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September 04, 2014



I agree singing the psalms and hymns is so important. What easier way to make scripture a part of who you are from the inside out. However if you listen to the words of many (not all) contemporary songs you soon realise that many of them are also scripture including the psalms written in modern or contemporary language. Many of the old hymns were actually written to the tune of bar songs of the day. Tunes that people would recognize and could easily sing along with. I'm sure that the older "religious" folk of the day were horrified and yet here we are many many years later referring to them as the good old hymns of yesteryear. Maturity and reverence comes from spending time in Gods presence not listening to or singing a particular style of music



This is just a fragment of thought on this much larger subject. The idea that hymns were written on top of bar tunes (the typical variation is Martin Luther did this) isn't actually true. Some used popular folk tunes but then gain, most hymns (remember there are thousands of them) aren't that good.

I'm not writing this stuff in some sort of high cultural vacuum, I'm writing it as a pastor. My wife and I started out in the contemporary church and moved out of those circles. We spent the last 12 years planning and executing a church plant that is liturgical and mature and at the end of this journey, in a post-Christian time and place, you can't do any better than hymns, Psalms, and Canticles and you can't do worse than the effeminate and fragmentory pap that's used for worship music today.


BTW who are these older religious folk today who would be disturbed by these groovy new tunes? I grew up on the Clash and the Cure so these new praise tunes are about as edgy as Simon & Garfunkle.

Colin Rowley

I get the Psalms, but the hymns? Why do we pretend the hymns are somehow untouchable? Out of the 700+ hymns in the Trinity hymnal, only 50 or so stand the test of time. Some of those hymns in there have flaky theology. Can it not stand to reason that this culture also has the potential to write great songs that will also stand the test of time (e.g. 10,000 Reasons, Jesus, Son of God, etc)? Why is there an assumption that this generation can't write a biblically accurate, God-honoring, singable tune?

I think we forget that some of the praise music in our churches today has been written with the purpose to be missional to a generation that has never set foot in a church. Can we praise them for their efforts to reach people with the truths of the gospel without ridicule? After all, those that wrote hymns 50+ years ago were no different then saints today - they were broken individuals who wrote music to the praise and honor of our savior, Jesus. Let's don't put them on a pedestal as I'm sure they wouldn't want that either.



Here's the problem: (a) praise music generally is childish in content and structure, (b) praise music leaves huge holes in our spiritual experience that the older hymns dealt with like death, the Trinity, and judgment, (c) praise music in mono-tonal (there are no parts) and lend themselves to singing for women. I'm a bass so I always have to sing praise music in low, small tones.

The missional, generational stuff I think is, generally, untrue. In a country where over 70% of the population still claims the Christian faith, where most people who show up at your church have received triune baptism, I think it's a fiction to act like we're in First Century Corinth. We live in country filled with really bad Christians not non-Christians and the church facilitates this. Why not grow the church up instead of always assuming everyone is and needs to be a Christian infant forever?

Were the saints different 50+ years ago? Well, yes. They were adults and wrote music for adults. They came to church acting and looking like adults and lived their lives like adults while growing their children into adults. Today our churches are filled with overgrown teenagers - we even have temper-tantrum teenage pastors like Mark Driscoll leading us in our rocking praise chorus-filled services!

Look, the deal is this, we're actually doing what I write about above. This isn't pie in the sky hypothetical stuff. Our church and our denomination is the missional counter-culture.

One last thing, you mention how great "10,000 Reasons" is...are you kidding me? Compare the lyrics from "10,000 Reasons" to "O' God of Earth and Altar", there's no comparison...at all:

Colin Rowley

I'd highly recommend you read "The Present Future" by Reggie McNeal. You might be surprised to find out the mission field that exists in America's youth. It's not at all the way you say it is. I'm not saying we need to dumb down our content, but change the medium by which it is delivered. Hymns led by an organ and sung out of a hymn book have no relevance to today's youth. Where else is that done in the real world so that they can relate to it?!?! We need to take biblical content to them through mediums they use and understand, otherwise we have created barriers of entry so large they won't relate and get frustrated.

I agree that there is a host of contemporary music that has no real content. However, I've seen the trend change in the last 5-10 years. There has been a resurgence of new songs written to new tunes (or arrangements) - much of them using old hymn content (eg Indelible Grace, Jadon Lavik, Red Mountain Church, etc).

Also, while I sympathize with music that is 4-part (I'm a choir geek), the youth and millennials have little to no musical training (ie Public schools have been cutting their music programs across this country for the last 10-20 years), thus a song written on paper with black notes means nothing to them. Instead, they learn through audible memory.

Let me give you a real example from the church where I attend. A friend of mine recently led his car mechanic to Christ. This man, in his 30s, has never set foot in a church. He showed up to our church the next Sunday excited to get plugged in, but there were a host of barriers that kept him from staying. He complained he felt like an alien since everyone was dressed up (and he didn't own a suit). He also saw giant organ pipes and hymnals and had no idea how to fit into this new culture. After a couple weeks, he decided to go church shopping for a place where he didn't feel out of place. Now, let me ask you, how was our church being missional to him? Our church, like many others, has failed to change as the culture has changed around us. We faithfully preach the entire counsel of God from pre-K on up. However, we've catered to the saints here rather than the culture we live and want to reach with the love of Christ. Now, when the saints are doing what we have equipped them to do, the church becomes a barrier itself rather than a welcoming place for sinners and new believers.

Reggie McNeal says it this way, "I am amazed at how many congregations will cheer denominationally produced videos of foreign mission efforts that include contextualized worship experiences (native dance, native instruments) but, when the lights come on, rant against the same strategy in their clubhouse."

Garrett Craw

Hi Colin,

Forgive my brusqueness (I’m a former Marine).

Another book! There are a bazillion books on church-planting and they all essentially say the same things. I’m actually beginning the process of writing a book on liturgical church-planting and as you can guess, I’m swimming against the tide.

As far as traditional music having no relevance, I totally disagree. I’m a church-planter in Los Angeles. The modern church has just about ruined everything its touched out here from liturgy, to Christian education, to the family. In reality, a church like ours is what rose up out of the morass of the last 50 years that is modern evangelicalism. Nobody sings hymns out here anymore and real trail-blazers don’t care what the crowd thinks is relevant. In the words of Steve Jobs, “People don’t know what they want until you show them.” We’re showing them.

I’m in Los Angeles, California of all places and I rarely run into anyone who doesn’t have some prior experience with the Christian faith. We find what we want and we constantly re-baptize those who should be discipled instead.

To deal with your final thoughts in an omnibus way let me say that major flaw in this sort of thinking (and it has been a disaster) is you have no place for Christians, particularly Christian children, to fit in and grow. There’s tons of emphasis on being “missional” and “authentic” but at the end of the day it means being shallow and spending all your time trying to be seeker-sensitive. We’re frankly not interested in that. The church is for the church and we are “finder sensitive.” We’re inviting the world to come join our army and our feast (we celebrate the Eucharist weekly with real wine) and they come and join us, not the other way around.

So, how about all those people who aren’t choir geeks (I’m not and am a sight reader)? All those ignorant fools we couldn’t possibly teach to press through this huge barrier of learning to sing. Well, that was us. None of us could sing for beans eight years ago. It took work. We had singing school (BTW that’s what they did in the old days). Singing schools where we sing Psalms and hymns and drink oatmeal stout in between. And the people keep coming and the kids keep growing. They worship with us and don’t roll their eyes at the Woodstock-era sounding grooves nor do they get dismissed in the middle of the service to go to the teenybop service over in the youth shed on the edge of the parking lot.

So, as far as what’s in the new book...it sounds exactly like what was in the old book. Been there, done that, aint doing that again.


Psalms and hymns are great in the church. Traditional artwork and design can also supplement that. You can find biblical artwork and designs at http://www.sermonview.com/Church-Banners/. It's a great resource for getting artwork for banners that aren't so modern looking and remind you of The Bible.

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