Friday, January 21, 2011

The Achilles Heel of Contemporary Worship

As a former contemporary worship guy, I can tell you what the Achilles Heel of Contemporary Worship is. (If I really think about it, there are a whole host of weaknesses to the format, but this is the one that prevents its spread, exposes its folly, and severs its hold on people.)

The Achilles Heel: Contemporary Worship is not about content. In order to emulate the broad-base contemporary music that it is mimicing, it has to be intentionally vague, emotional, existential and subjective.

By applying strong didactic text standards to all songs performed in church (something that no one can openly oppose without sounding anti-discipleship), you remove all of the "really good songs" in the genre. This isn't a cynical trick at all since weak song texts (in praise songs and hymns) have been a major contributor to the rampant Biblical illiteracy in this country. This is what is not understood by Contemporary Worship leaders. They know that music manipulates people, but they do not understand that it teaches things as well... even though every one of them learned their ABCs by singing it as a kid.

Also, when a song teaches false doctrine, bring that individual song up and measure it against God's Word and have it removed. What most people don't realize is that "no content" and "bad content" is the overwhelming majority of contemporary worship song texts. This puts a praise band up against a tough challenge because the few doctrine-rich praise songs that remain are further widdled down by what is easy enough to play and what songs transition well into each other. In order to conform to Lutheran doctrinal standards, you pretty much end up with a couple old praise songs from the 1950s - 1980s (most already in the LSB) and about five songs from Chris Tomlin.

To further thin the herd, all songs must have been composed by Christians or individuals whose orthodoxy is not in dispute. This sounds odd, but when you consider how many Oneness Pentecostals and anti-trinitarians are in the Praise Band scene, you can cut out some popular--even award winning--artists (Phillips, Craig & Dean and The Katinas are modalists for example.)

In the final talley, the number of acceptable songs that eventually survive the cut is so small that a praise band just can't perform week after week with such a limited repertoire. In order to fill its sets without being too repetitive, it would have to serve the congregation a set that would contain the religious musical equivelant of garbage.

So instead of cutting down a dead tree that people love for some odd reason, you agree to prune off the dead branches one by one. By the time you are finished, you have virtually no tree left and everyone says, "Okay... just cut it down... we see your point." At the worst, you end up with a blended service where one or two contemporary songs get played or hymns are played with contemporary flavoring.


aletheist said...

I am not a supporter of contemporary worship, but I am curious: Could you list a few examples of recent songs that you think would pass a Lutheran doctrinal review? What are some especially popular ones that would not make the cut?

Mike Baker said...

If you follow confessional Lutheran teaching, there are almost no songs that make the cut for the same reason that the majority of all hymns ever written do not make the cut... the truth is a narrow road.

"In Christ Alone" by Stuart Townsend is a CCLI top 25 most popular song for August 2010. It is fairly decent lyically. In fact, I would not be offended if I heard it in church or some church related function. It talks about Jesus... even mentions the incarnation and death on a cross. That's better than half of the pietist hymns of the 1700s an 1800s.

Jesus Messiah from Chris Tomlin lacks any serious content, but it is not horrible. It gives names for Jesus... but you can "one up" it with just about any Psalm or Canticle.

The other 23 songs on the list do not make the cut in my book. Most of the are just humans singing about themselves... or humans singing about a vague god of their own making. :P

prayeramedic said...

Interesting point.