Russell Moore, speaking to Andy Crouch about his excellent book Playing God:
Every time I say this I feel curmudgeonly… I grew up in a church where I just happened to have—I am able to worship in almost any setting—but there’s something about the sort of hymnody that I grew up with that’s very evocative to me. But it struck me when I was with my 87-year-old grandmother. She was very sick; she’d had a stroke. I thought she was about to die; she didn’t. But I was thinking, I can sing hymns to her here at the bedside that she will know and that I will know. And I don’t think that will be the case with my children when I am lying on my deathbed, because the way that we sing the hymnody is all so generationally divided up. I think to some degree that’s been the case for a while, but not like this.
Crouch, who is among other things a classically trained musician and a worship leader, replies:
Mm-hmmm. You could take it further that some churches, you and your children might not have ever gone to the same service. You could have had totally different enculturations of worship, each finely tuned to the preferences of that generation, and I think this is a terrible capitulation to our kind of mediated culture, which really ultimately is driven by the need to segment audiences and sell products. And I just hope—I think there’s a shift in the tide here. I think that actually, younger emerging adults and even teenagers are actually feeling less and less satisfied with things that are so tailor-made for their generation’s preferences. And I hope we’re going to see a new kind of worship that actually is innovative, and uses the contemporary vernacular but that actually draws on that deep well from other generations as well.
So what does rap (or contemporary country, or Lady-Gaga-style pop, or some other popular form) mean in the commercialized pop culture which has turned it into the phenomenon it is? When Ken Myers says the following about “most forms of popular culture,” is there a good reason to think that he’s only talking about lyrics, not musical sounds?
Since it is the purpose of most forms of popular culture to provide exciting distraction, we should not be surprised that over time, television programs, popular music, and other forms become more extreme (and more offensive) in their pursuit of titillation. Folk culture has the capacity to limit extremes, since it is the expression of the values and aspirations of a community. Popular culture, on the other hand, presupposes the absence of a community of belief or conviction. (All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, 61)
Interesting to think that someday all of God’s children will join to worship Him, probably in one worship occasion, together. Perhaps Revelation indicates how this will happen: “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9), sanctified in all our beings, will rise to praise Him.
A worthy reminder, Phil. Thank you for this.
The phenomenon referred to by Russell Moore happened to me about two years ago. I was doing a nursing home service where we were using the hymnals available there. There were about six different publishers from all over the evangelical map. I asked the folks there to choose a few songs they would like to sing while I played the piano for them. As I recall, they wanted to sing older songs found in ALL the hymnals, with one exception (it was not in one of the hymnals, but was in all the others). And the folks themselves were from quite a few denominations, also. That event reminded me of the essay from C. S. Lewis about reading old books and the chronological snobbery in his day where people only read recent authors. We could add the musical variety of that snobbery (or disdain of the “old”) of our own day to that attitude.