A Critique of Worship Music Criticism

The last question I’d have to ask is if worship music criticism does not point to a deeper issue and that of being critical in general. While I can’t speak for individual motives behind each rendering of criticism, I have found with my own self it stems from a prideful arrogance that somehow my standard should set the precedent for how we worship God.

Yes, I stated correctly – pride and arrogance. Not only that, we can come off as people without hope who find no beauty in the simplest of creation. We should not be this way.

A Critique of Worship Music Criticism

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Jay's picture

Just as a reminder:

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"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

DavidO's picture

There are a few things I flat out disagree with this author on, and then a few were she skips a step (or more) in her reasoning, but the following was particularly interesting:

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I am questioning how fruitful is to expect the song to organize our theology. Perhaps a song does not necessarily need to do this. Rather, we bring in theology to the song offering, even to the simplest of lyrics. If we sing, God is good or Jesus saves, we should not criticize the song because it doesn’t tell us how exactly God is good or Jesus saves.

I don't believe she intended to, but she leaves the door open for a "praise song as empty vessel approach" where everyone brings their own thoughts about God to non-specific lyrics. It seems to me that one of the points of congregational praise is to express co-assent to specific aspects of God's goodness. The writer of the article above (and/or her commenters) are rightly concerned avoiding the extreme of substituting rhymed doctrinal statements for hymns, but the solution she suggests swings too far the other way.

B-Lowry's picture

Besides the fact that his theology is off (simple and sincere does not always mean correct theology; and deeper theology does not cover the multitude of the sins of CCM's use of pop music), he does not touch the matter of the vehicle for the theology being sung: that very use of pop music.

I don't think that was his goal in the post, but given how badly he maimed practical theology in his application, he may not even have the right ideas on the music side.

And his own 'being critical' about those he labels as 'nit-pickers' is vacuous, as well as hypocritical. Being 'nit-picky' can sometimes save theology (think Athanasius).

But on his side, being in a bad mood about everything isn't very Christian (I assume this is what he is fussing about). Perhaps it would have been better to attack the attitude of 'being critical' in general, which would have made a good post, and not applied it to so-called 'worship' music.

Lee's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
"He" is a "she", Lisa Robinson.

Yet another example of why Scripture (translate: God) doesn't allow women to teach in the church.

INCOMING!!!!

Lee

DavidO's picture

I'm not sure how one might discern her mistakes were related to her gender. I've heard plenty of this kind of stuff from men.

B-Lowry's picture

Sorry about the gender switch. :X Probably need my eyes checked and need new glasses!

Credo House threw me off, I think. They have some pretty good articles now and again, usually written by males of the species.

Regardless of my faux pas, I re-read the article and noticed that she (got it right this time!) uses a subjective argument (it's right for me), rather than an objective one (it's right or wrong, regardless of my opinion). This is what I picked up on in my first reading. She seems to make her current likes and dislikes the standard. It appears she does not even consider two factors: (1) her current opinion could be (objectively) wrong and (2) her current opinion could be changed to bring the subjective in line with what would be objectively right. Isn't this what growth in grace would entail?

Jay's picture

Her article is intended to provoke discussion and thought, not to provide a comprehensive criteria for analyzing music. It seems a little silly to dismiss the points because someone is writing about something on a blog as opposed to laying out a position paper on why music X is right or wrong.

She says this, for example:

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Basically, the gist of such criticism is that such music is not worthy of time or attention, with an indirect implication that God cannot be honored with such banal worship nor can the worshipper be enriched because of it. This sentiment comes with the notion that only music packed with doctrinal significance and consistent theological articulation is pleasing to the Lord.

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The first question I have to ask is why we expect a song to deliver a concise theological treatise? When I look through the pages of scripture, we are commended to extol God with gratitude, sing hymns in our heart, to Him and to each other. We are not told that they should be rich in substance. Read through the Psalms. Sometimes it is just as simple as “praise Him”.

Both quotes are personal observations, not a blanket declaration that "my position is right".

Finally, I don't get the sense at all that you did about considering whether or not she could be wrong or changed. Is there anything in particular that made you say that?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

B-Lowry's picture

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Is there anything in particular that made you say that?

Well, at the risk of being nit-picky...

In her 1st paragraph, she started out by defending the Newsboys, who are a rock group. That made me suspect her aesthetics to be off.

2nd paragraph, last sentence: if we turn this around it would mean that music with little or no doctrinal significance and inconsistent theological articulation pleases the Lord. That is a problem.

3rd paragraph: is she saying that trying to be theologically accurate is 'counter-productive' in Christian music?

4th paragraph: I would agree, though, that being nit-picky can, at times, have no redeeming value. But at other times, it is vital to the life of a church or The Church. Thus, my earlier reference to Athanasius.

5th paragraph: I think she has confused 'simple' and 'short' with 'profound.' Psalm 100 (a very short one) is very profound. And the arrangement of phrases from the Bible (in a song, or sermon, or on a blog) can produce the opposite teaching intended by God.

6th paragraph, last 2 sentences: Colossians 3:16 says that teaching is a function of 'good song writing.'

7th paragraph: inconsistencies may occur in 'simple' songs. That very simplicity may spawn incoherence at times, and even heresy.

And so on. There are other problems with the other points in the following paragraphs.

But the last sentence is very much a problem. What if I say that the Newsboys, et al, direct me away from the Lord? Is that truly what I need? I think not.

Edit: Fix typo

Jay's picture

B-Lowry wrote:
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Is there anything in particular that made you say that?

Well, at the risk of being nit-picky...

In her 1st paragraph, she started out by defending the Newsboys, who are a rock group. That made me suspect her aesthetics to be off.

Ok, so let's start at the beginning, and keep in mind that I'm no Newsboys fan. Are you concerned about her aesthetics or about the music itself?

2nd point - there are Psalms that could be argued as having 'little or no doctrinal significance' - Ps. 131, 134, 148, 150. Most of those are simply commands to praise the Lord.

3rd point - she says:

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Admittedly, I have been rethinking how we consider Christian music, and “worship” music in general. I have examining the fruit of such critiques. For I too have responded to many songs with highly critical lens of doctrinal integrity (according to me of course) and comprehensive theology. The motivation behind such criticism is the desire to see a song accurately reflect upon the character and work of the triune God and fill our souls with divine truth. But now I am rethinking this type of criticism and its counter-productive characteristics.

It seems pretty clear that she's saying that the criticism is being rethought, not the music. You and I would both agree that music should teach doctrine, but that doesn't mean that every song or hymn will contain doctrinal teaching (like the Psalms I referenced above).

I need to go now, but would you agree with me that some well loved songs like " http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/t/g/itgarden.htm In the Garden " are problematic?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

B-Lowry's picture

Yes, sir. I would most definitely agree with you that "In the Garden," as well as almost everything else C. Austin Miles wrote, is a problem. It has only one clear reference to God in the first stanza. Otherwise, it is very secular in its lyrics and message.

Another example of this is "Dwelling in Beulah Land," which he also wrote. It teaches that there is a realm on this side of eternity where sin (or at least, sin's effect) is impenetrable. Romans 7, etc. would tell us this is not so.

G. N. Barkman's picture

If one of the God-ordained purposes of church music is "teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Colossians 3:16), then the music we use must be: 1) Doctrinally correct, and 2) Doctrinally clear.

Asking worshippers to insert their own concepts into references to God and salvation is the very opposite of teaching and admonishing. That is teaching nothing but ambiguity and false doctrine. It is akin to the "Bible study" that reads a verse, then goes around the circle asking subjectively, "What does that verse mean to you?" without any explaination of what the verse means objectively.

All questions of musical styles aside, surely there can be no serious agrument against the need for our church music to be doctrinaly perspicuous.

Sincerely,
Greg Barkman

G. N. Barkman

Richard Pajak's picture

I personally loved the article. It reflects a lot of the way I have been thinking. I have no love of rock style worship but that is not the issue here. If I want to sing a simple song of worship to God I think God will find that acceptable.
I don't think He is expecting to hear that I have rendered a total rendition of vital doctrinal points .
Criticism levelled at songs because in the critic's opinion they don't carry sufficient doctrinal content immediately reminds me of the story of the pharisee who said "I thank you Lord that I am not like this man" And please don't give me the apples and oranges argument.

Richard Pajak

DavidO's picture

Tangelos?

G. N. Barkman's picture

It seems to boil down to this. On the one hand, we can imagine, subjectively, what feels right to us, and therefore what we believe God accepts. Or we can examine the revelation God has already given to learn what He says about the music He desires.

Does this sound like the offerings of Cain and Abel to anyone?

G. N. Barkman

Richard Pajak's picture

To offer God our worship despite all the inadequacy of fallen mankind is what pleases Him I think.
Because I may not cover every theological minutiae in my feeble attempt to worship Him does not I think make God turn away His face.
To offer my worship to Him inadequate though I am sure it is He will accept because He knows my heart.
Where does it say my simple expression of worship is not in line with Scripture? Where does it say my worship must express all these doctrinal points in order to be accepted?

Richard Pajak

DavidO's picture

Richard Pajak wrote:
If I want to sing a simple song of worship to God I think God will find that acceptable.
I don't think He is expecting to hear that I have rendered a total rendition of vital doctrinal points.

I don't know anyone who argues for this.

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Criticism levelled at songs because in the critic's opinion they don't carry sufficient doctrinal content . . .

This is latter is not the same as what you describe in the former.

And it really is apples to oranges with the prayer of the Pharisee.

G. N. Barkman's picture

The original article was about music used in corporate worship. It suggested that vague words and phrases were a good idea, because it allowed each worshipper to insert their own concepts into this worship.

This, however, ignores the Scriptures, which tell us what kind of music God wants His church to use in public worship. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." (Colossians 3:16)

Although many questions about church music are not answered in Scripture (styles of music, for one), the purpose of church music (to teach and admonish) and the message of such music (the word of Christ, that which teaches Bible doctrine) is prescribed.

We have Divine revelation on this subject. To ignore what God has spoken, and to replace it with what I think or feel is tantamont to the false worship of Cain, who substituted produce from the garden for God-prescribed animal sacrifices. I'm sure Cain felt God would be pleased with this sincere offering from his heart. On the contrary. God was highly displeased.

Any discussion about church music must begin with, "What does the Bible say?" Until we thoroughly understand the will of God that has already been revealed, we are in no position to opine regarding what God will or will not accept.

G. N. Barkman