Staying home from church with Thomas this morning to avoid spreading the croup, I heard this interesting story on NPR’s weekend edition about the Southern Baptist Conference updating its hymnal with hundreds of contemporary praise songs written by famous recording artists like Michael W. Smith and Matt Redman.
Behind the scenes here at This Pile I’ve been thinking and writing about community, mission, and cultural relevance, so I found this story very timely to that train of thought. The SBC stipulates that including contemporary music in their hymnals will make them more relevant to young people, and will help draw new people into church.
But certain old-timers disagree.
An elderly woman interviewed – an arthritic piano player in a small church whose favorite hymn is The Old Rugged Cross – expresses her frustration with the watered down nature of most praise music, feeling that it doesn’t really say anything. She says the newer songs sing “praise the Lord, praise the Lord, praise the Lord” over and over again, but she prefers the tried and true hymns because they tell a story.
T.W. Hunt, retired pastor and a member of the committee charged with approving new songs into the hymnal, agrees. He believes the contemporary worship songs don’t necessarily contradict good theology, they just don’t say much of anything at all. “I love the old hymns, because I think they are very good on theology. ‘My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…’ That’s pretty good theology.”
It appears that cultural relevance is being pitted against good story telling and strong theology. So I wonder myself, is today’s church raising up shallow Christians as a result of creating a more appealing church experience? I worry that American pastors and worship leaders place the fear of man before the fear of God by catering to what they think people want to hear. Sure, more people will likely enter the doors of a church if their current world views are not too harshly challenged, but is the goal to fill churches with bodies or to fill churches with Christ followers?
I thought it was a very interesting and balanced story about the debate in the church today over how to reach new generations with the Gospel. I personally think there is value in being relevant to the culture, but not at the cost of diminishing the power of story and good theology. As more contemporary churches write new music, I would hope they would retain a solid theology and steer clear of emotional repetition and swelling music.
Sadly, I don’t think this is always the case.