"Musical Mush"'---Amen, Chuck, Amen!

Musical Mush - Are We Impairing our Capacity to Think?

A BreakPoint commentary by Chuck Colson

When church music directors lead the congregation in singing some praise music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We had been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called, “Draw Me Close to You.” The song has zero theological content and could be sung in a nightclub, for that matter. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed at us and said in a cheerful voice, “Let’s sing that again, shall we?” “No!” I shouted loudly. Heads all around me spun while my wife cringed.

I admit I prefer more traditional hymns. But even given that, I am convinced that much of the music being written for the Church today reflects an unfortunate trend—slipping across the line from worship to entertainment. Evangelicals are in danger of amusing ourselves to death, to borrow the title of the classic Neil Postman book.

The trend is also true of Christian radio, historically an important source of in-depth teaching.

Many stations have recently dropped serious programming in favor of all-music formats. For example, a major Baltimore station dropped four talk shows to add music. A respected broadcaster recently dropped “Focus on the Family,” claiming it had become too focused on “moral issues.”

When a Cincinnati station replaced “BreakPoint” with music, I told the station manager that believers need to think Christianly about major worldview issues. Her reply? Younger women want “something to help them cope with life.”

This view was confirmed by a Christian homemaker during a TV special on evangelicalism. She is so busy, she explained, with her kids, Bible study, cooking, and all, that she does not even get to read the newspaper. Church for her is getting her spirits lifted.

Now admittedly, modern life creates enormous stress, but can't the Church offer comfort and help people confront the culture?

Of course, music is important in the life of the Church. But it cannot replace solid teaching. The decision by Christian broadcasters to avoid moral controversies could result in the Church withdrawing from the culture as it tragically did a century ago.

The great strength of radio, as with books, has been to present in-depth teaching that engages Christians cognitively. Unfortunately, thinking analytically is something Christians find increasingly difficult. According to a government study, the average college graduate’s proficient literacy in English has declined from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent ten years later. The study defines proficient literacy as the ability to read lengthy, complex texts and draw complicated inferences. This is horrifying.

The Gospel above everything else is revealed propositional truth - truth that speaks to all of life. Sure, the Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand. But if you want to study doctrine and worldview, you need the capacity to engage ideas cognitively. Doctrine and biblical teaching does not consist of dry, abstract notions. It is the truth that must be carried to the heart and applied. And there is no escaping that it is truth that must he learned.

When Postman published his book two decades ago, he feared television would impair our capacity to think. He was right. But can we learn from this - or are we destined to follow suit, with the Church blissfully amusing itself into irrelevance?

Some of the current faux-music in the church has become nothing more than "charismatic jingles"--and not very good ones at that.

Not all of the "current" music is theologically thin, but this is true for a lot more than we want to admit. Most of the "contemporary" choruses that have inundated local congregations teach absolutely none of the great doctrinal truths of the Scriptures. And that is tragically sad for those like me who grew up singing the great songs of testimony about God, heaven, eternity, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

So what say ye?

1 comment:

Joe Misek said...

I see both sides to this, so here's a long response. As a 26 year old guy who sits a prisoner in an office at work, I listen to Christian rock as background. As a contemporary musician, catchy and creative music will always be dear to my heart.

Not for a second do I agree with cutting down Breakpoint or Focus for more music... there's plenty of music on those stations. But I also have spend countless weeks sitting and listening to sermons that clock over an hour, and we all know that we can only process and retain a certain amount of info, let alone get that info from our heads to our hearts. We are told to speak to one another with hymns and spiritual songs, but I don't know that music was solely intended as a doctrinal teaching tool. In the Old Testament, there are periods where they only sang one song, "The Lord is good, and His mercy endures forever!" Over and over, mind you.

A lot of the current choruses tire me out, too... but let's remember that even if these are watered down, doctrinally, they may still be intended as a song of gushing adoration to a loving Savior. New Christians just recently experiencing the love of God may write a song like this, and I wouldn't want to dismiss these songs simply because they aren't verbose or laced with scriptures. I would hope that we don't look down upon those authors and those songs because they aren't musically appealing to an older generation, or because they don't seem as "spiritually-proper". Much in the same way, I try hard not to look at classic hymns as boring simply because they aren't foot-tapping catchy.
Thanks for the post, Phil.