Monday, September 19, 2011


"This is the most truth ever to come from the stage of a church."

My pastor posted this on the church Facebook page, alluding to a theme for his sermon this Sunday. He meant it as a statement of the weak commitment that so often plagues Christians, which I'm certainly guilty of. Yet there's something else to this he didn't mean but comes out pretty strongly.

This video takes various popular Christian songs - not hymns - and twists them to be a bit more honest. "I Surrender All" becomes "I Surrender Some," for example. They end with a song that was originally about exalting God and was turned into "I exalt myself" and shout "praise me!" at the end instead of praise God! Its pretty funny stuff, especially for Christians - with a twist of discomfort because of how true it often is.

And sadly, that's what far too much of these "praise songs" end up doing. Too often the focus and subject of the song is the singer. Old hymns focused on the corporate worship and Christians as a whole; modern songs focus on me and my worship. Old hymns gave a reason to praise and worship God, modern songs simply say that we'll do it. Old hymns had God as the subject and focus, modern songs have me as the focus.

And while that's very appealing for modern people, its not very Biblical, and not very Christian. If you like this stuff, fine; sing it in your car, listen to it as you jog. I listen to some real crap for entertainment. Just don't think it belongs in a corporate worship service, please?


Tina said...

We recently began attending a church that uses contemporary music. Even on Wednesday nights, there's a live band and we all sing along, just as we would in a traditional service.

I like having rock music - it energizes me and I really do enjoy the service more. I was surprised by this, because I love the old hymns, but at the end of a work day, I may be tired before church, but the worship is enlivening.

However - I hear you about the lyrics. Contemporary Christian worship music suffers badly from lazy lyricists. Maybe excessive copyright or fee demands contribute to this, or maybe there's some other dynamic at work but we do need lyrics that are memorable on their own, rather than looping mantras.

There's definitely room in the field for lyricists & song writers who are willing to write and sell words & music without too many strings attached.

Tina said...

BTW, I read Old Habits (bought it in print from It's perfect! Now I want to read the next installment. When is it due out? :-)

I will ping you when I get around to writing a review.

Christopher R Taylor said...

My only concern with "contemporary" music added to hymns is that they don't usually fit the content of good lyrics. You can't really turn "Holy Holy Holy" into a rockabilly number, it jars like singing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of Gilligan's Island (same meter).

Thanks for the kind words about Old Habits, I should have another book out soon and am writing a third. They aren't exactly a series, but the characters interact to some degree.

BobK said...

Good points about some contemporary Christian music (and musicians). One counterpoint I would offer is that much of the traditional hymnody does not involve active worship of God so much as explaining why God is worthy of worship. Think "A Mighty Fortress is Our God"; or even more "In the Garden".

Contemporary settings of traditional hymns, or songs that draw on the lyric tradition of the hymnody can be very effective. I really enjoy work like Jadon Lavik's "Nothing but the Blood" & "Come Thou Fount". Or "Grace Like Rain" (various artists have recorded this), based on Amazing Grace.

Christopher R Taylor said...

In the Garden is just awful, its a love song rather than sacred music. I would argue that Might Fortress actually does involve worship, however, since it brings us closer to God by singing how great he is. You can't praise by saying "I praise him" 8 times, you praise by stating why God is praiseworthy. Its like with your kid or anyone else: just saying "son, I praise you, I praise you" doesn't do the job. Saying "Wow son you are really fast when you run" does.

A Mighty Fortress does that pretty powerfully.

Anonymous said...

“Amazing Grace” to the tune of Gilligan's Island… thank you Christopher Taylor for putting that thought in my head! I remember in college we would “Christianize” secular songs – sometimes it worked – in the moment. They were “mountaintop” experiences – and didn't last. I like what Jadon Lavik does, traditional hymns combined with serious new music. For me, Jadon creates a worship space that is original to me, a worship space that I can "own."