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« The Uniqueness of Christianity: Reconciliation with God | Main | Dangerous Fundamentism »

November 11, 2010


I don't think it's possible to make worship "less worthy of parody". In fact, I would argue that if something is such, then it is probably less meaningful or impactful. To be worthy of parody most likely means that it is doing something that people don't like; what's wrong with that? Or perhaps it means there is a noticeable pattern, again, what's wrong with that? There was a pattern to "pre-contemporary" worship that was also predictable and it was probably parodied then as well. Formulaic worship music is not reserved for the contemporary style.

I think Melinda has hit on a key issue though: worship should not be Christian-centered, but Christ-centered, God-centered. (note: Christian-centered music is also not reserved just for contemporary as there are plenty of old hymns that do this as well)


Here's a thought: stop going to churches whose worship music is obnoxious and shallow; if folks would just go elsewhere, then those churches would either die out or learn their lesson. Let the free market of church competition take care of this. Hopefully this is exactly what younger Christians tired of hearing "Lord I Lift Your Name On High" are doing.

Melinda, is your hobby-horse objective or subjective? perhaps the sermon illustration below can add some perspective and humor to the discussion.

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended a big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.

"Well," said the farmer, "it was good. They did some things differently though. They sang praise and worship choruses instead of hymns."

"Praise and worship choruses?" said his wife. "What are those?"

"Oh, they're okay. They're sort of like hymns, only different," said the farmer.

"Well, what's the difference?" asked his wife.

The farmer said, "Well, it's like this. If I were to say to you: 'Martha, the cows are in the corn'
well, that would be a hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you:

Martha, Martha, Martha,
the cows, the big cows,
the brown cows,
the black cows,
the white cows,
the black and white cows,
are in the corn,
are in the corn,
are in the corn,
are in the corn,

"Then if I were to repeat the whole thing 4 or 5 times and include guitar and drum solos, well that would be a praise chorus."

As luck would have it, the exact same Sunday, a young, new Christian from the city church attended the small country church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was.

"Well," said the young man, "it was good. They did some things differently though. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.."

"Hymns?" said the wife. "What are those?"

"Oh, they're okay. They're sort of like regular songs, only different." said the young man.

"Well, what's the difference?" asked his wife.

The young man said, "Well, it's like this. If I were to say to you: 'Martha, the cows are in the corn.'
well, that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you:

'Oh Martha, Dear Martha, hear thou my cry.
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by to the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.
For the way of the animals - who can explain?
There in their heads is no shadow of sense,
hearkenst they in God's sun or his rain
unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.
Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight have broken free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night,
they all my mild sweet corn have chewed.
So look to that bright shining day by and by.
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn,
where no vicious animal makes my soul cry
and I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.

"Then, if I were to do only verses one, three, and four, well, that would be a hymn."

Brian, I think your illustration might show the opposite of what you think. Can you agree that those two songs invoke entirely different responses from you? Which one of those songs conveys more of a sense of weightiness? Of reverence? Which involves your mind more?

The message is always more than just the brute facts that "the cows are in the corn." The first song conveys those facts, but it fails to convey some things the second conveys about the seriousness and greatness of the situation simply because of the manner in which it's expressed.

Brian, I think your story is valid.

I see Amy's point, but I'm still not convinced that "weighty" words drive meaningful worship. I think worship can be meaningful without words. If people cannot hear or understand weighty words, are they exempt from meaningful worship?

As the worship leader, I have given this topic a lot of thought. I'm the primary (though not sole) decision maker for the song material our congregation sings during worship services.

Our church began 12 years ago as a non-traditional church with the specific aim of reaching people who wouldn't darken the door of a "traditional" church. Having spent 9 years leading at this church, I could give all sorts of opinions about the merits or problems with that mission. But that's a separate post.

Sifting through material, whether the "hot" new worship songs (oi, it grieves me to type that), or the hymns (even the Christmas songs), my filters are:

1) Does this song describe God?
2) Is this song true?

A description of God can be direct, or indirect by communicating about how the human condition was redeemed because of salvation. IMO, direct is better, but the latter is fine as long as the focus is the redemption.

The style of how we choose to play the song plays a role in how it's received, but in my book it's just the vehicle.

In my experience, there are human-centered lyrics in traditional hymns as well as the songs written recently. That so, what's the point in mentioning "U2-sounding songs" (style) and who authored them? What if Matt Redman wrote a hymn? And I've been to a U2 concert, and there were moments where worship (to God, not the band) was happening, often when the band wasn't playing. Bono even led the crowd in "Amazing Grace."

I wonder what Greg Koukl would say about the phrase "deeper in worship." I listened to his mind-freeing lecture on "Decision Making and the Will of God," where he dispells a number of Christianese terms like being "at peace" or feeling a "nudge." What is "deeper in worship?" If God is omnipresent, how can we go deeper into his presence?

Is formulaic bad if the formula works? Are we to promote no formula? Are we to change the order of service as a means to significance or meaningfulness? Are there not formulas and rituals described in the Bible (my argument here is not for following those rituals, rather that ritual was sometimes prescribed)?

Don't get me wrong, I am critical of how worship is carried out because I DO NOT want to get it wrong, especially as the leader of our congregation. But I'm not convinced by this excerpt that the author is asking the right questions.


lol - i love it.

I like meeting hipster Christians personally.

I remember seeing the book cover for this apologetics Christian book - contributed by STR's own Brett Kunkle, Steve Wagner, and Alan Shlemon.

On the front is a dude with stone washed distressed blue jeans, a Diesel Wristband Watch, an Ed Hardy Belt Buckle, and a requisite full-color arm tattoo...

Now, come on...


One can't help but think you guys are going for the "hipster demographic" with a pic like that.



I would agree that many "contemporary" worship songs only focus on one aspect of God's character or our relationship with Him, whereas most "traditional" hymns examine God's character/our relationship from several perspectives.

Into which category does Psalm 51 fall?
V1. I'm a sinner
V3. I'm a sinner
V5. I'm a sinner
V7. I'm a sinner
V9. I'm a sinner

V10. God help me
V11. God help me
V12. God help me

V13. I'll share the gospel
V14. I'll share the gospel
V15. I'll share the gospel

These sets of verses have the metric of a contemporary worship song - each set focuses on one aspect of David's relationship with God. Of course I've left out words. When these are included one could easily perceive the psalm as being more along the lines of a traditional hymn.

I think Lp got it correct in that it's not about the style, it's about the substance. I've been walking around my house and work the last couple of days singing "A Mighty Fortress", and I've been playing Matt Redman's "Blessed be Your Name". Both are filled with substance and truth. Lp's got it right when he simply applies his mind wisely in choosing the songs he uses for corporate worship.

When Amazing Grace was penned by John Newton in 1779 it was "contemporary" poetry. I wonder what the poets of that time thought about the quality of the poem.

If the worship leader is constantly asking "Is this relevant. is this glorifying God or focusing on human emotion?" then it doesn't really matter if they do hymns or choruses.

If you don't like the music where you are then ask God to change your heart. If that fails then change your location.

A friend of mine sent me this video recently. This discussion made me think of it. It's pretty funny. You should check it out.


oh man that video is freakin great.

dang they did a good job on those songs.

lets face it, its never been a better, easier (and more profitable) time to be a Christian, than right now in 2010 America.

(well ok maybe a little better during the Bush years...)

hee hee

Sometimes, as I look at the landscape of Christian twitter accounts, facebook apps, cruises to alaska, Starbucks coffee shop theology, and mega churches with 10 million dollar sound systems, I really wonder if Christians still seriously consider the notion that their mission is to attempt to save the populace from burning in the
fires of hell

I thought the same thing Sam, when I first saw that video clip a few months back on another blog it was titled something like "Even Modern Evangelicals Have A Liturgy". Pretty funny in any case.

ToNy, your most recent comment makes it very clear that you dont go to church ;)
Giving in churches has been on the decline. Here is one example

That's the same video in the OP.

Contemporary worship is essentially about, or rooted in, Rock N Roll, which is essentially about the beat of the music. The term comes from street slang of the 50s depicting the sex act.

nuf said

Dave, if God can redeem a person, can He not redeem a musical style? Is rock off limits to God or anyone affiliated?

If you were a missionary to a previously undiscovered island, would you discourage the natives from using the indigenous music style which may have been used for idle worship?

Is the style sacred, or the intent, the heart attitude? Are the words sacred? And if so, what about the person who cannot speak? Can that person not participate in what is sacred?

Please know that I really am not trying to be critical for the sake of being critical. I rarely chime in and comment on blog posts, but I am a worship leader (as stated in a previous comment), and I earnestly want to get this right. Worship and how it is carried out is very important to me for a lot of reasons, and mainly because I'll give an account for how I served this post.

To be transparent, it surprises me that we are still having this conversation (about rock in worship) in 2010.

The thought just occurred to me... I write worship songs, too. And as I write, I do strive for meaningfulness (the words), but I often opt for simple phrases and repetition. The reason: if the song is wordy or complicated, the congregation will focus on reading the screen. I would rather provide a simple melody and a phrase that is true about the attribute of God, and allow the participants the freedom to focus less on the mechanics and more on the reason.

This is a formula. It works. I'm not likely to change it unless I could be convinced it is not effective or, more importantly, it's not pleasing to God.

The impetus for Brett McCracken's criticism is that modern worship may be formulaic, "worthy of parody," standardized, predictable. I don't think any of these are reasons to change. You can parody anything or anyone, even Jesus. God is predictable. The Bible is thick with formulas.

If my teenagers are choosing worship songs based on the looks of the band, I'll admit that I would want to set them straight and realign their values regarding worship. But I will guarantee that if I point them toward "weighty" words or an orchestra rather than a band, they would not choose to put worship music on their iPods. I'm glad there are modern artists providing meaningful worship that my kids can connect with. Is it optimum? I think so, because I hear them humming about the wonderful attributes of God, and I have to believe that pleases Him.

Good comments, Lp,

Worship and how it is carried out is very important to me for a lot of reasons, and mainly because I'll give an account for how I served this post.
Good reminder. We will be called to account for the way we serve all our ministries - including how we comment on blogs.

Since truth doesn't change, "Contemporary Worship" must relate to something else. It must mean "in step with the world".

It is embarrassing to see the lengths some churches go to in order to attract and make converts these days. When in reality they are only packing the pews with phony converts who crave entertainment and confuse adrenalin rushes with spirituality.

I don't think a musical form is inherently bad. I agree that some contemporary worship songs have empty lyrics--but others are extremely meaningful.

Probably the most "elevated" example I've ever seen, though, comes from a band that does not actually claim to be Christian, but it's very obvious where, in later albums, they are getting their influence. It's definitely rock music, but there's amazing power in the lyrics and music here. The whole album this song comes from (Vheissu) will move you and also make you think and engage your mind in prayer as well as heart and body.

But there are some meaningful songs that I hear in contemporary services--it just depends on if the praise band pays attention.

And if you come from a troubled city like I do, a song like this may be simple, but it really reminds me to pray and not to let myself become bitter about all that goes on here. ("God of This City" by Bluetree.)

I could cite other examples, too--but I think that any form of music can be turned to God's service. You may not like all of those styles, but that's fine.

Many old hymns have tunes that had a secular origin. But the copyright has to lapse before the old secular tumes become available to hymnists. So there is a built in lag between the contemporariness in the tunes of worship music and coeval secular tunes.

I have to say I think LP hit the nail on the head with his comments. As a member of the congregation in which he serves I can tell you that we've been regularly ushered into the presence of God corporately as we joined in unity and gave our Great God our worship. I am grateful for the criteria and deep thought that go into our song selection. I think the key is that the worship leader has to have a true heart for God and a desire to please Him, along with a good understanding of Theology so they can discern and separate the wheat from the chaff.
So substance not style is the main thing. Said another way, style is like the outside wrapper; but what's inside (the substance) is what really counts.

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