More Problems with Praise Music

This week, Carl R. Trueman from First Things and Charles Hopper at McSweeney’s explore the problems with praise music, expanding on T. David Gordon’s thoughtful article on The Problem with Praise Teams. Gordon focuses on how the phenomenon of the praise band misses the mark of a biblical definition of worship, arguing that the praise team by its very nature violates the biblical command of congregational praise by setting up a performance environment.

Trueman, on the other hand, insists that the problem with worship music is “is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough.” In his article, Tragic Worship, Trueman argues that Christian worship has neglected a classic form of entertainment central to the human experience: tragedy. Christian worship has mirrored the entertainment industry’s move away from the tragic, while human life has necessarily retained its tragic element, even while the culture attempts to ignore it. In the interest of remaining relevant, Christian worship neglects the tragedies of human life and therefore neglects to give meaning to those looking for God in their suffering:

“The psalms as the staple of Christian worship, with their elements of lament, confusion, and the intrusion of death into life, have been too often replaced not by songs that capture the same sensibilities—as the many great hymns of the past did so well—but by those that assert triumph over death while never really giving death its due. The tomb is certainly empty; but we are not sure why it would ever have been occupied in the first place.”

Likewise, Christian Hopper argues that Christian Rock Can Only Ever Be About One Thing: tediousness. Why?

“I like rock. I like hymns. I’ve opened myself to a sense of spirituality—I’m not an atheist anymore. My son’s counselor plays that guitar like ringing a church bell.

But I can hardly endure it.

It’s always, always the same story.

It’s always the same words even.

It all just irritates me. This is not rock: Rawk!—that primordial stew that can combine elements with electricity and create life.

Sanctioned phrases and predictable endings are the wrong elements.”

Similarly to Trueman, Hopper sees something lacking in Christian worship, though instead of the tragic element, Hopper says the vital elements that Christian worship is missing are “Yarns and anecdotes. Characters.” In short, Christian worship should be more like Nashville country:

“Nashville country is constantly offering radio listeners a unified theory of daily life—new ideas and unexpected twists on old ideas, and sudden awareness of human connection: that’s not a bad way to get a guy to brush up against the mystery, rolling along in Owen country.”

By attempting to melt into a culture of upbeat pop/rock music without regard for what that culture often ignores, Christians deepen the very problem they were trying to avoid in the first place: they cease to be relevant because they cease to express the complexities and tragedies of human life.

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  1. Ted Olsen says:

    Just because the classic rock station doesn’t play Sigur Ros doesn’t mean Sigur Ros doesn’t exist.

    That karaoke singer butchering “Folsom Prison Blues” as if it’s a celebration of cold-blooded murder doesn’t turn it into a bad song.

    And me going to Jazz Fest doesn’t really qualify me to talk authoritatively about what’s wrong with jazz today.

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