Friday, December 12, 2014

On "contemporary worship music" again

Dan Michael Cogan describes himself as "a 'worship leader' for close to two decades" and for much of that time using exclusively "contemporary worship music." He writes that "if I were to visit a 'traditional' church, not only would I be unfamiliar with the hymns, I would also likely cringe when they sang them...." He has changed his mind, and describes why in "My Journey Away from Contemporary Worship Music." The two main reasons he cites:
First, hymns have been sung by the giants of the faith who have gone on before us over the last two millennia. When we sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, we join with Martin Luther who wrote it, and with Calvin and Spurgeon and Edwards who invariably sang and cherished it. When we sing It Is Well With My Soul we are encouraged by the faith of Horatio Spafford who wrote the hymn in the wake of the tragic death of his four daughters. And while many contemporary songs have certainly been written by wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ who have surely endured trials, the fact that we can join with generations past and be reminded that the Church is vastly larger than our local congregation, farther reaching than our town or state or country, and much, much older than the oldest saint living today is something we should not take lightly. Indeed, this should birth in us a desire to sing the songs that our Family has sung together for two-thousand years (and beyond when we discuss singing the Psalms).

Second, the content of hymns is almost always vastly more theologically rich. ...[T]he theology in the hymns is typically more sound or healthy than much of contemporary worship music. As I said earlier, contemporary songs engage our emotions more often, where the hymns engage our hearts by way of the mind.

By way of example, one of the top ten contemporary songs being sung in American evangelical churches right now is called One Thing Remains. While there is nothing in the song particularly bad (in fact, much of it is pretty good), it seems to me that the purpose of the song is to work the listeners into an emotional state. The chorus is:
Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love / Your love / Your love.
With the repetition of a simple lyric like that, it isn’t a stretch to say that the composers’ goal was not to engage the listeners mind. Whereas Augustus Toplady’s hymn Rock of Ages is doctrinally sound, it also is a very moving song of our dependance upon Christ our Rock:
Rock of Ages cleft for me / Let me hide myself in Thee / Let the water and the blood / From Thy wounded side which flowed / Be of sin the double cure / Save from wrath and make me pure.
So I make this plea to my fellow ministers, do not neglect these milestones from ages past. In fact, I would make the case for the abandonment of most contemporary songs. .... [more]
I recently read somewhere else that it is a bit unfair to compare contemporary compositions to the very small proportion that have survived from past millennia since very few of the new will likewise survive the winnowing that will occur over time.

There are over two hundred comments on his post which will not surprise anyone who has lived through the "worship wars." He followed up with a post responding to the most common objections to his argument, and then another post giving examples of contemporary songs he would use in worship.