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A Critique of Worship Music Criticism

(Lisa Robinson)

Over the past couple of weeks I have listened several times to the latest Newsboys work, God is Not Dead.  I confess, I really like this album.  It speaks of the supremacy of Christ and our receipt of His gift sourced in the love of the Father towards His creation.  It makes me think of God’s overarching redemptive plan told through all 66 books of the bible.  It reminds me of the promise of hope found in Christ and His eternal reign and rule.

However, I recently encountered some negative feedback about this work, and the Newsboys in general.   It was familiar criticism because the same words have left my lips in relation to CCM offerings – lacks substance, too simple, boring, not theologically sophisticated.   Basically, the gist of such criticism is that such music is not worthy of time or attention, with an indirect implication that God cannot be honored with such banal worship nor can the worshipper be enriched because of it.  This sentiment comes with the notion that only music packed with doctrinal significance and consistent theological articulation is pleasing to the Lord.

Admittedly, I have been rethinking how we consider Christian music, and “worship” music in general.  I have examining the fruit of such critiques.  For I too have responded to many songs with highly critical lens of doctrinal integrity (according to me of course) and comprehensive theology.   The motivation behind such criticism is the desire to see a song accurately reflect upon the character and work of the triune God and fill our souls with divine truth.  But now I am rethinking this type of criticism and its counter-productive characteristics.

Yes, I am coming to the understanding that nit-picking at music and especially music that encourages us to offer praise and thanksgiving to God and reflect on his greatness can actually discourage the praise we are commended to offer.  This motivates me to ask a few questions with regard to why we find it necessary to be over-critical of worship music, to the extent that it can appear to have no redeeming value.

The first question I have to ask is why we expect a song to deliver a concise theological treatise?  When I look through the pages of scripture, we are commended to extol God with gratitude, sing hymns in our heart, to Him and to each other.  We are not told that they should be rich in substance.   Read through the Psalms.  Sometimes it is just as simple as “praise Him”.

I am questioning how fruitful is to expect the song to organize our theology.   Perhaps a song does not necessarily need to do this.  Rather, we bring in theology to the song offering, even to the simplest of lyrics.   If we sing, God is good or Jesus saves, we should not criticize the song because it doesn’t tell us how exactly God is good or Jesus saves.   We should already have that articulated so when we sing simple lyrics the richness of what we already understand, motivates the worship of song to our great God.   This is a function of good teaching not good song writing.

Now, I do recognize that some songs have troubled lyrics that are inconsistent with the nature and self-revelation of God.  I think such inconsistencies deserve to be noted.  But that is different than criticizing a song because the lyrics or musical 1-4-5 arrangements are too simple.  To criticize a song that encourages the praise and worship of God, and especially one with no inconsistencies,  is to say that our musical and lyrical preferences supersedes our praise of God.

The second question I have to ask is how we consider such criticism might impact the worshipper who simply wants to praise God without dissection of how the song could be better.  Nate Claiborne offers some poignant sobering thoughts with How to Worship When You Think the Song Sucks. (I encourage you to read it – it’s good).  Specific to the impact of criticism, we writes;

How do I worship when I think the songs suck?” you might ask. Well first off, you don’t express that you think the songs suck to anyone else. You may ruin a genuine worshipful experience for them by your complaining. While they were perfectly fine worshipping to that particular song, your comments could forever taint it for them. You are certainly free to mentally critique the artistic and theological merits of the songs you sing each Sunday. But when you decide one or more are duds, don’t rain on everyone else’s parade.

When we ruin someone else’s worship experience, I do believe scripture would liken that to a stumbling block and something we are not to do or be with our family in Christ.  While I was not impacted by the negative reaction to the album I was enjoying, it made me realize that perhaps there are those with a higher level of sensitivity who might be impacted with such criticism.  This leads me to publically apologize if through my criticism, I have tainted a brother or sisters worship experience.  Please forgive me,  don’t mind me and carry on!

The last question I’d have to ask is if worship music criticism does not point to a deeper issue and that of being critical in general.  While I can’t speak for individual motives behind each rendering of criticism, I have found with my own self it stems from a prideful arrogance that somehow my standard should set the precedent for how we worship God.  Yes, I stated correctly – pride and arrogance.  Not only that, we can come off as people without hope who find no beauty in the simplest of creation.  We should not be this way.

So my critique is this – stop being so critical.  Worship God with music that honors Him with whatever lyrics are consistent with His character, from the simplest to the most compact.  Allow others to worship Him as well.  Don’t ruin someone else’s worship experience because you don’t think the song has value.  If it directs us to the Lord, that is all the value we truly need.

59 Responses to “A Critique of Worship Music Criticism”

  1. Content rich music can only discourage praise for those unaccustomed to content rich praise.

    And the Psalms hardly compare to the saccharine stuff that passes for CCM. Besides, CCm is simply modeld in a majority of cases on bad contemporary rock and roll. Why privlige rock and roll for worship?

    treating everyone as if they are below the age of 10 seems like an extremly short term strategy, to say the least.

  2. Somehow, the words “pride and arrogance” are ringing in my ears, intermingling with “sacccharine” and “below the age of 10.”

    Can you say “irony?” I knew you could!

  3. As always, Lisa, thoughtful and well done. I have to admit I said ‘ouch’ a couple of times because I have been a frequent critic of CCM. So I will bite my tongue, pray for an attitude adjustment and hopefully worship in spirit and in truth the next time we sing a 7-11 chorus!

  4. Good and balanced thoughts IMO.

    We have both extremes as it seems. On the one hand we have the ilk that will not be satisfied with anything less than a musical version of the Athanasian Creed (yeah, hyperbole is in order here) and on the other hand the mushy, sappy and all-things-me-and-mine Christianonarcisism that passes as “Christian” music. Pity some of them have great music drowned out by pathetic lyrics.

    So you’re right, the acceptability test should not be the complexity or simplicity of the lyrics but whether the song contains ideas, concepts or precepts that run contrary or are extraneous to biblical revelation.

    Some times it’s not the entire lyrics but a stupid line that spoils the whole song. My favourite example is from one of our most popular Australian exports Worthy is the Lamb. Very ‘singable’ song, great music, but I just can’t wrap my head around calling Jesus ‘darling’ (f-fwd to 1:37). I would never dare call it ‘effeminized’ of course :(

    (John)

  5. If it is Christ centered (what He has done, is doing, will yet do) and not ‘me’ centered then it is worthy.

    And if the beat isn’t so strong as for that message to overridden by the music itself…then I do believe it is worthy to be at a worship service.

    Nice post, Lisa!

    Thanks.

  6. I will admit a preference for content rich praise (my personal preference). But I have found many of the older songs as devoid of content as some of the newer one. In the end I am forced to agree with Lisa that we need to be careful of getting on our high horse and condemning songs that we do not like but minister to other people. But I think we often confuse musical styles with substance and that can be simplistic.

  7. Mike raises a good point, the old music we still sing has been filtered by time. Look at old hymnals, especially of the “gospel” or camp-meeting variety and you’ll find a ton of songs you’ve never heard of. Only a few stand the test of time and it will be the same with today’s music.

    Sometimes people reject because they just don’t “get it.” I hear derogatory references to “7-11 songs” – seven words and you sing them eleven times, but sometimes that’s where the power lies – in the repetition itself. It’s a form of meditation. But one must be open to it, reflecting on the words and not just being disgusted with what you don’t like.

    But I must say, there are some powerful songs out there, specifically based on the lyric. Some people consider it a kids song, but the combination of depth and sharp focus in “O Little Town of Bethlehem” can bring tears from just reading the words.

  8. “And the Psalms hardly compare to the saccharine stuff that passes for CCM.”
    I think the question should be not whether a particular type of praise is pleasing to us, but whether it is pleasing to God. I would think that God would be more interested in the sincerity and consistency to Biblical teaching than He would be the form.

    “Besides, CCm is simply modeld in a majority of cases on bad contemporary rock and roll. Why privlige rock and roll for worship?”
    Why “privilege” any form of music? What makes one form of music better for the purpose of worship better than any other?

    “treating everyone as if they are below the age of 10 seems like an extremly [sic] short term strategy, to say the least.”
    First show that this is “treating everyone as if they are below the age of 10″ and I might be a bit more willing to agree.

  9. I love music. But I believe that a worship song’s lyrics must not contradict basic Biblical truths. Am I proud and arrogant?

  10. Lisa –

    I must say – Beautiful!

    I am always astounded that the living creatures before the throne in Rev 4 simply sing 16 words, and they sing it day and night, repetitiously. Hmmm. God seems to accept such simple and repeatable worship coming from their lips. Don’t think some would approve of that scene in today’s world.

  11. Lisa,

    Quite a good point. I’m pretty mea culpa on this sort of thing. Even though I’m–you know–so easy going otherwise…. LOL.

    A few comments spring to mind:

    1. FWIW, I wish “worship” and “CCM” were held more distinct genres. Okay, a pretty worthless comment.

    2. I have to say, I am distracted by poor theology in songs, but if it isn’t toooo egregious, I do try to do as you suggest and flex with it.

    3. I’ve fairly recently (3 years) changed church bodies, the new one has similar music to the older one, but with doctinally tighter lyrics, okay, which is good. But dangit, the musical quality was significantly better in the older one. And sometimes tighter is too tight.

    4. Ha. And I have to confess, what reallyblows the worship experience for me is not just doctrinal flaws but other kinds of flaws. My favorite pet peeve is Daphne Rademaker’s Resting Place, which has a nice melody but theologically abominable lyrics. But the unforgiveable sin is a glaring grammatical error…

    But you knew I was weird… ;-)

  12. Interesting. It seems like this issue is spontaneously arising independently in a lot of places. Christian artist Michael Gungor recently posted his thoughts on related matters, and I did the same at my own blog just the other day. Both (imho) are worth checking out. :)

  13. Interesting that a few comments are raging against errant theology in songs. I did not get, from this post’s author, that we ought to tolerate errant theology; rather, that we ought to tolerate songs that don’t fill a volume of theological discourse. Both the tax collector beating his breast and the Apostle Paul writing Romans are righteous in the sight of God. Both offer acceptable worship.

    The point, as I take it, is that we ought to value truth about God supremely, but that we ought not to burden a song with the responsibility to articulate the entire truth.

    For what it’s worth, I prefer Scripturally-based songs that are full of truth (Matt Papa is my current favorite), but who am I to despise the praise of another worshipper, so long as it does not peddle falsity?

  14. Brian, thanks for that comment. You have concisely summarized my thesis. No, we should not tolerate errant theology in songs but the bulk of criticism I hear has nothing to do with inconsistent theology. I really liked how you put this,

    “Both the tax collector beating his breast and the Apostle Paul writing Romans are righteous in the sight of God. Both offer acceptable worship.”

    Indeed

  15. As someone who has been very critical of the music choices at my church in the past, I really enjoyed this post. While I still prefer songs that have depth over songs that are surface deep, I have developed a recognition that some of the songs I don’t enjoy singing are impacting those around me and they are able to praise God through them, which is something for which I praise God. I still have a problem with songs that have serious theological errors, but if it just isn’t “my thing” I have learned to let it go.

  16. I agree with the heart of this post, which roots back less to music than to heart motive of the critic. It is impossible to have an airtight systematic theology in 3 minutes or so. It’s also very easy to confuse metaphors, muddle thoughts and no matter what you do (as a writer) some will misunderstand. Our praise is highly imperfect, but demanded nonetheless.

    As a worship leader, I do have responsibility to be both gracious to those who would participate and to mind the fence to the congregation. Sometimes it’s a tough balancing act. You learn sometimes by the mistakes and you try to not repeat them.

    There are things I don’t allow or discourage for Sunday morning but promote in a concert setting (and they might not be what you would expect). There are also things which are more suited to a solo/group presentation than for congregational participation, but these are subjective and anything you allow/disallow, intent/reason has to be present.

    Being in the presence of God and leading a group of believers, praising Him is a wonderful, humbling thing and when I consider it- I realize that my skills and whatever else I supposedly bring to the table are totally inadequate and yet exactly what He wants. Amazing.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  17. I enjoy Contemporary Christian songs with a good tune even when they are low on Theology (unless they are off Biblically). I can like a song, but I don’t want to recommend to others people to listen regularly to people who may lead them astray. For instance, I actually found it offensive that David Crowder was mentioned in church once. I’d rather that the song had been sung without mentioning an artist that follows wrong teaching and has offensive things on the group’s site. I also find it hard to worship when a song repeats itself over and over and over and over and over and over (You get the picture). I realize that’s personal preference, but it’s hard to worship when something’s grating on my nerves. lol

  18. If the language of despair that the Psalmists sometimes used was penned in modern songs, how many would say they were theologically ambiguous? I’m thinking Psalm 44, 74, and 88. Granted, they often include the Psalmist’s corrected perspective (Psalm 10, 13, 43, 73, 77), and they were living in the shadows while we have the full light of Christ and the entire canon of Scripture. Though it’s hardly an excuse to be sloppy and careless in our theology, I agree that we need to reclaim the language of the Psalms, as Carl Trueman describes: “What can Miserable Christians Sing?”

  19. Darel Finkbeiner December 20, 2011 at 9:00 am

    We are harsh with CCM. I am harsh on performances, but I keep it to myself and try to participate as much as I can.

    There are a lot of “pop songs for Christians”, and I understand why people are critical, but there is a place for some of that. The harsh distinction comes when you come across a song so simple and powerful, yet simultaneously filled to the brim with meaning… suddenly you wonder why you wouldn’t sing those songs more instead of “Alleluia” whose entire lyrical content is “Alleluia” but instead you should be singing something like “One Day” which contains the entire gospel in a handful of words in the chorus.

    I don’t think it is too much to ask that we prefer the latter to the former, even when we tolerate the former.

    “Living He loved me, Dying He saved me, Buried He carried my sins far way. Rising He justified freely forever. One day He’s coming, O glorious Day!” (Preaching the gospel in a song doesn’t have to be complicated)

  20. Interesting thoughts. I think you have argued very well, but I wonder about the presupposition that worship is just a certain kind of personal experience (and thus can be ruined for a person if their perception of a song which they liked is tainted). Doesn’t that actually lead to worship being a basically self-centered process?

    If, on the other hand, worship is really not about us–why should the focus be our experience of the thing?

    There is a problem with over-criticism, though. Maybe it has to do with making our own petty preferences the standard for what is acceptable (much like what you have said). This is probably true in many cases.

    I really do believe that there is both good, needed criticism and destructive criticism going around on this issue. I really wish I had a better handle on how to draw the line between the two.

  21. I’m pretty accepting of most worship music, and I agree that we shouldn’t let our criticism get in the way of worshiping our Lord. Except for “Mary Did You Know”. That song just raises the hair on the back of my neck.

  22. Oh, preach on.

    There are days when I want deep, rich lyrics a la Wesley and there are times when my heart needs to hear them, ponder them, preach them.

    There are other days when I just want to sing “You are worthy” over and over – and when my weary heart needs to be reminded of that simple yet most profound truth.

    I believe that BOTH are sweet sounds to my Father’s ears, and a balm to my own heart and soul.

  23. I long for the days of hymns and traditional worship. I sincerely do not hold it against people who prefer more temporary and modern forms of music. I just don’t understand why every church out there has to change “with the times”. No one writes about the missing generation of elderly people from our churches do they?

    I suspect your comments “Allow others to worship Him as well. Don’t ruin someone else’s worship experience because you don’t think the song has value.” don’t apply to my feelings and that makes me sad.

  24. I appreciate the heart of this post. I find myself battling my pride when it comes to Christian pop music.

    However, I don’t think the answer is necessarily to stop being critical, especially when there is error.

    As a worship pastor I am constantly picking apart songs so that I can be sure that what I am ‘feeding’ my congregation is truly nourishing. One of the things I must take into consideration is that many of our people are listening to Christian pop every day of the week, and even 5 minutes before they walk through the door. For what it’s worth, I’m glad they are doing it, for many of the reasons offered in the post above. But it doesn’t take a theologian to see how shallow much of the theology in Christian pop really is, nor does it take anyone long to realize that much (not all) of the motivation (of the artists/record companies/radio exects/etc) is the bottom dollar. It is an ‘industry’ after all, whether we want to see it as that or not. It’s not criticism, just the facts.

    So with that understanding I must be serious when I select songs that we sing as a congregation. I see that the main diet of music of our people throughout the week has been dished out by an ‘industry’ where it is unprofitable to produce anything that ‘critics’ might deem as ‘depth’.

    There are many other elements that play into this, but essentially this is why we steer clear of ‘radio’ songs. I’m not against Christian pop in general. As an art form, as a genre, even as a business. I am against it becoming the main diet of Christians. Especially when its lack of theology begins to have a shaping effect.

    So I think criticism is necessary when it is valid, especially when the motivation is love for your neighbor. Sometimes when we ruin someone’s worship experience we might be actually helping that person turn from an idol. Perhaps their idol is ‘their genre’ and perhaps their idea of a ‘worship experience’ is emotional manipulation.

  25. Thank you for the post Lisa, you make a few solid points. As a worship songwriter myself, I’m always verifying scripture, and doctrine, tip-toeing around, making sure that I’m in line theologically, which I think is great, but it is also very taxing. There are a myriad of great examples of superb worship songs that are simple in structure both musically and lyrically. Take the song “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan for instance (ironically not intended to be a worship song), the simple chorus of “He Loves Us! Oh, how He loves us! Oh, how He Loves!” is just as impactful, and maybe more so, then a poetically vibrant lyric by more indie-style artists like Welcome Wagon or Sufjan Stevens. We get caught up in our own criticisms of what a worship song should sound like that we forget to worship ourselves. Such is the life of a self-proclaimed theological intellectual, but we need Jesus Christ to simply overpower us and bring us to our knees in reverent praise, regardless of reason or rhyme.

  26. I am someone who has been highly critical and negative toward CCM and worship music in the past and even now I still struggle with it. I do believe that a song doesn’t have to be theologically deep to be good. I’m okay with simple or theologically rich. What I cant stand is superficial or really bad theology. Worship should be serious and some songs just seem trite. I know this may be too subjective, but I think often times if one is discerning, one can tell the difference between simple and superficial. Simple is never bad as long as we are taking our worship seriously. Much CCM often seems to shallow and sentimental, and is therefore not consistent with the spirit of true Christianity.

  27. First mention rule of interpretation of scripture: First time word used, “flavors” all the other times. Multiplicity of times God not pleased with man’s worship. Jesus warned about that Mark 15:9. Man better question his worship of God. It is not what pleases man, but what pleases God. First mention of worship also first mention of love, sacrifice. Abraham with Isaac, Gen. 22:1-5. No music at all!! Second mention Heb. 11:21, Joseph dying blest his grandchildren – no music mentioned. First time music with worship was David moving ark. Are you prepared to say man did not worship for over 2,000 years. Oh, Uzzah died when they moved the ark. God was not pleased (granted issue was not music), but notice when they did it the 2nd time, different people played “than all Israel.”

  28. I suggest it is a matter of objectives. When the human entertainment out weighs the spiritual objectives then it is entertainment with spiritual anecdotes. When the elements of human entertainment are dominant and that which is spiritual are at best a peer or in service to the human entertainment and exists as spiritual anecdotes, it is just what it is, entertainment with spiritual anecdotes.

    When the spiritual expression is dominant, even in simple words and melodies and the music serves the spiritual expression, that is the elements of human entertainment become anecdotal in service to the spiritual, then it is spiritual or sacred music.

    I do not like the term “Christian music” because it is categorically ambiguous. Sacred/spiritual is one kind and entertainment music is another. Both are valid. This does not mean music for entertainment cannot have spiritual anecdotes that serve us, it can, but it should not be classified as sacred or spiritual music because that is not what its primary objective is, rather it is music for entertainment.

  29. “My worship music can beat up your worship music!”

  30. All these points are thought provoking. But we must keep in mind that there is a difference in personal worship and corporate worship. Corporate worship should consider others. We should teach them through the music,yet we need to meet them where they are. It’s a tricky balance that comes with knowing your people. But we must remember that corporate music must point us Godward and help us encourage others. It us very encouraging seeing a church member going through cancer or another hardship sing about the goodness of god. It is encouraging for both of us. Personally I don’t like CCM but I’m not going to say anything to anyone that Is encouraged by it through the week. I think this is where the post’s author has a lot to say to us. However we shouldn’t settle for it in corporate worship where most people can’t even sing the melodies. Its hard to encorage each other if we cant sing the songs. In any event i think a lot of times we focus too much on how i feel about worship music instead of thinking about glorifying God or even encourage others with it. The topic of worship is quickly becoming like politics or religion, stay away. And it’s because were letting our emotions get in the way. But we cannot stay away. We have to learn to think of others as more important than ourselves, keep in mind were they are, and as music leaders push them to maturity. Like i said its a hard balance that comes with maturity, wisdom, and most importantly a knowledge of our people. But that brings up another aspect of “ministry,” pastoral care. Even music leaders need to do this and that brings up an entirely new conversation. But all this is something to think about.

  31. Everytime I see these discussions, about CCM and “traditional” worship music there are no definitions. I mean it is called Christian music – but is it? I believe before one note or lyric is put on paper there is Biblical definition of Christian music (and Satan is a musical being – Ezek 28:13-16). i.e. there are cases of counterfeit worship music – Exodus 32:1-6). A Biblical definition of Christian music:
    1. The singer has to be a Christian (Prov 21:4, 21:7) the unsaved cannot please God

    2. The performance has to be Christlike (Can you imagine Christ doing what some singers do?) and point us to Christ (Romans 12:2, 1 John 2:15 II Cor. 5:17, Titus 2:12).

    3. The words have to be Biblical (nobody seems to want to argue that, but songs that are not Biblical keep coming up as “favourites”) Colossians 3:16 (songs teach and admonish), Phil. 4:8, II Tim 3:16-17

    4. The music has to holy – set apart for the worship of God. In the Old Testament, the clothes the priest wore, especially the high priest, was for the temple. The incense was to be used only in the temple, to use it at home was forbidden. The oil for the lamp stands again was to be used soley in the worship of God. God, over and over again refers to Himself as Holy. That one characteristic of God is used many times (Psalms 99:3, Psalms 99:5, Psalms 99:9, Psalms 103:1, Psalms 105:3, Isaiah 6:3 etc. Many, many verses ). I.e. just listening to it, it is music that is for the worship of God – and Him alone.

    CCM music is a confusion of music, you can’t tell if it is contemporary song or “Christian”.

    In case anyone is not old enough to remember, 50 years ago you could go down the dial of a radio and say, that is jazz, that is rock and roll, that is classical, and that is Christian. Today you can’t tell!

  32. Once I could no longer tell the difference between secular music and Christian music (either by lyrics, etc), I stopped listening. Some worship songs these days are okay, other times (sadly) I would just soon to come in late and just hear the sermon. I know I’m not the only one in the 40 and up age group that is often tired of the “Get Jiggy with Jesus” music. Some chuches have went to 2 services: traditional and comtemp. music. I think it is fine to have a blend to make all groups happy, but seems that is rarely the case. So….most of these new groups I have no clue who they are. Thank God for YouTube. I can look up older artists and be blessed that way.

  33. I couldn’t disagree more with this blog. We judge our lives by a standard, we judge our teaching by a standard, why shouldn’t we judge our art/artists as well. When we as Christians settle on “good enough”, we say to the world and each other, “this is who god is.” We should be jealous for the glory of god, and our art should strive to portray the vastness of Abba’s glory to the world. I think the problem with 90% of artists out there is their lack of revelation. By that I mean personal real tangible evidence of gods glory in their life. They create a product but it has no urgency truth or substance, because it comes from nothing. Art whether its music, poetry, painting photography…whatever, must come from honesty and conviction, and when we choose to ignore conviction, and settle on “good enough”, we stop the release of gods glory through our lives. Aren’t we supposed to be moving from glory to glory? Instead we’ve decided that what we have is plenty. I’m sure the enemy likes that as well.

  34. Michael,

    Your response seems harsh and unreasonable to me. How can we judge the motive of artists hearts with respect to God’s glory in their life? Your overly critical comments are exactly what I’m refuting. The point of the posts is that God deserves the glory through our worship to Him. However that might come about should be good enough rather than criticized. Otherwise, we put the music and other art forms above the worship of God and I do believe scripture would liken that to idolatry.

  35. I think there is an underlying misconception in this and the linked posts that needs correction: not disturbing another’s worship experience. Is worship so personal as to be unassailable? This seems more postmodern than scriptural. The people might be emoting, but true worship is rational as well. There is thought as well as feeling.

    God is to be worshiped in spirit and truth, so there must be a proper understanding of the Spirit that moves in worship, the truth of which God we are worshiping, and why we are worshiping him. Most contemporary P&W material I’ve heard fails to meet the “spirit and truth” test. For instance, Chris Tomlin, “Our God,” has nothing in it that precludes a Muslim, Wiccan, or Jew from singing it because references to God are so generic. And Paul Baloche’s “Just to Be with You,” has more in common with Toby Keith’s “I Wanna Talk About Me” than any biblical themes.

    Positive and negative criticism according to God’s word are both needed.

  36. Lisa,
    I don’t understand. I can see where some people come through as harsh and unreasonable. But it doesn’t seem Michael was all that harsh. Do you think God is harsh?

    Lisa what is your take on:
    1. God himself brought judgment (on how to worship)
    Lev. 10:1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. 2 And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace.

    2. Again God himself brought judgment (on how to worship)
    II Chron. 26:16 But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense. 17 And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men: 18 And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God. 19 Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar.

    3. Again God himself brought judgment: (on how to worship)
    II Sam 6:6 And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. 7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.

    Don’t give me some answer about God did the judging, Moses is involved in #1, David’s mistake in how to move the ark is involved in #2, and the priests are involved in #3.

    Moses is definitely involved in #4
    4. God judged people for their worship
    Ex. 32:5 And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To morrow is a feast to the LORD

    17 And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.
    18 And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.
    (what kind of music were they playing? – not a definite sound, but people could dance to it!?)

    He is angry and hostile to their worship
    19 And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. 20 And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.

    Declares, put on your sword
    25 And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:) 26 Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. 27 And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour. 28 And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

    It becomes obvious that even though Aaron declared a feast day unto the Lord, it was not. Just because a religious person calls it a “Christian song” doesn’t mean it is.

    Are we not to make “judgment calls” on what is true worship? The Jews were only allowed to worship and make sacrifices in the Tabernacle/Temple. There was to be clarity of what was worship (acceptable) and what was not. Gentiles at that time were not allowed in the temple.

    #5. Jesus warned of vain worship (how do we discern vain worship – as Michael says “I think the problem with 90% of artists out there is their lack of revelation. By that I mean personal real tangible evidence of gods glory in their life.”
    Matthew 15:7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
    9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

    Your statement of “However that might come about should be good enough rather than criticized.” Completely undercuts all of the scripture quoted above. God didn’t say how you worshiped was unimportant, as long as you were sincere. All of the above were sincere – sincerely wrong. Cain’s offering and Able’s offering are also a contrast as to what God expects.

    Obedience to known Biblical principles is what God wants. To get that, means we have to discern right/wrong, and attitude. To do that, we need the Bible and go with what saith the Lord. If you check my previous post on your blog I defined Christian music. Maybe we need a definition of worship. Check my first post on your blog. It didn’t involve music for thousands of years.

    Awaiting an answer.

    In Christ, and Him alone,
    Alan Berry

  37. I didn’t mean to be harsh, but I did mean to make a point. We should always critique the fruit of someone’s life. I said nothing of their intention. If you intend to make bread but forget baking soda you get crackers, not bread. If your child draws a circle and calls it a triangle, will you not correct them. Same with the lyrics and the songs we sing. If its bad art it should be called bad art. If the lyrics are unbiblical they should be corrected. This is the problem of mixing art and spiritual activities; art is objective, our perception is objective, but we definitely are required to discuss and come to a consensus on what is good and what is not.

  38. Michael,

    Sorry for the delayed response. No doubt we should be able to evaluate the products of culture, even within the Christian sub-culture. We should be able to discern in reconciliation with the witness of scripture what is in alignment with Him and what is profitable. My point is that we can become excessively stringent upon this requirement and even add our own layers to it, such that what can be a legitimate fruitful product gets destroyed. If a song points to the glory of God and is consistent with His self-revelation, if there is truth in it no matter how simple, why do we feel the need to criticize it? That is all I’m getting at. Rather, we should encourage worship of our great God not put a damper on it.

  39. Alan,

    Sorry but I think you entirely missed the point of my post. I’m not sure where I encouraged “vain” or otherwise illegitimate worship nor indicated that we should not be discerning.

  40. I think that there is a problem with a diet of 100 percent worship songs. Every week I get a ‘song of the week’ sent through to my email from Kingsway music and every week I despair at the poor sloppy lyrics. I now find that I simply can’t properly articulate my faith through these songs. Andy I don’t believe in the romantic declarations of deathless love (from me to God) any more than I believe in them in a pop song (baby I will never leave you) I know that I won’t always feel this way, and that my relationship with Christ goes beyond my current emotion. That is why I do love the words of Psalms and also the more thoughtful and articulate contributions of hymnwriters both ancient and modern. I love J. Bells hymns for example. I know that there is a place for worship songs, but there is also a place for more thoughtful and challenging material. It’s not so much that most worship songs are theologically light, it’s that they nearly all say exactly the same thing.

  41. I agree. Mom always said don’t knock it until you rock it, so I did. I have done a creative exercise in my spare bedroom, its an alternative worship project , check it out and leave some comments, michaelvincentbush.com

  42. William Orris March 3, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    Why is it that much of the contemporary praise music has its focus on me and what I do as opposed to God and what he provides? Why have thrown overboard the concept of being washed in the blood, or the encouragement to stay near the cross, or the value of an hour of prayer, or the admonition to ask God to lift us up and help us stand on heavens table land?
    Much of today’s contemporary Christian Worship music omits or avoids naming the name of Jesus, omits the cross and minimally speaks of the blood, all directly tied to our salvation and what God has provided.
    I find it interesting that many who are quick to point out the mindless singing of the old gospel songs and have abandoned them in favor of this new style have done so with such abandonment as to convey that now we are now somehow above that, completely ignoring the mindless repetition of three words or phrases sung twelve times in what has been substituted as worship music.

  43. Is there a site where secularists or humanists go to criticise their own music. Do the Satanists spend quite as much time arguing over chord structures and lyrical content? Yet they seem to be winning the battle for our generations’ hearts and minds (which means their souls will follow). Moaning, complaining and whining has become the stink that chases seekers from your hallowed halls. Not the lyrical content, not the volume of the music, not the preaching but the insidious undermining of the Church (worship team, sound team, leader) by the congregation over their post service cup of coffee. They hear it. They note it. They act on it. Publically denigrating Christian entertainment (CCM) and our P&W simply chases the seekers to find more harmonious (no pun intended) spiritual solace. If you are unhappy with the sound, preaching or music at the church you are at there are only a few real options worth exploring; get involved in fixing the problem (if you are not welcomed or are resisted, there is a message in that for you), leave (you are not beholden to remain where you are, I am certain God will help you find a church where He is glorified rather than have you subjected to theology that is corrupting your soul..) or finally deal with it in love, with patience and find your way to worship God in all circumstances. If you dont like a CCM artist or their message, dont buy their album.

    • And how does your comment (the first one you ever posted) not violate the spirit of your comment worse than the post itself? There are thousands of blog posts on this site and only one that critiques Christian music. I don’t think there is too much to be alarmed about here.

  44. Some good points in the article, and useful qualifications. I think the term, worship experience, interesting. Of course the main thing is us being worship 24/7, rather than doing worship, or enjoying worship. Living sacrifices.
    Another site that has raised interest on this theme, is http://lestyouforget.wordpress.com/2008/04/11/bad-worship-songs/#comment-398 .

  45. The music program at my church has gotten to the point where my husband and I dread coming to services – it’s 65% of the service and extremely repetitive. Most songs sound like they could be secular love songs if not worse. And yes, I seriously question the biblical basis of some of the songs we hear. We love our church, church family, and the message our pastor brings, but the music kills the experience. We often leave feeling drained and depressed. So what exactly are we supposed to do? Arrive late every Sunday? We should be able to speak to leadership about how we feel on the subject. The idea of just “shutting up” is not exactly wise either. I understand not complaining to everyone, but don’t you think the leadership should know?

    • Yes, of course you should complain, you won’t be the only ones and in the end if nothing changes you’ll leave and probably become like so many of us post-congregational believers for whom church is simply depressing and mind numbing. The idea that you shouldn’t crit church music is crass. Every other art form gets criticised. Just read the way that contemporary classical music gets torn apart in the press as well as pop music culture. And anyway, pop has it’s own critical measure in the shape of sales. By contrast worship bands think everyone loves this kind of sub radio 2 bland stuff, because no one tells them otherwise. Just let these worship song composers tweak their lyrics into the saccharine love songs they really are, e.g. from ‘Jesus I love you,’ to ‘Baby I love you,’ try them out on the record buying public and you’d soon get a real critical measure of artistic creativity.

  46. The topic you have chosen is one that is laced with a lot of emotion, probably for you and definitely for me. Here’s why, I have a hard time squaring how “rock” music (News Boys music genre) which is somehow perceived to lead us into a deeper spiritual relationship. At the basic core, rock music came out of generations ago who were rebellious, into drugs and didn’t live lifestyles that were God honoring and sang songs that had nothing to do with God. So today the reason the “Christian Rock Bands” are so prevalent is because of the money, the thrill of having a concert and selling CD’s, and Christians have bought into it. If you act like the world, live like the world, adapt the same values of the world then the line of godly spiritual and Biblical values becomes blurred. Many folks today have a hard time differentiating between the carnal and spiritual, between the secular and the sacred. Why, because they allow their emotions to drive their thought processes rather than their thought processes being guided by the Word of God.

  47. In the end, criticism of any kind of Christian music can have only two criteria,
    1 the quality of the words and
    2, the quality of the music.
    There are no specific holy and unholy styles. If you’re looking for musical styles that do not have examples of immoral or humanistic progenitors then forget the 19th and 20th centuries. So don’t knock rock ‘n’ roll because some rock stars also went in for sex and drugs.
    However, rock/pop is by nature individualistic. It really is all about me, and that’s why you’ll find few pop style contemporary worship songs with in depth content and corporate focus. In the same way, pop love songs don’t really explore the complexities of living in a relationship with another person. They just glide over the surface emotion (there are exceptions)
    For me as a composer, the musical shortcomings of worship pop are a) the predictability (any song that you can instantly join in with on first hearing cannot have musical worth) and b) the soloistic nature of the writing. Little or no account is taken of the average range of the human voice or the ability of most congregation members to sing like a pop star. The pitch is often too high and the ornamentation too great. Of course the soloistic nature is a direct result of the individualistic nature of the material and the personal pronoun nature of the lyrics. The great hymns from the 3rd century up to the present day do try to articulate the mystery of the gospel, and that, I would argue, should still be the aim for those entering the world of worship composition. By all means write personal love songs to Jesus using cliched pop chord sequences, but please keep them to your private devotions. As for the psalms, yes a few psalms do basically say ‘Praise the Lord’ in a number of ways, but the structure of the parallelism and simile etc has a certain primitive creativity. But the vast majority of psalms are much more gutsy. When you feel alone and your faith is at rock bottom it can be so comforting to read or sing ‘My God, why have you forsaken me; why are you so far from me?’ Most worship pop gets nowhere near this. This is pretty typical – sent to me as a ‘song of the week’

    Back to our first love, nothing between us
    Back to Your heart, to the start of it all
    Where we found You
    Out of the ashes, into the fire
    You are refining our hearts in the flames
    Of Your presence

    Consider by contrast this lyric, written for a funeral.

    In this death, I do not ask to forfeit pain,
    But to gain the strength to love through loss
    and cross the bridge of waiting.

    These words from the Iona tradition have feeling beyond sentiment, poetic beauty and reality. It is OK to criticise music for worship just as it’s OK (even good) to criticise all art. If we don’t there really is no resistance agains the bland sub radio 2 offerings that threaten to swamp those of us who still grit our teeth and try to attend church.

  48. Andrew
    God bless you for your post and insights. The accuracy and conciseness of your thoughts are indeed a breath of fresh air.

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