Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A magazine well worth the time

I just received the July/August issue of Touchstone, one of my favorite magazines, "A Journal of Mere Christianity" as it describes itself. I haven't read all of it yet but two articles immediately caught my attention.

First, "Durable Hymns," by Donald T. Williams of Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. What criteria determine the best worship music? He identifies "marks of excellence":
What are those marks? There are at least five: (1) biblical truth; (2) theological profundity; (3) poetic richness; (4) musical beauty; and (5) the fitting of music to text in ways that enhance, rather than obscure or distort, its meaning.

These are the marks of excellence in any age. They are not arbitrary but are derived from biblical teaching about the nature of worship (it is to be in spirit and in truth, and involves loving God with our whole person, including the mind) and from an understanding of the nature of music and how it can support those biblical goals.
Williams goes on to elaborate on each of the five marks using examples both contemporary and from the past.

The second article is "Bad Books for Kids," by David Mills. After describing the depressing "realistic" books that seem to comprise most of what is offered to teenagers in schools and in the bookstores, Mills concludes with:
The young adult books I read startled me by how dreary they were, even when they were most chipper. The world they describe is ultimately a trivial and a tawdry and a boring one. There is much evil in them, but the evil does not frighten or challenge because the authors do not see it. The good in them is usually weak, tepid, ineffective, a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on, not a gallant knight on a glorious horse. The salvation in them is equally weak, more often resignation than transformation.

There is in them nothing like the young boy Jim Hawkins defying the pirates, or Frodo and Sam carrying the Ring up Mount Doom, or Sherlock Holmes sitting in a dark room waiting for the viper that will kill him if he hears it too late, or Mowgli preparing to face Sher Khan. There is nothing like the homely but desperate struggles of the family in Little House on the Prairie or the hard life of the people in Anne of Green Gables. There is nothing like the redemption of Scrooge.

This is the one great miscalculation the publishers have made. They sell their books by appealing to a child's worst nature—his resentment, his self-pity, his anger—when they could have sold more by appealing to his desire for glory. Why read about the odious Zach, "wise in the ways of French painting as well as other French things," when you can read about Odysseus, or Aeneas, or Aragorn, or even Harry Potter?
Neither of these articles are available online, nor are most of the others. You have to subscribe, which I heartily recommend.

Touchstone Archives: July/August, 2009

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