Hold the Superlatives, Please


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.

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Start Them Young

NickImageA couple of events have coincided during the last day or so to bring a question to my attention. That question is essentially, What music should I provide for my small children to listen to? I would like to answer that question by providing general suggestions concerning music to Christian parents for their children. For the most part, these recommendations will reflect the approach that I took with my children when they were small. As a parent, I wanted my children’s music to meet several criteria.

First, it had to be good music, worth listening to in its own right. Like good children’s literature, good children’s music should be as worthwhile for an eighty-three-year-old listener as it is for a three-year-old listener. In other words, it should be seriously musical, even when it is not being serious. Children’s music can certainly be humorous—even uproarious—but it should not be merely silly, trendy, or vapid.

Second, it had to be music that children would enjoy listening to. By this I do not mean that a child should get to listen to everything that she or he wishes to hear. What I do mean is that the music should be interesting enough to attract and hold a child’s interest, especially with adult involvement. Children’s music should be capable of seizing the imagination—and not only the imagination of a child.

Third, I wanted music that would allow me to engage my children in conversation. I wanted it to be music that we could discuss while and after listening to it. Good music provides the opportunity for teaching both about the music itself and about the extramusical world.

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