Monday, October 15, 2012

Contemporary Worship Apologetics: A Quick Observation

When advocates of historic Lutheran worship argue against the widespread use of contemporary worship, in particular the use of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) in the Divine Service, they often do so using a syllogism that looks something like this:

Major Premise: Music that focuses on the objective work of Christ is beneficial for use in worship, whereas music that focuses on the subjective feelings of Christians is not.
Minor Premise: Most historic Lutheran hymns focus on the objective work of Christ, whereas most CCM songs focus on the subjective feelings of Christians.
Conclusion: Therefore historic Lutheran hymns are beneficial for use in worship, whereas CCM songs are not.

In my experience, most Lutheran advocates of contemporary worship do not argue against the major premise.  So we all seem to agree that it's better for a hymn to tell me about Jesus than to tell me how great the hymn writer feels about Jesus.  And that's good.  Rather, the response I have seen most often from contemporary worship advocates is an argument against the minor premise, the assertion that "historic Lutheran" equals good and "CCM" equals bad.  Quite simply, they counter this syllogism by arguing that there are plenty of bad Lutheran hymns and plenty of good CCM songs.

But, interestingly enough, when it comes to defending their counter-argument through the use of examples, things get very one-sided.  Are these Lutheran advocates of contemporary worship ready to hand us a big fat list of our most cherished compositions that fail to meet the rigorous standards we require of CCM songs (standards such as this)?  Yes, they are.  Do they have countless examples of rather bad "good, Lutheran hymns?"  Absolutely.

But do they also have any examples of really good CCM songs?  In fact, forget "any."  I'll settle for one.  Do they have even one example of a CCM song that is as deeply and doctrinally and poetically focused on the Cross as the best of what we have in our hymnal?  Can they give us just one example?

Can they?  Maybe.  But have they? No, at least not that I've ever seen.  And that's not good.  Because when Christ calls us to be one body, and when you're using music that has been and still is causing division in that body, I think your fellow believers deserve to have their criticisms met with a better response than, "well, you use stuff that's just as bad."


Pastor Sharp said...

Nicholas Tieman said...

Thank you so much for that clarification regarding the minor premise. It's one thing to write off an entire genre as blasphemous and quite another to say that it generally doesn't contain great worship music despite the fact that exceptions are possible. These over-generalizations are poisoning this debate and clarifications are absolutely necessary for real progress.

The dearth of good Lutheran CCM highlights what I see as the larger Lutheran problem these days--we're forced to choose between the tested alternatives that were as emotionally satisfying in their day as they are theologically sound but now require significant acclimation to appreciate, or non-Lutheran works which many people find intrinsically appealing but which were simply not created with Lutheran priorities in mind. I grew up with the classics and appreciate them aesthetically as well as theologically, but I realize that there are a lot of people out there who don't share my upbringing and who come to these songs with a grim "eat your broccoli" resolve that is simply not a necessary part of worship. It's a shame that they have to make the choice between music that moves them and music that nourishes them, and it's not fair that not everyone has to make this choice.

Tim Bish said...

“Who Am I?” by Casting Crowns

“Jesus Messiah” by Chris Tomlin

“The Wonderful Cross” by Chris Tomlin

Here are just three examples (that’s more than the one you requested). Are you really going to tell me that these lyrics are all doctrinally weak, not focused on the cross, and not fit for worship?

Pastor Fiene said...


Thanks for your examples. Here are my brief reviews:

"Who Am I?"
No mention of Jesus. No mention of the Cross.

Who has saved you? How has he saved you? From what has he saved you? These questions are not answered.

I'll give the song 10 points for pointing the listener to someone outside of himself. But then I'll subtract 100 points for failing to say who that Someone is.

Aggregate score: -90.

"Jesus Messiah"

10 points for mentioning Jesus and the Cross explicitly.
-100 points for a refrain composed of sentence fragments (which causes the statements within that refrain to function more as mantras than creedally), then repeated 200x, a hallmark of eastern mystical religion and not Christianity.

Aggregate score: -90.

"The Wonderful Cross"

This is not a CCM song. This is a 300 year old hymn by Isaac Watts with a new refrain that is not bad.

Tim Bish said...

So you're defining CCM by age of lyrics alone?

How about "The Tree of Life" or "In Christ Alone"?

Pastor Fiene said...


No, you've missed the point.. I asked for an example of a good CONTEMPORARY Christian song. You gave me a 400 year old hymn, which is obviously not a party of the CCM genre.

"In Christ Alone" is pretty good. By "The Tree of Life" do you mean the Starke hymn?

Pastor Fiene said...

"Part," not "party."

Tim Bish said...

Nonetheless, shouldn't your analysis of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" go a little more like this?:

Who has saved you? From what has he saved you? These questions are not answered.
I'll give the song 10 points for mentioning the cross. But then I'll subtract 100 points for failing to say who that Someone is.
Aggregate score: -90.

How is this old hymn more clear than "Who Am I"? Neither mentions Jesus by name, but both obviously refer to Jesus. Could it be you're analyzing the old hymn through a different pair of glasses?

I'm glad you find "In Christ Alone" satisfactory.

Yes, I mean the Starke hymn.

Tim Bish said...

How about all of these?

Elisabeth said...

I was going to mention "In Christ Alone" seeing as how that's the only CCM song I find acceptable. Granted, I have not heard many. Not all hymns are satisfactory either, but I refuse to listen to the garbage that is CCM today. Also, I just found your blog today and I quite like it.