Keith Getty, author of the widely sung contemporary hymn “In Christ Alone”, lamented that, in its quest for “cultural relevance”, modern worship music is “de-Christianizing people”.
He said: “Over 75 percent of what are called the great hymns of the faith talk about eternity, heaven, hell, and the fact that we have peace with God. Yet less than 5 percent of modern worship songs talk about eternity.”
[…] Getty’s critique is undoubtedly correct. Much contemporary worship music is both aesthetically and biblically vacuous. He is right to call Christians to seek to create art with theological depth and lasting artistic value.
After observing evangelical worship for 45 years and after talking with my students, in both broadly evangelical and in Reformed schools, about their experience of contemporary worship music, I am confident that the principal function of most contemporary worship music is to produce a mild euphoria. It puts the T back in therapeutic. It makes people feel good, but Getty is quite right to observe “[m]any worship songs are focused on this Earth”.
More specifically, they are focused on the feelings and experience of the believer. They are crafted, if that is indeed the right verb to use here, with the intent of producing in the singer a certain emotional reaction. Further, I think they are addictive. In my experience, it takes people as long as six months to withdraw from their addiction to the weekly dose of euphoria they receive from contemporary worship music.
Most contemporary worship music is not focused on the great acts of redemption or upon God’s promises to his people, or upon his attributes. They are focused upon us. Typically they are followed by a message—increasingly delivered not by a pastor with a theological education but by an entrepreneur with a business degree—that also focuses upon us and our experience.
[…] There is little evidence that the earliest post-apostolic Christians sang non-canonical hymns. Historians of worship speak rather loosely about “ancient” Christian hymns. There are some third-century hymns and many more in the fourth century AD.
The growth of the number of non-canonical songs used in worship in the fourth century was controversial and was addressed by at least two regional synods, with one ruling against them and then for them.
In the seventh century, under the influence of Gregory I, the number and use of non-canonical hymns exploded. However, the Psalms retained a unique and central place in Christian worship for the millennium.
In the eighteenth century, under the influence of the Pietists and revivalists, the Psalter began to be displaced. That trend continued through the 19th century. Read the full article by R. Scott Clark.