October 21, 2014

Worship Is Not Sex

UPDATE: I’m sorry that so many of you have missed the point of this piece. I have been driving from Chicago all day and didn’t have opportunity to say this earlier, so please hear this now: this post is not primarily about the content of certain contemporary worship songs. I used the Lark News piece at the beginning to show that this connection between worship and sensuality has been an issue for a while in contemporary worship.

Furthermore, the main point of the piece is more about contemporary liturgy than it is about certain songs (though the music and songs often fit the liturgy well). It is about how worship leaders have developed strategies of leading people through certain patterns of emotional response using today’s music (and we could add, technologies). This has led to people in the congregation thinking that what worship is all about is having an emotionally-charged encounter with God. I disagree with both the definition of worship and the means being used to try to make it happen.

* * *

UPDATE TWO: In which Chaplain Mike thought, “If I have to explain it, I must not have written it very well in the first place.”

* * *

The latest Vineyard Music worship CD, “Intimacy, vol. 2,” has raced to the top of the Christian sales charts, but Wal-Mart is refusing to stock the album without slapping on a parental warning sticker. The ground-breaking — some say risqué — album includes edgy worship songs such as “My Lover, My God,” “Touch Me All Over,” “Naked Before You,” “I’ll Do Anything You Want,” “Deeper” and “You Make Me Hot with Desire.”

“We’ve had concerns about previous Vineyard CD’s, but this time they went overboard in their suggestive imagery depicting the church’s love affair with Christ,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman. “It would be irresponsible to sell this to 13-year-old kids.”

A Vineyard Music Group (VMG) spokesman defended the album. “We felt this was the next logical step in furthering people’s intimacy with the Lord, as the title implies,” said Sam Haverley, director of VMG public relations. “People aren’t content with yesterday’s level of closeness. They want something more. We feel this album gives them that.”

Wal-Mart represents a third of all CD sales, which has forced VMG to try to negotiate a deal. VMG proposed adding a heart-shaped warning sticker rather than the black-and-white label more often seen on raunchy rap albums, but Wal-Mart refused. VMG is considering issuing a censored version of the album.

“If Christians want to make R- or X-rated music, that’s up to them,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman, “but we don’t have to carry it.”

- Lark News, April 2003

The foregoing piece of satire is a classic commentary on contemporary worship.

Michael Spencer made reference to this piece and wrote about it back in May of 2004, speaking of the “romanticization” of worship. He rightly noted that these are not the only kind of songs featured in contemporary Christian worship music and that the trend to romanticize worship didn’t begin when we started plugging in guitars but back in the 1800’s, when revivalism became the default mindset of many churches. Nevertheless, he saw a significant strain of romanticized music increasingly infiltrating worship and transforming it into an experience in which the chaste may find themselves blushing.

I would agree with iMonk, and I would also affirm many who have commented during our first week of Church Music Month — since Michael wrote that piece, things have improved. Many songwriters are focusing more on God’s reign and objective truths of the Gospel. However, there are still enough “sloppy wet kiss” songs out there to satisfy the spiritual-erotic fantasies of those who love the hormone-driven “worship” we’ve come to expect in many churches and conferences.

Critiquing songs is one thing, and it is necessary. Church leaders are responsible to maintain the highest possible standards when it comes to the proclamation of the Word in Christian worship, and that is the primary function of church music.

However, in this post, I am more concerned to have us think about the expectations of today’s worshipers. One look at the videos we posted last week makes it clear that worshipers have come to think their duty in worship is to “get into it” as best they can: to feel passion, to be overwhelmed by God and the things of God, to get “connected” to God through the music in such a way that they are transported into a state of spiritual ecstasy. It is about experiencing God — his presence, his “embrace.”

Today’s music is a perfect vehicle for that. It’s a plain fact that “rock-n-roll” wasn’t called that for nothing. The very structure of good rock songs and concerts is that of tension and release, building to a climax and leading the audience to a spectacular high. It’s about sex. It’s sensual, emotional, and, when done right, overwhelmingly satisfying for those who let themselves go in order to experience it.

In worship settings, this might be achieved through an individual song, but more often it happens through that modern addition to liturgy — the “worship set.”  Contemporary worship leaders and those who’ve studied today’s worship have developed specific patterns for leading the congregation through this experience, seeking to move them from the “outer courts” to the “Holy of holies” where we bask in the glorious presence of God. John Wimber and Eddie Espinosa developed one of the most famous sequences in their Five-Phase Worship Pattern:

  • Invitation
  • Engagement
  • Exaltation
  • Adoration
  • Intimacy

Frankly, the pattern is nothing if not sexual: foreplay, arousal, union, climax, afterglow.

This is exactly why there have been so many critics of using contemporary music in church settings. It is why some have said this kind of music of the devil. They are not wrong when they say this music appeals to the flesh. I don’t agree with them, by the way, that this music should be avoided at all costs. There is a place for every kind of music in our congregations. However, leading people through an intentional pattern of “experience” based on emotional manipulation (and I really can’t think of another word for it) is not appropriate, in my view.

Just to be clear, I think worship should engage the whole person: body, mind, and emotions. But I also think that means something different than saying we come together as a congregation to “have a worship experience.” Yet this is the phrase I hear all the time from worshipers and those who lead them. It makes me wonder what is actually different from this experience and the concert experience, the drug experience, the “bucket-list” experience, the bedroom experience. Each has its own variation of ecstasy, I suppose, but in the final analysis the “high” is what it’s all about. A recent study, “God Is Like a Drug,” examines some evidence for this and suggests the same conclusion.

Funny to think we might be needing abstinence education for those who attend worship.

 

Comments

  1. Wait… worship is NOT sex? tell that to the person who wrote these worship lyrics:

    Your love is extravagant
    Your friendship, it is intimate
    I feel like moving to the rhythm of Your grace
    Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
    Your love is extravagant
    Spread wide in the arms of Christ…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      attr to Eric Cartman of “Faith Plus One”?

      • In the case of Cartman, the satire could barely keep up with the outrageousness of the real thing.
        No, that was being sung at Christian camp retreat for college students. I think they were all Awkward Couples of Liberty.

      • Martin Romero says:

        Actually, that South Park episode was the first thing that came to my mind when I read the list of songs…

        Cartman – All right, guys, this is gonna be so easy. All we have to do to make Christian songs is take regular old songs and add Jesus stuff to them. [some sheet music is shown. Cartman has already crossed out the original author's name] See? All we have to do is cross out words like “baby” and “Darling” and replace them with [writes next to "baby"] Jesus.

        A bit later in the episode, in a parodied TV-ad:

        Announcer: [a shot of a home library, with fireplace and the CD propped on an end table] The CD is filled with instant classics. Who doesn’t remember… [the titles scroll by: "The Body of Christ," "Christ Again," "A Night With the Lord," "Touch Me Jesus," "I Found Jesus (With Someone Else)," "Savior Self," "Christ, What a Day," "Three Times My Savior," "Jesus Touched Me"]

        • I could very easily see a modern hymn called “Three Times My Saviour”. As for “The Body of Christ”, good to see they aren’t ignoring the Catholic demographic :-)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I could very easily see a modern hymn called “Three Times My Saviour”.

            Well, we’ve already seen “You Spin Me Right Round Right Round JEESUS Right Round…”

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        Favorite episode of South Park, hands down.

    • As someone who attends a Vineyard church, whenever I hear the words ‘I feel like moving to the rhythm of Your grace’, all I can think of is Jim Carrey as The Mask singing ‘Cuban Pete’.

      • I wish there was a “Like” Now wouldn’t if be funny if your worship leader did the Jim Carrey on “Smooooooooooookin!” :-P

  2. Mechanically, what’s happening with modern worship music is every bit as emotionally inducive as the name-it-claim-it crowd….it’s just to a much catchier tune.

  3. You folks must not have read Song of Solomon lately.

    • Ah, but there’s the difference. Song of Solomon is about sex.

      • Song of Solomon is about Christ and His Bride. Solomon was a type of Christ. All of Scripture is about Christ, just as all of creation is about Christ. Since all things were created by, through, and for the Son, all of creation expresses the Son, even sex. Unfortunately, it is easily perverted by our flesh. Sex is a shadow of Christ giving us His Life, to bring forth the New Man. It should never be taken literally, but as a physical picture of a greater spiritual reality. It’s also important to remember that when God’s People went after other gods, He referred to them as a prostitute.

        • I believe parts of the SoS can be taken as imagery regarding Christ and the Church, but I don’t believe that was Solomon’s (or whoever actually wrote it) intent. It’s a tangential note here, but I’ve always found it ironic that the same people who say we must take Genesis literally will often argue that we can’t take SoS literally.

          • Phil M.,

            I agree that it certainly wasn’t Solomon’s intent. But, it was God’s intent. I take both Genesis and Song of Solomon, literally and allegorically. I also see Christ in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, etc… Just because something historically happened, doesn’t mean that God didn’t arrange it to display His Son. For example, Solomon building the Temple, is a picture of Christ building God’s House. Eve being formed from Adam, which I take literally, is also a picture of the Bride being formed form Christ. God has created all physical things to display Christ, who is His expression.

          • Well, I’m guess I’m not comfortable saying that it was necessarily God’s intent that Song of Solomon be read allegorically. Certainly it’s possible that one find metaphors in Song of Solomon that can be applied to Jesus, but one could say the same about Bob Dylan songs, for instance. I believe these sorts of things are possible because all creative activity on the part of humanity is in response to our being made in God’s image, but I get uncomfortable when we start saying that the reason certain events happened is to explain Christ. I’d say that history is ultimately about Christ, yes, and because of that it’s possible to see aspects of God’s plan in history. But I get worried when we start trying to find the hidden meaning behind every part of Scripture.

          • Phil M.,

            The meaning isn’t hidden any longer. Jesus Christ is the revealed meaning. Jesus claimed the Scriptures testify to Him. Jesus explained to the apostles the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. John revealed to us that He is the Logos, or Word of God. Interpreting the Old Testament as the revelation of Christ is the same interpretation used by the authors of the New Testament. Paul even said that the rock, that followed the Israelites in the desert, was Christ! John’s gospel shows Christ as the new Jacob. John said He tabernacled among us. Jesus proclaimed Himself as the Temple. Paul said Christ is the new Adam. The author of Hebrews wrote that He is our High Priest.

            Christ is the method of interpretation, that the New Testament authors used.

        • The problem is that so many of these CCM songs misappropriate the metaphor of groom (Christ) and bride (the corporate, universal Church) by applying it to the relationship between Christ and each of us as individuals. I, as an individual, am not Christ’s bride. Hence, to describe my relationship with him with erotically-charged lyrics is, at best, icky and, at worst, sacrilegious.

          • Maybe this worship is a fundagelcial’s equivilent of “safe sex?” Just think fo it as “safe worship.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            This is just the latest manifestation of a late Medieval concept called “Bridal Mysticism” — taking the “Bride of Christ” imagery a little too literally and expressing it in Erotic language. Seems to have originated with several female visionaries describing their experiences using erotic language (composite “Thrust me through with Thy Divine Love! Fill me with Thy Holy Spirit as with child!”). Add in the common belief of the times that cloistered celibate monks & nuns were more Godly than everyone else (and the most desirable Full-Time Christian Work), and you get a LOT of monks and nuns who weren’t cut out for it (kind of like tone-deaf P&W singers). These went to town as only someone vowed to celibacy since age six could do and you ended up with what is snarkily described as “pornography for cloistered nuns”. (Just like the extrabiblical legends about Mary Magdalene ended up as “pornography for monks” — Mark Driscoll was not the first whose officially-denied sexual fantasies would break through in a more “spiritual” form.)

            The current P&W “Jesus is my Edward Cullen (sparkle sparkle sparkle)!” is just the latest pop manifestation of this old but somewhat dubious devotion.

        • Peter: interpreting Song of Solomon is trickier than that. I’m all for being Christ-centered, but as a first-level interpretation of SoS, I can’t affirm your take on it.

          • And I am sure that our Hebrew Brothers and Sisters might also look askance at the odd interpetation that Christians want to give on SoS

          • In my third year of Hebrew, we had to translate portions of the Hebrew text. Let’s just say that it was toned down quite a bit for Anglo-Saxon Protestant sensibilities.

          • Chaplain Mike,

            Yet, it seems clear that Solomon was a type of Christ. Also, all Scripture speaks of Christ. He is the topic of the entire Bible.

          • Hey brother Mike,

            I thought that you might be interested in the Life-Study of Song of Songs, which interprets Song of Songs in light of Christ. I know that you don’t consider it to be a book about Christ and His Bride, but I thought that you might want to consider this in-depth study, which is available for free online: http://www.ministrybooks.org/books.cfm?id=2FFDCE

        • Funny how the same people (e.g., Peter, above, and John Owen before him) who would reject allegorical interpretations anywhere else in Scripture will rely on allegorical interpretation to make the Song of Solomon mean something other than what it clearly means.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Hey, look at what Born-Agains who beat you over the head with Genesis and Revelation as literal FACT FACT FACT do with Christ himself saying “This IS My Body”.

          • Michael,

            You assume much about me, when you say that I “would reject allegorical interpretations anywhere else in Scripture will rely on allegorical interpretation to make the Song of Solomon mean something other than what it clearly means”.

            I’m not sure how you can assume that after one short comment on a specific topic. I encourage you to learn more about a person from that person, instead of making such assumptions.

            You also say that Song of Solomon clearly means something other than an allegory. This is true, but its literal meaning is secondary to it as a picture of Christ. Since all of Scripture is about Christ. He is the real High Priest, Tabernacle, Temple, David, Solomon, Adam, Joseph, Joshua, Zerubbabel, Lamb, Ram, and the shadows of Him continue on every page.

            Scripture is entirely about Christ. Every word that the Father speaks is concerning His Son. The Son is the living Word of God. The Spirit is focused on revealing the Son to us and in us.

            All things are to be summed up in Christ.

        • Peter,

          The typological interpretation you’re talking about generally assumes that BOTH the literal and the metaphorical or typological meaning are true. Thus Moses is a type (or symbol/foreshadowing) of Christ, but Moses also existed as a historical character. The Song of Solomon is about human love AND representative of the love of God for his Church. The chief thing to guard against in Biblical interpretation is deciding what something does or doesn’t mean on the basis of our comfort level.

          • Damaris,

            I didn’t deny the literal meaning of Song of Solomon, but the literal is not the primary meaning. The natural human love is but a shadow of Christ’s love for His Bride, and the love She returns to Him. Everything around us right now is literally there, yet it is not the Reality. For example, the couch that I am sitting on is a shadow of the Christ. He is the Reality. We can come and sit and rest in Him as the Real Couch.

          • I see your point, but I would be cautious of the move toward gnosticism. Creation is real, as is the Creator, although real in a slightly different way. In any case, if your thinking leads you to view all creation as a sacramental, beautiful manifestation of God’s nature, then great; if it leads you to scorn the physical realm and seek “spiritual” thigns as higher or more moral, then I’d worry. Fathen Stephen Freeman, whose blog is called “Glory to God for All Things,” expresses this far better than I do. If you want, check out what he writes about what he calls the “two-storey universe.”

          • Damaris,

            I appreciate your warning and feel your concern. I don’t scorn the physical realm, since it is God’s eternal purpose to have His image expressed and authority exercised on earth. Neither do I seek “spiritual things”, since we are already seated in the heavenly places in Christ and in Christ we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. I seek to learn, enjoy, and share Christ with the saints, so that we may be His visible expression on earth. I set my eyes on Christ and I see His shadow everywhere in nature and in Scripture. Also, we must remember that Christ is in the heavens, yet He is both physical and spiritual. He remains both the physical Man and the spiritual God, in His ascension.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Peter,

          Just because one reads that interpretation into the Song of Solomon doesn’t mean that that was the intent of the author. And don’t you think that it is a bit presumptuous to categorically proclaim the Almighty’s intent where it is not plainly evident.

          • Clay Crouch,

            God’s intent is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation and Paul makes it clear in Ephesians that God’s eternal purpose is to sum up all things in Christ. Jesus Himself said that the Scriptures testify about Him. Jesus explained to the apostles the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

            This is the same interpretation that the New Testament authors made of the Old Testament. For example, Paul said that the rock that followed the Israelites in the desert was Christ. The author of Hebrews proclaimed that Christ is our High Priest. John’s gospel shows Christ as the new Jacob. The list can go on and on.

            You are correct that this wasn’t the intent of the human author, Solomon. It was God’s intent to write the Son into human history. He was hidden from us behind the veil, until the appropriate time. But, now the Son is revealed to us. The Son is the Logos of God. He is the expression of the God. Everything that God says is concerning Christ. Scripture is entirely about Him and His eternal purpose.

            If you are not reading the Scriptures, through the lens of Christ, by His Spirit, then you are missing the Author’s purpose. Indeed, Christ is the Author of all Scripture and creation.

        • I agree with you, Peter. It is an unfortunate that you had to reiterate time and again the simple premise that the redemption story of Christ is the interpretive key Scripture (and creation). But I guess it is human nature for people to misunderstand you in favor of their own distortion of what you are saying.

          • Saying Christ is the interpretive key to Scripture is different than saying Song of Sol is about Jesus and the church.

          • If SoS isn’t an OT picture of God wooing His bride then why is it in The Canon? The theme of God wooing his bride can be found throughout both the OT and the NT. If SoS is only to teach Jewish children about physical love then it seems pretty useless today since many better pieces of literature have since been written on that topic.

          • Thank you so much for the encouragement, TPD. Perhaps, we are just a step forward in others being able to enjoy Christ in Song of Solomon. Every revelation of Christ, must be by His Spirit, or else it is empty knowledge. May He continue to enlighten the eyes of all our hearts to see Him, more and more.

  4. For me, the worst offender was a song that was popular in the 90s called ‘True Love’ by David Ruis. Look it up if you dare. That chorus – urgh!

    • …all that I can think about when I hear that phrase is the “marriage” scene in “The Princess Bride” when the guy who is supposed to look like a bishop extolls about “Wove, TWUE Wove….”

    • Derek, I had never heard of “True Love” by David Ruis. I see some of the lyrics include:

      Let me know the kisses of Your mouth
      Let me feel Your warm embrace
      Let me smell the fragrance of Your touch
      Let me see Your lovely face
      Take me away with You
      Even so, Lord, come
      I love You Lord
      I love You more than life

      My heart, my flesh yearn for You, Lord
      To love You is all I can do
      You have become my sole passion
      Cause my love to be true

  5. “Funny to think we might be needing abstinence education for those who attend worship.”

    Just send ‘em to the average Sunday Mass. Anyone who gets excited by the music there (if there even is any music) obviously needs professional help ;-)

    • > Just send ‘em to the average Sunday Mass. Anyone who gets excited by the music there (if there
      > even is any music) obviously needs professional help

      Which is what I appreciate about it. I am tired of people trying to make me excited, I can turn on the TV at 2AM for that. I go to that place because I want to hear someone say something about something else, no feinting, no masking, but some words that do not need to wrap themselves in noise and innuendo in a desperate attempt to seem relevant.

      • +1

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Here, here.

      • Yep. There’s something mature and self-secure in a church that is okay with being boring.

        • Nobody said anything abour boring. I suppose it seems that way if you go into it with the anticipation of being entertained. But if that is someones anticipation (a) i do not know where they got it from (b) they need to grow up and (c) i am not much interested in what they take away from the service. Nor should anyone be interested. I just pray they come back again after they grow up

          I’m not evangelical. I don’t believe the purpose of the church service is evangelism. The purpose is teaching, edification, and worship. All these require the intellectual engagement of the participant. All of those purposes, including worship. If one is intellectually engaged, one is not bored.

          • Nobody said anything abour boring. I suppose it seems that way if you go into it with the anticipation of being entertained. But if that is someones anticipation (a) i do not know where they got it from (b) they need to grow up and (c) i am not much interested in what they take away from the service. Nor should anyone be interested. I just pray they come back again after they grow up

            Did you know me in high school?

        • I agree with you, Michael. The implication being presented is that current contemporary worship music is shallow and for the immature Christian, while some other form of worship (liturgical, Mass, orthodox, quiet and relfective music, hymns) is for the deep, mature Christian. And as a 50-year old, 25 year Christian, I’m not buying it.

          • Rick, that is not the point or the implication of the post. You are not reading or understanding what I said.

          • That wasn’t my point. I was getting burnt out on rock ballads and video presentations in churches, and I appreciate that the Mass is less stimulating–or you might say, more boring.

          • (Apologies to Michael; I assumed some sarcasm in your post when apparently none was there.)

    • cermak_rd says:

      At least the Catholics have the St. Louis Jesuits. Nope, send them to the Episcopalians. Nothing like listening to a 17th century dirge with a organist who is too fond of largo. Snoozeville. On the bright side, if you came to sleep, no worries.

      • Oh goodness, the St. Louis Jesuits. I have to admit, everytime “Sing to the Mountains, Sing to the Sea” starts up, I have to repress the urge to start gently swaying from side to side, but it’s certainly not in ecstatic worship.

        My experience of Mass-going in Ireland is:

        Priest – Come on, everyone, sing out loud now!

        Congregation – resolutely all gaze down at our feet and keep our mouths shut. May possibly mumble along if hte priest determinedly starts singing and shames us into some kind of response. Will only enthusiastically join in (a) for the recessional at the very end (b) if it’s one of the old ones everyone knows and can sing, especially something like “The Bells of the Angelus” or the like.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          At least you’re not singing “Gather Us In” (a notoriously-lightweight contemporary Processional/Opening Hymn)…

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          The Catholic masses I typically see in the US are not all that much different. They seem to have some notion that the congregation should be singing, and they try to encourage this by having a “song leader” up front gesticulating wildly, to little effect.

  6. I am not fully awake yet, but I did not get that the openinng of this post was satire. It is bad enough that I was perfectly willing to accept this “CD” as real!

    • Same here. Worrying I’ve become way too cynical!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        That’s because in an Age of Extremes (like today), you can’t do satire. Because as off-the-wall as you get for satirical humor, there’s going to be a True Believer somewhere twice as off-the-wall and Dead Serious. And/or some True Believer taking your satire and turning it into FACT.

  7. Michael Spencer’s satire piece is done well. It fooled me as I was reading it. I thought it was for real!

    • He didn’t write it, he just brought it up. Still, it sounds like something he would have written.

      • Oh, thanks for clarifying that, Justin. I see now where Chaplain Mike says that Michael Spencer “made reference to” the satirical piece.

  8. Marcus Johnson says:

    I was sorely disappointed to realize that the Spencer’s piece was satire. I would have totally bought that CD and pumped those slow jams. Like a boss…

  9. Phbbbt, amateurs.

    If you’re a megachurch pastor in Singapore, you’ve crossed this line and pilfered* $25 million of the church’s money to launch your wife’s music career filled with videos that would make US CCM Worship look like Fanny Crosby:

    http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/06/27/singapore-pastor-allegedly-used-church-funds-to-finance-wifes-pop-music-career/

    * (allegedly, of course)

    • Martin Romero says:

      I’ve heard about that case. First I thought it was related with a particular mega-church in Singapore that a friend of mine attended, but then I realised it was another one… From my experience it seems that mega-churches are rather popular in Singapore. I find it really interesting, in a country where you can have a Hindu temple, a mosque and a church, one after the other in the same road.

    • Maybe they spent all the $25 million at this Singapore trade show last week:
      http://www.housesofworshiptech.com/

  10. I have also noticed most of the popular Christian music is about submitting to a sovereign and wonderful God. I now see God as much more mysterious. The concept of a sovereign and wonderful God no longer makes sense to me.

    • Great observation. I don’t understand how God could be God and somehow not sovereign and wonderful, but those aren’t his preeminent attributes or the best aspect of His character for us to focus on. I think the larger problem is with the emphasis on us submitting to said wonderful sovereign, because then it becomes all about what we are doing for God. Essentially we’re just singing about ourselves. Think about it: “I will give you all my worship,” “I’m coming back to the heart of worship,” “Hear I am to worship.” We spend so much time talking about what we’re doing in these songs, it’s almost like God’s sovereign wonderfulness just becomes a justification for our religion, rather than the instigator of it.

    • +1

  11. I must be the one person never having had to endure any CCM. But it seems from others’ comments there is a tendency towards moving beyond the old potboiler ‘Jesus Is My Boyfriend’ songs. Of course, this all comes from a generation taught ala Driscoll, Young Jr., etc. that conjugal relations are the climatic expression of religious experience. It seems like the tail is wagging the dog here. There have been particularly skewed theologies centered around sex. Like the American Moravian Seitenhölchenkult – the sidehole cult, and its peculiarly sensualized obsession with the bleeding wounds of Christ. And I believe there were some gnostics as well, so what does that say about mainstreaming this today? But I suppose it is a good fit, because sexuality is really a function of the self. And that is where mega-worship is today.

  12. I guess it’s “low-hanging fruit month” at iMonk…

    I mean I do find the article funny, and I do agree that there are plenty of really bad worship songs. But I guess I’m wondering what the intent of these articles are. To me it’s like using the Rush Limbaugh show to persuade Democrats to become Republican. I like satire and parody as much as anyone, but so far, I’ve not really read anything in the way of practical advice for congregations. Let’s face it, the average big box evangelical church down the street isn’t going to convert their service to something that looks and feels like a mainline liturgy anytime soon.

    • Final Anonymous says:

      I hate to stand up on this side of the line, but I’d have to agree with you, Phil.

      I’ll throw out there that none of the contemporary services I’ve been involved in made use of the “Jesus is my Boyfriend” genre. They were all staunchly egalitarian also, though, so maybe there was no need…

      And I am growing weary of the implication that I’m spiritually shallow and immature because I prefer modern worship to classical hymns. Do I gain more credibility if I admit I’m not a teeny bopper but an old fogie who happens to enjoy the same music as my children and grandchildren? Or is “enjoy” the Puritanical hangup here?

      Then again, although I currently attend church, I am definitely one of those bogus Spiritual But Not Religious fakers. So much for credibility…

      I say all this with a smile. I understand the points made, I really do. But, you know, babies and bath water and all…

      • Did I not affirm the use of contemporary music, indeed, all kinds of music in worship? If you think this is about hymns or classic music vs. contemporary music, you simply did not read or understand the post.

        • Final Anonymous says:

          To be honest, I didn’t feel it was affirmed toward the end of the post, and it seemed to provoke (again) the “CCM is for babies” argument in the comments, which irritated me more than your statements.

          As I said, I understood the post’s point and even agreed with it, to a point. Yes, manipulating Christians into high-level emotional experiences — as well as claiming they are “It” — is wrong. Shallow, empty, meaningless, and as we’ve come to discover, short-lived, with potentially crippling long-term spiritual consequences for the victims.

      • I don’t think this is a diatribe against contemporary music. There is good contemporary worship music, and there are plenty of examples of bad, smarmy traditional music. What is missing is someone with a little creativity and inspiration to compose congregation-oriented worship songs using contemporary instruments. The other problem is the the modern liturgy in which the music time dwarfs the time devoted to the preaching of God’s Word. A service amounting to an hour of hymns and ten minutes of preaching would be no improvement. Again, there are composers out there actually attempting to compose worship songs meant to be sung by a congregation. I stood through yet another service on Sunday where every song was performed note-for-note as it was recorded on the worship album/CD, including the guitar solos. Some of these songs have plenty of potential if modified with a key and tempo that can be sung by groups. Just because a song is a hit on KLove that it will be edifying on Sunday.

        • Whether put to contemporary or traditional music, these Jesus-my-girlfriend ditties are bad theology.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      To me it’s like using the Rush Limbaugh show to persuade Democrats to become Republican.

      Before or after Rush lost whatever sense of humor he originally possessed? (Because de facto head of the GOP and Presidential Kingmaker has no place for a sense of humor.)

  13. It may be larger than revivalism. As was noted in recent posts on Complementarianism/patriarchialism, even Luther used the image of sex to explain grace. St. John of the Cross used Song of Solomon-like sexual imagery in “Dark Night of the Soul”. This is first a Theological question: does God really force himself upon us, like a highschool boy in the back of a Buick? Is sex really the pinnacle of human intimacy and fulfillment? If we’re wrong or unclear on these basic questions, we will undoubtedly misunderstand what worship is. I don’t see David’s imagery of longing for God as a deer for desert waters as sensual.

    As long as Christians are obsessed with happiness and living the best/perfect life, worship with remain a quest for an emotional high.

    BTW: why does a worship song sung by a congregation need a guitar solo?

    • why does a worship song sung by a congregation need a guitar solo?

      It commercial/jazz music this can often be what is called a “turnaround.” It’s used to give a breather between stanzas and set up the next vocal entrance. 4-8 measures, imo, are acceptable and sufficient. Organists often do the same thing before final stanzas. If your are Pentecostal, it’s also a great time to speak in tongues because you won’t have to skip any of the lyrics. Watch the Hillsong videos. Nobody pays any attention to the guitar solo (except the camer dudes, of course). Everybody just closes their eyes, raises their hands, and starts shouting something, musicians and audience alike. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but judging from the constipated look on their faces, it’s important.

    • BTW: why does a worship song sung by a congregation need a guitar solo?

      Well, in the African American congregation I was part of, the pastor and leadership always reminded the musicians to not neglect their gifts. So I think their motivation for giving people solo parts was not to have them show off, but more of a way to provide a link between the congregation and the musicians, in a way. The relationship between music, theology, and congregational life is a bit different in the African American community though. You have to go back to see the role it played in slavery, racial identity, and the civil rights movement to get a fuller picture of it. In a way, the musical tradition in the African American community is kind of a liturgy on its own.

    • “does God really force himself upon us, like a highschool boy in the back of a Buick?”

      (eyes wide) What is this, the Song of Bubba? (“Thy meat, let it be spread upon my seat, lest thy feet must needs hit yon street…”) Thanks, now I’m going to have this image in my head all day!

  14. Is infantile dependency – emotional or otherwise – what God wants to instill in us? Is that the type of “relationship” He wants with us? (It might sound like I’m begging the question, but I shudder to think what the answer might be).

    • Child-like faith is NOT infantile dependency. There, I said it.

    • CS Lewis and St John of the Cross both said that there are points where God, so to speak, pulls away, to let us grow in maturity.

    • Have you read any of Peter Enn’s book? I’m specifically thinking of his book, Genesis for Normal People. He makes the point that much of the rabbinical commentary on humanity’s fall takes the line that the reason God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge wasn’t because he wanted them to remain ignorant. It was that He wanted them to mature and grow wise before they were given knowledge they couldn’t handle. It would be something akin to giving a 5 year old the keys to the family car. He would have the ability to operate the vehicle in some respect, but he wouldn’t have the wisdom and knowledge to do it correctly. So humanity is in a place where it has more power than wisdom.

      Anyway, I think your point is a good one. God does want us to depend on Him on some level. But He also wants us to grow in wisdom and maturity.

      • Yes, I have read Genesis for Normal People…which is odd, because I am as far from normal as they come. Absolutely a great book and an excellent reference on your part. Thank you.

  15. Some of these songs don’t even directly mention God, Jesus, Holy Spirit – they’r just sappy love songs. I’m thinking particularly of Michael W. Smith’s ‘Breathe’. I think the closest it comes is ‘your holy presense’ and ‘your very word’, which could apply to almost any religion. In fact, I think I could sing that song to my wife, and she could sing it to her dog!

    • Typical dog lover. Cat lovers would never stoop to the level of desperation (and neither would their beloved felines).

    • Greg, neither does “Amazing Grace” or “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. I advised my pastor of this once when he tried to back out of a scheduled JJ Heller concert at our church, because he didn’t here her say “Jesus” in her lyrics. He said she was “too figurative…people won’t understand what she’s talking about”. My response…”Why don’t we poll the congregation and ask how many of our folks know what it means to ‘raise mine Ebeneezer’, or to ‘let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee’?”

      She played the next Saturday, with much accolade from the congregation.

      • That’s true, but I don’t think I could sing ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ to my wife, though maybe I could sing ‘Amazing Grace’ to her :-).

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I see the concern, but it should be noted that Michael W. Smith neither wrote nor created the original recording of “Breathe.”

  16. Today I see a want ad in the local paper for “modern worship leader”. I used to think that was the pastor’s role. Now I see a worship leader is supposed to lead a paid band through a weekly rehearsal and one Sunday service. The ad reads, “Music styles and influences should be Crowder, Tomlin, Shanes, Need to Breathe, Switchfoot, Sanctus Real, and Hillsong. Abilities with Propresenter and Media Shout are desired.” This is a foreign language to me, but at least I get that worship experience means a performance. Kierkegaard once observed that the church is a theater which dishonestly tries in every way to hide what it really is. Apropos this post, I don’t see it hiding any more.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Is “Crowder” the Tokin-the-Ghost Jehovah-juana guy (Yoing Yoing Yoing)?

    • He’s right on about the church being a theatre, but it should have only one show and it should be the same story every week.

      I can’t tell you how many job descriptions I went through that looked just like that when I was between jobs. It makes me sick; they’re not interested in if you can read and understand music, they just want to know if you can imitate their celebrities. It’s like they don’t even want you to “be yourself” anymore, they want you to be somebody else.

  17. Ha Ha very funny folks, but if you take away the emotion, that is the experience of a relationship with God, what have you got left? Doesn’t all that high-church stuff … soaring architecture, incense, colored windows, vestments … have emotional content? So I guess you are just making fun of the vulgar that is the popular that is the people doing it for themselves. Not desiccated enough for you?

    But here, Francis Spufford says it so much better: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/31/trouble-with-athiests-defence-of-faith

    • Doesn’t all that high-church stuff … soaring architecture, incense, colored windows, vestments … have emotional content?

      Yes it does. I’ve seen more than one person in tears during the Orthodox liturgy.

      What I’m wary of is that it does become possible to try to manipulate people’s emotions with worship music. I’ve seen that a few times during my life, but, honestly, even in my 30-odd years of being around Pentecostals, it hasn’t been the norm. Frankly, the level of musicianship I’ve seen at most churches isn’t good enough for that. Heck, most of times churches are lucky if everyone in the band is in tune and playing the same chord most of the time.

      • Yes, I myself have criticized the smoke-and-blue lights of so many modern worship videos, and yet, I love the “light show” of stained glass.

    • if you take away the emotion, that is the experience of a relationship with God, what have you got left?

      You seem to be saying that a relationship with God is a purely (or at least primarily) emotional phenomenon. Am I wrong?

      Also, come on. If you’re going to accuse us of being arrogant, don’t do it arrogantly.

      • You seem to be saying that a relationship with God is a purely (or at least primarily) emotional phenomenon. Am I wrong?

        Can’t speak for the original commenter, but I don’t take the comment like that at all. What I read the comment as is that we can’t strip away all emotional content from worship, and we can’t underestimate the emotional element of things found in traditional worship services.

        To keep with the relationship theme, I don’t think it’s possible for humans to have an actual relationship with someone without it being driven by emotions somewhat. Actually modern neuroscience reveals that even decisions and actions that we believe are based purely on our “rational brain” are centered more in our “emotional brain” than we would typically think.

      • What Phil M. said.

        I’m trying to say that a relationship with God is in the first place an experience which inevitably has emotional content, humans being constructed the way they are. You are not just your rational-verbal thoughts! That being the case, why not try on purpose to feel my relationship as well as think about it in constructive ways? There seems to be the idea going around that experience is too individual, that it’s going to lead to relativism, anarchy, maddnnesssss!!! … like that bad oldman, Schliermacher.

        This topic sure has brought out a level of snark, how come for is that, people? Phil, right, your average tiny little Charismatic church is unlikely to have even one really good guitar player willing to turn out regularly. Do you also refuse to play pickup basketball because the level of ball-handling is really lamentable? Anything that makes church more participatory and less a spectator sport is good with me.

        • Did I not affirm that worship engages the whole person — body, mind, and emotions?

          • You did, and then you suggested abstinence education for people who get “high” by having “a worship experience” (your scare quotes).

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            I take the objection (or at least my objection) to be not to the inclusion of emotion in worship, but to the exclusion of everything else; or at least to giving emotional experience primacy.

          • I believe that a personal conversion experience is a necessity (as Scripture says). That is, the FIRST thing that happens is an intrusion of the Holy Spirit, which is at least not what Richard Dawkins would call “rational”. Scripture and Tradition are also important (also outreach) but none of it makes sense without the “inner testimony of the Holy Spirit”.

            Ecstatic worship has been a part of the Christian tradition since Pentecost; sometimes it has been silent and solitary, sometimes communal with cymbals and tambourines. If you want to say that appropriately such is only a part of a complete healthy Christian life, I agree. In my church (I’m not the Pastor) we do 30 minutes of praise and 40+ of sermon with numerous Bible texts, and we meet to study during the week. I really don’t think we can be compared to drugged-up hippies.

          • Marshall, Michael Spencer would have said 30 minutes of praise was about 20 too many. And, historically, I would definitely assert that “ecstatic worship” has been the rare exception and not the rule.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Problem with “ecstatic worship” is that you develop a tolerance and have to up the dosage until you’re “all ecstatic all the time”. Until you’re slashing yourselves with knives right up beside the priests of Baal.

  18. Reminds me of the five stages of meditation in Hindu yoga, which is ‘me’ oriented.

  19. First, I appreciate the fact that the Internet Monk site allows for dissenting viewpoints to be presented. I think I’ve read posts from several of you in the past that allude to Christian sites that quickly block or remove diseenting opinions. If that’s true…Ugh.

    Second, I am getting a bit annoyed that Internet Monk Music Month has become mostly a slam of contemporary worship music. For a site that touts “Continuing Michael Spencer’s legacy of Jesus-shaped spirituality,” I’m getting fed up with the continual implication that contemporary worship music is wrong, immature, shallow, too emotional, too loud, etc. etc…whatever adjective describes how you think worship should NOT be. I’ll be bold enough to say I find it close to hypocritical (in Pharasitical sense), for the bloggers clearly imply they feel there is a RIGHT way to worship. As I posted on a different thread, to me there is an “elder son” attitude here, a kind of “You must be appalled at this form of worship, aren’t you, father?” And I can almost see the father shaking his head at these posts, saying, “You may not think it is worship, but it is. To me, it is. Don’t hinder the celebration, my son.”

    The fact is that we are all in bondage to our expecations, experience and desires. The “hymn” camp gets all bent out of shape unless a hymn or two are sung. The liturgical camp must have liturgy. I see Father Ernesto promoting Orthodox chanting…if he touts that the only true and pure form of worship is Orthodox chanting, then he’s in bondage to it, and become a Pharisee by implying that those who don’t do it must not truly be worshipping God. (By the way, I’m not saying Father Ernesto believes this; I’m only saying that if he DID believe it…)

    I recently got in a semi-rift with one of my fellow congregants about a particular worship song that I found rather lame. She got offended by my Facebook post that laid out all my reasons for finding the song so lame, from the boring music to the theologically questionable lyrics. I decided to talk to her about why she got so offended, and her reasonsings were eye-opening. She said that this particular song was actually ministering to someone she knew; this song that I hated was speaking directly to a soul who needed to know Jesus loved him.

    So here’s my challenge to the Internet Monk for the rest of Music Month. Less contemporary music bashing. Focus on the positives. More posts like Father Ernesto’s, who clearly says why he LIKES a form of worship. Bring in a couple of contemporary music champions, who can address the POSITIVES of that form of worship. Be like Jesus, not like the Pharisees.

    • Rick, I truly appreciate your participation here. You give good push-back and present your views well.

      But you need to understand that many of us think, as Michael did, that evangelicalism is in crisis and matters like this are symptomatic of the problem. Many of us, in fact, left evangelicalism and have spent years in exile because of things like this.

      I blame the leaders of the church for continuing to manipulate people into a virtually content-less, experiential pietism that bears little relation to the historic faith — which evangelicalism routinely ignores to its own peril.

      We will continue to sound the alarm because that’s a main concern of Internet Monk.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I see Father Ernesto promoting Orthodox chanting…if he touts that the only true and pure form of worship is Orthodox chanting, then he’s in bondage to it, and become a Pharisee by implying that those who don’t do it must not truly be worshipping God.

      Rick, like you I don’t see Fr Ernesto going that far, but I remember what can only be described as Orthodox fanboys (normally recent converts to Orthodoxy Orthodoxy Orthodoxy) commenting both here at IMonk and on other blogs who DO.

    • Rick, one more thing. When I look back on the posts this month, this is the first and only one that “bashes” contemporary forms of worship.

  20. I have not seen anyone address the fact that the lyrics of some CCM songs are questionable because the type of love they portray is Eros. Jesus embodied agape – sacrificial – love. Even the Jesus-Bride relationship is based on agape love. All other forms of love, Eros (Song of Solomon) or philial, are fully realized only when we understand agape love.

    I stopped listening to Christian music stations when I heard one station playing a song with the lyrics, “I’m in love with you, Jesus”. As a WOMAN I don’t relate to Jesus in this way. HOW in the world do you expect a man to respond much less to sing a song like that? Incredibly, if memory serves, it was a man singing this song. In my view, this reflects theology that’s gotten twisted like a pretzel.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Last time the subject came up, someone commented that Sloppy Wet Kiss CCM is REALLY popular in the Gay Community. “Where else can you hear a man singing passionately about another male?”

      • Well, I should probably leave this alone, but I’m embarrassed & sorry that my comment elicited such an offensive response. The SUBJECT of what I said was that the nature of love depicted in some CCM is Eros love when it should be about agape love. Those who worship Christ who might be gay should not feel any more comfortable singing, “I’m in love with you, Jesus”, than I do. My point is that this song expresses the wrong type of love regarding our relationship with Christ as though all love is the same.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          And my “offensive response” just illustrated how far that “expressing the wrong type of love” can go. Especially when such “Eros when it should be about agape” makes the jump outside the four walls of a church.

  21. OK, I’ll take the bait: Worship may not be sex, but sex on the other hand………

    • …is worship. Yes. Hence the old wedding vow “With my body, I thee worship.” That is a logical point that this post misses.
      Worship may not be sex, but the sexual union does picture an aspect of worship.
      Just like
      The ground being wet doesn’t mean it rained, but when it rains the ground is wet.

  22. For me the real issue is not necessarily the ‘love song’ aspect of so much music (contemporary and traditional), since worship involves an expression of love and adoration (though the ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ stuff bothers me, and some of it is probably blasphemous!). What concerns me is not even emotionalism, since genuine worship (at least in the Old Testament) was a very sensual (or sensory) experience that certainly involved emotions (think Yom Kippur – a solemn reflection on sin and failure, though most mega churches don’t like that sort of emotion – bad for business). My real concern (expressed very well in an article a few years ago by – please don’t stone me! – Al Mohler) is sentimentalism. And that is certainly not new. As Mohler pointed out, many of those old hymns (though most are really ‘gospel songs’) like ‘In the Garden’ (‘he walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own’, which reflects the romantic music of its day) are often expressions of a faith that is little on substance and much on sentimentality. It’s almost a nostalgic longing for something that never was (or will be) rather than a vital, thinking, wresting faith. It’s like the kids who have the mountaintop experience at camp and come home disappointed because real life and faith isn’t quite like that camp experience. Sentimentality provides ‘answers’ for the hard questions and gives us the impression that this is ‘real’ faith and ‘real’ commitment, and that sells well to people who don’t like wrestling with ‘real’ questions about life and faith (and think that ‘thinking’ about such things is ‘carnal’ and mistake sentimentality for spirituality). Knowing he ‘walks with me and he talks with me and tells me I am his own’ ‘while the dew is still on the roses’ is much nicer than enduring ‘the dark night of the soul’.

    • I think the reason some people like myself are reacting like we are is that this article seems to be presenting things in a purely dichotomous fashion. Your church is either doing worship the correct way or it’s all bad. I guess I see things in a more nuanced, not so black and white way. We sang “In the Garden”, but we also sang “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.

      I grew up in the AoG, and I saw plenty of things that were wrong. However, I also experienced plenty of good things. Right now, my theology is such that I wouldn’t feel at home in most AoG churches, but I still know plenty of AoG people. Some of them have questionable theology, for sure. Some of them are very bright, though. They remain in the AoG for a number of reasons.

      I guess what surprises me is not the article itself but the surprise of some here that some people seem to be offended by this. But, really, though, why wouldn’t people be offended? These kind of things are making fun of people they know and love. I have all sorts of things I’ll complain about regarding family members, but when someone who barely knows my family comes and starts telling me everything that’s wrong with my family, well, I’ll get a little angry. I guess I still feel the same way. I’m largely disconnected from evangelicalism personally, but I still have plenty of friends who are immersed in it. And I know making fun of things they hold dear isn’t going to change their minds. If anything it will just make them defensive.

      • Phil, you are missing the point completely. When you say, “this article seems to be presenting things in a purely dichotomous fashion. Your church is either doing worship the correct way or it’s all bad,” you have ignored my introduction where I said we are critiquing one stream of evangelical worship, that it’s not just contemporary but that the romanticization of worship music started in the 1800’s, and that things have improved somewhat since the 2003 Lark News satire piece.

        Furthermore, the focus of the article was not on worship SONGS at all, but on the use of manipulation through the “worship set” to lead people through a particular pattern of emotional experience.

        Finally, though the piece started with an article that once “made fun” of certain kinds of worship songs (9 years ago!), and I ended with a snarky comment, by and large, the article did not “make fun” of this practice but sought to describe it for what it is.

        • Well, I guess I’d be interested in what particular stream of evangelicalism you’re critiquing. Because, honestly, I’ve heard the song “How He Loves Us” (the “sloppy wet kiss” song) in churches and movements across the spectrum – Vineyard, Baptist, Presbyterian, non-denominational – to name a few. As we’ve visited churches since moving, I’ve noticed that most of the songs that are sung in evangelical churches are drawing from the same canon anymore.

          It used to be that every sub-group had its own particular group it used with some overlap, but I haven’t heard much difference lately. I think this is because of a few things. Obviously, the internet and the ubiquitous nature of media on it now makes it much easier for everyone to get their hands on the same stuff. Also, I think denominational distinctions are become less and less important to people.

          So I guess what I’m saying is that when you talk about a particular stream, that particular stream seems pretty wide from my perspective.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      (think Yom Kippur – a solemn reflection on sin and failure, though most mega churches don’t like that sort of emotion – bad for business)

      Think Lent and Good Friday. Also “bad for business” at megachurches — let’s just skip to the big Easter Extravaganza. (Can you tell that Crystal Cathedral was local to me?)

    • As a bored young teen sitting through adult Sunday evening service and thumbing through the songbook, I found the best gospel songs were the ones most amusing when you added the words “in the bathtub” to the title.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Like adding “in bed” or “between the sheets” to a fortune cookie fortune.

  23. Marcus Johnson says:

    While jumping on superficial contemporary worship tunes is a lot of fun, can anyone think of some great CCM songs that have found their way into a worship service? As disillusioned as I am with most worship in evangelical churches, I can’t really accept the fact that it’s all bad. What examples can we present of effective music that still maintains its “rock” edge?

    • Marcus, good question but not the point of this post. This post is not about “jumping on superficial contemporary worship tunes.” It’s about how contemporary worship services with their music and especially their worship sets attempt to lead people through a pattern of emotional experience that mirrors sex.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I know it’s not the point, but October is a long month. Maybe a later post?

  24. Marcus Johnson says:

    I also wonder if maybe the answer to the problem is not just a wholesale rejection of contemporary worship styles, but maybe a mentoring process which encourages aspiring songwriters to delve deeper into the concepts that were sung before them. We might need less critics and more teachers.

    For example, here’s a line from “Breathe” (which was previously maligned in an earlier post):

    This is the air I breathe
    This is the air I breathe
    Your Holy Presence, living in me

    What does it mean to “breathe” in the Holy Spirit? The song uses the present tense; does that mean that this is only a song for the saved and sanctified, or is the song an invitation for God’s Holy Presence to get “breathed” in? Or is God’s “Holy Presence” living in everyone? Murderers, terrorists, Jerry Sandusky (I had to throw in something from current events)?

    I can go on with the list of questions, but maybe the answer to the current quagmire which we are attacking is to start going deeper into the songs that already exist in modern-day worship and, in doing so, create new and deeper songs (as opposed to fifty different songs that state, “God is good,” without actually explaining what that goodness means.

    • Marcus, I think that the primary issue is not necessarily contemporary worship musical styles (as opposed to old hymns, gospel songs, Medieval chants, or country and western). Worship music styles probably have always reflected contemporary music styles, at least since the Reformation.

      My point in my previous two posts is more concerned with the content and focus of the music. Much contemporary worship music is very self-oriented (e.g. ‘this is the air I breathe . . . living in me’, ‘heal me’, ‘touch me’, ‘fill me’, ‘bless me’, as are many traditional gospel songs and hymns) and experiential (the sentimental kind), and therefore tends to be subjective (‘that pleases you but not me’). It also emphizes the personal experience of God, ironically in a corporate worship setting (we’re all individuals worshipping God; we just happen to be in the same room – where are the ‘we’s’ in contemporary worship songs?). Now that is not all bad, since many of the Psalms also are self-oriented – complaining to God about circumstances, asking for deliverance, etc. However, there is an objectivity in the Psalms (as well as fragments of hymns in the NT – e.g. Phi. 2:6-11, Rev. 5:9-10, 12-13) that puts the focus on God and what he does/has done (granted the Psalms contain those troublesome execration prayers, as does Revelation [6:9-11]). That objectivity emphasizes God’s attributes rather than personal experience. There is also a reverence that seems missing from much contemporary emotionally-focused worship (think of the great hymn ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, which echoes the hymns of Revelation).

      One of my theology professors talked of a continuum that runs from emphasizing God’s transcendence to his immanence. On the extreme end of the transcendance side, you have deism – an unapproachable, uninvolved, and uninterested God. At the far end of the immanence side you have pantheism – everything is God and God is everything. (We live in that tension personally as well – God is holy, righteous, and glorious, yet he is our merciful and loving father.) He noted that the church always moves across that continuum, and that the contemporary church is pretty far over to the immanence side – perhaps we are just a little too familiar with our God (e.g. if Jesus isn’t my lover, perhaps he’s my drinking buddy). The issue with our worship music (and why this matters) is that it probably says much about how we view our God.

      • See, sometimes I think I must just be experiencing different worship services than everyone else. I actually think that more recently, the trend has been for worship songs to emphasize transcendence so much that the songs are almost meaningless to most people. Words like “glorious”, “magnificent”, or even “holy” have some meaning to people, but really when you get down to it, they’re complete abstractions. A good example of a song that tries to focus on transcendence but gets lost along the way is “The Revelation Song”. I once asked a worship leader, “what in heck is this song even about?”.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I’m starting to become a little hesitant on settling too deep on either side of this issue. However, I think we can agree that the “me” phrases, like you said, come from phrases in Scripture like the Psalms. I think the error comes from a superficial engagement of Scripture. From that surface-level understanding come performances and records and an industry, all of which are based on a foundation of sand.

      I would probably compare it to some of the less experienced first-year students in my writing class who, in their research, directly quote from sources without understanding what they read. They build arguments that have a lot of flowery rhetoric, but they are easy to dismantle. Still, as an instructor, I know that the issue with their writing stems from a lack of maturity, not sincerity. Maybe the same rule should apply to CCM worship songwriters: the problem isn’t of insincerity or heresy, it is from a lack of maturity. If so, maybe it is a situation that is correctable?

  25. Five-Phase Worship Pattern:
    Invitation
    Engagement
    Exaltation
    Adoration
    Intimacy
    Frankly, the pattern is nothing if not sexual: foreplay, arousal, union, climax, afterglow.

    It just occurred to me: The problem is not necessarily that this is sexual, but that it resembles a bad sexual experience with little excitement. The “foreplay” in said situation is usually incredibly brief, for one. In the historic liturgy, however, there are several climaxes and releases throughout: High points include the Gloria, the Acclamation, and the Sanctus. It’s really quite an elaborate and engaging dance, when you think about it. It even engages all five senses.

    I’ll stop the analogy there. Sorry, couldn’t resist that one :P

  26. re: Update 2:

    CM, I do not think you were even close to unclear. The problem is, you stepped on some toes. Consumers of mass produced pop music tend top get their identity wrapped up in their idols because they use them as a vehicle for self expression. It therefore becomes difficult to discern a constructive critique of their art from a personal insult: This music gave me this real, tangible benefit, so if you’re saying the music is bad, then by implication you must mean that what I got out of it was all in my head… Case in point, you were talking about the method and the theory behind it, and all they heard was “your favorite band is is untalented and shallow.”

    • Miguel, don’t turn this into an us vs. them thing. My push back on this has nothing to do with my toes being stepped on and everything to do with challenging Christian bloggers at this site not to drift into a black-and-white “there is a right way to do worship and a wrong way to do worship.” Extreme care must be taken when presenting opinions so as not to appear as beliefs and truth. The challenge being, for this site particularly, of how to expose unhealthy aspects of church (which I will simply define for now as “not Christ shaped”) while at the same time not being unhealthy in the delivery.

      CM, I guess the reason I thought this was primarily about worship music is because music is the focus of 99% of the Original post. I saw no mention of other aspects of worship in support of the “worship is sex” premise, like the sermon, offering, communion, corporate prayer, etc etc.

      • Rick Ro. — You say, “everything to do with challenging Christian bloggers at this site not to drift into a black-and-white “there is a right way to do worship and a wrong way to do worship.”” I appreciate your warning against simplistic thinking and judgmentalism, but still, ISN’T there a right way and a wrong way to do worship? Surely there are types of “worship” that are an offense to God, even if they are culturally acceptable and familiar to the “worshippers.” It’s not an illegitimate question to ask if our worship is pleasing to God, although it may be beyond any one person’s rights to answer that question.

        • It’s not an illegitimate question to ask if our worship is pleasing to God, although it may be beyond any one person’s rights to answer that question.

          Well, I suppose we could get in the “regulative principle of worship” that says that unless a worship form is specifically mentioned in Scripture it’s prohibited. By in large, evangelicals have rejected that line of thought, and have gone with the “normative principle”, where anything that isn’t specifically rejected by Scripture can be within the bounds of acceptability.

          My personal opinion is that often times it’s easier for some people to buy into the first because the second is always going to be messier. I think there are some absolutes in what constitutes right and wrong in worship, but usually, those aren’t what people are arguing about. The things people argue about tend to be things that don’t matter that much.

          • Good point Phil. I try to think of worship (from God’s perspective) as being like when a young child makes a piece of art for a parent. Technically it may be awful, and perhaps even inappropriate or rude in a naive way, but as parents we love and accept the artist and the art as-is.

          • I don’t think it’s about what the Bible does or does not permit in worship. I also reject the idea that God doesn’t care what we do as long as we have good intentions (like the child painting). I think God cares deeply how his people worship Him, which he made quite clear in the Old Testament. It’s not about getting the worship “correct” by doing it an exactly specific way. It’s about worshiping God in a way that is faithful to his character. How we worship God forms our view of Him. What is our worship saying about God? Is it painting a full picture of who He is and how we relate to Him, or are we just picking select characteristics we are more comfortable with? The proclamation of Christ is NOT limited to the sermon.

          • I think God cares deeply how his people worship Him, which he made quite clear in the Old Testament.

            But the OT is really irrelevant to Christians as far as dictating how we should worship God. Christ is the fullest, indeed the full, revelation of God to humanity. He received worship from whores anointing him with perfume and washing His feet with their hair.

            All of us have ideas about God that aren’t correct to some extent. Personally, I think the metaphor of a child offering his parents something out of love isn’t a bad one. C.S. Lewis actually used it in Mere Christianity:

            “Then comes another discovery. Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.”

          • Phil, please also remember that my critique is directed toward church leaders first, not congregations. The responsibility for overseeing and leading the church in worship is where the root of the problem lies. The gathered service of the church is a primary venue for teaching and spiritual formation, and lives will be shaped by what happens there. The purpose of good liturgy (patterns of worship) and solid content is to form God’s people in the shape of the Gospel. The kind of patterns I critiqued in the post are designed to shape us into people who have an amazing emotional experience, period.

          • The OT is irrelevant? Sure, if you’re looking to the Bible for a list of rules and regulations on how to worship. But it still has a lot to say to us today about the worship of God. If we quit reading it as a book about us, and begin reading it as a book about God and his self-revelation to us, we see that the Old Testament stipulations draw a picture of a God who cares very deeply how his people worship him. Just because whores anointed Jesus’ feet doesn’t mean it should be a part of the liturgy. God is accepting of everything we do, but that doesn’t make anything beneficial for us. The OT worship was good not for God, but for the OT Jews because it depicted for them the holy nature of their God, who was intolerant of sin. Does our worship show a God who forgives sin at the cost of his own life? Is that the main takeaway? I suggest that it should be. Every. Single. Time.

            I’m familiar with how the band “Sixpence None the Richer” got its name. God is not in need of our worship. We are in need, however, of being worshipers. Not to mention, it’s not like the kid bought his father rat poison. He put some thought into it and tried to bring something appropriate. He put more thought and effort into his gift selection than most Evangelicals put into their charismatic liturgy. Nothing we do is going to impress God, but that is no reason for not bringing him the best we have to offer.

          • Miguel,
            You and I are probably going to simply disagree quite a bit about this.

            What in the world does the phrase, “the best we have to offer” even quantitatively mean? Does it mean the best cantatas and oratorios Bach ever produced? Is that the best?

            Frankly, I find your dismissal of wide swaths of Christianity downright offensive. You don’t know these people’s hearts and your not their judge. Honestly, I’d rather worship with a guy playing an acoustic guitar badly than worship with a perfectly performed liturgy if people are just going through the motions. And, no, I’m saying that is always the case with liturgy, but it certainly does happen. God wants to be worshiped in Spirit and in Truth. As far as I’m concerned, there is no one single tradition or style that has the market on correct worship cornered.

          • You and I are probably going to simply disagree quite a bit about this.

            So our worship should not portray a God who forgives sin at the cost of his own life? How can worship even be “Christian” if it’s not about Christ?

            You’ll find no disagreement here: The “best we have to offer” is an extremely subjective descriptor. I refer you back to David’s line, “shall I offer to the Lord that which cost me nothing?” as a good example of why musicians who lead in front of church should practice. It’s not about being “good enough,” as I’m sure you’d agree if that were the criteria we’d all be in trouble. It’s about taking the time to craft it and work on it like you would to honor any human of renown or high office. I also agree that no one single tradition or style has the market on correct worship cornered. I’m not sure there’s even such a thing as “correct worship.” But as far as the spirit of 1 Corinthians 14:26 is concerned, not everything that finds its way into Sunday morning is equally edifying, regardless of how much people are moved by it. All things are lawful etc…

            I find your dismissal of wide swaths of Christianity downright offensive

            Really? I do this? Quote me. I think you’re projecting the “either you’re liturgical or a heretic” mentality onto my comments. And by doing this, you are clearly proving my original point: You can’t hear a constructive critique against your methods, it’s either full acceptance as equally good or you’re an intolerance music nazi. For pete’s sake, I use CCM on a regular basis! I just use other things predominantly because I believe they better fulfill the scriptural directives in 1 Corinthians and Colossians 3:16.

            You don’t know these people’s hearts and your not their judge.

            I’m judging people’s hearts? You mean like when you say “…perfectly performed liturgy if people are just going through the motions”? Aside from the fact that their is no style or method of worship immune from attention deficit autopilot, I’m perfectly content to believe people at rock show worship services genuinely love Jesus and seek to express this through their singing. But it doesn’t follow that what they sing does not matter and the design of the service is inconsequential

            You are the one accusing liturgical worshipers of insincerity, as if a bad acoustic guitar player were somehow automatically more genuine. It’s not that theologically controversial to insist that the worship of God be somewhat pleasing to the ear, even if we can’t agree on what does. It shouldn’t be a painful experience.

          • Really? I do this? Quote me.</blockquote?

            Here's the quote.

            He put more thought and effort into his gift selection than most Evangelicals put into their charismatic liturgy.

            Comparing what most evangelicals do in their charismatic liturgy to a child offering his father a gift a rat poison is pretty dismissive. I don’t know how you could know what most evangelicals are doing for one thing, and it seems to me that you’re the one drawing the line. If you read my next line regarding the “perfectly performed liturgy”, you’d see that I said it’s not always the case.

            Honestly, I don’t think any of know enough about each other on this board to make judgments about how we worship. The church I’ve attended the most in the past year or is Greek Orthodox. I love its liturgy. But I can’t in good conscience make sweeping statements about what “all” or “most” evangelicals are doing. I’m sure it’s a mix of good and bad.

          • I’m not making the comparison that evangelical worship is rat poison. The illustration was brought in defense of the idea that anything is appropriate in worship. I suggest the point of the illustration is that God is not in need of our worship and anything we give to him does not make him richer. To say that anything in worship is acceptable to God would be like saying it didn’t matter what the child bought his father. I suggest there are something the child could have done with the sixpence that may have been offensive, or at least strange.

            All I pointed out is that Evangelicals quite often refuse to consider thoughtfully the order and content of their services. The child in the illustration was thoughtful, but trend driven consumer oriented services are not. I’ve had this conversation with many an evangelical pastor, musician, and lay person, and they refuse to think beyond “this cool church does it this way, so we have to try to be like them.” I’ve been to dozens of evangelical churches across the country, I have a pretty good idea what services tend to look like. I’m not making judgements about how specific person here worships.

            I understand you weren’t generalizing all liturgical worshipers, but you were judging the motives of some, and then accusing me of doing it. I agree that Evangelical worship is a mix of good and bad, like any other tradition, but my overwhelming experience is a lack of thoughtful reflection on a part of the service designers. The sexual sequence that CM refers to is so often assumed, and questioning it is more likely to earn you the ire of its proponents rather than a thoughtful and constructive conversation.

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

      I remember in my days leading the worship band at an old church, I was definitely trained in how to manipulate emotions. I remember that there were a certain set of songs that we knew were THE ones to put as the last song in the set because they ALWAYS got the emotional reaction we wanted. And here’s the kicker: several years before I was doing the job, I realized what was going on and was disgusted. But I ended up doing the same dang thing, albeit not as hardcore. That’s one of the reasons I rarely lead the musical portion of worship any more. It’s just way too easy for me to play a good set with the desired results rather than actually lead the people in worship. Plus, while I can sing, play the guitar, and worship, I’m not 100% sure I can do all three at once anymore. Two out of the three at once is possible on a good day, but all three is a little too multi-tasky.

      • But why is it wrong to put THAT song last?

        It’s like you’re saying, opps that’s an emotional song so let’s just put in a song that is jarring so that everyone will get kicked out of the place of worship they are in.

        I just don’t think that a particular sequence of songs or worship liturgy is inherently evil. It’s the intention behind putting it together….

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

          You may have missed the point of what I was saying. The point wasn’t about song order; it was about how we created the music set to elicit a particular emotional response and called that emotional response “worship.” The song order was an illustration of how we would accomplish the emotional manipulation. The criteria for what songs were appropriate for what part of the set was not based on their scriptural content, their lyrical message, their theology, how well they lined up with the readings or sermon topic, etc. The criteria was based on what would best get the emotional response that was desired for that portion of the music time.

          And that’s how we were trained to set things up.

          In my experience, that’s all too common. The big problem is not the songs or the song order, but it’s that we’re equating emotional manipulation through music with worship.

          Merriam-Webster defines worship as follows:

          – reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence
          – a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual

          These are acts of the will and intention. In many of our churches, we’ve redefined it to be a emotional response to music. Worship can and should involve the emotions as well as music. But when we’re using music to be emotionally manipulative and convincing our people that that emotional high is real worship, we’re slipping more into pagan territory that uses induced altered states to create a spiritual experience than into what Jesus was talking about in John 4 when he said that we would worship God in Spirit and Truth.

          • Bingo: Paganism is exactly what this resembles more than historic Christianity.

          • Well looks like I misunderstood.

            So you’re saying that the REASON you put the song in last WAS to evoke the emotional response. That’s not right as you correctly pointed out.

            But isn’t it then about the _motive_ behind the chosing of the songs not the songs per se? So detecting that motive would be almost impossible?

    • Final Anonymous says:

      Actually I disagreed less with the original post and more with the direction, tone, and arrogance of some of the commenters. If that helps, Miguel.

      • I’m not meaning to call anybody out, but just to point out that in our culture we form and express our identities through our consumeristic choices. You can’t insult Emo without stepping on the toes of the scene kids. We get so wrapped up in our pop culture like that, and this aesthetic tribalism is just as strong in evangelical worship. But you don’t see music scholars debating the merits of Baroque over Neo-Romantic in a manner that becomes personal; both are appreciated for what they are and specialists in either are not insulted if you think high Classical is far superior. Fine artists are much more objective, imo.

        • Final Anonymous says:

          Well… okay. But I think people defending their worship preferences feel more is at stake than simply 10-30 minutes of listening pleasure once a week. For some people, at some points in their lives, the music at worship is the only connection to God they get each week.

          Is that ideal? Of course not. Should they be able to touch Him through the Eucharist, prayer, bible study? Absolutely. But our long, ups and downs lives don’t always accommodate the “shoulds” as we like.

          • Final Anon…Bingo. I think this touches upon why I’ve given some push-back to the premise of the original post. I may not like the song selection in church on Sunday, nor like the length of the singing, but what it other people ARE touched by those songs? It may not be MY ideal, but it may be furthering someone else’s relationship and encounter with God. And that would be a GOOD thing.

          • But I insist that we are not trampling the sacred to talk about why people are touched by the worship, or what exactly it is about it that impacts them in such a way. I just don’t understand how the kick drum connects me to God. I do understand how a song could encourage me to fear, love, and trust God more. Any worship that accomplishes this is on the right track, imo. My experience with the emotionally driven sequence CM describes is that it produces the opposite. I understand that many people believe to be receiving some form of spiritual blessing from those kind of services. Is it possible that they are mistaken, or is it rude to even suggest we consider this? I understand it’s a real colloquialism, but I just don’t see how the “worship set” can “further someone’s relationship and encounter with God.” I understand how it can make people feel that way, as I occasionally did, but it ultimately, in the end, wound up creating more frustration, doubt, and resentment for God in my life when he didn’t move to our prescribed formulas.

  27. Joseph (the original) says:

    well, i for one experienced a real worship transformation with the early Vineyard Music series & specific artists.

    David Ruis being the one of the most powerful for me. his Sweet Mercies CD the pinnacle of my own worship experience. however, such an endorsement has to be associated with a specific time or phase or event along my own personal spiritual journey…

    once i exited the hyper-Pentecostal/charismatic church expressions (regardless of denominational affiliation) i could sense my own displeasure with CCM & simply stopped listening to the radio stations that played such. I also weaned off the worship themed CD’s/artists once my focus was more on the reason’s why i was a Christian & what that meant to me personally vs. how i expressed this in a corporate setting with its associated traditions/expectations…

    i am no fan of the “Jesus-is-my-Boyfriend/BFF/Lover” themed worship songs & the discussions here have helped me identify why that is. but neither am i a great fan of old hymns feeling that they are actually any more or any less worship-ful than what i experienced in the late 90’s with Vineyard Music…

    i do like some of the older hymns rocked-out though. Ashely Cleveland does this. i am sure there are others…

    my worship is not tied to whether or not songs are sung in a corporate setting. in fact, the singing is helpful for settling into the dynamics of the service itself, but my mood & my personal tastes will not be swayed by the choice of worship songs/hymns as a matter of course…

    so, the worship wars regarding music styles less of an issue for me, but there are limits to my ability to tolerate something that becomes more distraction than invitation/attraction to worship. and there is a distinction to be made when considering ‘corporate’ worship vs. simply getting ‘lost’ individually in a worship experience where one is simply not aware of the others around them…

    hmmm…

  28. I’m one of those people who doesn’t sing along with the worship show. I think the comparison to a rock show helps explain this. One might sing along to a song you love when played live by the originating band, because you’re with a group of people who mutually love that band’s music, and you know the song by heart, because it has a connection with your life and experience. Even then, you might just close your eyes and silently take in the moment. The worship show is such an odd creature, because it has those elements of a rock show to be observed and experienced, but you’re also made to feel obligated to sing along with songs which you don’t know and have no common bond among strangers in the worshiptorium who also share no affinity for the music.

  29. The Bible has a U-shaped narrative: Eden, then the Fall, then the slow climb upward through the patriarchs and prophets, culimating in Christ. You’re describing an upside-down U shape. I wonder if the reversal is significant.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Isn’t Inversion or Reversal of the sacred characteristic of Diabolism and Black Magic?

  30. Wow, lots of people getting bent out of shape until Chaplain Mike had to clarify what he said/meant.

    I’d like to add my 2 cents.

    I don’t see anything wrong with the Five Phase Worship Pattern.

    A pattern is just a pattern is just a pattern.

    It can be _used_ for good or for evil.

    I think you may be seeing _sex_ where there is just good planning.

    E.g I was taught to use ACTS when praying
    Adoration
    Confession
    Thanksgiving
    Supplication

    It’s just a pattern.

    Why not attach the people who are abusing these patterns? Because it is abuse that is the problem not estatic worship.

    David worshipped with abandon. Does he need to go for abstinence education?

    The fact is that we are all different. We “worship” God differently. That’s why there’s so many diverse muscial styles of worship.

    Agree that if someone _uses_ a particular liturgy style to evoke an emotional high _for a bad purpose_ then it is wrong.

    But I don’t see how trying to connect to God in corporate worship is wrong. I don’t see the need to divorce the emotional element.

    If you want to have contemplative worship of God then you can do that whenever, but corporate worship is…well.. corporate in nature.

    I understand that some people may have been hurt or perhaps emotionally drained is a better term, by worship patterns that emphasize a spiritual high but I don’t see how emotional worship is inherently bad.

    I see it as a neutral thing, might not be for all. Might be abused. But that’s no reason to condemn it.

    • OK, as RC I don’t have a dog in this fight, so to speak, but I think this whole discussion can be summarized by noting that CCM is a big business now, and not all of the songs are sound theologically. Additionally, many large evangelical churches use said music in an attempt to manipulate emotions, often at the expense of depth of understanding and assisting the congregation in spiritaul growth. Some people ARE genuinely moved by some CCM songs, and they don’t like the crititism. Return to the top and repeat.

  31. Marcus Johnson says:

    Okay, CM, I understand that the purpose of this post was not intended to directly address the content of contemporary worship songs, but I’m not sure how we can have a discussion about the expectations which worshippers bring to a contemporary worship service without addressing the content of the songs which play a significant part in that “experience.” Most of these songs were written by people in churches that were heavily influenced by CCM music, to people in churches that were heavily influenced by CCM music. The pattern of a single song, or a set of songs, seems so inherently linked to the content of the songs themselves (especially in CCM-inspired worship services), that a discussion that tries to separate the two feels like trying to separate the egg from pancake batter. Hence the tendency of so many in this post to float back to discussing content.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Most of these songs were written by people in churches that were heavily influenced by CCM music, to people in churches that were heavily influenced by CCM music.

      So you get “replication fade”, where you get copies of copies of copies of copies of copies. Like “Elves, Dwarves, etc” in fantasy novels, where you get replication-faded imitations of imitations of imitations of imitations of Tolkien in a blender.

    • It seems odd to me to see so many people conflating CCM with modern worship music. To me, they are separate tracks that sometime overlap and interact (a lot of CCM artists have released “worship albums”, for example), but I consider CCM to be more interested in purely Christian entertainment. A lot of the people who wrote these songs did not start out with the goal of becoming Christian rock stars. They wrote music for their churches, and through various circumstances, the music took on a life of its own. But it you look at even the famous writers – Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Israel Houghton, David Crowder, etc. – they all started in local churches.

      When people use the term “CCM”, I think of the Christian entertainment industry that’s centered in Nashville and extends into radio stations like K-Love or whatever. Again, these stations play “worship music”, I’m sure. I just don’t think it’s necessarily correct to equate all modern worship music with CCM. I think doing so would actually sound strange to people who are worship leaders. For example, I know a good many people who will buy a lot of worship CDs from various groups, but they won’t necessarily buy CCM albums. Perhaps that one issue here. The two sides are kind of speaking different languages.

    • Of course content matters, but the post is about how the whole “rock concert” mentality has changed our definition and expectations of worship.

  32. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Furthermore, the main point of the piece is more about contemporary liturgy than it is about certain songs (though the music and songs often fit the liturgy well). It is about how worship leaders have developed strategies of leading people through certain patterns of emotional response using today’s music (and we could add, technologies).

    Like the “parasymp” organs the Heirarchy used for mind-control in Fritz Leiber’s Gather, Darkness.

  33. humanslug says:

    It would be hard to find a church service that does not contain some degree of emotional manipulation. The vocal patterns of a trained or gifted speaker, the architectural layout of the sanctuary, how the sanctuary is decorated, the smell of incense, icons and religious artwork — all these things can effect our emotions at a conscious or unconscious level.
    And, of course, music tends to connect directly with human emotion in a way that few things can.
    Combine music, visual stimuli, religious ideas and imagery, and an underlying sexual connotation — and you’ve got the recipe for some powerful manipulation and mind control. Toss in mind-altering drugs, and you’d have the full Manson Family formula.
    While I love music of all kinds, and I believe God treasures our emotional responses to Him — I do find the trend toward intentional emotional manipulation through controlled stimuli in many churches troubling. At the very least, I think leaders of such churches should pull back the curtain for their congregations every once in a while and fully inform them about what they do and why they do it.
    I have some close family members who are members of a church that practices emotional manipulation on a level I consider dangerous. Services start in near total darkness with members wailing and weeping in a way that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Then the lights come on very dimly, and the band starts to play softly — and the wailing begins to transition towards earnest, out-loud praying. Gradually, step by step, the lighting in the room and the tempo of the music increases, as does the congregation’s level of independent, vocalized worship. Things reach a frenzied pitch. Dancing and leaping breaks out. And then right at the emotional peak, the pastor hits the stage and starts a very lively, emotional sermon.
    Even trying to remain detached and objective, I could feel the power of this formula in my own almost involuntary emotional response. By the time the pastor started preaching, I was much more tuned to the pitch and inflection of his voice than the content of what he was preaching. With that kind of build-up, the man could have could have declared the divinity of peanut butter, and the congregation would have responded with deafening shouts and amens.
    When packaged as surrendering to the influence of the Holy Spirit, this kind of pressure to give yourself over to emotional abandon can be hard to resist. And so (I would guess) is the temptation to channel some of that high voltage worship toward your own person.

  34. John Michael Talbot’s Bride and the Beloved from years ago was an adaptation of Dark Night and Song of Solomon. It was definitely not “contemporary” but was…uh…ackward.

  35. The problem with CCM in worhsip is that it is indeed so very temporary and narrow-band. Each half-generation will prefer and demand the music of its narrow provincial identity, and this will separate it from the previous and following half-generations, until there is no music (across generations and preferences) for all God’s people to sing together, and the loss of an important discipline in the Christian life becomes well nigh irreversible. And then each sliver of church demography can simply tune into its satellite radio station of choice and worship with ear buds on. I grew up completely unfamiliar with traditional church music, and accepted it as a discipline undertaken to incorporate myself into the singing Body of Christ. Eventually I gave up my own narrow preferences and came to love the freedom of worshipfully singing with the church universal and all the cultures it embraces, including a little bit of CCM.

  36. First, I admit that my feelings about contemporary worship seem to have their basis in personal preference and personality, but I also can’t reconcile some of the practices or its fruit with Scripture-particularly the NT. I feel bad critiquing the good intentions of so many, but at the same time I can’t in good conscience blindly bless it all either. I am torn, particularly because most in my church and some significant others don’t feel the same way… but I remain troubled. Here are a few general concerns. (over-emotionalism being one of the lesser ones…)

    1. The amount of money spent to start and service the contemporary worship show – ie a sizable portion of mega-churchianity could not exist if it weren’t for the worship experience they put on each sunday
    2. The real meaning of worship seems to be fading (praising God with our lives: obedience, humility, love) – “worship” is now music, bands, lights, stages, hit singles…
    3. Instead of worship bubbling up because of an experience with God – now it is used to create or recreate an “experience” with God
    4. In my life’s journey I found that contemporary worship could not equip me or help me handle the hard times that came my way – it’s happy clappiness, platitudes and romanticism fell flat when faced with things like (depression, mis-chosen career that ended in firing, doubts, confusions etc)
    5. The anti-intellectualism: I discovered that one of the best ways for me to “connect” with Him was through the intellectual and that it was OK – that contrary to the charismatic/ecstatic pressures of my church experiences, intellectualism was an aspect of spirituality as important as anything else. For me this is where modern contemporary worship really faltered – it ran empty after awhile – it no longer offered anything intellectually stimulating – which for me always comes first (sometimes followed by more emotional things) For those who are opposite, contemporary worship may be exactly what you need – but the problem is some of us get left in the wilderness, especially if a particular church gathering provides and emphasizes only the contemporary…
    6. Contemporary worship distracts us/me from facing the skeletons in the modern american evangelical closet – I often wonder if God would rather have us spend most of our corporate gatherings weeping in humility and repentance and crying for mercy… at least for a good long season. When I look at the big picture and the brokenness of our world and in our churches (materialism, political power-seeking, 50% divorce rate, worship of gadgetry, hypocrisy, loneliness, greed) – it makes our times of trying to feel good seem kind of crass and obtuse…

    That’s it for now – feel free to question. blessings