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.

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Hymnody and the Church Covenant


A Reply to Mark Snoeberger


Thank you for your interaction with a recent Nick of Time essay on your weblog. My piece was on the necessity of not singing some songs, and your response pointed out the covenantal nature of church membership. I don’t think that there is much real disagreement between us, and I was minded not to spend time on a reply. Evidently, however, your response has attracted a bit of attention around the internet, and I think it might be well to draw attention to the points at which we emphasize things differently.

I should say that I appreciate the concerns you are raising and understand the idea at their center. We live in an age when the covenantal nature of church membership is not taken nearly seriously enough. The last thing that I would want to do is to undermine it any further.

Still, I think that your concerns are unnecessary in this instance. Let me give three reasons why.

First, I think your analogy between eating and singing leads to an equivocation of the term “unhealthy.” In what sense does your wife think that hamburgers are unhealthy? Surely not in the sense that they are poison. Hamburgers are food. If you are starving, they can keep you alive. When she says that they are unhealthy, what she means is that they are not as good for you as some other food might be.

Some hymnody is unhealthy—or less healthy—in exactly this sense. It is not false. It is not overtly demeaning to God. It is simply second-rate (or third, or fourth, or fifth). For example, the better productions of the gospel song era probably fit into this classification. I will sing most of these songs, though I constantly find myself thinking of hymns that could have served the purpose better.

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On Not Singing


Roger Olson and I disagree about plenty of issues, but according to a recent blog post, we apparently find concord in one important topic. We are both convinced that Christians should not sing hymns that express significant error.

To be sure, Roger and I dispute both what constitutes error and how significant the error is. He is Arminian while I am Calvinistic. He is very broadly evangelical while I am pretty narrowly fundamentalistic. He believes that the gospel does not have to include hell (though he does not deny its existence), while I believe that the good news (gospel) is only as good as the bad news (laðra spella) is bad, and that the gospel is hardly news at all without a doctrine of eternal perdition behind it. These differences are more than negligible, and they definitely mean that Roger will sing some songs that I cannot, and vice versa.

Where we agree is in taking hymnody seriously. What we sing is a confession of what we believe. For us to sing what we do not believe would be to bear false witness.

Roger says that he cannot sing “Be Still My Soul” because it expresses God’s sovereignty, even over evil. On the other hand, one of my former colleagues could not sing the last stanza of “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness” because he is convinced of limited atonement. Personally, I relish both of these hymns, but Christian charity forbids me from pressuring a brother to affirm what he does not believe. For him to do so would be a sin, and for me to coerce him would also be a sin. I take no offense with what he cannot sing, though I may well disagree with his choice.

Thus far, I believe that Roger and I are committed to the same general practice. In my own conscience, however, I go one step further. We have not discussed this matter, but I would be surprised to discover that Roger would take this step with me.

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Hymnal Review - Hymns Modern & Ancient

Conservative, Traditional… and New!

Hymns Modern & Ancient is a short collection of hymns and songs (133 in all) in a volume intended to supplement, not replace, more comprehensive hymnals already on the market. The collection is compiled by Fred R. Coleman and includes several of his hymns. Ruth Coleman, his wife, provided most of the arrangements.

Quality over quantity

I’m reviewing this collection as a non-professional musician. Though I play the piano a little, lead singing often and have sung in choirs most my life, my musical sight-reading skills are not sufficient to sit down an play hymns and songs I don’t already know—at least, not in any reasonable length of time. As a result, the large number of unfamiliar songs in HMA are difficult to evaluate musically. If the half dozen or so I’m familiar with are a good indication of the quality of the rest, the music throughout is fresh but—relative to where we are in musical history—conservative.

The collection consists mostly of work from the last few decades, with a smattering of undeservingly-neglected work in the more “ancient” category. The collection manages to avoid the chorus genre almost entirely (“I Worship You, Almighty God” may be the only song in the chorus category). I’m encouraged that it’s even possible to gather more than a hundred conservative, traditional and new hymns and hymn-like songs of good quality. The existence of this collection suggests that something like a revival of serious hymn singing may be in progress.

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Psalm Singing: Why and How

PsalmsFirst appearance at SharperIron posted 2/12/09.

In many conservative gospel-preaching churches, the only thing rarer than drums is Psalms singing. This seems particularly odd in view of the fact that most of these churches insist on musical worship that is biblical, that is deeply rooted in history, and that has stood the test of time. What songs are more biblical, more historically rooted, and more timeless than the 150 songs that God Himself breathed out more than 2,000 years ago?

Why sing Psalms?

Every worship leader should serve with the conviction that the flock he leads needs to be singing the psalms regularly in corporate worship services. This conviction is rooted in three realities.

First, the psalms are songs. In other words, they were originally written as poetry to be sung. As songs, then, these compositions cannot be fully appreciated or experienced as God intended them to be apart from singing. Experiencing the psalms in a non-musical way would be like trying to experience Handel’s Messiah by simply reading the text. So while the psalms need to studied, prayed, and preached, we also need to experience them as worship songs.

Second, the psalms are God-breathed songs. The book of Psalms is the only God-breathed hymnal in existence. That fact should carry some weight when we make decisions about which songs to include in corporate worship!

Third, by example and command the New Testament urges believers in Jesus Christ to sing psalms. Apparently Jesus led His disciples in singing a psalm after the last supper (Matt. 26:30). Worship in the early church included Psalms singing (1 Cor. 14:26). Also, the Bible clearly urges New Testament believers to sing psalms as an evidence of Spirit-controlled living (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).

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