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A music observation

10 Feb

I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

Jonathan Edwards

The quote above is one that I first encountered in a sermon from John Piper. I was reminded of it this past week, when I traveled to Minneapolis to attend the Desiring God Pastors’ Conference. For what it’s worth, the speakers did a very good job; I certainly commend the sermons from Drs. Ferguson and Horton, and would concur that union with Christ is an unjustly neglected doctrine.

But my remembering this quote was not provoked by the sermons, but the music. I was not surprised by the music; it was what one would expect in such a context. But it was interesting to me to watch, in a more firsthand way than normal for me, the kind of responses that the music seems to generate. In particular, there is a nearly automatic response to certain kinds of swells in the music, as when the drum hits to announce the chorus, particularly after that one verse that is always sung more contemplatively. The drum hits, and all the hands go up. As I say, it’s nearly automatic.

[What I’m not doing here: critiquing hand raising, critiquing music, probably some other things. Read to the end for my one observation that I’m making here.]

It is clear that the idea of this kind of worship service is likely undergirded by something like what Edwards says in that opening quote. The truths of the gospel are the highest and grandest that are conceivable. If so, than it is wholly legitimate (and perhaps holy legitimate) for those leading worship to “raise the affections” of the audience to the highest possible level, because the truths contemplated are of the highest importance. And so the music is employed to raise affections (and hands).

Now, one of the first things to note, which I will not explain here, is that Edwards is almost certainly operating with categories that distinguish affections from passionsEmotions, then, is a sloppy equivalent; it is simply too broad a term to capture what Edwards is saying here. Raising affections, raising passions (God forbid), and raising emotions are not interchangeable, at least for Edwards. So if we are going to enlist Edwards to support a view, it is only fair to make sure we are using him accurately.

But even if we were to grant that Edwards is used rightly, it still seems to me that there is something odd here. I notice that when the same truths are preached rather than sung, a different response is elicited. When the grand truths of the gospel are unpacked by the speakers, when the weight of those truths hits the hearer through the proclaimed Word, the response, most often, is one of sobriety. This is sometimes accompanied by the weighty utterance of Mmm. What is rarely seen, when the truth is proclaimed, is the listener bouncing on his toes, hands outstretched.

Perhaps, and only perhaps, such responses are not caused, then, by the affections of the hearers being raised by the truth, but by something else?

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3 Comments

Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Music, Worship

 

3 responses to “A music observation

  1. garrettlee

    February 10, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Very interesting observation, Mike. I guess I’ll jump in here and note two things.
    1) When I am appropriately engaged in listening to a sermon or a prayer, I often find myself holding back certain physical response. Whereas I’m comfortable nodding my head (no, not nodding off), I hold back from slapping my thigh or stamping my foot. So, the message certainly affects me physically, even absent the music.
    2) This point has to do with why I restrain my physical response during a sermon. The main reason is that my role during the sermon is to *listen*. However, my role in congregational singing is to address my fellow-congregants with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. So it is appropriate for me to “distract” them, so to speak, and remind them that the words coming out of their mouths should arouse their affections (but please don’t assume I think everyone should have basically identical physical responses).

    So to summarize, I think most of us instinctively know that our role during the sermon is to listen, whereas during the songs it is to SING! That being said, we all need reminders about what we should be doing during the worship service.