Still Amusing the Church to Death

Remember the post I wrote about Chuck Colsen’s critique of trite worship music? I agreed with Colsen’s distaste for “Draw Me Close to You” and its ilk. My buddy Rob didn’t. When discussion on both blogs died, I figured the matter was closed for the time being. I didn’t think the article had legs beyond my little corner of the net, but it seems I was wrong.

Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries and Justin Tayler of Between Two Worlds threw their two cents in with Rob. I wouldn’t have know that, though, if Godblogger heavyweight Tim Challies hadn’t joined the fray. I’m happy to say he’s on my side. 😉 Challies presents a seven-part test for “whether a particular song is suitable for worshiping our God, especially in a corporate setting”, borrowed from a book by Elmer Towns and Ed Stetzer. He also adds an eighth criterion of his own.

  • The Message Test – Does this song express the word of God? Is there a strong message and one that appeals to the new man or to the old man?
  • The Purpose Test – What is the purpose of this music? Was it written to lift you up or to bring you down? To make you joyful or to make you sad? Different types of song may be appropriate at different times. Obviously the very nature of music dictates that certain patterns in music have the ability to stir emotion independent of the song’s lyrical content.
  • The Association Test – Does the song unnecessarily identify with things, actions or people that are contrary to Scripture? An otherwise good song may have to be rejected simply because people will make inappropriate associations with it in their minds. The authors provide the example of singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “The Rising Sun” which is a song about drinking and gambling. As people were singing worship to the Lord they would also be thinking of the song’s original words, leading their minds to think of things that are inappropriate for a worship setting.
  • The Memory Test – Does the song bring back things from your past that you have left? The purpose of this test is not to guard against music that people may dislike, but to guard against music that may cause them to sin, heeding the biblical warning about not offending one’s brother. So it has less to do with taste and more to do with leading people to sin.
  • The Proper Emotions Test – Does the music stir our negative or lustful feelings? Amazingly enough, music does have the power, once again independently of lyric, to stir emotions to sin. If you don’t believe this, watch a room full of young people during a hard, driving rap beat, even before the words begin.
  • The Understanding Test – Will the listeners have a hard time understanding the message or finding the melody. Different people know and understand different types of music. People will have an easier time worshiping to a type of music that they understand. Those new believers in Papua New Guinea may have a difficult time worshiping to contemporary Christian music as they would simply not understand it. The same principle holds true with the lyrics, though I would suggest to a lesser extent, because unlike music, words are objectively true or false. If a song is strong in its theology, the people should eventually understand it, even if they do not now. With music this is not the case. Those natives will be no farther ahead if they learn to appreciate church-rock (and many would suggest, perhaps correctly, that they would actually be farther behind!).
  • The Music Test – This test asks if there is really “a song within the song”? Is the song singable? Does it flow from verse to verse? Does it stir the listener’s heart to join in the song? A song with beautiful words may quickly disappear from the hymn books simply because it is not singable.

So there are the seven tests suggested by the authors. Conspicuous by its absence is one I would like to add, which is:

The Excellence Test – Does the song provide God with the best music and lyrics? We should strive for excellence in all we give to God. If our giving to Him should not be half-hearted, how much less our worship?

They look like good tests to me. I’d be very interested to see them applied to Catholic hymnody, both ancient and modern. Feel free to do so in the combox.

Addendum: A kind reader who wishes to remain anonymous pointed out a potentially racist comment in the tests, and suggested I address it before I am mistakenly labelled as racist.

“Does the music stir our negative or lustful feelings? Amazingly enough, music does have the power, once again independently of lyric, to stir emotions to sin. If you don’t believe this, watch a room full of young people during a hard, driving rap beat, even before the words begin.”

Having not read the book these tests were drawn from and not knowing anything about the authors, I will give them benefit of the doubt that the comment was not meant to be racist. Still, the point could be made is a less taste-specific manner. It’s fairly apparent that the authors don’t care for rap. I like some rap, though mostly old school. The kind of rap I think (and hope) the authors are referring to is the violent, mysogynistic variety, which seems to be ever more prevalent. Regardless, I think rap is adequately covered by the Purpose Test. “Different types of song may be appropriate at different times.” I don’t believe rap has a place in liturgical worship.

Anyhow, I didn’t want anyone thinking I’m racist or anti-rap. Now I’ll go back to listening to DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince and leave you folks to your commenting. 😉