Why Is So Much Praise Music Not Very Good?

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I’m thankful that I get to shape the “diet” of the kinds of songs my flock is singing on a regular basis, but I’m frustrated that so many of the newer songs that I am constantly searching to include in our repertoire are not worthy of it. So much of the offerings out there are perennially either theologically trite or weak or vague or unbiblical, OR they are musically difficult for our non-professional musicians to play or just plain unsingable by a congregation – especially by a congregation that includes older saints that have a hard time learning or keeping up with syncopated rhythms and songs with such varied melodies and rhythms. 

Let me be quick to disclose that I love praise and worship music. I grew up singing many good, helpful, worshipful songs. Some of them I still sing in my times of personal worship. Furthermore, I use plenty of praise songs in corporate worship. But I find myself using more and more theologically-rich hymns than I used to. Mainly because they just don’t write many songs like that anymore. There are some glorious exceptions to this like “In Christ Alone,” which we love and sing often. It has a fresh sound but it singable and, most importantly to me, it’s theologically rich! But I find that songs like this are hard to come by. 

I hate to say it but I find this to be true even with songs coming out of reformed circles, particularly when it comes to their singability. They are songs that a band can play and sing just find, and you’ll find yourself singing along with them in your car, but I find that trying to lead people to worship with them in a congregational setting is a real challenge! Why must everything these days be so difficult to sing corporately?

My church isn’t just a bunch of twenty-somethings who’ve never heard hymns and who have only ingested a diet of pop and rock music most of their lives and can therefore catch on quick. I’ve got precious saints who are open to the new songs with out complaint, but as their pastor, I love them too much to only give them what I know they will struggle with musically.  

I have to believe that there must be other worship leaders and pastors out there who think similarly. At least I hope so. Especially since similar observations show up in places not usually given to the discussion of church issues, like the American Spectator that ran an online article entitled Praise Music Flunks. In it Lawrence Henry writes, 

IT IS AN INTERESTING PARADOX. Churches devoted to rigorous, difficult theology — real Christianity, in short — have largely adopted praise music, mainly to get people in the doors. In doing so, they have denied their parishioners an intimate connection with the art, the music, the poetry, and the history of the faith of our fathers, embodied in hymns.                    

Which leads me to my last frustration with so much popular worship music today: Durability. How much of what we are teaching our congregations to learn and sing will they sing after they leave the service? How much of it is simple or memorable enough musically to possibly be remembered well enough to sing to oneself during the week?  

Further, too much of what is promoted just seems trendy and perishable. How many of these songs have the quality of durability? I can look back and think of a terrible many songs that either just got worn out from overuse or just faded away from use due to trendiness or theological weakness. There are only a scarce few songs from my youth that still remain with us today, and even then they are not used often. 

I pray for the Lord to raise up some new song and hymn writers that know God deeply, know theology thoroughly, and know how to write singable music that can stand the test of time. I’m thankful for the ones that are already helping the church worship well. 

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5 Responses to Why Is So Much Praise Music Not Very Good?

  1. […] The Thinklings Boundless Line Think Christian Scott Kay […]

  2. Scott,

    Besides “In Christ Alone”, authors Keith Getty & Stuart Townend have several other durable, and theologically rich songs, such as “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”, “The Power of the Cross”, “O Church Arise”, and others. This post discusses what I call the modern hymn movement which Getty and Townend have helped start. (It contains links to Getty’s website where you can find more of his work).

    Also, if you are unaware of Sovereign Grace Ministries and their music, you are missing out on the best praise music being written today. They sometimes revive old hymns, such as “Here Is Love” or “Before the Throne of God Above”, but more often they write outstanding contemporary music. This post of mine contains links to several of their songs.

    I understand your concerns. My church, Bethelehem Baptist Church (pastor John Piper), attempts to use only the best praise songs along with hymns for a balanced mixed worship style. We use the above sources most in our music.

    Incidentally, I discovered your blog from a comment somewhere else, and was interested to learn you grew up in Independent Fundamental Baptist circles. So did I, and now I’m a Reformed Baptist too. Hence the title of my blog, Fundamentally Reformed.

    Hope you don’t mind me responding to an old post of yours, but I thought if you didn’t know about these music sources I would be remiss in not directing you to them.

  3. Scott W. Kay says:

    Bob,

    Thank you so much for your comments on the blog! I appreciate the pointers to good music. In our church we have been using a few things from Getty, Townend, and SGM, but are still searching for more.

    I have actually gone to Bethlehem’s website numerous times to download the weekly order of worship. Since we are so likeminded with Piper and BBC, I have found it very helpful to see what you guys use, and I’ve been able to discover new songs that way – songs I knew would be good or BBC wouldn’t be using them. So, pass along my gratitude to your church for making resources like that available for guys like me.

    I’m also glad to hear about another Independent Baptist discover the doctrines of grace. Our stories must have many similarities. Praise the Lord for his deliverances!

  4. Thanks, Scot. My story, if you care to read it (it’s lengthy), is on my blog (there’s a link right under the title of my blog).

    Glad to hear you are using innovative means to find good music. You should also check out Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin’s blog! By the way, my favorite new worship song of late is “Marvelous Light“.

    I look forward to future interactions.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Bob Hayton

  5. loved Mr. Piper’s article on the magnificat. have written a book and dedicated a website to it. relates the utterences of the magnificat to th sacrametal system of the traditional 7 sacraments. am a catholic and wondered if some of the thoughts in my book and site might be reconciled to a degree with prtestant thought. i’m afraid the book is not light reading; nevertheless, was wondering if Mr. Piper migh take the trouble to check out the site, especially the book and comment on it. thanks. jim

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