In my last post, I had shared a brief argument that, at least for me, undergirds my conservatism in worship, without forsaking the principle of sola scriptura. I noted in the post that it originated as a letter to a friend of mine, so I was taken aback a bit when some of the comments said they were looking forward to the next part of the discussion, for there is really no “next part.” I wrote it to begin a conversation, not as an introduction to a larger work.
That said, the person to whom I wrote did reply, and so I thought I’d go ahead a reprint here my response to that reply. A bit of context: he sent me a brief poem on the Trinity, which he acknowledged was nothing particularly artistic, and suggested the possibility that it might be used with children, to the tune of “I’ve Got a Mansion” (my example song from the previous post). Here was my reply:
Your first example is really quite useful, because I think it highlights an important point in this whole discussion. You ask me to consider using that poem, with the tune of “I’ve Got a Mansion,” for teaching children. It’s that last part, I suspect, that is the key to this particular illustration. And, perhaps contrary to what you might expect me to say, it’s the teaching part, not the children part, that is at issue.
Here’s the point: music is not just a medium for making doctrine memorable. Art, real art, is decidedly inefficient at teaching propositions. Think of something like Psalm 23: if you want to teach the doctrinal truths of that poem, you could do so in a line or two. Poetry is about creating a feeling, not simply about communicating propositions. Music is like poetry in this regard. Sure, we all know that if we take truths, set them to little tunes, maybe make up some ridiculous rhymes, we can memorize them easier. I’ve undoubtedly done that while preparing for tests or the like. But that’s not why we sing. That’s not why huge swaths of Scripture is written in poetry. Good art shapes feeling, it doesn’t merely impart propositions.
Let me sharpen the point by changing your question. You ask, “Can a simple tune like it still be fitting to communicate excellent theological truths that are praiseworthy?” I would ask, “Can a simple tune like this elicit feeling about God that reflects the mystery and awesomeness of the Triunity?” We may still disagree about the answer to that question. But I want to phrase it that way, because I think your question is asking about something else altogether. You’re not asking whether the music is good, but merely if its useful. Does that distinction make sense?