As you all know, one of my favorite rants is against modern “Praise and Worship” music. I’d like to dive in and reexamine them, both in terms of lyrical and theological content, as well as poetical structure.
What brings this to my attention is this: I was thinking over P&W and trying to identify specific flaws. Given the dispensational nature of the theology that creates P&W, it seems reasonable to apply that train of thought here. Individualism was my first target, and yes, every single P&W song that I’ve ever heard is written in the first person, with no thought of cohesiveness in the Body.
Here’s the challenge: that last sentence almost describes the Psalms. Almost all of the Psalms are in the first person, and they have many of the same elements as P&W. Given the kind of audience I have, I’m fairly confident that I don’t need to argue the case for the priority of Psalms in worship, but why is this (apart from the fact that God gave us the Psalms)? In other words, what exactly about P&W makes my Calvinist blood run cold?
Since I’ve brought up individualism, I’ll address that first.
There should be no argument that individualism is a major element of P&W. Occasionally, you’ll use the word “us” and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a reference to the Church.
Given that, I don’t think this a problem that needs to be addressed in the context of music itself. This problem is far deeper than that, rooted in the dispensational worldview itself.
However, this one-sided, close-minded view lends itself very naturally to pietism and sentimentalism.
Sentimentalism is not the kind of emotion that the Psalms take kindly to.
David was a man’s man. He killed lions and bears at a very young age, spent a good portion of his life on the run from a powerful king, and after becoming king, was no stranger to war. David was a man who wasn’t afraid of anything. If Israel had had metrosexuals, they wouldn’t have had metrosexuals, because David’s sheer manliness would have eradicated anything like that in the entire Middle East.
And yet we have Psalms like Psalm 6:
I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. My eye wastes away because of grief; It grows old because of all my enemies.
And yet it’s not sentimental.
But most of the sentimentalism comes not from sappy descriptions of grief. It comes from the “P” in “Praise and Worship.”
You are holy great and mighty
The moon and the stars declare who You are
I’m still unworthy but still You love me
Forever my heart will sing of how great You are! – “Cannons,” Phil Wickham
Nothing against Phil Wickham. I’m sure he’s a great guy. Nevermind that this verse is 4 of the 5 total verses. But can it stack up to this?
To the Chief Musician. On the instrument of Gath. A Psalm of David.
O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen — even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!
Another problem lies with the concept of a “worship team.” The minister is no longer deemed the leader in worship, it is the band. Not only does this usually turn into a performance, it also keys into the idea of “Spirit-led” worship (i.e., whatever you happen to feel like). For the record, the Spirit is very orderly, and thank God for it.
It seems also that much of the problem stems from the fact that no one seems to know what exactly we are praising God for. Maybe “my heart will sing forever of how great You are,” and I pray that I do. But I know exactly what I’m praising Him for.
Not to say that P&W doesn’t give Christ credit for salvation. In fact, there’s little reference to anything else. It’s not very deep, of course. He gets the title “Saviour,” which is nice, and we do get lots and lots and lots of cheesy descriptions of His rising from the grave. All nice stuff, to be sure.
But where do we find that God protects us from our enemies? He’s just sittin’ there “lovin” us and we’re just swayin’ in the wind singing. But there’s still sin out there. Still death. And those are our enemies. Worship is war, and if you sat down on the battlefield and had a picnic, you wouldn’t last very long.
The Psalms are full of rousing battles and epic descriptions of YHWH readying Himself for war, wreaking vengeance on His and our enemies, and generally opening up a can of about thirteen different kinds of hurt all over anyone who wants to mess with His children.
But we don’t get that from P&W. We get:
You are God of the heavens and God of the earth
You are God of our Saviour’s virgin birth
You were God on the cross and God over hell
You were God before man and God when he fell
You are God
You are God, God, God
You are God
You are God, God, God
This is an actual song. Actually it’s just the first half. Rinse and repeat…and repeat…
But really, what’s the problem with these? They’re written from good intentions by faithful people. What are they guilty of, other than being immature theologically?
Well, turns out that’s a big deal. I said before (stealing from many other theologians) that worship is warfare, and it is. When we sing the Psalms and the great hymns of the Church through the ages, Satan hears us and trembles. He knows that he’s the Enemy, he knows we know it, and he knows we’re asking God to crush him to powder. Heck, I’d be scared.
But if I’m Satan, heck, I don’t give two flips about P&W. Sure, God is God. Can’t deny that. They can sing their stuff all day, I’ll just get back to my conniving and deceiving. When people start pointing fingers at me and telling God to hunt me down…that’s scary.
Hundreds of people fainting because they’re so “overcome” with emotion does not scare the devil. However, millions of well-armed Christians singing rousing war songs and shouts for strength to the Almighty Ruler…that’s a problem.
So Satan’s just fine with the way things are. He likes dispensational P&W, because it doesn’t challenge him. The Psalms? They challenge him. They win. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”? That challenges him. It wins. “For All the Saints”? That challenges him. It wins.
Satan does not tremble when P&W is played. If we want to defeat him, we can’t let music go unnoticed.
Help me out, y’all. Still working through a lot of these issues and no doubt my views will mature as I meditate more. Thoughts/comments are appreciated if not demanded.