Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

Pushing Back a Little on Andrew Wilson’s Worship Rant

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Andrew Wilson has a post up today at Think Theology in which he rants against some of the worship music going around churches these days. Good points all around, and I generally agree with him. I would like to concur on some of his points and push back on some others:

1. Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs. Wilson say that songs with “I love you” or “you are more beautiful than ever” statements to God that can simultaneously be said to one’s spouse are out of place in worship. I agree with this point wholeheartedly. In my experience as a worship leader and as one who evaluates new songs about every week, I think this type of language has a lot to do with the age group writing our contemporary worship songs. Most of them are very young, and in our worship culture we tend to prefer that young, beautiful people lead us from the stage rather than seasoned, older pastors. And so the ones leading every week are also the ones more prone to author new songs for the congregation. The songs are marketed by agencies who want to put young, beautiful people on album covers and in concerts and in interviews, and thus the songs they have written become mainstream. The problem isn’t really with young, beautiful people as much as it is with personal experience: most of these songwriters have very little experience as a Christian from which to draw when they write songs. They struggle to empathize or even communicate what they feel. And a bigger point is that most do not know how to express love to/for God in a biblical way because they’re not trained in the Bible. And so their worship songs sound a lot like Carly Rae Jepsen’s pop songs: cliche-driven and devoid of meaning. The result is “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs. This does not meant that there isn’t a gem from time to time that is written by a young, beautiful person. I can think of several. But it’s rare. (As an aside I might also ask: doesn’t the modern, contemporary gathering itself—with its lights and its youth and its ambiance—give way to this sort of songwriting that emphasizes boyfriend-Jesus songs and that lacks theological depth?)

2. Random lists of superlatives. Wilson says that listing superlatives about God (you are so glorious, wonderful, powerful, etc.) brings about a flat sense of diminishing returns to those of us who are singing. But isn’t this what the psalms do over and over? Isn’t this what Moses sang in Exodus 15? How many times do the psalms say that God is “my fortress” or “refuge” or “rock” or “salvation”, or that he is “glorious” and “mighty”? Several times, I would say.  I don’t think Wilson can stress this point because the testimony of the Bible over several millennia gives us people who continue to pray and sing superlatives about God. Songwriters should write songs in the stream of the biblical songwriters and authors. As a worship leader, I have no problem choosing songs that stress these aspects of God’s character because God stresses these aspects of his character. 

3. Lack of Trinitarianism. Wilson argues that our modern worship songs lack praise of all three persons of the Trinity. They are functionally binitarian or unitarian. But this point assumes that these songs are sung out of context. You could argue that the Book of Psalms are unitarian in that they primarily offer praise/lament to God the Father. But the context of Scripture demands that a greater meaning should be applied to the psalms. Similarly, in the context of a church service—where the people of God, redeemed by God in Christ, are joining together in the power of the Spirit to glorify God—the songs are thicker in meaning due to that context. When we praise “God” we likely mean “Father and Son through Holy Spirit.” The context demands more, just as the context of the Old Testament can be understood now only in light of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, and of his sending of the Holy Spirit for the mission of the church. 

I would also push back on the notion of praise to the Holy Spirit. I understand the need for holistic worship, but where does praise to/for/of the Holy Spirit take place in the New Testament? Anywhere? Is this the example we have from the apostles, to offer praise to the Holy Spirit? No one ever addresses the Holy Spirit in prayer, or bows down to the Holy Spirit, or ever serves the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit is never the object of worship in the Bible. Philippians 3:3 states that we “worship by/in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus.” And yet I understand the tension here, that Father, Son, and Spirit are all equally divine in one essence and so should be worshiped equally. This is theological deduction, but is that deduction warranted in the New Testament? The New Testament is adamant that we worship in the Spirit, through the Spirit, and by the Spirit, but it knows nothing of worship “of the Spirit” (see also Block, “For the Glory of God” on this point). 

So I don’t think the element of Trinitarianism is missing in modern worship songs, if by that we mean addressing or worshiping the Holy Spirit. What is missing in my opinion is accurately describing the Triune God in our our liturgies, the prayers, introductions, confessions, etc., or especially in the arc of the service. Worship leaders would be wise to make their leading more theological and trinitarian, yet without the worship of the Spirit. 

4. Assuming shared experience. Wilson seems to imply that we shouldn’t sing certain songs that assume that everyone singing those songs have had the same experience, a “come to Jesus” moment, as it were. Wilson says “this cultivates an unhelpful sense of inferiority or exclusion amongst a group of people.” I disagree. This gets to ecclesiology, but in my view the worship service is a gathering of believers, and thus the first-person narratives in some of our hymns (Amazing Grace, When I Survey, And Can it Be, etc.) have rich meaning in a corporate setting because we’re repeating the gospel to one another. The shared experience of worship—and in particular singing—is what Paul encourages us to do in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. We “sing to one another” and “make melody in our heart” because we have and assume a shared experience. Even if my experience is not in line with “I awoke, the dungeon flamed with light,” I resonate with that experience because it expresses what happened in my soul when I was redeemed. Additionally, I can glory in the cross of Christ by turning to my brother or sister and hearing her sing of that experience even if I don’t share it exactly how he/she does. Contrary to Wilson’s point, I think in singing some of these songs and in hearing the testimonies of God’s people actually helps unify the church instead of cultivating exclusion. So perhaps we should ask, what do we actually gain from hearing/singing dramatic binary stories? Do we actually gain something from reading or singing David’s account of his repentance in Psalm 51? What about the desperate longing for God that David writes about in Psalm 63? Is that intended to be only about David and for David? I don’t think so. Worship leaders and/or songwriters aren’t asking their congregations to sing lies. I hope that what they are doing is writing under the influence of biblical songwriters like David. Isn’t that what they should do?  

Wilson’s post is good, I would just disagree on some of the things he stresses. His overall point, however, is well-said: worship leaders must think hard about what they write and about what they lead people to say or sing. It’s not a frivolous affair, something to toss off like it has no importance. The worship gathering is a display of God’s glory. So we should give due diligence in our preparation/songwriting/song-choosing so that the glory of God in Christ through the work of the Spirit is our aim and the end result. 

 

Written by Josh Philpot

October 7, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Theology, Worship

What We Get Wrong about Worship | RELEVANT Magazine

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My friend Matt Damico (Worship Pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church) has a good post at Relevant Magazine on the misconception that Christian worship should be private: 

Occasionally, someone asks me for a worship song recommendation, or I need someone to listen to a song for some reason. When that happens, I do what any good person does: go to YouTube. I can find a song, grab the link, send it off, and nobody has to buy or download anything. It’s great.

Even though I look for a simple, basic video to pass along, I inevitably run across multiple videos for songs full of stock Christian images, like a slideshow set to music. These videos make a couple things clear: first, some people have too much time on their hands. Second, wrong ideas about worship are all over the place.

These wrong ideas come out in the all-too-common pictures of someone standing alone in a field, or on a mountain, or in an empty church, with their hands held high. You’ve seen these pictures, and not just on YouTube. The Christian bookstore or blog nearest you surely features similar shots. The implication in these images is that true worship, our most sincere moments with God, come when we’re alone.

Read the rest here: What We Get Wrong about Worship | RELEVANT Magazine

Written by Josh Philpot

August 13, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Worship

Music in Wartime

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Peter Leithart posted an excellent essay today on how music helps the church in wartime, that is, when she is in immanent danger and under siege on all sides. He shows that in Scripture, music isn’t useless ornamentation. It is integral to warfare and to witness:

To warfare: Because kings make and play musical instruments. Because playing music is an extension of dominion over the world. Because David drove away evil spirits with his harp. Because God trained David’s sword-hand to fight and his harp-fingers for battle. Because David organized Levitical singers and players like an army. Because Jehoshaphat dispersed the Moabites and Ammonites with singers. Because we are filled with the Spirit of power to speak in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Because music disposes the soul to courage. Music makes happy warriors.

To witness: Because Miriam sang the song of the sea, testifying to the Lord. Because Moses sang the Song of Moses, testifying against Israel. Because exiles sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. Because David composed the Lord’s songs in a land of strangers. Because we sing to declare the Name of the Lord. Because Paul and Silas sang til midnight in a Philippian jail, singing the jailer into the kingdom. Because Jesus sings in the midst of the congregation.

At the beginning of Revelation 14, John sees the Lamb standing on Zion, surrounded by the 144,000 who have been sealed on the forehead for priestly service. Like Jesus, each is simultaneously priest and sacrifice, each offering himself. Before they shed their blood, they learn the song of heaven. Before they join the company of martyrs, they join the choir of angels. And by shedding their blood, these singer-martyrs seal the doom of Babylon.

When things fall apart, the church needs are courageous witnesses who obey the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus no matter what. As we offer the breath of our bodies to God in music, we are prepared to offer our blood too. As living sacrifices offering our reasonable worship, we are prepared to offer our dying sacrifices, pouring ourselves out as drink offerings on the sacrifice and service of faith.

Read the whole thing via Music in Wartime | Theopolis Institute | Bible. Liturgy. Culture.: “”

Written by Josh Philpot

May 19, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Posted in Music, Worship

A Call for Musical Pastors via Bob Kauflin

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Lately I’ve been trying to say and teach our congregation that worship leading is a pastoral task. We call the people of God to sing God’s words for God’s glory, to say and speak the truth about God and his redemptive plan to one another. Or to say it differently, we put words in their mouths. As a friend of mine once said, leading worship means leading worshipers, which is inherently pastoral. One of the main influences of my ministry as a pastor for worship is Bob Kauflin, who leads Sovereign Grace Worship. Today he has an excellent blog post along these same lines:

A Call for Musical Pastors:

An increasing number of musicians have full time worship ministry in their sights. They hope that one day they’ll be able to make a living playing their instrument, leading people in songs of praise.

That’s a great goal. But I’m not sure it’s the best one.

If you believe God’s called and gifted you to serve the church with your music vocationally, I want to suggest that you consider whether God’s calling you to be a pastor as well. A musical pastor. Of course, not every musician who leads congregational singing should or will be a pastor. But if you hope to join a church staff some day, I want to suggest six reasons why preparing to be a pastor musician is better than simply aiming to be a worship leader.

Read the rest to get those six reasons. Kauflin’s point here pushes up against the more common definition of a worship leader in evangelical pop culture: a musician who sings and leads a band in front of a church. But I think Kauflin’s words are wise in this regard. Church leaders shouldn’t pass over them lightly:

Can someone lead music in the church and not be a muscial pastor? Sure. . . . But pastors will always be responsible to choose and lead what the church sings. It’s pastors, not worship leaders, that God will ultimately hold accountable for those they shepherd (Heb. 13:17). Which means it’s possible that if you want to be a pastor or already are, any musical training you get is only going to serve you and your church.

So what might happen if more churches were led in song by musicians who were pastors, or pastors who were musicians?

I’m not exactly sure, but I’m confident our hearts, our songs, and our churches would all be the better for it.

May the Lord raise up pastors who are gifted to lead musically in our churches.

(Via Bob Kauflin)

Written by Josh Philpot

April 23, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Worship

The Word of God in Our Mouths | Doxology and Theology

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Over at the Doxology and Theology blog I have a post on The Word of God in Our Mouths. Here’s an excerpt: 

The task of worship planning is a pastoral discipline. I say pastoral because the planning and leading of worship services is a matter of teaching good theology. Like any good pastor, we should desire to get the Word of God into our people at every point of the service, which means that we’re doing more than leading songs for our congregations: we’re putting words in their mouths. We’re causing our people to actually say specific words and to respond in specific ways. So what we do has great influence.

We’re giving our churches categories of understanding for doctrine and response. Through our liturgies we’re teaching them the gospel, the true nature and work of Jesus, and how we take part in the story of God reconciling all things through Christ. In this sense, our worship leading has more to do with formation/sanctification than it does with affection. There are some who plan services around what affects them emotionally. But our affections do not always change our actions. The truth of God does.

Read the rest here

Written by Josh Philpot

November 11, 2014 at 3:14 am

Posted in Theology, Worship

Farewell Gungor

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Yesterday, an article was published in World Magazine about the uber-hipster artists Michael and Lisa Gungor and their drift from biblical orthodoxy in their music. Michael Gungor in particular seems to have “lost” his traditional faith at some point along the road, choosing to express in his music a spirituality mixed with some form of doubt. Apparently, Gungor has teamed up with the king of doubt, Mr. Rob Bell himself, to write poetry for a few new EPs, also collaborating with Rachel Held Evans in expressing how “God is mother.” 

The drift from traditional biblical orthodoxy is evident in Gungor’s earlier songs too, and anyone with a keen theological sense could probably see where Gungor was headed. In his 2013 song, “Yesternite,” Gungor writes, “Yesternite the gods they disappeared from sight / the angels flapped their wings and took their songs to flight / the shadows lift their hands and praise the light.” The article in World Magazine points to Gungor’s description of these lyrics on his blog, where he uses “gods” as a general mythological construct to represent the stories that “we thought were true, but no longer are. Stories that we lived by, defined ourselves with, but can no longer believe in.” Regarding Adam and Even or the biblical account of the flood, Gungor admits that he has “no more ability to believe in these things then I do to believe in Santa Claus.”

The news is very disappointing and sad, especially since Gungor’s music is so rich and creative from a musical standpoint, even if Gungor’s lyrics are ambivalent on the theological issues he addresses in his songs. Gungor’s most popular song, “Beautiful Things,” is often sung in churches:

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

I guess all of this is now in doubt from Gungor’s perspective. But we should be wary of doubt as a spiritually helpful way to evaluate our convictions and traditions. Jesus counseled his disciples with regard to his real nature and his power over the sea, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31). Gungor may not perceive what he is doing, but he’s actually teaching people doctrine with his ambiguous language and, in my view, belittling God by casting doubt on God’s word. This reminds me Matthew 15:8-9. Quoting from Isaiah 29:13, Jesus says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” 

Our convictions should rest in Jesus, whether we find him hard to believe or not. But the good thing is that Jesus is convincing, and he has given us the true story of the world and of our God. God does indeed make beautiful things out dust, and makes hope spring around us, and calls light out of chaos—through Jesus. And we should have faith in him and his word. His commandments are true and righteous altogether. Let’s not depart from them as Gungor has. 

Written by Josh Philpot

August 4, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Music, Theology, Worship

Face the Music

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Mike Wittmer recently posted a nice reflection about worship styles in our church services that I found encouraging: 

Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

So, my dear brothers and sisters, when you gather for the Lord’s Supper, wait for each other (v. 33).

The wise pastor told his new worship director, “There is one style of music I hope you never play in our church.” She grabbed a pen and asked, “What is it?” He replied, “I will never tell you. If we all insist on getting our own way, we will never sing anything.”

Few issues are more controversial in church than music. Some churches solve the problem by providing two worship options, a traditional service for older folks and a contemporary one for those who enjoy more upbeat music. This often keeps both groups happy, but at some cost.

Marva Dawn warns, “it is utterly dangerous for churches to offer choices of worship styles.” She says it divides the church, treats Christians as consumers whose tastes must be catered to, and robs us of the opportunity to serve our neighbor. We should rejoice when a tune is sung that we don’t like, for that is an opportunity to deny ourselves for the sake of our brother or sister (Matthew 16:24). When veteran saints try to learn a new chorus or young people sing an old hymn both are saying to the other, “This may not be my cup of tea, but I’m willing to make room for you. I will sing along for your sake, and the whole church will benefit.” Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are unwilling to do this during worship, when do we think we ever would? (Mark 12:29-31).

God expects there will be variety in our worship services. He made us different, and He says that Spirit filled believers will variously sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:19). Our great God deserves to be praised by the widest variety of worshipers and styles. Keep your preference, and keep it to yourself.

Written by Josh Philpot

May 12, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Worship