“It Made My Body Feel Confused”

by Dec 29, 2015ChurchLife, Culture2 comments

This GQ article on Carl Lentz and Hillsong NYC is enlightening.

If the very definition of discernment is discriminating the good from the bad, let me start with the good: I watched the video and listened to Carl talk, and I liked a great deal of what I heard: biblical authority, the need for conversion, the sinfulness of sin, the importance of his family to his ministry. The camera caught him on stage actually reading Ephesians to a New York crowd of 8,000: “Among you there should be not even a hint of sexual immorality.” I’m enough of a pragmatist—no, a follower of Paul!—that I can rejoice when Christ is preached, no matter how and by whom.

But “no matter how” doesn’t mean I’m actually glad for the sinful bits thrown in, and I have always felt that secular journalists (such as Hanna Rosin in this article I’ve returned to over and over) can do a better job than me, a very conservative Christian, in exposing those bits to the very world to which some preachers are trying to conform themselves.

The entire well-written article (BTW, I get so tired of people saying that English is on a downward trajectory; this is great writing!) is full of comments about things that seemed to the Jewish author to be out of place in a church. One of the most trenchant sets of comments, I think, was about the worship music:

Onstage the music began and a unisex band of Christian genetic marvels materialized, buoyant and shiny with salvation. Some had guitars and man buns, some had sidecocked beanies. All with microphones, all with very shiny hair, all with expressions of serenity as they swayed and sang the songs of Hillsong Music, which has sold through its various arms tens of millions of CDs about salvation and shame and bathing in the mercy of Jesus’s blood….

The music of Hillsong is a catalog of Selena Gomez-grade ballads, with melodies that all resemble one another, pleasingly, like spa music. They call to mind deeply sincere love songs, if it were appropriate to put phrases like my savior on that cursed tree and furious love laid waste to my sin and suffered violence healed my blindness and facedown where mercy finds me first in a love song. Tonally and tunefully, it’s a Jonas Brothers song. Lyrically, it’s a hymn, and yet the singing is hot-breathed and sexy-close into microphones. It made my body feel confused.

This has been my argument. It’s Hanna Rosin’s argument, too. Namely, musical form carries meaning. The way you stand, the way you breathe, the way your melody and chord progressions and everything else come together—it all communicates. We Protestant conservatives get laughed at for saying these things, but, um, we told you so. Not all evangelical pop is flat out wicked; a good deal of it is just kind of dumb. “Ugly, fake, or just limp” to use Rosin’s wording. But when it is used in church for the worship of God, we ought to think about Korah. Worship is something God takes seriously. May I—may we all—by his grace take it seriously, too.

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  1. Todd Jones

    Your title nails it. It would be great for a dissertation (in Communication Studies, perhaps?) cataloging, contextualizing, and critiquing secular reactions to popular Christian music. GQ don’t write my creed, but Romans 2:15 still applies.

    • Mark Ward

      So fully agreed, most especially with the Rom 2:15 reference.

      And the title nails it because music does work on a physical level.