Banal lyrics set to catchy tunes

JP: John MacArthur comments on my favorite hymn:

Style or Substance?


It should be clear to anyone who examines the subject carefully that modern church music, as a rule, is vastly inferior to the classic hymns that were being written 200 years ago.

And incidentally, my own assessment is that the style in which music is written today isn’t really the biggest problem with contemporary music. Styles change. Bad church music isn’t bad just because it is “contemporary.” But the content of the lyrics is what reveals most graphically how low our standards have slipped.

This is not a problem that arose with the current generation. It dates back to an era whose musical style would seem quite old-fashioned by anyone’s standards today.

Before the middle part of the 19th century or so, hymns were wonderful didactic tools, filled with Scripture and sound doctrine, a medium for teaching and admonishing one another, as we are commanded in Colossians 3:16. Most hymns were written not by teenagers with guitars, but by pastors and theologians: Charles Wesley, Augustus Toplady, Isaac Watts.

Around the start of the twentieth century, however, church music took a different direction. Musicians and singers without formal pastoral or theological training (such as Ira Sankey and Philip Bliss) became the dominant songwriters in the church. Choruses with lighter, simpler subject matter proliferated. Popular Christian music became more subjective. Songs focused on personal experience and the feelings of the worshiper. The newer compositions were often called “gospel songs” to distinguish them from “hymns.”

Modern musicians have pushed this trend even further and often see music as little more than a device for stimulating intense emotion. The biblically-mandated didactic role of music is all but forgotten.

The effect is predictable. What we have sown for several generations we are now reaping in frightening abundance. The modern church, fed on choruses with insipid lyrics, has no appetite for her own great tradition of didactic hymnody.

We are in danger of losing a rich heritage as some of the best hymns of our faith fall into neglect and disuse, being replaced with banal lyrics set to catchy tunes. Thankfully, there are some wonderful exceptions to this trend — exceptions which we hope will soon turn the tide. In the meantime, our prayer is that both pastors and church musicians will come to realize the severity of the crisis and the vital importance of theologically-sound worship music.

Full article is here

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