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A classic from Jeremy Pierce:

Here are some of the things I really hate in a worship song.

  1. Too simplistic, banal, lacking in depth, shallow, doctrineless: Consider that one that just talks about unity among brothers that only mentions God in passing at the very end.
  2. It’s so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat “His steadfast love endures forever” before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? Examples: here and here.
  3. For some songs, the focus is too much on instruments, and the sheer volume leads to its seeming more like a performance than worship and prevents quiet contemplation.
  4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate a relationship with God, using first-person singular pronouns like “me” and “I” or second-person pronouns like “you” instead of words like “we” and “God.” This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates an atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God?
  5. Some songs have way too many words for anyone to learn.
  6. It patterns its worship on experiences that not everyone in the congregation will be able to identify with. If you’re not in the frame of mind or don’t have the emotional state in question (e.g., a desperate longing for God), then what are you doing lying and singing it? Worship leaders who encourage that sort of thing are making their congregations sing falsehoods.
  7. Then there’s that song with the line asking God not to take the Holy Spirit away, as if God would ever do that to a genuine believer.
  8. Then there’s that song that basically says nothing except expressing negative emotions.
  9. Finally, there are those songs that have like four or five lines that people just either have to repeat over and over again or just sing briefly and never get a chance to digest.

At this point I’m so outraged that people would pass this sort of thing off as worship that I’m almost inclined to give in to the people who think we shouldn’t sing anything but the psalms.

Oh, wait. . . .


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Comments:


63 thoughts on “Annoying Things in Worship Songs”

  1. Then there are those songs that have like four or five lines that people just either have to repeat over and over again or just sing briefly and never get a chance to digest.

    1. Wait, so if I keep commenting with more they’re going to end up added to the post?

    2. Niles says:

      Thanks for putting this together, Jeremy! It’s a big encouragement.

  2. simone ellis says:

    Brilliant.!

  3. Slimjim says:

    Wow this got me laughing

  4. Ian Paul says:

    I just so wish I had written this!

  5. Andrew Terry says:

    Almost for everyone I kept nodding my head understanding the “problem”. But, then I started to look at the examples given. Truly an eye opener. Also, humorous to boot.

  6. Terry Jones says:

    My thoughts entirely and like Ian above I wish I had written it. My poor wife has had these complaints from me for ages I would add that the music is often banal and shapeless too – not going anywhere and tuneless! Deconstruction?! There is a lot of good stuff out there….
    My wife I add is Rector of a Church in the Black Country and it’s not the music at St Lawrence’s I am criticising but when we go elsewhere.
    One small criticism….. Jeremy! What is LIKE four or five lines?? Three? Six?? Grace and Peace to you my friend.

    1. I’m not sure you’re getting the point, but the reason I used the expression “like four or five lines” is because the psalm in that case is four or five lines, depending on how you count.

      1. Ian Paul says:

        Jeremy, I think there are quite a few who have not got it! Needs a GSOH!

        Btw, did you publish this elsewhere?

        1. This was originally posted on my blog Parableman and at the now-defunct First Things blog Evangel.

          I would have thought the last two words would have been a pretty good signal, even if people don’t bother to look at the links.

          1. ian Paul says:

            I’ve post this on Facebook, and written a blog on it, and STILL half the readers haven’t twigged. Good lesson on the difficultly of interpreting irony in texts..

      2. Terry Jones says:

        Hi Jeremy. Superb stuff and yes, I wrote my reaction about 10 seconds before I opened the links in the piece! I assumed that the references were going to be to songs I recognised and found difficulty with which is part of the power of what you wrote. Preaching on Matthew 6 in just over a week’s time and this reminded me that there is irony in Scripture too and in the very passage I am considering. Unreserved apologies if I caused any offence! Shalom.

  7. Bob says:

    Yes, some are annoying, and I’m a huge fan on the hymns, but I’m guessing you are criticizing style more that substance. Also, you criticized a couple of songs that are straight out of the Psalms. You can take that up with God and David.

    1. Niles says:

      Hi, Bob. It sounds like you didn’t click on those links in each of those items. Once you do, I think you’ll see the heart and tone of the article. :)

      1. Bob says:

        No, I clicked on them. Look at #7, which is a reference to Psalm 51.

        1. Niles says:

          Right, they’re all references to Psalms. That’s the point. He’s not citicizing the Psalms, he’s criticizing common criticisms of modern worship music.

          1. Bob says:

            I reread #7, and it’s a criticism of the words, the lament of David. That’s a problem. Again, there is a lot of criticize is many of the “new” songs. My issue is a lot are written from a very feminine point of view.

            1. Niles says:

              Try rereading it from the perspective of someone who heard that kind of line in a modern worship song. His point is that asking God to “not take his Spirit away” is a biblical line.

            2. Bob, all of them are criticisms of the psalms. That’s the point. Not one of these arguments is legitimate, because they all apply to the psalms. But I hear them all from people who act as if they’re good arguments. There might well be decent arguments in the ballpark of some of these, but the point is to get people to think about the arguments they use against worship songs, because nearly all of the ones I’ve heard and even used come dangerously close to criticizing the psalms.

    2. Stephen says:

      @Bob: I don’t think you understand this post. Reread, this time with tongue-in-cheek.

  8. Venice says:

    Not sure what it is you are saying. Am I to understand that these Psalms should not have in the Bible? If this was meant just for humor, then fine.

  9. Jon says:

    It’s a shame that the Psalms (God’s own songbook) would you not fit your criteria for a decent worship song, in more-or-less then #s 2, 4-8 of your list. Be CAREFUL, brother, that your standards are not more reflective of modern sensibilities than the Word of God itself. That’s a fine line.

    1. Niles says:

      @Jon & Venice: The article is using sarcasm to challenge some common critiques of modern worship songs by saying that the songs are biblical because they are in line with the Psalms. Hope that helps.

  10. This is great!

    Is there a link to the original?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      The original site it was posted on is now defunct, so I just repasted the whole thing here.

      1. No, both my blog and the Evangel posting are still there. I linked to them in a comment above.

  11. Jon says:

    Wait, I just clicked on your links. Is this entire article supposed to be ironic? If it is, then just discard my previous comment, and I will hold my shame :)

    1. No, not the entire post. The last two words are when it stops being ironic.

  12. Josh says:

    I wonder if we can/should make a distinction between private worship and corporate/public worship. Could it be that some of these styles/complaints are legitimate when applied to corporate worship because those types of songs are Bette sung in a private worship setting. Many of the Psalms are written for a corporate gathering, but many of them are private worship or private expressions from a believer (David, et. al.) directly to God.

    Maybe some songs and some Psalms are appropriate in a private worship context but would not be appropriate in a public/corporate setting.

    What do you think?

  13. jch says:

    I’m certain I’m guilty of criticizing many modern worship songs for the same reasons that Jeremy “tongue-in-cheek” pointed out here. I think that the problem that I have is that many song services are unhealthily imbalanced in there song selections. While it may be wholly appropriate to sing a song that evokes personal pronouns to express an intimate relationship with God, it certainly is not the “whole story”, as it were, and thus the congregation would be helped by singing a balance of songs that express God’s love for us corporately and not just individually. I read an author who was critiquing modern Evangelicalism for its individualism. He pointed out that in the New Testament, there is only one verse that applies the God’s love as a consequence of the gospel to an individual, and that is in Galatians 2:20. The rest of the NT applies God’s love corporately (i.e. for the world, the Gentiles, the church, etc.) So while it’s certainly appropriate to sing of God’s love for me, it may not be holistic to sing only songs that reference God’s individualistic songs. Just a thought. I’m still working through this so I do not pretend to have perfect perspective on this matter or any matter.

  14. Mark says:

    I wonder what criteria to judge whether a song is appropriate for public singing… seems to be an ‘anything goes’ approach provided that what is said is true?

    But that would’ve been a very short post…

    1. Niles says:

      It seems that what is being said here is that the Scriptures should judge whether a song is edifying and true.

      Whether it’s appropriate, given that it’s biblical, should be left to the discernment of Church leadership. Just my $0.02.

  15. gary roseboom says:

    Oh, that we could so easily close the book on the so-called worship wars.

    I’m still trying to figure out how we “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” keeping in mind that “our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12:28-29)

    Maybe it somehow ties in to the old worship song “Serve [Worship] the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” (Ps 2:11)

    We’ve got the “rejoice” down pretty good. I’m not sure we’ve figured out where the “trembling” fits in.

    And that’s no indictment on CCM per se. Tozer was lamenting such fifty-plus years ago . . .

  16. MaryD says:

    So, singing psalms in worship is clearly a good thing. But what about “hymns and spiritual songs”? Sometimes I think in modern churches we stay in the Psalms too much, and neglect the hymns/songs that help us see who God is, and understand the great truths of His redemptive work.

  17. Thanks for bringing a little humor to my day. Love it!

  18. That’s what I love about the Psalms. The diversity of expression is what we should emulate.

  19. Great list!

    I would add to this what I call “Yoda Grammar” in worship songs. You know, the songs where the subject and verb are all awkward at the end of the sentence…

    This happens when traditional English grammar and word order gets all mashed up to serve the writers intent.

  20. Brian says:

    And now for criticisms of the satirical criticisms:
    1. When the psalm is only about 4 sentences long and mentions significant people in the grand Biblical narrative halfway through that, I don’t think it’s a huge issue that God doesn’t come in until the end of it.
    2. In Psalm 118, only around 16% of the sentences include “His steadfast love endures forever.” For 136… it is the title, after all. This one was one of the more fair points of satire.
    3. I don’t know, that one has a pretty substantial doctrinal contribution regarding the use of instruments in God’s worship. Also brief enough that if it were in actual instrumentals, it would amount to an intro of reasonable length.
    4. A less-frequent criticism, and in the psalms referenced, Psalm 13 emphasizes reliance on God, and Psalm 6 emphasizes trusting in God’s deliverance despite seemingly hopeless circumstances, each enriching topics relationally and perhaps doctrinally.
    5. I have never heard this as a criticism among mature Christians wanting more from a song than a simple, catchy refrain. Generally speaking, the more words, the more ground that can be covered, the better.
    6. I’ve actually heard the opposite as a criticism (one I agree with), that worship songs should sometimes include songs of lament.
    7. Contextually, that would have been an issue in David’s era, as God’s favor (spoken of here in terms of His Spirit) departed from David’s predecessor, Saul, and David had reason to fear similar consequences for his recent action. (Also, a line in a 10th Avenue North song is derived from this, so it pretty much has to be good.)
    8. See #6.
    9. Everyday Sunday has managed to do this pretty well, but then again, in my experience, they haven’t made it into the “popular worship music” scene very much.

  21. Peter Overduin says:

    This is brilliant….I was cringing when I first started to read because as I was opening the links, I was thinking….’whaaaa….?’ And then it hit me lol.

    It’s interesting to me that the singing of ONLY Psalms in the church I grew up in still holds such dark sway over me….there was no place for the spiritual songs and hymns that God has given to the church, only a holding fast to an old covenant tradition in song that matched the old covenant in preaching and teaching. I

    ‘m still in counselling, trying to figure out what it means that God is my Father, Jesus is my Saviour and Friend, and the Holy Spirit my Counsellor and Guide.

    While I share many of the criticisms of what passes for God honouring corporate worship music, there is much that has brought The Trinity to my spiritual eyes in the music I now sing.

  22. Jenny Reid says:

    I found this piece of writing very frustrating and rather glib. The real objections to some worship songs are not tackled at all , and the writer’s purpose, to answer all objections by using songs based purely on the Psalms, soon become frustratingly apparent .
    It seems to me there are several big problems which are not addressed. What about the random use of various unrelated Christian phrases one after the other, which means that the song has no real integrity, identifiable character of its own, or theme? What I once heard Tom Wright characterise as “post modern?” Many worship songs could have been written by a computer and are just a random compilation of popular Christian phrases. In comparison, many great traditional hymns have a grandeur, depth and individual personaility and identity of their own and often a deeply poetic insight. This is developed over several verses, e. g. the magnificent and memorable paraphrase “Thou art the everlasting Word, the Father’s only Son”. Some worship songs are just lazy (what on earth does “I see a near revival” mean?) or just plain manipulative, using the same musical phrase or group of words almost as a mantra. Many are distinctly unmemorable.They lack poetry, rhyme, scansion, and theology! They also often use a manipulative three stage rising musicalstructure, starting low and ending up with everyone shrieking at the tops of their voices in order to hit notes at the very top of the vocal register (O happy day for instance, which uses an instrumental rather than vocal range) – again, gets everyone singing but at huge cost to its own integrity, based on a secular rock anthem style. ( And again it is based on a popular Christian phrase but not a biblical one.)
    This is not to say that all worship songs are rubbish by any means, but the best ones, like the greatest hymns, still have a solid, identifiable theme and are born out of a real and deep experience of God. “All I am and all I have is yours, for instance, with its moving recognition in the chorus that “Except you build the house I am building it in vain”, or “Blessed be your name” which struggles with loss and grief in a way that anyone who has suffered either immediately identifies with.
    One of the jobs of a good worship leader is to sift the material put before the church for worship and far to many poor songs are getting through, justifying some of the criticisms. It has always been so, and probably two thirds of all hymns ever written have fallen very quickly out of use. How often have you sung for instance Mrs C F Alexander’s verse,) about the quick and the dead (she wrote All things bright and beautiful” and There is a green hill, in the same series, to explain the creed to children):
    “Within the churchyard, side by side, are many long, low graves/And some have headstones over them, on some the green grass waves….They do not hear our footsteps, when we pass overhead,/They cannot rise and come to church with us, for they are dead.” !!!! * She does then go on to say “But we believe the day shall come the dead in Christ shall rise”” – but its still not one of the world’s greatest hymns.
    Another big factor today is that writing worship songs has become very profitable financially so a lot of stuff is produced to have immediate appeal, based on familiar secular pop musical forms and words. The use of worship leaders for conferences doesn’t help as they just have a few days to promote their own new songs which are sung ad nauseam but associated with the excitement and memory of being in a big crowd, hopefully with good teaching and fellowship.
    A lot of these worship leaders are quite young with not a lot of experience of life under their belts, unlike some of the greatest hymn writers of the past (Fanny Crosby who was blind from birth, John Donne or Horatio Spafford, who, having lost all his money in the great Chicago fire, then lost his four daughters in a boat wreck, and wrote as he passed the spot where they died :Whatever my loss, thou has taught me to know It is well, it is well with my soul”. Wow!
    Many new songs are written for performance by a rock-style band, rather than for a congregation to use in worship, possibly because that is the background of most young musicians today. Also many do not know much about language, poetry, scansion rhyme or appropriate linguistic register. musical theory ( hence the impossible vocal range of many songs . the very basic harmonies and rather crude musical structures etc.and the way men can find themselves embarrassed for instance by the very feminine sentiments and vocabulary of some songs. “Jesus, how lovely you are/You are so gentle, so pure and kind” from the 60’s. There are only one or two songwriters (e.g.Tim Hughes) with any theological training.
    It is not good enough to just dismiss this by choosing a selection of worship songs based on the Psalms as a riposte. If we want worship to be as worthy as humanly possible of our great God we do need to engage with this issue. At its best, modern worship can take us into the very presence of God Himself, and is powerfully evangelistic. We need to give a lot more thought to what enables quality worship, and what makes it spiritually alive.

    1. Someone giving a balanced teaching on worship would obviously not want to present this post and leave it at that, but it makes the point much more convincingly to my mind than simply stating the point. There are lots of criticisms people can offer to making certain choices about worship music, as long as they are moderated and not trading in absolutes that would condemn the worship music of the old covenant, which was given by God to his people at that time. That would be to condemn God. I and others I respect greatly have done enough criticism that comes close enough to doing that to lead me to put this together, and I think it’s a point worth making in a form that makes the point effectively.

      I’m not sure why you see it as glib. I’m making a serious point that I really do agree with. I’m not dismissive of other considerations but simply recognizing that stating such arguments in this way is verging on criticizing God, and I want to encourage people not to do that. I don’t see how that’s glib.

  23. Mark says:

    I get the impression that many contemporary authors of ‘worship music’ (the kind that brings on the type of criticism mocked here)would never dream of simply singing a Psalm.

    Too old, too boring. Let me write my own… only much, much shorter and repetitive (sorry – but the shoe fits…)

    Also, is it really so difficult to see the influence of entertainment/concert hall on our public worship? That our worship has been commercialized (we’re singing songs that folks are writing for mass/public consumption and that Nashville is controlling). I had a conversation recently with a singer-songwriter in Nashville (a studio musician, as well) and he recounted how many times he’d write music for the muckety-mucks in Nashville and they’d ask him to change the song to make it ‘happier.’ He and others have given-up hope of getting airtime on the radio and just direct market to their fans.

    Nashville (big radio) filters out all the good (or better) stuff and we only get the sing-songy pablum that appeals to the masses.

    And this is what some want to sing in church.

    And all we can get from our pastors/leaders are posts like the one above, which fails to do anything more than confuse the issue.

    1. Niles says:

      Mark, your assumptions and impressions are far from the reality as they are from a gracious response. Having heard the heart of MANY current songwriters and being one myself, the shoe doesn’t fit on so many levels.

  24. Martin says:

    @ Bob … “My issue is a lot are written from a very feminine point of view.”

    WOW! … what? too intimate? too sensitive?

    Since many conservative scholars likens the the female in the Song of Solomon to the Church, I am not surprised or put-off that songs are written from a feminine perspective (whatever that means!).

    1. Bob says:

      If you study the ever decreasing number of men in the church the emasculation of the music is usually one of the reasons listed.

  25. Martin says:

    Bob,

    Even though I think you employed a poor choice of words (i.e. ” a very feminine point of view”), I sense what you mean. As a worship leader in our church who can hold his own at an open mic blues jam, I survey many new worship songs for the congregation. I must admit that I have never thought a song was ‘too feminine’. Still, I recognize your angst.

    Some songs DO lack vitality or spirit. Some songs are musically impounded in concrete – instrumentation and/or words. And some songs are just plain boring. But, I would never call them ‘feminine’. That’s a slam (albeit unintentional) on the persons in the Church who are mostly feminine – our sisters, daughters, mothers and wives.

    Here is a poem I wrote that, I think, may reflect some of your sentiment regarding worship music … it certainly does mine (that is not to say I don’t appreciate some wonderful hymns – but, not all … some of them are dirges)

    GIVE GOD A SHOW

    When listening to your music
    One would think that Jesus never
    Straightened a withered hand or
    Healed a paralytic
    That he never loosed locked legs or
    Made them run
    One would think that Jesus was a square

    When I listen to your songs
    Sacred, clean and nice
    I am comforted by the slush of hush puppies
    But, never does my soul ignite

    Never do I hear a solo cut loose
    From bass, axe or drums
    Never do your lyrics, though clean and upbeat
    Make my spirit spurt, kick or swing

    Who made fingers to fly
    Like lightning over wire strings?
    Who made the hands that pull tears
    Out of beautiful bass lines?
    Who created body limbs to thrash and thunder
    Over skin-pealing drums?
    Who envisioned improvisation or virtuosity?
    The same One who thought of melody, octaves
    And sound

    So give God a show
    Make him smile with the face of a child
    Even the angels are lining up to hear you jam
    Not just sing
    It’s a sin to let them down

    The glory land of solos is not for the demons of hell
    It belongs to the children of God and seraphs of the sky

    So don’t just play melody, intros and tiny bridge solos
    Grab your guitar, drumsticks and sax
    Rip the skies in two
    Give God a show
    And flash what God has blessed in you

    1. Joshua Smith says:

      Sure, but not in congregational worship. The point of congregational worship is for the people of God to sing together, not sit or stand silent and listen to a cool guitar solo. The role of music is to support the congregational singing, not to show off one’s own talents (even God-given). Hold a concert, fine, great, no problem. But that’s not the point of corporate worship.

  26. Doc B says:

    I think Jenny nailed it.

    My first response to this was something akin to Lloyd Bentson’s line that he used on Dan Quayle in their debate, after Quayle had talked about JFK’s youthfulness and how it didn’t hurt him in the job. Bentson simply said, “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. And you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

    A lot of contemporary worship songs may use techniques found in the Psalms, but most of us would say the same kind of thing about them: “They’re no Psalm.”

    To excuse some of the nonsense masquerading as worship music because they employ similar methods to the Psalmist is to both miss the question entirely and present a self-defeating argument at the same time.

    1. That’s not my argument, though. I’m not saying any worship song that has any element similar to something found in a psalm is thereby perfectly all right. I’m saying that many criticisms of contemporary worship songs come dangerously close to applying to the psalms, and we need to be careful or we’ll end up condemning the word of God. I’ve said in this comment thread and in both the original ones that there are arguments in the ballpark of some of these that might in certain occasions good reasons to hesitate at certain commonly-used worship songs. But it’s the use of these sorts of principles as absolutes that I have a real problem with.

      1. Doc B says:

        To stretch the argument that criticism of a CCM song would be condemning the word of God because they have similar elements is excessive, to say the least.

        I agree with you that applying those principles to both scripture and worship songs would be a poor application. But I don’t see anybody doing that. I see people criticizing very poor worship music, and then defense against that criticism by appealing to similarities with Psalms.

        There’s no question some have criticized some modern worship music wrongly, and without much depth of thought. But as Jenny tried to say in her post, this kind of defense misses the point completely.

  27. But again, that’s not my argument. You’ve just repeated the argument that I just said is not the one I’m making. I’m not saying that merely having similar arguments to a psalm makes a song immune to criticism. I’m saying that many actual criticisms of actual songs do in fact apply to psalms if taken broadly and absolutely in the way that I’ve often heard the objections put. I’ve said several times that I would agree with criticisms similar to some of those in this list if they were narrower and more restricted and not applied absolutely without regard to context. If you’re looking at balance, frequency, and so on you can favor certain things over others. But I’d have a big problem with outright banning a song for something so broad as being simple, emotional, or whatever without any effort to make sure you’re not thereby criticizing the psalms strikes me as a very bad idea.

    1. Doc B says:

      I can’t find much to disagree with in your last statement. Your argument as spelled out in detail here makes a lot of sense. But it is missing from the OP above. And I’m either a dunce, or it isn’t implicit enough in what was written originally.

      All my criticisms and Jenny’s above still seem to apply up and until you do some further explanation as you’ve done in the comments area. Perhaps you should include your caveats with the main post for more broad consumption.

      1. Well, it’s not my blog. The original postings were several years ago, and one occurrence is untouchable at this point. I’m not a big fan of altering posts after comment threads have developed, because it makes commenters look like idiots for complaining about things that aren’t true of what the post now looks like. I also didn’t see this as a careful argument intended to clarify everything about my view. It’s a satirical look at how arguments are sometimes used that has one simply point, and I’m not convinced that the point is not better made by issuing clarifications in the post itself. All the concerns you have are addressed within all three comment threads. And it’s really up to Justin what he wants to do with the original post here, since this is his blog. (He did add one thing from my first comment.)

  28. Joshua Smith says:

    So, how about a similar satirical take on complaints against more traditional hymns? Like: “They’re in an old, unfamiliar, and inaccessible style.” Oh, wait…you’d have to reference the entire Psalter. “Their language is too difficult.” Oh, wait…the entire Psalter again (since it was written in Hebrew poetry), or at least the imprecatory Psalms.

    Let’s not pretend like the bad arguments are only on one side.

    One criticism that your satirical approach doesn’t meet is that worship songs often take one or two verses of a Psalm out of context instead of using the verse in the inspired whole structure. For example, “Create in me a clean heart”: odd how it skips all the actual repentance and discussion of sin…In fact, it was reading the Psalms more and more that made me recognize how many worship songs I knew were essentially the rags and tatters of Psalms.

    And I’m not sure where you’re getting #5 and #8. I’ve typically heard #5 as a criticism of traditional hymns–does CPW really have that many words?. And one of my issues with CPW from my intervarsity days was that the emotions were always or nearly always positive, whereas the most predominant emotion in the Psalms is lament.

    And #3 is pure logical fallacy on the word “focus.” When someone makes that claim, the mean “playing too much music without the congregation singing.” The Psalm, though, is just talking a lot about instruments. Not the same thing.

    1. I don’t recall making any statement that I couldn’t have done this with objections against hymns. I was under the impression that some of these objections have been and could be applied to hymns. You even point that out in the very comment accusing me of ignoring that.

      As I’ve said several times now, there are lots of decent objections to ways that we construct worship songs that aren’t far from some of these. But presenting them in this way in an absolute way indicts the psalms.

      Are you suggesting that there were no instrumental sections of the Hebrew psalter? We don’t know for sure what “selah” meant, but one plausible theory is precisely that it means a break for an instrumental section. And the fact that the instruments can be referred to as part of what is worshiping (rather than just aiding people in worship) suggests that they might well have occurred in sections where no one was singing. There’s no reason to rule that out.

  29. Cindy says:

    At first I wondered where you going with this, and then I realized you definitely were on the right track!! Thank you for sharing so eloquently what I have been thinking for many years.

  30. Mona Leiter says:

    So let’s all sing more classic hymns (without changing the tunes).
    How could anyone improve on hymns like “And Can It Be?”

    M. Leiter

    1. You mean that hymn that J.I. Packer (I believe it was) says is heretical for saying that God died when God the Son did not die, just Christ’s human nature? Not sure what I think about that argument, but it’s certainly not true that it’s beyond criticism.

  31. Ryan Wilder says:

    Jeremy, thanks for the post! Justin, thanks for the repost! Sad I had to read through other comments before getting to the comment box. Jeremy, the writing style is most effective for the point you were trying to make. Thanks again for this!

  32. Corey Fleig says:

    I happen to like what Jenny and Doc B are aiming at. I think the original post misses some vital differences between contemporary *music* and the OT Psalms. There are nice songs that exhibit repetition just as much as Psalm 136, but in the case of today’s music, we are really talking about how the repetition is carried along by the repititous and hypnotic audio sounds of instruments. We don’t have the luxury of hearing the original *music* of Psalm 136. We only have the written text. I can’t help but wonder if the hymn writer might have written in several key changes and modulations, with point/counterpoint to emphasize the repetition we see in Psalm 136. We just don’t know.
    But today’s music we can *hear*, and what I’m *hearing* is underlining the repetition, which creates nausea! I abandoned the argument that music is amoral a long time ago. It is completely impossible to separate the emotions and will from sonics. Why is it that controversy over music is more heated than controversy over a pastor’s message? It is violently true that churches have more problems because of music than from messages.
    That being said, the original post seems to miss the point that we’re comparing apples to oranges. We’re comparing contemporary sonic audio with text to a written-only text in Scripture that has no sound, hence no immediate emotional context.
    However, the merit in the post is that we can dislike songs for all the wrong reasons.

  33. Pointing out distinctions between psalms and other songs could help get you to a more precise criticism of a song that doesn’t have the problems of the ones in the original post. I’m not sure why that means the original post misses some vital differences. It wasn’t trying to find such differences. It was only pointing out that certain kinds of arguments that don’t make use of such differences are in effect indicting the psalms.

    Another thing to keep in mind with Psalm 136 and with repetition is that what counts as annoyingly repetitive is culturally relative. We have different aesthetic standards than other cultures, and even today different generations within the same region of the same culture might have different aesthetic standards. Some would take that as a reason to have separate meetings for different age groups, but it’s really just a reason to keep in mind the broadness of the group or the potential broadness given potential visitors who might be there.

    As you say at the end, I think the big problem is not when we have such aesthetic preferences that guide which songs we prefer but when we use such preferences to act as if some God-honoring songs are too cheesy to use, when others with different preferences might find those songs especially enjoyable. Such an attitude quenches the Holy Spirit as easily as refusing to listen to a preacher because the person holds the wrong belief about paedo- or credo-baptism.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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