Wednesday, November 10, 2010

church music

I've been thinking a lot about church music these days. I'm trained as a classical musician (my undergraduate degree) although "serious" music is rarely my first choice for listening. I'm much more interested and moved by "folk music" as defined as the music of the people. It amazes me how simple words and a simple melody and chord progression can effect a person... which brings me to music in the church.

A person I follow on Twitter tweeted a link the other day to an entry on Adam Young's blog with a recording of a song we do in worship sometimes written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend called In Christ Alone. I find the song moving (and I like his version). I love the melody. The chord changes are simple, but just work for me. It picks up a bit of a Celtic flavor, which always hooks me. But... there are bits of the theology that rub me the wrong way. Adam leaves out the second verse which, in the second half, says -
'Til on the cross as Jesus died
the wrath of God was satisfied.
For every sin on Him was laid;
here in the death of Christ I live.

I don't worry about the wrath of God. Indeed, I don't believe in the wrath of God, so when we sing it, we substitute "love" for "wrath" although it still has some implications regarding atonement that don't fit my theology. Likewise in the third verse, the last line makes me cringe a bit - "bought with the precious blood of Christ." Yep... we change "blood to "love" also. But the theory of the atonement implied still isn't mine. I understand the crucifixion in a very different way than is implied in these verses. And then the 4th verse, which is the last one in Adam's recording, seems to imply a bit of Calvinism... that God has marked out my destiny and nothing can move me from God's pre-ordained path. Again, this makes me cringe.

But I love the song. And the reality is that there are not that many congregational songs out there that have both good and deep theology. If you're looking for music that moves a person on top of the theology, the choices are many, many fewer.

Add to that - my experience tells me that people are more likely to get their theology from the songs they sing than from the sermons they hear (think about that the next time your kid listens to some gangster rap on his or her Ipod) even if they aren't really paying attention to what is being said/sung. So what do I do? Obviously, from the first sentence in my second paragraph, sometimes I choose songs with which I'm not entirely happy. Sometimes I change a word or two, here or there (in Amazing Grace, we change "wretch" (or worm) to "one.") Sometimes, I just let a beautiful melody catch my heart and take it where it wants to go, hoping that when we sit and talk about things, our theology will straighten things out and we'll enjoy the beauty and throw out the parts that don't fit.

How about you? Do you sing or play songs that, if you think about them, really don't measure up to your theology? to your experience of God? Do you lean towards getting the theology right or having music that causes your heart to soar? And how do those two pieces influence one another?


roy said...

just found a download link for the song if you're interested...

Michael Mahoney said...

I've often said I don't think the primary purpose of worship songs is to teach theology. For me, a release to a moment of emotional connection with God is just as, if not more important. I have less issue with "la-la's" and "whoa's" than some other worship leaders I know. (Maybe it's because I lean toward Pentecostalism.) :) On the other hand, if the theology is just wrong, I won't do it.

More curious to me, though, is your take on atonement. Personally, I don't think "the church" in general brings people to the foot of the cross enough. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say in the matter at some point.

roy said...

I agree Michael that the primary purpose of worship songs is not to teach theology. Still, I think people get most of their theology through their singing.

I'm not arguing we minimize the importance of the cross... my questions are what happens there and why? The theory of substitutionary atonement is not the only way to understand what happened and indeed has not been the prevalent idea in the church for most of its history. more to be said at another time...