Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Worship and such truck

A friend asked me to comment on the (new) classic battle of hymns vs. contemporary worship songs. So here are my thoughts in bullet-point format and in no logical order. And now, with little ado and much over-generalization, here it goes.

(From the outset I must confess that this post works as a sort of apologetic for contemporary worship songs. While I personally prefer hymns to contemporary music, I cannot get rid of the latter. Perhaps this post will show you why).

-Hymns are not inherently better than contemporary worship songs (CWS). There are bad hymns as there are bad CWS ('bad' in terms of solid, orthodox content).

-Worship music (both hymns and CWS) can have different functions. Some songs can be more didactic in their purpose (seeking to teach specific truths/doctrines); some are simply scripture passages put to music. Others work to build unity among believers and therefore do not focus solely on God. A mix of worship songs are needed; one 'song type' cannot be used alone.

-Both hymns and CWS are attempts to express biblical truth and/or responses to biblical truth in a particular time in a particular culture. They both use language and imagery of their times to make Christian realities relevant and understandable to their own particular time. Now, on this point I must dwell for a bit. The reason I enjoy hymns more is that hymns (for the most part) employ language and imagery that is drawn directly from the Bible ('thee' and 'thou' notwithstanding). I love 'Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah' because of the OT wilderness imagery; I get how the imagery is being used in the song to describe the Christian life. And yet, if I go to the middle of downtown Chicago and tell people about how my wandering in the desert is not a problem because I am being guided by a pillar of fire, and I call them to follow that pillar as well, what is the most obvious reaction. Whatever the colorful language and awkward stares I get, it all points to the fact that the language I used makes no sense! And I'm sure the reaction in most churches today wouldn't be much different (I hate the phrase 'most churches today,' but I used it anyway). That language of wilderness wandering had more significance and resonance with believers from an earlier generation, but now it is lost (this isn't the time and place to explain why, unfortunately). So now we have CWS that uses (*gasp*) contemporary language and imagery to convey similar truths, and that is a good thing. For good or for ill, at least songwriters are striving to worship God using language that our culture understands and resonates with. Christians seeking to understand the times and address it properly is always praiseworthy, although the results may not always be perfect.

As I always end my posts, there is much more that must be said. But my time is short and my attention span is shorter, so good night.

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