In this episode of the podcast. Bill Giovannetti continues sharing new book, CHAOS:As Goes the Church, So Goes the World.
Chapter 3 – The Song That Never Ends
If you wish to rant about the state of affairs in the contemporary church, worship music is low-hanging fruit, I know. God help us.
The burden of this book is that God’s people have welcomed chaos into the church and our lives. Sometimes, our worship music is both a symptom and a contributing factor.
And let me say right away it’s not just the repetition that’s to blame.
In the worship song commonly called “Psalm 136,” you will find the words “his mercy endures forever” 26 times in 26 verses. I’d call that repetitious. Repetition per se is not the problem.
Arguably the greatest extra-biblical worship song of all time – one that the church has stood up for ever since King George II launched the tradition at its 1742 debut – is Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. This chorus repeats the word Hallelujah at least 36 times, King of kings 8 times, Lord of lords 8 times, and for ever and ever 12 times. And I’m not even counting the echoes. The finale is nothing but repetition:
King of Kings
And Lord of Lords
King of Kings
And Lord of Lords
And He shall reign for ever and ever
King of Kings
And Lord of Lords
Repetition is not the core problem in contemporary worship music.
The core problem is that worship music is written all too often by worship leaders who can strum a guitar and sing decently and have never swum to the deep end of theology’s pool.
They don’t even know it’s there.
The deepest thing they can say about God is, “He’s a good, good, good, good God,” like a good, good dog, so we can demand he fetch us a blessing.
Yes, God is good. In theology, this is called the Benevolence of God, and is a doctrine rich in meaning. Yet I suspect not one worship leader in a hundred has bothered to crack open the theology books and launch a voyage into the wonders of this theology before they pen their ditties. They cannot deliver the depths of divine benevolence because they haven’t even heard the word, much less studied it out.
We get the impression that the primary method of writing a contemporary worship hit is to first run the lyrics through the Random Phrase Generator, to produce a collection of Twitter-sized fragments assembled into a series of non-sequiturs, colored by mixed-metaphors to be sung at gradually swelling volume with maximum pathos. Little concern logos, or for cadence, and even less for the poetry’s beauty.
So the church hums along in the theological shallows. There is little content to make our hearts skip a beat. All too many songwriters are incapable of painting a picture of a God so grand he takes our breath away, because they have rarely gone there themselves. So the church stands and watches while song leaders do their thing and the people on stage have their own little worship moment, eyes closed, bodies swaying, congregation forgotten.
The hymns I learned as a boy in church, I still sing today when I walk my dog in the early morning hours. I doubt that anybody will be singing many of today’s praise songs thirty years from now as they walk along. There’s no “there” there.
As all the church grandparents are nodding their heads in self-righteous disapproval, let me say that the fat, old hymnal has had the benefit of centuries of culling. There were plenty of horrible hymns composed back in the day. The large majority of them, no doubt. They just didn’t stand the test of time, so the church spit them out. Don’t be so smug, fellow Curmudgeons.
And please don’t complain it’s too loud. If you don’t like the music, any volume is too loud. I’ve been to churches where the pipe organ rumbles your chest at about 110 decibels, and all the old folks love it because it’s Holy, Holy, Holy. Every generation needs to be evangelized on their own terms. So volume is relevant. Let’s just not compromise on biblically meaningful lyrics. Everything else is up for grabs.
Today’s worship music has a shelf-life of about six weeks.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
We’ve chewed all the flavor out if its gum by then.
Compounding this problem is a generation of worshipers suckled on a one-dimensional God of love. Songs about holiness? Spiritual warfare? The Second Coming? Divine Wrath? Omnipotence? The Incarnation and what it means? The Cross? Justification? Redemption? Propitiation (God forbid!)? The Holy Spirit? The Power of Scripture? The Resurrection? Calvary? Prayer?
A contemporary worship song on these theological topics is almost impossible to find.
Instead we have an endless succession of songs so saccharin that any church singing them on the way to battle Satan would doom itself to crushing defeat. Indeed, they’d turn tail and run before the battle could be joined, right after sticking a daisy in Satan’s muzzle.
Worship music has become a generic zombie, a husk of its former self, lurching across the land, infiltrating every church that’s even halfway contemporary.
Sound and fury, signifying nothing. Saying nothing important beautifully.
I am not arguing for a return to the hymnal. That is not the heart-music of today’s generation. It will drive younger generations away. I love the old hymnal because it’s deep and I grew up with it. But for the majority who did not grow up with it, the hymnal is not the solution. I am not arguing for that.
I am arguing for theological depth and breadth (both) among songwriters. I am arguing for correct doctrine and more of it in our songs. I am pleading for songwriters to write thematically on the whole range of systematic theology. I am asking that you pick a theme-say the faithfulness of god—and then actually develop it. Focus on it throughout the whole song, and plumb the theological depths of this one singular theme throughout the entire song. For example:
To read the rest of Chaos, please pick up the book!
[Please click here to be notified when the book is released.]
You might have caught some changes in file names, podcasts episode names and titles, because I have basically changed the numbering system to make the whole structure of the book more clear, it’s a work in progress. I’m also changing chapter titles…
With this episode Bill continues giving away most of this book, as he shares it with you on the podcast. The message is urgent. The message is timely. If it strikes a chord with you, please share it with your friends. I appreciate your prayers.
There has never been a more important moment in the life of the modern church. It is time for us to return to our roots and seek God as never before.
Here’s the Table of Contents (subject to change)
CHAOS: AS GOES THE CHURCH SO GOES THE WORLD
Part One: Disturbing Trends in Today’s Church
1. The Giants Have Perished
2. Cheap Epistemology
3. The Song that Never Ends
4. For the Love of All That’s Holy
5. To Hell With Hell
6. Modern Day Pharisees
7. Kingdom Mania
8. The Discipleship Captivity of the Church
9. The Leadership Captivity of the Church
10. The Brokenness of “Woken-ness”
11. How the Church Murdered Grace
Part Two: The Revival We Need
12. Grow Big / Reformation pt 1
13. Grow Big / Reformation pt 2
14. Stand Tall / Some Theology Concerning Revival
15. Stand Tall / Some History Concerning Revival
16. Proclaim Christ
Afterword: What’s an Evangelical?
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Please click here to be notified when the book is released.