Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reframing the Conversation

I read a great article the other day called "Why I've Stopped Singing in Your Church." It's the author's (Bill Blankschaen) voice in a discussion that has been going on for at least decades: the positive and negative aspects of contemporary Christian music. His critique is mostly negative, and he admits he doesn't have a good solution to what he says has caused him to stop singing along. I've got a few reactions.
  1. Music is a cultural medium of communication. It is a means to engage and reflect the time and place we live in. Missionaries over centuries have mistakenly tried to implant their own version of church and worship into cultures and people groups that are vastly different from their own. And it doesn't work. Approaches that are more indigenous to the culture result in a culture using their own voice to worship the Creator of all cultures. In other words, different people will (and should) have different worship practices. Sometimes that will mean guitar solos, or chant, or dance, or musical instruments whose names I can't pronounce.
  2. Theology is another matter entirely. Christian worship holds true to the tenets of our faith that have guided the Church for 2,000 years. The worship practices may look different from place to place and people to people, but the theology guiding all worship practices is the same: that God, the Creator of everything, came to us in our brokenness and death, and through Christ provided the perfect sacrifice for our sins, gave the gift of the Holy Spirit in us, and is actively redeeming the world until Christ returns. Our worship should always reflect that.
  3. The struggle that we find ourselves in again and again is how to speak the unchanging Gospel in a way that changes with the time and place. This requires grace, patience, creativity, and many voices in the conversation.
Truthfully, I agree with much of Blankschaen's critique of contemporary Christian music. It's simplistic and experiential, often at the expense of proclaiming the full measure of the Gospel. It speaks in a singular voice too often, and is more about "me" than "Him." There are places for these songs, of course, but that's the predominant voice in worship music today, and it shouldn't be.

What I'd like to see/hear/write are songs that proclaim the Truth of the Gospel: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Blankschaen's call for us to remember 2000 years of worship history is important. It doesn't need to sound the same, but there's a richness of theology there that we've lost.

Bottom line: I think more thought and craft goes into writing the music than writing the lyrics these days. More effort goes into creating experience than proclaiming Truth.

Let us be more moved by entering into the story of Christ than by the chord turns and melodies that are used to tell that story. Let us enter worship without expectations to be entertained, and with expectations that we are communing with Almighty God. Let us reframe the conversation: it's not about the music, it's about the message. If the message is solid, then Christ is proclaimed, and the Spirit will move us no matter what the music sounds like.

Join the conversation. What should worship be? How do we keep the focus on what's important? What is important and what isn't when it comes to worship?

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