Category Archives: Worship

A time not to sing?

I have recently had conversations with several people about the propriety of choosing not to participate in the singing of certain songs in public worship. More specifically, those of us who have embraced the arguments for ordered affections and conservative worship believe that some of the songs sung in our churches, or at other churches or conferences, have texts or tunes that misguide the affections; that is, these songs teach people to feel the wrong way about God (or about some Christian truth). In such cases, some of us choose not to sing those songs.

Is this an acceptable choice?

The argument for singing everything on the order of service is often very simple: certainly, it is claimed, these songs are not so far outside the bounds that we’re really violating our conscience to sing them. Instead, our refusal to sing is merely public demonstration, and is almost certainly rooted in condescending arrogance (elitism, if you will). The imperatives of pursuing unity (over petty preferences) and submission to one another in love trump our concerns about the merits of these songs.

It seems to me that the validity of this line of argument hinges entirely on the initial premise: these songs are acceptable. This is, of course, just the point under dispute.

For purposes of this post, I’m going to write as though we have little hope of resolving that issue (that is, whether these songs are appropriate). However, I think for many readers (even those who are not sympathetic to where we’d draw our lines), the idea that some music is either textual or musically inappropriate for worship is not utterly crazy.

If so, I think we can change the topic slightly, and in doing so draw some useful parallels. 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? (Obviously, the dilemma presents itself only to those who are Calvinistic; if you are not, change the illustration to fit your theological persuasion.)

The point of the illustration, for me, is this: I would not recite the creed with this congregation, because I could not do so in good conscience. My refusal to join them in this creed, however, does not in any way imply that I think they are all pagans, or any such similar nonsense. It merely means that while they believe that this statement reflects the teaching of Scripture, I do not.

In the same way, I believe that certain songs do not reflect the mood of Scripture. This is not to say that my understanding of Scripture is absolute; I may be wrong about my judgment of the song, just as I may be wrong about my judgment of the Bible’s teaching on election. (Of course, I happen to believe that I’m correct about both.)

In either case, however, to join in the public use of these devices, when I believe they are not supported (and are instead actually contradicted) by Scripture is, in the words of Luther, “neither right nor safe.”


Posted by on May 4, 2010 in Fundamentalism, Music, Worship


Reformed rap and fundamentalist preaching

In the most recently released podcast from Religious Affections, I introduced a comparison that I’ve been mulling over for some time now. Here is a (lightly edited) transcript of the relevant portion of my comments. The section below begins about the 16:00 minute mark of the podcast:

I had mentioned, I believe, in the previous podcast, the fact that hip hop and rap do seem to have a heavy dose of ego involved in them. The form itself is very much that way: “Listen to me.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something that I don’t intend to be offensive, but I think is probably true. If we use hip hop for the cause of Christ, let’s compare it to preaching and preaching styles. There is a certain way of presenting the gospel (and fundamentalism in particular has been guilty of fostering this) using an approach in the pulpit that is full of ego.

The guys that support the use of hip hop are going to be very anti-Jack Hyles, and we’re going to be also…. You watch the videos and you listen to the audio (of that style of preaching) and it’s just appalling that it was about him. His preaching style was about him.

And I’m concerned, at least, that Christian hip hop has taken a form that is irreducibly egocentric, and is using it to present the gospel. But the approach to presenting the gospel is every bit as in-your-face and contentious as certain forms of preaching that we’re really trying to move away from.

Again, I say this cautiously, I throw it out there for consideration; but I think it’s worthy of consideration.

As some evidence for my proposal, I’d ask you to watch this and this. (The early going of the second video is especially useful for this comparison, when they’re having technical difficulties. This has the effect of isolating the rhetorical form of the rap.)

Note how both the preachers and the rappers employ rhetorical bombast; both seem to aim for the same kind of response from the gallery: “Oooo, that (guy, version, sin, whatever) just got burned” (or something similar). You can hear it in the crowd replies both videos at different points.

For the sake of this comparison, ignore the content of the message; I want to focus on form alone here.

If this parallel holds, both fundamentalists who oppose rap, and advocates of rap who loathe this style of preaching, need to give some consideration to the way in which their own arguments turn back against them.

There is some further discussion of this issue at the original post.


Posted by on April 8, 2010 in Fundamentalism, Music, Worship


A devotion for Good Friday

In a previous post, I requested some help interpreting a few lines of poetry. I mentioned that I was assembling a collection of poems and hymns suitable for a Good Friday devotional time.

I have put these together in a small booklet that some of you might find useful, either for use individually, with your families, or perhaps for a larger assembly (although this is likely too short a lead time to use in a church this Friday). Special thanks goes to Scott Aniol, who typeset all of the hymns.

The file is a pdf, and it is formatted on half sheets of paper. My recommendation, if you choose to print it, is to select “Booklet Printing” from the “Page Scaling” drop down box in the print dialog of Adobe Reader. If your printer does not handle duplex printing, you can choose to print front sides only, reload the paper, and then print the back sides.

And finally, an invitation for those in the greater Detroit area who would be interested in joining us: we will be using this booklet in the Good Friday service at Huron Baptist Church this Friday at 12:30pm.


Posted by on March 30, 2010 in Music, Worship


Interpreting Herbert’s “The Sacrifice”

George Herbert’s “The Sacrifice” is among my favorite works of devotional poetry. When I was a dorm supervisor at IBC, on several occasions I used the evening devotional time to read the work to the men in its entirety (and the reading never fit in the ordained fifteen minutes).

As Good Friday and Easter approach, I am again hoping to be able to read the poem for devotional benefit, both for myself and for some who will hear me. I am currently putting together a small booklet of hymns and poems for a Good Friday service, and with the poems, I am adding short notes to help explain the more complex syntax and allusions.

Unfortunately, I am myself stumped regarding a handful of phrases, and I would be very interested in getting some help from others who are better at reading poetry than I. Here are the expressions that I am struggling to understand:

Line 26: “both the Hemispheres”: Some notes suggest that this is a reference to eyes; it seems to me that it could also refer to the whole world.

Line 55: “Comments would the text confound”: Here, I am unsure what meaning of confound Herbert is using, and I am also unclear what is the referent of the text.

Line 119: “more than heav’n doth glass”: Again, I have a general idea of Herbert’s meaning, but am not certain about his specific idea.

Line 146: “That he before me well nigh suffereth”: Here, I’m pretty well lost. I assure he refers back to the taunter in the previous line, but I’m not able to unpack much more than that.

I apologize that the version of the poem to which I linked has no line numbers; I wasn’t able to find a online version which did.


Posted by on March 24, 2010 in Personal, Worship


On Bach

This post and its linked video are well worth your time. I have several recordings by Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan in my collection; I was utterly unaware that Suzuki is a professing believer.

Update: The author of the first post added this article as well, which discusses the role of Bach as a sort of missionary to Japan.

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Posted by on January 8, 2010 in Random links, Worship


On Weaver’s Ideas, part 2

My Master of Divinity is from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. Some time after I completed that degree, I began to make a number of friends from Central Baptist Theological Seminary, including Ryan Martin and Kevin Bauder (whose writings are linked on the sidebar).

Early in my contact with the Centralians (that does sound like a race of sci-fi aliens, no?), I (along with most of the rest of the known world) was accused of being a nominalist. This charge irritated me, partly because I couldn’t figure out what those from Central meant by the term, and partly because I just don’t like being called a name that I know is a meant as a term of derision (even if I don’t know why).

And then I was introduced to Richard Weaver (likely by Kevin, although I don’t recall any particulars). After reading Ideas Have Consequences, I had a much clearer picture of the nature of the charges against me. In fact, at the time, I considered writing a series of blog posts showing the relationship of Weaver and Cornelius Van Til, and I wanted to call the series “What Hath Detroit to do with Minneapolis?”

Key to understanding the thought of both Van Til and Weaver is the concept of the problem of the one and the many. My next post will attempt to introduce that concept, and then we will consider how each thinker addresses the problem.

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Posted by on November 5, 2009 in Society, Worship


On Weaver’s Ideas

I am a conservative, but that label is at least as misattributed, muddled, and problematic as is the label fundamentalist. The label conservative lumps me in with a host of people with whom my disagreements are profoundly sharp.

Even among those who own the label in a manner similar to me, there are differences. In my blogroll to the right, however, I have listed a number of other bloggers who share this same worldview (there are exceptions even on that list; not every man listed in my blogroll would consider himself a conservative in my very restricted sense; some would actively oppose my thinking on these topics).

What this sort of conservatism, the sort that I am advocating, has in common is best articulated by Richard Weaver’s profound work, Ideas Have Consequences. In my next several posts, I want to unpack (in a very cursory manner) the following three paragraphs, from the introduction of Weaver’s book:

Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.

One may be accused here of oversimplifying the historical process, but I take the view that the conscious policies of men and governments are not mere rationalizations of what has been brought about by unaccountable forces. They are rather deductions from our most basic ideas of human destiny, and they have a great, though not unobstructed, power to determine our course.

For this reason I turn to William of Occam as the best representative of a change which came over man’s conception of reality at this historic juncture. It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.

I would contend that these lines are the core of everything that Weaver says in IHC; if he is right about the importance of universals, your affirmation or denial of universals (whether overt or assumed) determines much else about your understanding of the world.


Posted by on October 23, 2009 in Society, Worship


The argument for musical diversity (links to the whole series)

  1. Part 1: Overview of the Argument
  2. Part 2: Conflicting Advantages
  3. Part 3: Diversity, a Proximate Good
  4. Part 4: Diversity in Corporate Worship
  5. Part 5: Diversity and Cultural Relativism
  6. Part 6: A Musical Exercise
  7. Part 7: The Conclusion of the Matter
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Posted by on October 22, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship


The argument for musical diversity, part 7

In my last post, I linked to a number of recordings of one of the great hymns of the faith; I offered a handful of links of each traditional and contemporary recordings. That exercise leaves us with some questions.

The first is this: can anyone legitimately say that all four of the “conservative” recordings express no diversity? I am inclined to believe that anyone who would say that they “all sound the same” would be outraged if I offered the same evaluation of, say, U2 and the Beatles on the one hand and Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus on the other. And they would be right; the music represented by those names is not the same; there is a diversity there. But I would suggest that a strong argument could be made that the conservative tradition allows for at least as much diversity within itself as does the pop/rock/whatever genres.

If I’m right, the idea that we need progressive music styles to express the manifold glories of God seems strained. The onus would be on the advocates of progressive music to demonstrate that the newer styles highlight elements of God’s character that we would otherwise likely overlook. I, for one, do not see how the modern settings of “A Mighty Fortress” drew my attention to some new aspect of God’s character; it seems to me (and I’m open to correction) that the primary appeal of the modern settings is to make the weighty, sublime poetry of that great hymn more immediately accessible to a new generation. We can have the conversation as to whether that is a good thing; note, however, that that argument now moves away from the contention that the musical diversity helps us see something about God’s nature.

Let me offer what I believe to be the conclusion of the whole matter: the argument for worship diversity is correct in form. That is to say, everything that Kauflin says, I could agree with. Just as a certain kind of diversity is very helpful when we’re doing the work of theology, so that we can see God better and appreciate the unique giftings of our brothers more readily, musical diversity in worship allows the same thing. But the parallel with doing theology offers us this further insight: after a certain point, diversity in theology is no longer profitable.

I should expand on that: for individual study, especially for the student of theology, exposure to a very broad range of theological opinions is very helpful, both to allow the student to incorporate what is true in a false system, and to prepare the student to confront what is evil. But the wise pastor does not bring all his liberal studies into the pulpit, into the corporate worship, with him. To do so would be foolish; it is ecclesiastical suicide. The very nature of the gathered body places additional strictures on the value of the diversity expressed.

This holds true, I think, for music as well. It may well be that some piece of music may enable me to see some element of God’s character that I would not have seen before, but the piece of music (taken as a whole) is as mistaken affectionally as, for instance, liberation theology is theologically. So while it may be interesting for me to read a liberation theologian and gain “eyes” to see God’s works of deliverance in Scripture (and in our lives), I will not bring it into the pulpit.

Ultimately, then, the difference that I would maintain with Kauflin, and with all others who would use his argumentation to introduce contemporary worship styles into the church, is that a given musical style can communicate something mistaken about God. That issue, of course, is enormous. Perhaps I will pursue that topic at some point; I conclude for now, however, with the thought that the scope of the diversity that we allow in worship will be so intrinsically related to our understanding of the nature of communication in worship that, while we may agree about the principle of diversity, our application will always be determined by another principle.


Posted by on October 22, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship


The argument for musical diversity, part 6

Our discussion on this subject is drawing to a close. I argued, in my previous post, that I suspect that much of the enthusiasm for the worship diversity argument is in no way distinctively Christian, but is, rather, an attempt to re-purpose the idealogical pluralism that pervades our society. In this post, I wish to begin to address the most theologically significant of Kauflin’s arguments: that the manifold perfections of God cannot be expressed in a single style of worship.

In order to make this conversation profitable, we should have some reference points. Let’s consider a number of settings of Luther’s “Ein’ feste Burg.” I’ve selected these not entirely at random; several I’m familiar with because they’re part of my own music collection. I have attempted to pick legitimate representative samples of various styles; it would have been quite easy (and quite unfair) to highlight many abysmal recordings of this piece of both conservative and modern style.

  1. Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (Track 5)
  2. The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir (Tracks 1–8)
  3. Himlische Cantorey (Tracks 5–7, preview only)
  4. Concordia University Wind Symphony (Track 5)
  5. Indelible Grace
  6. GLAD
  7. Crossroads Live Worship (Track 2)

We can now consider how these artists imagine God as our fortress; what does each portray that the other lacks? In what way do they help us understand the manifold glories of God?


Posted by on October 19, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship