More on contemporary Christian worship music

At my last church, one of my fellow elders liked to introduce hymns with the back-story of those who had written them. You may be familiar with some of them.

For example, he spoke of Horatio Spafford, the American lawyer and church elder who wrote It is well with my soul after losing his investments in the Great Fire of Chicago, and his four daughters in a shipwreck crossing the Atlantic just a few years later. Spafford later settled in Jerusalem in a Christian philanthropic community, and (little known factoid) it was his adopted son, Jacob Eliahu, who discovered Hezekiah’s Siloam tunnel inscription.

Then there is William Cowper, the poet who battled severe lifelong psychotic depression, but contributed to John Newton’s Olney Hymns with offerings like God moves in a mysterious way.

Ye Holy Angels Bright was mainly written by the great Puritan preacher and writer Richard Baxter, and captures his focus on the cosmic worship of God by the angels in heaven, the toiling church on earth, the souls at rest in Jesus – and by the individual soul.

My friend would recount the way that Charles Wesley shared the Methodist mission of his brother John, essentially setting the gospel he preached to music in hymns like Jesus, lover of my soul (which, you may be surprised to learn, is rock keyboardist Rick Wakeman’s favourite hymn, when sung with all the gravitas of its traditional tune Aberystwyth).

Fanny Crosby, the blind Baptist New York city missionary, wrote To God be the glory and many other well-known hymns in her long life in Christ.

And one of my all time favourites, All creatures of our God and King (the first hymn I ever heard, at my brother’s primary school) can be traced back directly to Francis of Assisi, about whose saintly career I need say nothing.

All of these held their treasure in jars of clay, but lived lives indicative of true disciples of Jesus Christ to the end.

I was thinking about this in connection with the latest story I came across about another celebrated and Spirit-filled worship leader publicly abandoning the Christian faith. It’s just the latest of a steady trickle, sad to say. I can just imagine some future descendant of my hymn-biographer friend sharing their stories with a congregation – a little fantastical, perhaps, as the average life of a contemporary worship song is just four years, rather than a few centuries. But how different such an account would be!

“This next song was written by someone who subsequently abandoned the faith because he found contradictions in the Bible and the miracles touted by his megachurch employers turned out to be fake.”

“This song probably hints at the sexual and emotional abuse the writer was suffering secretly at the hands of one of the most famous youth evangelists of the time.”

“After this great song about the unchanging God was written, the author came out as gay.”

“In the years this song was becoming popular, the writer and singer was actually deconstructing his faith and concluding that the Bible is just a human attempt at truth, to be taken with a pinch of salt.”

“Don’t let the long and abusive affair this writer had with a famous female worship leader blind you to the truly inspired character of the songs they both wrote.”

See what I mean?

Now, I’m not seeking to get at the individuals involved in these stories, or to downplay their genuine struggles with faith (which is why I’ve not named any of them). But there has to be something very badly wrong in the State of Denmark for things to have deteriorated so much, and it’s not Christ and his gospel, “the same yesterday, today and forever.” However, as several of my recent posts have tried to lay out, it is very likely to be a theology that misunderstands that gospel, and so has led to unhealthy and unholy beliefs and practices, including a false idea of congregational worship and “worship leaders,” the commercialisation of hymnody and the commodification of hymns, and arching over all, some dangerously wrong teaching about the Holy Spirit (the clue is in the name).

Still, fortunately it’s a truism when things can’t carry on like this, they won’t.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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5 Responses to More on contemporary Christian worship music

  1. Ben says:

    Isn’t it fascinating that there seems to be something of a mirrored movement, at least amongst some public intellectuals, of atheists who are sidling back towards faith? (This article gives some examples

    It may also explain why people don’t easily throw open the “Overton windows of faith” you talked about in your previous post: for fear of falling out.

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