Music and Christian Culture

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Noll's article is an excellent topic for discussion.  I thought he hit on a number of important issues, a few of which prompt some comments from me.

I particularly appreciated his comment that "singing is a deeply rooted expression of culture."  In this respect, I think that the evidence indicates that much, if not most, of contemporary worship music is reflective of a church culture that is increasingly worldly.  Across the board, from the worship music, to the liturgy and to the preaching, the church is following the lead of the world.  This is why so many of our mega-churches rely on consumer surveys.  What kind of music do you want?  What kind of message do you want to hear?  What do you think should happen in worship?  The overwhelming effect is that the idea of distinctively Christian culture (as with distinctively Christian truth) is traded away for consumer success.  Just the other day, I tuned into a contemporary Christian radio station and listening to the grunge-rock praise song that was playing, I wondered, "Why do we have to adopt distinctively worldly forms, especially in a time when the culture is increasingly debased of virtue and beauty?  A culture of despair is making music of despair, and we Christians can't wait to embrace it. 

Can't Christians do something better, that applies Christian standards rather than adapting them to the world's standards?"  Whenever a new musical trend develops in popular culture, you can be sure that it will become popular in contemporary Christian music.  What is the message, except that we do not think that Christianity produces a culture worth prizing?  This is why one of the things I chiefly love about hymnody is that the music is distinctively Christian.  (And, yes, I know that some of our hymns originated as folk songs -- but those folk songs arose from a broader Christian -- not pagan -- culture.)  I have long desired to avoid shrill denunciations of contemporary Christian music, but I am sick of the way we signal how much we want to be like the world rather than how much we want the world to be like Christ and His church.

Secondly, I appreciated Noll's point on the emotive effect of music, which is obvious to everyone.  Here, too, I think there are concerns for the current state of contemporary Christian music.  All of Christian experience is forced into the sentimental mode of pop music.  There is a manufactured happiness and passion that I think is simply offensive to a biblical ideal of human emotions.  And so Christian music becomes just another form of anti-depression medication with which we can escape reality.  It is not that there are not praise songs that emphasize the theme of biblical redemption.  In fact, I am greatly heartened by signs of reformation among contemporary lyric writers.  But it all has to be shoved into the package of sentimentalist music.  I suppose there are some pretty good exceptions to this comment, but I still think the overwhelming majority of contemporary rock-style Christian music is either designed to evoke a false euphoria or to appeal to an unbiblical sentimentalism.

Lastly, I appreciated Noll's comments regarding the redemption of culture and the way cultural diversity "manifests the bountiful fullness of God's creating and redeeming work."  Amen to both.  Nothing I have written above is intended to canonize white, Western cultural forms.  But how much better we would be doing if we actually redeemed, rather than mimicked, popular pagan forms.  And how much more edifying it would be to us and glorifying to God if we drew from diverse strands of Christian -- not pagan -- experience, and if our diversity was rooted not in varied strands of fallen experience but of God's redemptive work among all peoples, tribes, and tongues in Jesus Christ.  There are evidences of cultural redemption and redemptive diversity and they should be celebrated.  But in the broad evangelical culture, it is the pagan musical form that currently rules.  Lamentable in the extreme.

Posted November 15, 2007 @ 11:55 AM by Rick Phillips
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