The argument for musical diversity, part 2

28 Aug

In the last post, we set forth the main points of the argument for diversity in worship (ADW). In this post, and perhaps in one or two more, I will point out what I think are significant weak points in ADW.

I note, first, that the two stated benefits of ADW are, in practice, inversely proportional to one another. By way of review, advocates of diverse worship tell us that it will do two things for us: it (1) allows us to worship in an authentic way, and (2) gives us opportunity to defer to other believers. But these two benefits will not exist for the same person at the same time. Think about this carefully: to the degree that I am worshiping “in my language,” I have no need to defer to others in the congregation. To the degree that I am deferring, I am not worshiping “in my language.”

Now, please understand that I don’t think that this observation is some sort of defeater for ADW; I note this simply because the advocates of ADW have created a “heads I win, tails you lose” scenario for their position. If we approve of a song, they can tell us that it’s great that we can worship in a idiom native to us. If we are uncomfortable with another song, they tell us that it’s great that we have opportunity to submit to other believers.

To clarify, I don’t believe that anyone intended to give ADW this sort of failproof justification; I’m not suggesting any sort of conspiracy here. I am, however, claiming that the no-lose situation created by ADW is a bit artificial and circular.

We could create a parallel argument for using non-diverse worship (and this can work for non-diverse progressive worship just as well as it would for non-diverse conservative worship): if you like what we’re doing, you’re worshiping in your native idiom, and if you don’t, it gives you an opportunity to learn to submit to spiritual authority in your life. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t expect this sort of argument to gain much traction, only because Americans have an nearly inbred antagonism to hierarchical authority. The point is, authentic worship and submission to spiritual authorities are both counted as goods in Scripture; the fact that non-diverse worship can appeal to either (depending on a person’s response) doesn’t make non-diverse worship right.

Thus, the benefits that are said to accrue from diverse worship, I contend, are not sufficient to justify the practice. Again, I am not saying at this point that diversity in worship is wrong; in this post, I am only saying that the admirable goals of ADW do not justify it. In my next post, I will begin to address Kauflin’s arguments in support of diverse worship, which are, in my opinion, more compelling.


Posted by on August 28, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship


6 responses to “The argument for musical diversity, part 2

  1. Scott Aniol

    August 28, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    So there are two critiques here, correct? (1) The two goals are inversely proportionate to each other. (2) They create a win-win situation for themselves.

    I can see how the first critique is a problem, but is the second necessarily a problem?

    For instance, with the conservative equivalent you presented, is that a problem in your view? Is it improper to say, “You need to change ‘your language’ to be what the church leadership thinks is best?” Still win-win.

  2. Michael Riley

    August 28, 2009 at 1:03 pm


    I think it’s really one critique and not two, and that nothing I’ve said presents an ultimate “problem” for ADW (in the sense of disproving it). Let me explain.

    We could word it this way: because the two goals are inversely proportional, a win/win situation is created. As you have suggested, creating a win-win is not a bad thing; I don’t have a problem, for instance (and not surprisingly), with the equivalent argument that I presented for uniformity in worship.

    However, I also don’t have particularly strong objections to their stated goals; as I said in my initial post on this subject, worshiping authentically and learning to submit to one another are both worthy goals.

    My point is that the two advantages, taken at face value, seem to have quite a sparkle to them; the closer analysis, revealing a tension between the two goals (and the ease of shifting from one to the other as the situation demands), allows for a more realistic evaluation of the benefits of diverse worship.

    The reality is that I don’t believe that anyone is using these advantages to justify a worship philosophy; at least, I would certainly hope that is not the case.

    We could attempt to employ the same sort of argumentation to justify doctrinal diversity: the church should allow and practice a several positions on baptism, for instance. The paedobaptists will rejoice when an infant is baptized; the credobaptists will have a chance to defer to their brethren. While this is all very true (and doubtless done by a number of churches), these benefits do not justify the practice, in my opinion.

    The goodness (or, at least, the not badness) of all the diverse music used must be presupposed in order to get the argument going. That’s fine (and it’s not what I’m addressing at this point); it must be acknowledged, however.

  3. Kent Brandenburg

    August 28, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I’m looking forward to your evaluation of authenticity. I would guess that someone has put some space into dealing with this somewhere. I’ve thought about a little and then spoken about it. It is, of course, an argument for modern art, R Movies, jazz, etc. I look forward to what you have to say here.

  4. Scott Aniol

    August 28, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Ah, good. Thanks.

  5. BAW

    September 9, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    UT IN OMNIMUS DEUS GLORIFICETUR, as our Benedictine friends would say.

    I wouldn’t want a musical regimen of all Bach chorales, or only Tallis motets, or only Taize chants, or really all ANYTHING. I would insist that all music be GOOD OF ITS KIND AND GENRE and BE EXECUTED WELL and that the texts be THEOLOGICALLY SOUND and LITURGICALLY APPROPRIATE.