I Am No Music Scholar… but…

Orginally published on Thursday, July 03, 2008 at 7:37 AM
by Todd Rhoades

Dan Kimball includes a couple of letters in a recent blog post that I found interesting. Not sure if these can be substantiated as fact, but take a look... it sounds about right...

"I am no music scholar, but I feel I know appropriate church music when I hear it. Last Sunday's new hymn - if you can call it that - sounded like a sentimental love ballad one would expect to hear crooned in a saloon. If you insist on exposing us to rubbish like this - in God's house! - don't be surprised if many of the faithful look for a new place to worship. The hymns we grew up with are all we need."
Of course, this letter was written in 1863, and the song they were talking about was "Just as I Am". Here's another one...
“What is wrong with the inspiring hymns with which we grew up? When I go to church, it is to worship God, not to be distracted with learning a new hymn.  Last Sunday’s was particularly unnerving.  The tune was un-singable and the new harmonies were quite distorting.”

This letter was written in 1890 and about the hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”.

You can read more of Dan’s post here...

This post has been viewed 1383 times so far.

  There are 22 Comments:

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    All this music argument is about style. People won’t admit it on the surface, but in my experience, it’s all about style.

    Anybody remember this post?


  • Posted by


    “All this music argument is about style. People wonít admit it on the surface, but in my experience, itís all about style.”

    And you have also admitted in other posts before that you agree that so many of the modern Christian songs sung in church could be easily swapped with secular love songs if you substitute “Jesus” with “baby” or another equal word.  There are men today who croon about Jesus in an amorous fashion that one would expect for a girlfriend or wife.


  • Posted by Peter Hamm


    That is an issue of content, not general musical style. I think it’s off point.

  • Posted by

    The best “Christian” record for as long as I remember is “Mother’s Hymnbook” by Johnny Cash from 2004.

    I could care less for the style. Are the lyrics Biblical and do they exhalt the Lord? That is the bottom line. I will say that I still miss Keith Green and I didn’t didn’t discover him until my high school years 10+ years after he died.

  • Posted by

    CS is right.  Our worship service is and should always be about Jesus.  Our worship music should reflect our desire to give Him the glory only He deserves.  Contemporary “Christian” music on the radio which has lyrics that are so unbiblical in their message are being infiltrated into worship services all in an effort to entertain and keep people coming.  When you look at the lyrics of the old hymns you will see biblically based worship compared to the lyrics of most (not all) contemporary “christian” music.  For example: “...where ever we go, that’s where the party’s at...” or “..it’s not who you knew, it’s not what you did, it’s how you lived...” All music is sung in worship to someone...either God or satan so we need to be careful what we represent as Christian to this world.

  • Posted by

    I agree Katrina, I would go as far as saying that most CCM worship songs are lousy when it comes to theology (and don’t anyone tell me that theology DOESN"T matter) However many, many old hymns are just as far out in left field. We’ve been doing idolatry very well for so much longer that you and I have been around.

    The MASSIVE fallecy of our day is not only in the lyrics (which often could better fit in top 40 love ballads), but the idea that corperate worship is actually now refered to as a “Worship Experience”


    Who’s experience?

    It’s supposed to be God’s experience.

    Do we FEAR God?

    Do we tremble at his Holiness when we are offered “God is my boyfriend/girlfriend” lyrics?

    Is he glorified when we cover up the cross on the wall with a screen to splash MORE colorful lights on?

  • Posted by

    You guys are right, CCM should be banned.  “Christian” music stations should only play hymns.  Of course, if young people had to choose between hymns and completely secular music, I’m betting they’re not going to choose the hymns.

    I think you’re confusing worship music and Christian music.  Of course our worship music should glorify God and be theologically correct.  Commercial contemporary Christian music on the other hand does not necessarily need to be “theologically correct” as long as it’s not offensively wrong.

    Given the choice of young people listening to CCM or the secular choices of music, I thank God they have CCM stations in this area my children can listen to.

  • Posted by

    I have been aggravated by this argument over church music. As I read the previous posts, I was reminded of my past frustrations of watching my church change it’s “style” of music...for whatever reasons, and how uncomfortable and out of touch with the Lord it made me feel!

    The Old Hymns and their scriptural truths brings tears of joy to my eyes when I sing of the gift of my salvation and the cost thereof. The new “seeker friendly” contemporary style is so focused on me reaching up to God (religion) as opposed to God reaching down to me! (Christianity) I guess you could say that the Old Hymns stirred the Holy Spirit in me whereas the CCM only stirs the man in me.

    CS, JUD, Katrina...you all make perfectly good points in your posts, but what got me thinking and writing is what DanielR said. “if young people had to choose between hymns and completely secular music, Iím betting theyíre not going to choose the hymns.” DanielR, you are absolutly correct in your observation. When I was a teenager, I chose rock and roll as my music of choice. I heard and even sing the old hymns in church but they had no meaning to me. I could only identify with Led Zepplin or Pink Floyd. But, now that I’m a “mature” Christian, and since I now have studied Gods word and understand the cost, the Old Hymns are my choice in the church.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love a great riff by Stevie Ray Vaughan, but when I walk into my Lords house, it’s the Old Hymns that brings me into His throne room!  The young kids in church have only laid their foundation, they have no idea of the depths of what has been done for them so, they cannot relate to the theology written into the Old Hymns. I suppose Christian Rap, CCM, and the like is fine for bringing these young people into the youth group, that’s their style but, once they start growing in the Lord, their music should reflect that growth as well.

    I apologize for such a long winded post, but I would like to summarize this by saying that we seem to have lost the meaning of the word “Holiness” in our churches today. I’ve have found that to obtain the small portion of Holiness that we can obtain, it takes discipline. We must discipline ourselves in all areas of our Christian lives. I have also found that discipline is hard, it puts us out. I say it this way, “No Pain, No Gain!” The church today and most of it’s members do not want any discipline! They don’t want any pain! They want their “style” of music, their “style” of dress and even their style of Gospel....as long as their is no pain, or personal growth. (growing pains)

    I thank you all for allowing me to air my frustrations with you. I ask for your forgiveness if I am out of line and ask that you pray that the Lord shows me how to deal with these frustrations!

    May the Lord be with you all!

  • Posted by

    Worship is an experience.  The bible tells us to come into his presence with joy, thanksgiving, expectantly, celebrating, with a new song, with anticipation.  All of our relationship with God is an experience. 

    Got introduced himself in scripture often as the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob… As the God who delivered, fed, protected, was angry, was jealous as holy, as far off, as near… all words and descriptions to define experiences and relationship.  To say it is less than an experience is impossible for living being as everything in our lives is an experience and based upon that experience we form opinions, values and even relationships. 

    When we worship in Spirit and Truth, we have an experience.  This is why Spirit and truth are essential to the experience, so that the experience can be anchored. 

    To say many of the songs we sing could be swapped with top 40 if you changed a word or two is sort of a weak argument.  Many verses could be changed too.  Psalm 18:1 I love you Lord… or swap it with Baby… I love you baby… 1 John 4:19 We love because he loves us first… or we love because she loved first… This argument does not fly at all. 

    Many old hymns are pretty weak in theology as well.  Some of the psalms are pretty weak in theology too.  why?  because songs are not always meant to teach theology but rather to promote an experience with the creator. 

    As for hymns in church, if you like them find a church that sings them and go there, if you don’t stay away from churches that sing them.  otherwise you will ruin your experience.

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    The idea that a certain style of music (that was once deemed inappropriate and sometimes even downright evil by those as diverse as Martin Luther, John Wesley, and John Calvin) is somehow more “holy” and disciplined than another style, a style more modern/contemporary…

    I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I love many of the old hymns, but I somehow doubt those forward-thinking people that wrote many of them would be very pleased with us doing them still today in THEIR style and not OURS.

    There’s plenty of great theology, great “God-thoughts” in music being written today.

    Wholly Yours” by David Crowder

    “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Stuart Townend

    “Your Glory Endures Forever” by Charlie Hall.

  • Posted by Jan

    To continue… “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman (the words of Job by the way)

    “You Are” by Mark Roach (who can disagree with “You are holy, You are faithful, You are Savior You are friend, You are all I’ll ever need, Lord You are”

    What about “Your Name” (is a strong and mighty tower, Your name is a shelter like no other, Your name, let the nations sing it louder, “Cause nothing has the power to save, but Your name")

    I’ve got to say that I agree with Peter on this.  This is once again a style argument.  There are plenty of old songs that had bad theology or are hard to understand.  How do we explain “raising our Ebenezer” for instance?  Great hymn, but irrelevant and not meaningful to 99% of the congregation, who sings it and wonders.  I always leave that verse out, even though I understand it and it means a lot to me.

    As worship leaders, we need to be choosing relevant hymns and contemporary music that is based on sound theology and disgarding the ones that don’t work. 

    There are some incredible newer songs that I like to call “Scripture Songs” because that’s what they are.. the Word of God in song and heavens, they are contemporary!

    I am heartily sick of those on both sides of the discussion, for or against hymns (I am neither by the way) using smoke screen arguments that really mean that they think worship is all about them and their preferences.  It’s not.  It’s about Him.

    Get over it and get out of the way of those who want to lay aside themselves and worship.  And if that means learning the hymns of the faith, great!
    But it also may mean, learning some contemporary worship songs.

  • Posted by

    There’s a big and distinct difference between songs that say, “I love you, God,” and “I am in love with you, God.” One denotes a type of agape love that resounds with Scripture.  The other shows an almost eros love for God, which I do not see a precedence for in the Bible. 

    These songs, which often have men crooning lyrics such as, “I want to stay in Your warm embrace,” “Jesus, lover of my soul,” or, “I’m desperate for you,” come off more as someone singing to a lover than as a reverent song to the King of the universe.  And I don’t think it can be pardoned or rationalized by saying, “It’s a stylistic difference.” This difference is more distinct and profound than those songs of a century and a half ago.


  • Posted by

    It was Wesley who first wrote Jesus, lover of my soul.  He also wrote a book by the same title.  I would venture to say he had no erotic intentions in his choice of words.  I think it was connected to his mothers death and her relationship with Christ. 

    I would also say that is true of Hillsong.  The song has strong biblical images.  My take is that the Psalm writers often would communicate their desperation for God as well.  The lyrics to that song are not sensual in any way. 

    Agape is not the only love that God uses to love us, it has no Hebrew tie and was co-opted by the New Testament writers to identify an aspect of love.  It is not more biblical than other love it is a description of a kind of love.

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    Also, CS… That is indeed a content difference, although Leonard beat me to the punch on “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”.

    And “I’m desperate for you” comes from “Breathe”, no? Sorry, I see nothing really wrong with that song, but that’s a difference of opinion, surely. “I’m lost without You” and “I’m desperate for you” are two VERY appropriate thoughts to express to God.

    But in any case, it’s a content difference. And there’s more than one or two Psalms that seem to “cross that line” too. As much as I agree with you (and have said this before) that the church needs far fewer new “God-love-songs"…

  • Posted by

    I’m just curious, but do any of you bloggers remember the original post?  I think you guys are missing the point, and proving the point at the same time. (Did that make any sense?)

    The point is this argument will probably never die.  Do any of you realize that just a few hundred years ago that in most churches the only singing that was allowed was spontaneous “spirit-filled” singing.  Organized congregational singing was not even allowed in a lot of churches. 

    The reality is THINGS CHANGE!  Sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse.  All we can really do is look to the One who never changes!

  • Posted by

    Yeah things change, and situations change and God doesn’t.  But we still have this issue rearing it’s ugly head.  Doesn’t mean we need to shut down all discussion about it, because people have a hard time with it.

    The debate continues because worship is at the very core of our Christian life. It’s so very very important to our relationship to God and daily service to him.

    I think that’s why disagreements in worship style can cause so much dissension.

    Churches routinely split over it.

  • Posted by

    I agree Jan, this subject is not going away.  It should be discussed biblically, with civility and honesty.  It should be discussed with out accusation as well. 

    I think that sometimes we need to recognize the pastors leadership here and submit.  That is biblical by the way.  In our church we play one style of music, we do not use any songs that are of the “love song” bent, we are very current in our style and we are loud. 

    We say to people, if this is not what helps you enter the presence of God, there is a church down the road that plays differently, go there. 

    As a pastoral team we prayed and agreed that this was who we would be in our STYLE.

  • Posted by

    We are in the same place as you Leonard.  We’ve called leadership to lead in worship and to connect with the community we are in, which has rapidly been changing in the past 10 years.  The church we are in, is a re-start, with essentially 99% new people.

    We’ve had individuals come in, who have a particular chuch experience and a particular bent in how things should be done, want to change us and we’ve given them the same encouragement as you have.

    We are growing in numbers because we are a corporately growing group… teachable, eager to move forward and we are reaching out.  We are not interested in bringing in sheep.  The people who are coming are coming to Christ through our ministry and isn’t that the best way for a church to grow?

    The very last thing we want to do, is to go backward and do what most of the other churches in our valley are doing.  The traditional congregations are for the most part stagnant and inward focused.

    At some point you have to decide what God is calling for your particular congregation and not make apologies for it.

  • Posted by

    As a minister of music in a “blended” church, I could state either sides of this argument. I’ve heard them both from all generations of people. The fact is that we are worrying more about how we worship God, then focusing on the fact that we actually need to worship God to continue in our spiritual formation.

    Our Worship Songs have evolved from three different ideas of our faith. Some older hymns do nothing but celebrate the tradition of our ancestors and celebrate going to heaven. Ex. “I’ll Fly Away, Faith of our Fathers, Faith of our Mothers, When We All Get To Heaven...etc” . Then we went into a time period of singing songs about God. Ex. “How Great Thou Art, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, Down At The Cross, etc....” And now we have made it into a time of singing songs to God. Ex. “Sanctuary, Hungry, Breathe, Give Us Clean Hands...etc” ***These are by no means exhaustive lists, and all of these different kinds are represented in each of the time periods, this is just my take on the majority of the movements.

    And with these, we all have our favorites and could criticize any one of them. We can criticize the “modern” songs for having bad theology, or we can criticize older hymns for having the same bad theology. “The Old Rugged Cross” says, “And I Cherish the Old Rugged Cross”. Honestly, i don’t cherish the cross, I cherish my Savior that died for me on that cross.

    But it all goes back to the simple question. Are we more concerned about how or who we worship?

  • Posted by

    Jud wrote “Is he glorified when we cover up the cross on the wall with a screen to splash MORE colorful lights on? “

    Not sure but I don’t think most Christians worship the cross. If we’re using the wall to project words that folks can sing to glorify God then I think that’s pretty good worship (at least from God’s perspective). Just my 2 cents…

  • Posted by scott

    I’m just wondering how God feels about all of this discussion about worship, because it makes me feel discouraged and sad. My hope is that we can put aside our petty differences and just worship Him.

  • Posted by Peter Hamm


    I think God LOVES the fact that no matter what “style” of worship we’re into, we can find some place to do it! Some differences we can’t put aside, and some we won’t, and yet we can still worship the living God, separately or together…

    I’m actually encouraged by that thought!


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