Tuesday, September 09, 2014

In Praise of Harvest Bible Chapel

This will probably not be the type of praise Mr. MacDonald wants, but it's worth noting that his teaching on music is something of a "Rosetta Stone" in deciphering the problems with modern music.  Let's go back to what Challies notes;  that MacDonald notes that music ought to be addressed to God, not about God, that it ought to be simple and repetitive, and that it ought to be emotionally driven--and finally express itself physically.

Now, let's apply this to the text of Psalm 1.  Does God follow the formula MacDonald prescribes?

Answer; not by a long shot.  Psalm 1 is about the relationship of man to God and does not use the 1st or 2nd person at all.  Like many Psalms, it's all in the third person.  Moreover, its six verses are similar in complexity to the hymns so disdained by MacDonald, and there is no repetition at all.  In fact, apart from refrains, few if any of the Psalms utilize much repetition.  Finally, the Psalm--like most Psalms--is not emotionally driven.  The emotion--comfort, gratitude, etc..--is supposed to flow from the circumstances and acts of God described in the Psalm.  And an incitation to movement?  Not at all.  If we are blessed, that invites repose.

Now an interesting fact is that, whether influenced by MacDonald or not, or possibly vice versa, most modern church music, including a great portion of revivalist camp songs, more or less follows MacDonald's model.  Simple, emotive, repetitive, and a tremendous use of the 1st and 2nd person, and an outright invitation to move. 

And so it would seem that, whatever God intended by His example in Psalms, most modern Christian composers are missing it.  And if that lesson is important, we're quite a bit poorer for it.

Now since God does not give specific commands in music, there is presumably some wiggle room here, but going forward, I'm going to attempt some thoughts on what is truly important in music to be used in the church.


pentamom said...

Sometime Challies doesn't address, though he quotes, but I will:

“great theology racing us by at a pace so dizzying that all we could express as we took our seats was effectively ‘that was all so true’.”

What you have here is a failure to take the long view, and an implicit demand that every part of worship, not to mention every individual service of worship, must be a self-contained experience that accomplishes all its work immediately.

Christians of the past did not love the great hymns because their brains were different from ours, or because they had nothing better. They grew to love them because they sang them week after week, for years and years -- from early childhood, in fact. The words sank in, and the "great theology" grew to be more a part of them over time, in a way the kind of songs MacDonald is remembering will never do, because the depths simply aren't there (if that is all there is.) The work a well-written, God-honoring hymn (or other praise music) does in my heart is not limited to the few minutes I'm singing it, each time I sing it. To operate as though it is, is to make so fundamental a category mistake about sung worship, that it pretty much guarantees that everything he goes on to say will be wrong.

pentamom said...

Sorry, that first word should be "something."

Bike Bubba said...

Good point--I would agree that the "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs that I refuse to sing for some odd reason (like "being a boy and not in need of such") do indicate a short term time preference.

Good summary of what I was getting at in the previous post noting that those who choose infantile music just might have the goal of keeping a congregation....in infancy. Go figure.