Category Archives: Worship

The Resurrection in music: an exercise

Here are two attempts to picture the power of the Resurrection in music. The first takes a bit longer to develop; give it about a minute and a half. The second is quicker; give it about thirty seconds.

Both begin with a measure of solemnity, attempting to portray the death of Christ, then both build to a triumph in the Resurrection.

The question: are they doing the same thing? Are there differences in what they communicate?


Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Music, Worship


A music observation

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?


Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Music, Worship


Accepting sola scriptura and arguing musical style

This is a little intro piece that I’ve written for some friends who have asked for a basic defense of musical conservatism. It hardly gets us to full-blown conservatism, but at least offers the structure of why I think the Bible, while not addressing musical style, still gives us a standard for musical style.


Here’s the quick outline of my argument on music; it’ll be something to get the conversation started, as we can then have specific claims to discuss. I’ll also say this: I find that these conversations are much better in person than in pixels. There are reasons for that, but given the circumstances, I am happy to do whatever you think would be helpful.

1. In any given passage of Scripture, we can ask what the passage is saying. This is basic hermeneutics.

2. However, I would also contend that every passage of Scripture not only has a what it is saying, but a how it is saying it.

3. I would further claim, then, that faithfulness to the Word of God means that our re-presentation of the text (whether in sermon or song) must accord not only with the what of the passage, but also with its how.

A quick example that I used at our church: I read to them Revelation 21–22. Then I had them sing “I’ve Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltop.” My point is that, even if every phrase of that song were true, the focus of the song and the triviality of its poetry and tune are such that it is utterly incompatible with the content of John’s vision of the final making right of all things in Christ. The longing created by that song simply is not the longing created by the text of Scripture. It might say what John says, but it doesn’t come close to saying it how John says it.

Another example: a pastor could preach a message that faithfully states Paul’s teaching of justification in Romans. If he does so, however, in the manner of a stand-up comic, I would say that he has not been faithful to how Paul has told us about justification, and is therefore liable to criticism. An obvious modern example of this kind of preaching is Mark Driscoll. Another obvious example would be a great many fundamentalist evangelists, even on the occasions when they did get the doctrine right.

As I say, this is the core of my argument, and it does not give direct and precise applications. Music and poetry do things; that is not disputable. It is disputable what a particular piece of music or poetry is doing. That is to say: even if you agree with the idea that Scripture has a how it is saying, it doesn’t mean we’re going to agree that any given song matches the Bible’s how.

This, to me, does not undermine the basic argument, because of the parallel notion of the what and the how of a passage. Christians do not always agree what the text is saying. Consider the diversity of positions on the end times, etc.

The fact that Christians do not always agree about what the text is saying does not allow us to conclude, however, that there is no what it is saying. Furthermore, there are disagreements about what it is saying that are significant enough to break levels of fellowship. It may be that differing eschatological views are sufficient to hinder some cooperative ministry. However, if someone denied a literal return of Christ altogether, that person would be so far from the what Scripture says as to be outside the bounds of any real Christian fellowship.

I would say that the same thing is true about the how Scripture says. Christians disagree in their reading of how a thing is said in Scripture; this does not allow us to conclude that there is no correct understanding of the how. Further, it may be that two well-intentioned, Christ-loving Christians come to sustained differences in their understanding of the how of Scripture. This is no mere triviality: it has to do with their understandings of what God is like, in a manner beyond the propositions of systematic theology. And so it may be that these Christians find their ability to cooperate strained in some way. If the differences are great enough, they may come to the conclusion that, while their propositions are largely in agreement, their views of God and his revelation are so different as to cause them to suspect that the other person is not loving God rightly at all. The claim here is that there is, in addition to orthodoxy and orthopraxy, such a thing as orthopathy, and that the standard for all three is the Word of God, and that disputes about the contents of each are not sufficient to undermine their existence.

Again, I have not yet made the case that a trap-set is on the other side of a line for me. What I want to establish, before we might even begin to discuss application, is that these issues of right affections have an objective standard for evaluation in the Word of God.

The Bible doesn’t tell us about our style of worship. The Bible shows us its style of worship, and we must submit to that.


Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Conservatism, Music, Worship


My candidating sermon

In January, when I candidated for the pastorate of Calvary Baptist Church, I preached on the qualifications for the elder in 1 Peter 5. The sermon is available for listening here.

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Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Preaching, Worship


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The point of the picnic

I rarely give significant theological thought to meat, so while my last post asked about the propriety of serving idol meat at the Corinthian church picnic, most readers of this blog (the vast majority of whom have no reason to worry about the morality of eating meat offered to idols) could guess that I was up to something else.


The most contentious issue in any potential Christian liberty/Romans 14/1 Corinthians 8-10 situation is often whether the activity under debate is truly a thing indifferent. The brother who feels liberty to partake is (obviously) quick to insist that it is indifferent, but the brother whose conscience is pained by the activity almost inevitably insists that the activity is forbidden to the believer. For him to acknowledge otherwise (that is, for him to concede that the activity is an adiaphoron) is to acknowledge that he is the weaker brother. Such acknowledgment not only means accepting a certain stigma, but it also demands that the he cease his efforts to convince others that he is right.

If we shift topics from meat to music, those of us pressing for musical conservatism are asked to see music as an adiaphoron, and ourselves as the weaker brother. For the sake of discussion, let’s concede that argument: music is a thing indifferent; those who cannot in good conscience use certain music are weaker brethren who should not seek to restrict the liberty of their stronger brothers.

Even granting all of this, it seems to me that the employment of the very music which pains the conscience of the weak brother in the gathered worship of the church is relevantly akin to the Corinthian church serving idol meat at the church picnic. (For those who insist that idol meat is not a thing indifferent, substitute the unclean meat from Romans 14; the point goes through either way.)

I concede that what I’m suggesting here invites the potential of being handcuffed by a perpetually offended minority of the church; undoubtedly, there are practical limits of this kind of deference. Nonetheless, I still think that the basic principle is sound.


Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Worship


The church picnic of Corinth

Meat is a thing indifferent, an adiaphoron. We have this as clear apostolic pronouncement, and no Christian can claim otherwise. None of the Roman nor the Corinthian brethren, having read Paul’s letter, could afterward insist that eating meat (even if it was unclean or offered to idols) is sin.

Let us suppose, then, that the church at Corinth held a church picnic. (If the church at Corinth was a Baptist church, as some suggest, such a happening is certain). And let us further suppose that the bulletin announcement looked something like this:

If your last name begins with Α-Μ, bring a salad. If you last name begins with Ν-Ω, bring a dessert. The church will supply the meat.

Would Paul approve of purchasing the meat for the church picnic at the idol temple?


Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Worship


The conservatism of the normative principle

At this year’s Conference on Conservative Christianity (which concluded yesterday), Steve Thomas of Huron Baptist Church made a point in one of his sessions that I found remarkably insightful. Most of those attending the conference would either embrace the regulative principle of worship outright, or would advocate something very much like the regulative principle. The contrasting position (the normative principle) would be viewed by most conservatives with some suspicion, as it is typically defended as the basis for allowing innovation in the church.

And yet, as Pastor Thomas observed, the original impetus for Luther’s advocacy of the normative principle was actually a conserving, traditional impulse. Luther did not endorse the normative principle because he wanted to innovate; he endorsed it because he saw wisdom in maintaining the not-specifically-authorized-in-Scripture worship practices that had become common in the Roman church. Because such practices were not forbidden in Scripture, Luther did not see the need to terminate them immediately and risk alienating those for whom such practices had become normal.

Thus, modern advocates of the normative principle, who find in it license to add elements to the liturgy and task of the church that are not authorized in Scripture, still violate the spirit of the normative principle.


Posted by on June 1, 2011 in Worship


A Good Friday meditation

Last year, I posted about a small booklet Scott Aniol and I assembled for use as a Good Friday meditation. The booklet includes several hymns about Christ’s passion, as well as poems by George Herbert and John Donne. We used this last year for the Good Friday service at Huron Baptist Church. I believe it would be suitable for family or small group use as well.

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Posted by on April 20, 2011 in Music, Worship


God’s aseity and conservatism

A number of months ago, I presented a paper at a Conservative Worship Symposium organized by Scott Aniol of Religious Affections Ministries. Scott has been posting my talk in bits and pieces over at his site, but for those interested in such things, both the audio of my talk and my notes are available from the CWS website.

The gist of my presentation is as follows: God’s aseity guarantees the existence of non-relative truth, in that God’s knowledge does not depend on anything outside himself. I argue that a meaningful parallel exists between God’s knowledge and God’s affections; this is, I think, perhaps a novel contribution to the discussion of the impassibility of God. If I am right, God has “feelings” (or better, valuations) about all of his creation that are the standard for our feelings about all of creation, just as God’s knowledge is the standard for ours.

If this is correct, there is good reason to disbelieve that beauty is in the eye of beholder.

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Posted by on July 19, 2010 in Music, Theology, Worship


A time not to sing: some continued thoughts

I have appreciated the good discussion and questions that followed my last post; to my discredit, I have not followed up on the feedback as I ought to have, so I’m going to use a new post to do so.

In order to provide a framework for this discussion, I first want to re-establish the analogy that drove my argument. In that first post, I said this:

Suppose that you’re visiting in a church service, and as part of their liturgy, they recite a creed (which is helpfully printed for you in their bulletin). Suppose further that this creed is not one of the standard ecumenical creeds, but one which has been drawn up specifically for use in their assembly. And suppose finally that one line in their creed is as follows: “I believe that God equally intends all people to be saved, and that only their own free will keeps them from salvation.”

Do you recite this line of the creed?

My point is this: I disagree with this line of the creed, and thus I could not in pure conscience say credo. My refraining from joining them in this portion of their liturgy raises a number of good questions, which I will begin here, and then continue in a few followup posts.

Is a church permitted to make such a statement part of their liturgy?
The question (clarified) is something like this: can a church have, as part of its liturgy, components that are not “mere Christianity”? I am convinced, for a variety of reasons, that churches can indeed have distinctive doctrines which they covenant together to uphold, but which they recognize are not essential to the faith itself. In other words, my church’s doctrinal statement is not the boundary of the gospel; I fully affirm that a person can reject (for instance) believer’s baptism or a particular millennial position without raising even the slightest question about his justification in Christ. And yet I have no problem with a church professing its confidence that the Bible, rightly understood, does teach believer’s baptism.

The root of our problem is, of course, that “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all” (WCF 1.7). This truth, it seems to me, is exactly to the point of the question asked by Scott Cline: “How certain are you that any given song is unfit enough to demand the destruction of Christian unity?”

Let’s ask this same question about our doctrinal analogy; in time, I’ll suggest how I shift it back to the music discussion. Thus, “How certain are you that any given doctrinal position is errant enough to demand the destruction of Christian unity?”

My profoundly unsatisfying answer: I think it depends. One relevant factor, it seems to me, is the existence of a number of orthodox churches in a given area. So, for instance, if my church is the only one holding to the gospel within 50 miles, I am less likely to emphasize my secondary-level doctrinal distinctives. However, if our town has both a gospel-faithful Baptist and Presbyterian church, I would be more comfortable making commitment to believer’s baptism a condition of membership.

Perhaps this is sloppy; I’m open to discussion along those lines. But it seems a very practical reality.

Furthermore, doctrinal differences cannot be measured solely by degree of clarity; they must also be measured by degree of importance. So, consider again the two examples I mentioned before: believer’s baptism and premillennialism. Let us say, for sake of argument, that both positions are about equally clear in Scripture; which of the two, if denied, has greater impact on one’s understanding of the gospel and the life of the church? I would be inclined to say that the credo-/paedo-baptism debate is of greater moment.

This discussion of clarity and importance is relevant to our creed-reciting example: the Arminian line from our hypothetical creed is one that I find problematic on both accounts. That is, I think it expresses doctrine against what is clear in Scripture, and that it makes a statement that is significantly wrong. Thus, I cannot affirm it with that congregation. This is, perhaps, not a problem if I am merely a visitor. It is a big problem if that is my church.

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Posted by on June 22, 2010 in Fundamentalism, Music, Worship