Hold the Superlatives, Please

hands

Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”: make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.” (C.S. Lewis)

Lewis helps us to recognize a lot of modern Christian songwriting for what it is: laziness. No doubt, many of these songs are vast improvements on the Bliss and Crosby cliché-mill. Certainly, it’s a breath of fresh air to be singing about the faith without a constant nautical theme: waves, anchors, lighthouses and ships ahoy. And any serious Christian will be thankful for an injection of sound theological ideas into the gelatinous world of evangelical conviction.

With all that said, I find Lewis’ sentiment played out before me in not a few modern songs. These songs seem to try to gather as many superlative adjectives as possible that will fit the metre of the song. These are then piled on top of one another, and the result is a rapid-fire of high-concentrate adjectives. The resulting lyrics are something like: “Indescribable majesty, incomparable glory, unbounded mercy, immeasurable beauty…You’re the highest, greatest, most wonderful, most awesome”—you get the idea.

Yet for all this, the effect is palpably flat. Instead of soaring into the heights of praising God as the ultimate Being, one sings these super-hero adjectives with a sense of dull oughtness: yes, I should feel God’s surpassing value, but I don’t. Perhaps if I keep singing these superlatives with sincerity, I will.

Some worshippers succeed, others don’t. Some do better at creating placebo emotions to connect to an incomplete thought, until like Pavlov’s dog, the melody of the song manages to bring those feelings back every time. Others content themselves with the thought that ascribing superlative adjectives to God is surely the right way to go, even if little moral excitement is raised in response to them.

Lewis helps us to see the difference between mere ascription and description. Ascription is fine in its place—and yes, the psalmists certainly use ascriptions of praise. They rarely, if ever, do this apart from some metaphorical description of God. Ascription by itself does little to fire the imagination of the reader, or in our case, the worshipper. The job of a writer of works of imagination (as poetry is) is to do more than report matters, but to transport the reader through the imagination. Likewise, a songwriter wants to do more than simply inform disinterested listeners as to the objective worth of God. A songwriter wishes to draw Christians to encounter the beauty of God through poetic descriptions. As a work of imagination, poetry has its power through descriptive analogies. We feel God’s satisfying glory not when we sing, “You are incomparably satisfying,” but when we sing, “We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread, and long to feast upon Thee still.” We feel God’s power not when we sing, “You are unimaginably powerful,” but when we sing, “Thy chariots of wrath the deep thunder clouds form.” We feel God’s love not when we sing, “Your love is unbelievable,” but when we sing, “The King of Love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never, I nothing lack if I am His, And He is mine forever.” Description evokes affection; ascription, by itself, simply invites agreement or disagreement.

Merely stringing adjectives together that rhyme or fit the melody is ultimately a kind of laziness on the part of the writer. By saying nothing more than God is indescribable (which is surely the laziest of all adjectives), incomparable, or unbelievable, the songwriter fobs off the responsibility of imagining God rightly to the worshipper. The result is a frustrating emptiness as we sing. The writer has cheated us, and abandoned us before his work is done. He has found a pleasing melody and invited us to feel something toward God. Just as we begin to use our minds to consider God, he leaves us with a true ascription of praise about God with nothing to help our affections to rise to the occasion. He expects us to do imaginative pole-vaulting with the twigs of his superlative synonyms. We are to do his work for him, and he skips town unmolested because he dumped a bunch of fancy-sounding adjectives upon us to the melody of a pretty ballad.

God’s people need better. Songwriters can do better. It is not as if we don’t have an inspired songbook to show us how it’s done.

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:
When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
Psalm 63:1-5

[node:bio/daviddb body]

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There are 42 Comments

dmicah's picture

Quote:
The King of Love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never, I nothing lack if I am His

I can appreciate poetry, but this lyric sounds as if it was written by a Shakespearean Yoda.

Lee's picture

dmicah wrote:
Quote:
The King of Love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never, I nothing lack if I am His

I can appreciate poetry, but this lyric sounds as if it was written by a Shakespearean Yoda.

Hey, if communication is the key, then a Shakespearean Yoda might be the ultimate compliment.

I mean, Shakespeare continues to be held up as the ultimate communicator, and Yoda motivated Luke Skywalker to kick some serious empire butt.

Lee

DavidO's picture

dmicah wrote:
Quote:
The King of Love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never, I nothing lack if I am His

I can appreciate poetry, but this lyric sounds as if it was written by a Shakespearean Yoda.

Your statement denies itself.

dmicah's picture

DavidO wrote:
dmicah wrote:
Quote:
The King of Love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never, I nothing lack if I am His

I can appreciate poetry, but this lyric sounds as if it was written by a Shakespearean Yoda.

Your statement denies itself.

And your statement denies the ability to catch some humor. Too serious you are, DavidO. Biggrin

Steve Davis's picture

I am amazed at the insight of those who know how people feel or should feel when they sing. I wonder if the author knows real people who sing "these super-hero adjectives with a sense of dull oughtness" or if that's how he would sing them if he sung them. Or how does he know that some are "creating placebo emotions." Is there any way to verify that? No, I didn't think so. It sounds more like an agenda than sound arguments.

"One," "we," and "I," 'some," "others" are all covered. Anyway I thought it wasn't about how we "feel." Sure, there's a lot to criticize with much contemporary music. But thankfully the author really only speaks for himself when he says:

"Instead of soaring into the heights of praising God as the ultimate Being, one sings these super-hero adjectives with a sense of dull oughtness: yes, I should feel God’s surpassing value, but I don’t. Perhaps if I keep singing these superlatives with sincerity, I will."

"Some do better at creating placebo emotions to connect to an incomplete thought, until like Pavlov’s dog, the melody of the song manages to bring those feelings back every time. Others content themselves with the thought that ascribing superlative adjectives to God is surely the right way to go, even if little moral excitement is raised in response to them."

"The result is a frustrating emptiness as we sing."

Some of this may be true somehow sometimes for some people somewhere with some songs with some feelings.

TVietti's picture

Would like to see, possibly in a follow-up article, a few examples of modern hymnody that meet the author's desire "to encounter the beauty of God through poetic description."

Tom Vietti

ChrisC's picture

should we really be taking lewis' advice about journalistic prose as advice for poetry? especially when he specifically gives allowance for poetry to follow a different path? at least lewis wasn't bold enough to criticize wordsworth.

here's one place for reading the whole letter:
http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/04/c-s-lewis-on-writing.html

DavidO's picture

ChrisC wrote:
[S ]hould we really be taking [L ]ewis' advice about journalistic prose as advice for poetry?

In a word, yes. The "show, don't tell" axiom is the standard beginning point in modern poetry workshops . The reason for this is not that poetry must be all "showing" and no "telling", but that one of the primary pitfalls beginning (and even intermediate) poets face is not bringing the reader along to the point of insight. Effective poetry recreates the epiphany for and within the reader rather than merely recounting it to him.

christian cerna's picture

yeah, like i am really gonna take advice from c.s. lewis- a man whose books are full of pagan ideas and mysticism. unlike john milton, who included greek and roman mythology in his works, as a way to contrast the weakness of ancient myths with the strength of true religion, c.s. lewis seemed to take the opposite approach, and attempted to persuade his readers that mythology, magic, and christianity are all compatible.

Wayne Wilson's picture

I don't disagree with the aesthetic point being made about poetry and imagery in hymnology as opposed to some contemporary worship songs, but something else Lewis said about attending church might be worth reflecting on:

Quote:
I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize you aren't fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

David's got a good point in the essay. These days we make everything disposable-style... cheap, fast, here today, gone tomorrow.
And I've also often found that songs that just pile on generalities don't do much for me--even less when paired with the musical equivalent of glittering generalities. The imagery of the Psalms doesn't always "work" for me, either, probably because many of the metaphors come from a lifestyle I don't live (so much of David's work appears to draw from his days running for his life in the wilderness or leading armies against invaders or battling intrigue in his palace). But it's amazing how often and how well those images do work.

To use another analogy, if you develop a taste for really good food, you easily know the difference between a great meal and deep fried Twinkie-on-a-stick... though it can be really hard to explain the difference in words.

christian cerna's picture

i agree with aaron. most of today's religious music is what i would call 'junk food full of preservatives'. this is a natural result of having several generations of americans growing up on rock music and mtv. the music is all about the style, and how it makes us feel, not about the quality of the music, and the words that are being sung.

in order for christian musicians to be able to write deep, spiritual songs, they must be willing to turn off the TV and radio, and spend time studying the Word, and worshiping the God of Israel.

Shaynus's picture

christian cerna wrote:
yeah, like i am really gonna take advice from c.s. lewis- a man whose books are full of pagan ideas and mysticism. unlike john milton, who included greek and roman mythology in his works, as a way to contrast the weakness of ancient myths with the strength of true religion, c.s. lewis seemed to take the opposite approach, and attempted to persuade his readers that mythology, magic, and christianity are all compatible.

Also, using uppercase and lowercase is good literary style.

christian cerna's picture

Shaynus wrote:
christian cerna wrote:
yeah, like i am really gonna take advice from c.s. lewis- a man whose books are full of pagan ideas and mysticism. unlike john milton, who included greek and roman mythology in his works, as a way to contrast the weakness of ancient myths with the strength of true religion, c.s. lewis seemed to take the opposite approach, and attempted to persuade his readers that mythology, magic, and christianity are all compatible.

Also, using uppercase and lowercase is good literary style.

true. it is more aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. and it's much easier for my tired fingers.

Shaynus's picture

I guess my point is Christian, that if you don't care to uppercase appropriate text in your comments, why should you criticize those who don't go through the trouble to have good lyrical composition? Maybe poor composition is better for their tired fingers too?

Charlie's picture

Imagine a different way to write this article. The author could open the article by asking us to consider the difference between two sets of lyrics, posting each without prior comment. Then he could point out the basic difference between the two sets, ascription vs. description. Next, he could concede that in both cases, the lyrics themselves are true. He could further grant that either set could be sung sincerely by a Christian. Then, he could ask whether, despite all that, one approach to lyrical composition is to be preferred above the other. He could discuss what he believes is the power of description to incite proper religious affections and stick in that great Lewis quote to make us think about the descriptive nature of poetry. Then he could finish off with his appeal to the Psalms, challenging us to take seriously as a guide inspired lyrical composition. I think that every person who read it would finish the article challenged to view lyrics in a new light.

But instead, what we get are insults. The very first sentence after the opening quote is an insult. In fact, every sentence in the first paragraph is an insult, with some insults disguised (thinly) as compliments and other insults serving to mitigate (unsuccessfully, I think) other insults! Paragraphs 3 and 4 are more insults, or perhaps insinuations.

Is there a default mode of fundamentalist rhetoric that simply can't or won't make a point without from the outset alienating everyone who disagrees? After reading this article, my general impression is that fundamentalists are making a laudable effort to think through some matters, but that they are undermining themselves through unhelpful and even harmful rhetorical strategies. As Steve Davis noted, several aspects of this article almost seem calculated to demean, offend, stereotype, and judge motives. The result is that only people who are only strongly in agreement with the content of the article, and perhaps also its rhetoric, are likely to benefit from it. If David de Bruyn were a graduate student, I might be able to shrug off the rhetoric as the product of an overzealous seminarian. But according to his bio, de Bruyn is an established minister. Surely he does not employ such rhetorical strategies in his preaching or in his radio broadcasting?

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

"Does the song exalt God?" "Can the song serve as a tool for God's people to teach and admonish one another in Biblical truth?" Those are more concrete and Biblically reliable standards for selecting music in the church than what is proposed in this article. Instituting a "superlative check" on the church music isn't going to solve any problems.

By the way, I think Steve Davis's favortite song is "ship ahoy" and he may be very offended by this article. Biggrin

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Quote:
Imagine a different way to write this article. The author could open the article by asking us to consider the difference between two sets of lyrics, posting each without prior comment. Then he could point out the basic difference between the two sets, ascription vs. description. Next, he could concede that in both cases, the lyrics themselves are true. He could further grant that either set could be sung sincerely by a Christian. Then, he could ask whether, despite all that, one approach to lyrical composition is to be preferred above the other. He could discuss what he believes is the power of description to incite proper religious affections and stick in that great Lewis quote to make us think about the descriptive nature of poetry. Then he could finish off with his appeal to the Psalms, challenging us to take seriously as a guide inspired lyrical composition. I think that every person who read it would finish the article challenged to view lyrics in a new light.

Absolutely. The article would have been much more powerful if it took this approach.

Too much of our traditional Fundy rhetoric seems bent on entertainment and emotional manipulation, instead of challenging us to THINK. IMO- decades of conditioning won't go away without a thoughtful, purposeful effort. Although I have no objections to deep-fried Twinkies.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

To be fair to David, he didn't write the post with "the SI audience" in mind. We don't have many cultural conservatives who participate here (but then, there aren't many anywhere!).

But I do wish cultural conservatives would do more apologetic writing and embrace the debate. It's very hard to find.

Steve Davis's picture

Charlie wrote:
Imagine a different way to write this article. The author could open the article by asking us to consider the difference between two sets of lyrics, posting each without prior comment. Then he could point out the basic difference between the two sets, ascription vs. description. Next, he could concede that in both cases, the lyrics themselves are true. He could further grant that either set could be sung sincerely by a Christian. Then, he could ask whether, despite all that, one approach to lyrical composition is to be preferred above the other. He could discuss what he believes is the power of description to incite proper religious affections and stick in that great Lewis quote to make us think about the descriptive nature of poetry. Then he could finish off with his appeal to the Psalms, challenging us to take seriously as a guide inspired lyrical composition. I think that every person who read it would finish the article challenged to view lyrics in a new light.

Charlie:

Thank you for taking the time to respond to this article in a creative and insightful way. I confess I only had time to write short and sarcastic.

Joe:

One of my brothers used to sing "Ship Ahoy" thirty years ago in our first church plant. I really liked it and it gave me shivers. It served some purpose and still might for some people but not really my style (unless my brother sings it :-).

Aaron:

I think I read the article on the Religious Affections web site. Didn't care to comment then since it was expected for the audience they have. Couldn't pass up saying something once it appeared on SI. I don't mind that these guys have their views on music. I do mind that they know what others are really feeling or what others should be doing.

Steve Davis

DavidO's picture

Aaron,

I find cultural conservatives are more than willing to discuss (in fact http://remonstrans.net/index.php/2012/06/15/farewell#c9297 ]Phil Johnson recommends an entire blog dedicated to the discussion ). But how much discussion may be had if proposals of how aesthetics and culture educate sensibilities (what brother Davis calls "feeling") or any notions of "should" are rejected out of hand?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
I do mind that they know what others are really feeling or what others should be doing.

Steve, there are lots of legitimate ways to do this. Do you really not know what someone is feeling when his face is read, his veins are popping, his fists are clenched, eyebrows furrowed and he's hopping up and down?
Picture this:
[img ]http://images3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120119193027/villains/images/d/d... ]

But the other way to know what people are feeling is by listening to them describe it.

DavidO's right--if I've got his point accurately--that we have to stop proscribing the realm of feelings if we're going to work through applying biblical principles to them.

Mike Harding's picture

"We make tools and then those tools make us. We make songs and songs make us" (T. David Gordon [radical fundamentalist on faculty at Gordon-Conwell ]). The songs we use can create an aura. Some songs create an atmosphere where we "get down with Jesus" like some use to do at Grateful Dead concerts. Some music is often of a lesser literary, theological, or musical quality. The same cultural influences that have impoverished the pulpit have also impoverished congregational praise (i.e., Driscoll). When God's means of addressing us in preaching has declined and our means of addressing God in praise has declined then worship more than likely has declined.

Here's an example of beautiful poetry with memorable hymnody:

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me

Pastor Mike Harding

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Mike Harding wrote:
"We make tools and then those tools make us. We make songs and songs make us" (T. David Gordon [radical fundamentalist on faculty at Gordon-Conwell ]). The songs we use can create an aura. Some songs create an atmosphere where we "get down with Jesus" like some use to do at Grateful Dead concerts. Some music is often of a lesser literary, theological, or musical quality. The same cultural influences that have impoverished the pulpit have also impoverished congregational praise (i.e., Driscoll). When God's means of addressing us in preaching has declined and our means of addressing God in praise has declined then worship more than likely has declined.

A few years ago, I received a letter of rebuke accusing me of being a compromiser for being part of a service at a conference where a young lady sang a song from Soundforth. While you could not get more conservative with a song, I was accused of allowing bar room atmosphere with that song. A few years before that, I listened to a preacher play an ultraconservative Soundforth CD and proceed to tell us how using this to worship Jesus was worshipping in a worldly way. If that was not enough, I have also heard the same condemnations of singing songs written by Garlock and Hamilton.

The problem is that while one person is humbly bowing before Jesus, there is someone in the crowd accusing you of getting down with Jesus.

That is why there has to be some flexibility in the area of music. I like what David Doran wrote several years back.

[QUOTE=David Doran ]When rock and roll came out, it clearly represented a shift in the culture toward ungodliness, so it was uniformly rejected. Now, after five decades of music variations and three of “Christianized” versions of it, the united front within Fundamentalism seems something less than united. When long hair was the cultural symbol of rebellion, there was a pretty clear consensus that it was not proper to follow the fad. Now, when some of the fads don’t include long hair, defining a worldly hairstyle is far more difficult. I could go on, but I think you can see my point.
Some Fundamentalists are clamping down on these pop culture issues and are making the case for the same applications that worked 40-50 years ago. The net result of this is that they appear to be arguing for an Amish-like response to culture. Their goal
seems to be the preservation of a pre-60s Americana, not the production of godliness in the 21st century. Mistakenly arguing that “your standards can’t be too high for God” they keep staking out positions that can hardly be defended biblically. Anything that looks or sounds new is suspect for that very reason. While I agree with the desire to pursue holiness, I have serious questions about the biblical and theological orientation of this wing of Fundamentalism. There is serious confusion about the differences between biblical principles (which are timeless) and contemporary applications (which are time bound). This confusion often leads to division over differences of application, not principle.
Yet, as I have mentioned above, there is a boundary line where an application clearly contradicts the principle. This is where the discussion seems needed. Where is this boundary line on the key issues that are confronting us? Or, to put it another way, how much latitude of application is allowed before we question belief in the principle? For example, even if you and I agree on the principle that we should not use the world’s music to worship our God, that leaves a lot to be defined in terms of application. How do we recognize the world’s music? If you and I agree in large measure, but disagree about some aspect of our definition, how much freedom should I allow you before I question your belief in the principle?
The challenge that lies ahead, at least as I see it, is how we will deal with the fact that we have less agreement on personal separation applications than ever before. Should these disagreements be considered benchmarks for the identity of Fundamentalism? The day may be coming when we have pastors who will stand toe-to-toe in ecclesiastical battles with false teachers and compromising brothers, but do not hold some of the traditional fundamentalist positions on entertainment, clothing styles, and acceptable worship music. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating any position here. I am simply trying resist the ostrich-like desire to bury my head in the sand and hope the problems go away. They won’t.
It seems well past the time where we need to have serious discussion about the boundaries of biblically defined Christian liberty and their ramifications in terms of church fellowship. By avoiding this discussion, serious, theologically-oriented Fundamentalists lose the opportunity to influence the next generation and allow the cultural Fundamentalists to exert their will over the movement.[/QUOTE ]

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
We need to ditch the false belief that cultural forms are neutral. Every enculturation of Christianity highlights some elements of the faith and obscures others. We must be vigilant and creatively compensate for what gets lost in translation when we use the language of youth culture. For example, if we sing songs that highlight the emotional consolations of the faith, what can we do to help young people also embrace the sufferings that come with following Jesus?

Thomas Bergler - Christianity Today

http://www.readability.com/read?url=http%3A//www.christianitytoday.com/c...

@Joe ... to be sure, the situation is complex. What we need to make sure we don't do is conclude that because discernment is difficult there is no actual right and wrong. I appreciate that Doran calls for a serious conversation about it. I'm afraid many have decided that since the lines are hard to draw, we'll just not draw them at all.

So it seems we have at least three sometimes overlapping attitudes toward these matters
a. It's all a personal taste/cultural thing (and tastes/"cultural things" are somehow neutral)
b. We need to be fresh and relevant so we should use everything that isn't obviously unusable
c. We have little to lose by steering clear of murkier areas where lines are hardest to draw (and favoring older forms)

So what do we really have to lose if we just steer clear of what hasn't stood the test of time? What if we only use forms that have, say, a hundred year track track record of being suitable for worship? What would we really lose if we did that?
(I do believe there are some risks, but I wonder how many have seriously considered their answer to that question)

Steve Davis's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
@Joe ... to be sure, the situation is complex. What we need to make sure we don't do is conclude that because discernment is difficult there is no actual right and wrong. I appreciate that Doran calls for a serious conversation about it. I'm afraid many have decided that since the lines are hard to draw, we'll just not draw them at all.

So it seems we have at least three sometimes overlapping attitudes toward these matters
a. It's all a personal taste/cultural thing (and tastes/"cultural things" are somehow neutral)
b. We need to be fresh and relevant so we should use everything that isn't obviously unusable
c. We have little to lose by steering clear of murkier areas where lines are hardest to draw (and favoring older forms)

So what do we really have to lose if we just steer clear of what hasn't stood the test of time? What if we only use forms that have, say, a hundred year track track record of being suitable for worship? What would we really lose if we did that?
(I do believe there are some risks, but I wonder how many have seriously considered their answer to that question)

Aaron:

I don't think it's simply a question of drawing lines. What I have found is an imposing of lines, ministries created to give seminars and write books to tell Christians what their choices should be, and this from many who fanatically hold to the the autonomy of the local church. And as Joe pointed out positions are staked out all over the map. For our more conservative brothers. God bless them. I've been to Mike Harding's church multiple times over the years. I love their music and would neither criticize it nor expect them to change. I do not need my preferences honored in order to worship God.

Music that now has a hundred year track record was contemporary at some point. The music written today will eventually have a track record - some very short. We use Tomlin, Crowder, Hillsong, Redman, etc. with a blend of hymns but we do not consider that everything written either now or a hundred years ago is usable, singable, or sound. I think it's unrealistic to wait for a longer track record and would prefer evaluating music on its merits now. In the end, why does anyone care so much what music other churches use? Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind. Few people are paying attention to the music police except those already convinced.

Steve

DavidO's picture

Steve,

The music police thing is an inflammatory red herring we can do without.

Regarding this:

Quote:
I . . . prefer evaluating music on its merits . . .

The original article here is all about this very thing, proposing criteria (or at least a criterion) by which such evaluation can be done. Why don't you interact with the in/validity of the criteri(a/on) rather than tossing out random jabs about fanatacism and personal preference?

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

I did make the point earlier that the criteria cannot simply be based on the number of superlatives in a song. A more sound criteria would be
1. Does the song exalt God?
2. Does the song serve as a tool for believers to teach and admonish one another with the truth of Scripture?

What are some other criteria?

DavidO's picture

Hi Pastor Roof,

I actually almost responded to your earlier post, but for whatever reason did not.

First off I'll point out that David dB doesn't seem to make the superlative count any sort of sole criterion. Just one to use in really getting down to what a song actually says.

So you beg the question when you ask, "does a song exalt God?" We must know what it means to exalt God. David dB asserts that merely calling Him majestic and awesome and worthy does not exalt Him in the same way that saying 'He is majestic because He rules over all the events of history' or 'He is awesome because He inhabits eternity and there is none other like Him' or 'He is worthy because He condescends to sinful men of low estate' exalts Him.

This is the difference between saying "O that men would praise the Lord" and "O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men." The first demands something proper, the second adds reasons why it is proper. David dB points out two things: 1) the Psalms (a good model for creative endeavors of worship) models both but at least equally. 2) Much modern songwriting engages in more of the demand without describing reasons.

As to the teaching of believers to admonish themselves and others, I think Carl Trueman's point about boring preachers (he said they should be fired) is applicable here. The point of preaching is not merely the rehearsal of truth, it is too inspire worship. Preaching, however true, that leaves the congregants cold is poor preaching. Is not the same true of worship texts that give an edifice of praise while failing to give eloquent voice to specific praise?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The thrust of the OP was lets not settle for the easy road in song writing... not a categorical rejection of superlatives.

DavidDB wrote:
Ascription is fine in its place—and yes, the psalmists certainly use ascriptions of praise. They rarely, if ever, do this apart from some metaphorical description of God.

...

Steve wrote:
I don't think it's simply a question of drawing lines. What I have found is an imposing of lines, ministries created to give seminars and write books to tell Christians what their choices should be, and this from many who fanatically hold to the the autonomy of the local church.

It's odd to see the idea of making claims and teaching set against the authority of the local church... so local church autonomy is violated if I tell other people I believe the Bible teaches A and not B or that it should applied in this way or that?
I don't think this is really your view of church autonomy.

Steve wrote:
Music that now has a hundred year track record was contemporary at some point. The music written today will eventually have a track record - some very short. We use Tomlin, Crowder, Hillsong, Redman, etc. with a blend of hymns but we do not consider that everything written either now or a hundred years ago is usable, singable, or sound.

Two things on that, first, I don't think anyone takes the position that everything written a hundred yrs ago = good stuff.
Second, it's true that every song was new once. My question was, what would we lose if we stuck with forms that have a hundred years of proven worth? It's true that even "forms" were new once. But I'm assuming there will always be innovators and contemporary composers pushing envelopes. I'm not suggesting that can be stopped. What I'm questioning is what it would really hurt to leave the edgy stuff alone until its place in the culture settles down and we know better what it means?

Of course, if everyone did that, there would never be any innovation at all. But everyone's not going to. I'm just wondering what it would hurt of more did . . . even a whole lot more?

Steve wrote:
I think it's unrealistic to wait for a longer track record and would prefer evaluating music on its merits now.

Not always possible. Sometimes is. But again, what would we lose if we didn't? I think very little of value is at stake in letting new forms run their course (I'm mainly talking about rock and rap when I say "forms," though there is no crystal clear line between a "new form" and a "new twist on an old form.")
Maybe somebody can help me see what I'm missing?

Steve wrote:
In the end, why does anyone care so much what music other churches use? Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind. Few people are paying attention to the music police except those already convinced.

Having a hard time following the reasoning here. If something is wrong, even if we know it to be a matter of liberty and conscience, it isn't even loving to keep silent. There is a difference between coercion and persuasion and you seem to be conflating them. Nobody is imposing anything on anyone by teaching that "A is inferior to B and here's why think so." But "why does anyone care"? Really? We're talking about the worship of our God. How can anyone not care?

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