorable to whom? If it hadn't been both to the people who were around then, I doubt that we'd know the song today. One of the continuing challenges we face in the church, I believe, is conveying the correct, clear messages of the Scripture in ways that engage a contemporary audience. Please, do not misread this... I am not saying that the message should be 'dumbed down' or spun so it is hip. Truth must remain truth. However, communicating that truth in King James English would probably not be winsome to the people of today.

When Luther and others penned the great hymns, their lyrics were (to a large extent) within the vernacular of the day. Just as a good modern translation of the Bible, like the ESV, combines accuracy and the cadence of modern speech, we should strive to give people songs that are both meaty and 'attainable'.

Ok... Enough about music.

My other big area of griping so far has been around the book's discussion of historical moorings. Quoting Derek Thomas in essay #3:
Part of the reason for [the Presbyterians moving away from creedal moorings and worship tradition] lies in both the modern disdain for history and the ignorance of it. "Chronological snobbery," to use the C.S. Lewis phrase, applies to those who suggest that we have nothing to learn from the two millenia since the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that worship is purely a matter of taste.

There is much truth here. There is an element in the church seeking to emerge into a new understanding of who/what the church should be. They quick dismissal of tradition by some in those circles takes away a large body of normative information.

Aside for the doctrinal risk that's created by discarding the past, we lose something of our identity when we are simply a product of the moment. Why do so many people have a huge interest in geneology? At least part of the reason is that connecting to our past enriches the present. Our perspective is tempered a number of different ways when we see ourselves as part of a whole rather than just a isolated blip on the radar. The Church does well to consider and understand the legacy that we have inherited today.

My issue is that I think the reaction to this 'chronological snobbery' is often more 'chronological snobbery'. Where the emergent people are seeking to cast of history like a skin to be shed, there are many on the other side of the ledger who seem to wrap themselves in the Flag of Heritage. Perhaps I am reading more into the author's words here than I should... If I am, I apologize.

Still, there is a reactionary tone in this that is unsettling. "We've gotten our focus wrong, let's swing the pendulum all the way back!" You know, we have been errant in our focus - tied up in ourselves instead of the Author and Perfector of our Faith. Still, have there been no correctives since the Protestant Reformation that are worthy of being considered? Did the church stop growing in our knowledge once the Westminster Confession was penned? There are some faiths (Mormonish, Jehovah's Witness) who believe that the faith was corrupted after the death of the last Apostle. I sadly think there are those in the Church today who would echo this sentiment, changing only the date to reflect the death of the last Puritan.

As someone who reads a lot, I totally dig this idea of reclaiming our heritage, of reaffirming the truths that split us off from Rome many years ago, and of driving at a faith that is steeped in and regulated by the thoughts of the wise people who've gone before. If we're coming up with any super-novel interpretations of Scripture or doctrines today, we should tread gently indeed.

Still, we must recognize that the history that precedes us is potmarked by humans who sinned and erred just like we do. There are ways we can grow, develop, and more fully realize the truths they sought to flesh out. We should be "always Reforming"... And that means we should be getting better, guided and tempered by those who came before.

Well, I've now commented on everything I've read... I'll go to bed and then get back to reading (barring my excommunication, of course).

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4 Comments:

  • I've gone and done it now!
    Couldn't you read Derek's comments without presuming he is calling us to say forward motion for the church (and hence, worship) ended in the 17th century. There are many voices that assume some kind of "chronological" fixity (and snobbery)...just pick your favorite era (current or bygone).

    Couldn't we say that today's church needs to connect with the whole of God's dealings with His people. We truly are standing on their shoulders. Our best expression to the contemporary must have a vital connection to the whole of our story.

    By Blogger coramdeo, at 1:41 PM, February 06, 2006  

  • Nah... I've gone and done it is more to the point. :-)

    I guess I should've quoted a bigger block of Derek's text... To me, it did seem like there was a overboard statement of "older is better" in Derek's comments. That said, you're absolutely right that there are people who take any phase of history and exalt it.

    Obviously, our tendency is to take the present and consider it the best of all possible worlds. And, in many cases, that is a short-sighted mindset.

    We do need connection to the "whole of God's dealings with His people", as you put it. That's what I was trying to say when I threw the following in: "As someone who reads a lot, I totally dig this idea of reclaiming our heritage, of reaffirming the truths that split us off from Rome many years ago, and of driving at a faith that is steeped in and regulated by the thoughts of the wise people who've gone before."

    I'm not calling for a revolution... Just for us to be balanced.

    Nice to see you posting. I'll buy you a soda as a celebration of your first post.

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 1:58 PM, February 06, 2006  

  • H. D., YOU ARE A GOOD WRITER!! It's taken me a while to gather up the minutes needed to tackle a long essay like yours, but it's worth it (haven't read number 3 yet)

    I agree totally with you regarding music, contemporary vs. "antique" (for want of a better word). Quality is quality. Not that I'm any judge. As you say, for the most part, time will be the judge. I hedge a little bit, because it's pretty much a certainty that excellent music and lyrics are being written that will never gain a wide enough audience to have staying power.

    And your thoughts about historical vs. contemporary believers and their writings also seem right on to me. Balance, people, balance!!!

    By Blogger PatL, at 7:29 PM, February 09, 2006  

  • Thanks for the compliment, Pat... I'm flattered.

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 10:03 PM, February 09, 2006  

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