The argument for musical diversity, part 1

27 Aug

I’ve now encountered several times (most recently, in this sermon discussing Calvary Lansdale’s philosophy of music) an argument something like this: corporate worship must be diverse; that is, the styles and genres of music used by the church should reflect the wide-ranging tastes and backgrounds of those who have gathered to worship their Lord together. Such diversity, the argument continues, accomplishes at least two things (these are articulated in the sermon mentioned above).

First, a diversity of styles allows all people to worship authentically, because each person (in the course of a service, or perhaps over several services) will be presented with the opportunity to worship musically by means of a style that expresses his true voice.

Second, believers can learn to defer to one another, “in humility count[ing] others more significant than [them]selves” (Phil 2:3). The older believers, while not enjoying the music of the younger folks, can join with them in worship and thereby exercise humility; likewise, the younger can cheerfully demonstrate their love for their elders by joining with them in music that is not to their taste. In such a way, the whole body learns to “[submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).

I think we could all agree that both of these are laudable goals. Worship ought to be authentic, an expression of one’s redeemed heart, soul, and mind. Attempting to worship in a foreign idiom is like David battling Goliath in Saul’s armor.

Furthermore, I will certainly confess my need for greater humility and deference to others; having an opportunity to learn and express gracious love is a good thing.

It is my understanding that this argument from diversity was at least popularized by, if it did not originate with, Bob Kauflin. In Worship Matters, he offers several arguments in support of his contention that “music should display variety” (104–106).

The first is that using different styles is appropriate to “[reflect] God’s various attributes.” Kauflin asks us, rhetorically, “How can anyone think that a single kind of music could adequately express the fullness of God’s glory?”

The second is that differing styles “[enable] us to hear the same words with different effect.” He mentions here that most of our older hymns were written first and only later paired with tunes. Choosing different tunes and styles allows us to see the truths expressed in these texts different ways.

His third argument is that the use of different styles demonstrates that we “[recognize] God’s heart for all people.” He says, “Musical variety communicates God’s heart for all generations, cultures, and races. We don’t use different music because we want to keep everyone happy or because we’re aiming for a ‘blended’ service. It’s the gospel that blends us together, not music.”

He continues:

But in our rapidly shrinking world it’s even more important that we at least teach on the importance of this diversity. Christ’s command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth should inform and shape our theology of musical worship. It’s unwise and unbiblical to think that churches is Bolivia, Indonesia, Uganda, and elsewhere must conform to an American’s definition of ‘appropriate’ worship music.

To tip my hand a bit, I’m inclined to think that this third support is the one driving the diversity argument. However, my goal for today’s post is merely to introduce this argument, and to do so accurately. In my next few posts, I will offer some critical interaction with these ideas.


Posted by on August 27, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship

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