We have seen in this series of articles that the Evangelical Church of today has fixated on sentimental, experiential, overly-romanticized worship songs, to the detriment of doctrinal and objective worship music. We have examined the historical and theological developments that has led to this imbalance in modern worship, tracing the rise of experiential emotionalism as the evidence of conversion, all tied to an escapist anti-Incarnational view which sees the spiritual and physical aspects of the world as being opposed to one another.
We’ve seen as well that the evangelistic techniques of the Second Great Awakening have largely displaced the Biblical Patterns of worship which aimed first at pleasing God, and secondarily at instructing and edifying believers, resulting in worship largely oriented around emotionally-manipulative experiential techniques, resulting in an impoverishment of content-oriented and objectively-grounded aspects of Evangelical worship experience.
This further had a deleterious effect on teaching in Sunday Schools, from the pulpits, even in seminaries, as the normativity of emotionalistic experience came to dominate Evangelical expectation and thought, resulting in theological expressions and sermons which deemphasized complex or unpopular doctrinal content (such as teaching about Hell, gender issues, maledictory prayer, etc.), all in the service of supposedly making the Gospel more attractive in evangelistic appeals and experiential worship.
In point of fact, this perspective and practice has promoted a version of Christianity which has not only deformed the worship of the Evangelical Church, but has also divested Evangelicals of a fully-orbed theology which allows them to be Biblically-informed in the full spectrum of human life, and has resulted in a presentation of the Faith which seems to non-believers to be only concerned with individualistic interior experience and eschatological escapism, with no solid answers for personal and societal problems, especially for the pressing social issues of the day.
Last article, we saw that, in an effort to capture attendants, Evangelicals had adopted a strategy of attempting to ape the hipness of contemporary music forms and expressions to seem more relevant. We also saw, though, that lack of resources, understanding, and talent generally led to inferior and substandard versions of those contemporary musical expressions (a fact which many Evangelicals are willing to overlook and even defend, driven by their desperate urge to make the Gospel “relevant,” or , hemmed in by their Pietism from listening to “secular” music, by relief at hearing anything musical which is not completely boring and restrictive or out-of-date, or by both motives…).
Such practices have, however, generally had the opposite effect sought by their practitioners, in that non-believing attendants to these practices have considered these musical products to be inferior propaganda pieces executed by those who had no real or deep connection with the cultural forms they are aping, and thus achieve the opposite effect intended, that is, they result in conclusions of even more irrelevance by the non-Christians at whom they’re aimed (and, in point of fact, even leave the Christians in these services, who are satisfied with the efforts, under the delusion that they ARE achieving their goal of relevance of musical Gospel presentation).
All this is not to say that contemporary musical forms and expressions should not be utilized in our worship today; in point of fact, they must be. How can I maintain this after what I’ve just maintained? Well, let us look for a moment at Revelation 5:9-10:
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy
to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You
were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your
blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and
Similarly, Revelation 7:9-10 says:
After these things I looked, and behold, a great
multitude which no one could number, of all
nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing
before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed
with white robes, with palm branches in their
hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the
throne, and to the Lamb!”
And Psalm 86:9 proclaims:
All nations whom You have made shall come and
worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your
These and other passages teach us that at some point in the future, all nations, tribes, peoples, and language groups will take part in the worship of God by the hosts of the Redeemed, so that, at time’s end, there will be involved in His worship every culture of the history of the earth. This reality means that all cultural expressions, including musical ones, will be brought into God’s worship at the Eschaton (as Isaiah 60 prophesied), and thus not only the most contemporary aspects of those various cultural musical expressions (all of which proceeded from the previous parts of the spectrum of the development of those expressions), but likely even at least some of those previous aspects of those musical expressions would be part of those worship expressions as well.
However, the concatenation of styles (or the fusion of those styles) in the post-Eschaton combined worship would, by virtue of their utilization, be a summation of the contemporary musical expressions of the time, even if mixed with aspects of older portions of those expressions.
But as the Kingdom of God expands across the nations and peoples of the world (1 Cor. 15:21-28), the cultures of those nations will progressively be brought under the cleansing and reorientation of Biblical influence, as the peoples are subjected to the Sanctification of the Saving Holy Spirit, and their musical expressions reclaimed for God’s Originally-intended Purposes, just as the languages of the world, confused in Judgment at Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), were reclaimed by the Spirit for their highest created purpose at His Outpouring on the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2).
We Christians are being transformed “from Glory to Glory” by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18) by being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16) according to the Image of our Creator (Col. 3:10), a fact which means that our present and future lives are being sanctified by being conformed to Christ our Model.
In related manner, our artifacts, expressions, institutions, and relationships (e.g., our culture) will be affected and (re)shaped by our continuing and (hopefully) intensifying sanctification, a phenomenon only accelerated as larger numbers of the members of a shared culture are converted and subjected to sanctification.
Since this is so, the continuing process of sanctification is ultimately aimed at the end of the historical progression of expressions, including musical expressions, making the contemporary edge of these expressions vitally important as they are shaped toward their highest purposes intended by God. This sets the stage for a discussion of the relationship of the contemporary to the past, especially as it relates to the music of worship, a subject we will, Lord willing, address in the next article.