Artistic Theologian Volume 9 (2021)
Editorial: Scripture-Shaped Worship
What would it mean for our worship to be truly shaped by Scripture? Christians are people of the book. Conservative Evangelical Christians, in particular, demand that their beliefs and lives be governed by Scripture. God’s inspired Word is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17). Therefore, for Christ-honoring sanctification to take place, the lives of Christians must be governed and saturated by the living and active Word of God. And for this same reason, corporate worship must also be governed and saturated by the Word; since public worship both reveals belief and forms belief, it must be shaped by Scripture.
Worship on the Cart of Experience
Joseph R. Crider
David, a worship leader after God’s own heart, had a 30,000-man choir, all the instruments of the ancient world, an authentically responsive congregation consisting of the “whole house of Israel,” and yet one of the greatest worship experiences of the biblical era ended in tragedy. Uzzah died.
For me, the story of Uzzah is like a flashing yellow caution light on the road I travel as a worship leader. The Uzzah story cautions me over and over again that worship facilitated on the cart of what seems to “work” (pragmatism), rather than according to the unwavering truths of the Word of God, will ultimately harm the people worshiping under my direction. Uzzah serves as a metaphor for those we lead, and David a picture of those who direct and lead the corporate gathering.
“I Wanna Talk about Me”: Analyzing the Balance of Focus between God and Man
in Congregational Songs of the American Evangelical Church
Narratives in contemporary culture have become increasingly narcissistic. This is cleverly illustrated in Toby Keith’s 2001 hit country song “I Wanna Talk about Me.” The song’s two verses lament the fact that the singer’s girlfriend only ever talks about herself. This in itself shows the girlfriend’s own narcissism. The song’s chorus then presents an ode to the singer, who would like to talk about himself once in a while:
I wanna talk about me
Wanna talk about I
Wanna talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know,
what I want, what I see
I like talking about you, you, you,
you usually, but occasionally
I wanna talk about me
I wanna talk about me.
While the song is meant to poke fun of narcissistic and self-absorbed girlfriends, it also shows a reality for most people: we like talking about ourselves. Unfortunately, contemporary culture continues to provide more and more outlets for people to talk about and promote themselves: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, self-started blogs, etc.
New Forms of Old Measures: Nineteenth-Century New-Measures Revivalists’ Understanding of Their Methodologies
The Second Great Awakening (1790–1840) began with a fresh set of revivals not unlike that of the First Great Awakening (late 1730s–40s); however, out of this new awakening, men like Charles Finney developed a revivalistic movement driven by means such as anxious meetings, protracted meetings, and the anxious seat. This system of means, reaching its peak in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, is popularly known as new-measures revivalism. These new measures, however, were not without opposition. Many opposed Finney and other new-measures revivalists (NMRs) on the basis of innovation and practicing means that had no biblical warrant. More recent historians, too, claim that Finney’s revivalism ”broke ‘The Tradition of the Elders,’” citing one of Finney’s own sermons, by introducing radically new innovations to church practice and worship.
Yet what these critics and historians often overlook is the fact that the NMRs defended their practices by actually citing biblical and historical precedent, arguing that their methods were not new at all. The purpose of this paper is to reveal the ways in which the NMRs made the above appeal and to what extent they believed their methods to have precedent. I will not assess whether their practice may, indeed, be defended on biblical and historic grounds; rather, my intent here is to more clearly identify their reasoning so that such an assessment can occur without caricaturing their arguments.
To accomplish this, first, I will give a brief history of the development of new measures along with the controversy that surrounded them, prompting NMRs to defend their practices. Second, I will examine their comparisons of new measures to the Old Testament events of Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. Third, I will consider their comparisons to the New Testament events of Jesus’s ministry, Pentecost, and Paul’s ministry. Fourth, I will survey their appeal to the means of the sixteenth-century Reformers, Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley, and other common practices in church history as justification of their own new measures. Having examined the comparisons made in biblical and church history, I will argue that by appealing to biblical and historical precedent for defense of their methods, new-measures revivalists showed that what they believed to be new was the form, not the measures themselves.
On the Decline of “Unmodified” Psalmody in the English Tradition: A Question of Hermeneutics and Ecclesiastical Mission
Mark A. Snoeberger
Examining the indices of historical English songbooks used for worship is an enlightening exercise. One is overwhelmed, especially in the oldest of these, by (1) the preference for (and sometimes the exclusivity of) the psalms and other inspired material and (2) the prominence of the themes of lament and the crucible of experience in both inspired and non-inspired hymnody. While the Christian gospel is not absent in older hymnals, neither is it dominant: (3) the theme of divine providence takes pride of place and evangelical truth is to be inferred. This article explores historical reasons why these features have faded from English hymnody. Its conclusion is that the decline of unmodified psalms (and with them the themes of lament and providence) and the corresponding uptick in evangelical psalmody, original hymnody, and more buoyant lyrical themes stem from troubling hermeneutical and missional developments with respect to gathered worship.
That the Hebrew psalms are mandatory of Christian worship cannot be credibly denied (Col 3:16; Eph 5:19). The church cannot obey God without singing them. Nor do we find any express reason in the Scriptures to exclude any of the Hebrew psalms—they are all appropriate to Christian worship. It is true, of course, that affections of longing engendered by certain forward-looking psalms may evoke today affections of relief and delight in their fulfillment; psalms of confidence may become more emphatic as elements of faith become sight; and outmoded cultic and cultural elements in the psalms may invite analogical application (e.g., the believer finds his modern trials embodied in David’s wilderness experiences). Still, all in all, the OT psalms remain incredibly timeless as they stand written—a fact emphatically reinforced in the hymnody of early church history. The Hebrew psalms are as much the property of contemporary Christianity as they were of ancient Israel.
The reason that this is true, it would seem, is that the general experience of faith (e.g., new life, conversion, justification, sanctification, assurance, and hope for resurrection) is identical for both the OT and NT faith communities. It is true that the respective faith expressions of these two communities featured some disparity, but the essence of their faith, the object of their faith, the crucible of their faith (depravity, finiteness, persecution, etc.), and the hopeful end of their faith was the same. And for these reasons, the psalms of God’s more ancient people are of equal profit for his contemporary people.
The progress of revelation and especially Christ’s historical accomplishments suggest, perhaps, that there is abundant fodder for additional hymns in the present age—and it is possible that the NT included poetic devices to this end (Phil 2:5–11; Col 1:15–20; 1 Pet 2:21–25; etc.). Some suggest further that Paul’s allowance not only for “psalms” but also for “hymns” and “spiritual songs” anticipates original hymnody, identifying two other categories of worship music. The relative paucity of such hymns in the early centuries of the Church suggests, however, that caution was the order of the day: the early Church used primarily psalms in gathered worship.
Borrowed Music, Imported Meaning: History, Theology, and Allusion in the Popular Worship Song “Before You I Kneel (A Worker’s Prayer)”
In this paper, I will explore how the Gettys and their frequent collaborator Stuart Townend engage with past musical—and doctrinal—traditions in their hymn writing, focusing on one song from their Hymns for the Christian Life collection of 2012 titled “Before You I Kneel (A Worker’s Prayer)” (also written with Jeff Taylor, a Nashville-based accordionist). In particular, I will consider the songwriters’ use of musical material from J. S. Bach’s popular chorale setting of “Zion hört die Wächter singen” (the second verse of the hymn by Philipp Nicolai) in their modern song, suggesting that Bach’s chorale setting may provide the hymn with relevant textual and theological meaning, as well as forming its musical foundation. Moreover, I will suggest that the use of Bach’s material allows the songwriters to graft this hymn—and themselves—into an interdenominational historical lineage of Protestant worship music, emphasizing the continuity and interconnectedness of church music through the centuries. But before we can understand how and why Bach’s chorale setting was used in the modern hymn, we must first examine its musical qualities and venture some ideas about its own theological meaning—as intended by Bach, but perhaps more relevantly, its theological meaning as interpreted by the songwriters of “Before You I Kneel (A Worker’s Prayer).”
From God to Me to Us: Chris Tomlin and the Dimensions of Worship
Samantha M. Inman
Sacred music both shapes and reflects beliefs. Significantly, both lyrics and musical style contribute to this process. As Scott Aniol notes, “Aesthetic form shapes propositional content . . . doctrinal facts take the shape of the aesthetic form in which they are carried.” While discussing contemporary hymn arrangements, Joshua Busman argues that changes in musical style, form, and climax can color or even alter the meaning of a song, even when the text remains identical to the original. As Greg Scheer summarizes, “Repertoire Is Theology.” Unpacking this theology requires consideration of the text, music, and their interaction.
This study examines expressions of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the Christian life as expressed in recordings by American singer-songwriter Chris Tomlin. In particular, it considers those songs in which a change in point of view in the lyrics is paired with a significant formal, melodic, or textural event in the music, resulting in a heightened awareness of the worshipper’s relation to God and to other people, especially fellow believers. While Tomlin is far from the only worship artist to include lyrics with such grammatical shifts, he nevertheless provides a valuable case study because of his dominance in Contemporary Worship Music (CWM). His accolades include numerous Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association and a Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Album (And if Our God Is for Us . . .). Tens of thousands of college students have been introduced to his music through Passion Conferences, with which Tomlin has been involved since its founding in 1997. Perhaps most important, however, is the fact that Tomlin’s songs are widely sung in church services, as evidenced by their regular appearance in the Top 25 and Top 100 lists maintained by Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI).
The relationship between CWM and the perceived value of worshiping in the context of a Christian congregation is complex. In unpacking connections, the three sections of this article move from general context towards specific case studies focused on Tomlin’s music. Part I considers the significance of point of view in CWM in light of past congregational music and ethnographies of current musical practice. Part II analyzes a corpus of one hundred three songs drawn from ten of Tomlin’s albums, highlighting patterns in lyrics and musical structure typical of his writing and arranging. Part III identifies three types of interactions between lyrical shifts and musical form, closely analyzing representatives of each type drawn from the larger corpus. Interestingly, over half of Tomlin’s songs in this study include an internal change in speaker or audience. Shifts in point of view coupled with musical expression can heighten awareness of both the vertical relation between a worshiper and God and also the horizontal relation among Christians.
A Comparison of Ancient Near Eastern Lament to Selected Passages of Biblical Lament
People of all cultures throughout time have experienced suffering and have found methods for expressing their deep pain and overwhelming feelings of despair. The very existence and expression of lament throughout history demonstrates that embedded in the universal nature of suffering humans is the innate longing to seek hope in something greater than one’s self. Ancient Near Eastern religious expressions were adopted and adapted into other cultural expressions, including the worship of Yahweh. Biblical writers, carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), used a recognizable literary form as a basis upon which to share the hope they found in God with the hurting people around them.
Biblical lament and the lament of ancient Near Eastern societies share some strikingly common features, but their functions are remarkably different. One of the roles of ancient lament was to attempt to gain attention from deities in order to ease human suffering while biblical lament was (and is) a function of worship that points toward the hope of rescue. Therefore, a proper understanding of the role of lament is important because the truth found in biblical lament is the same truth available for suffering humanity today. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of lament from examples found in ancient Near Eastern material, to compare some of the elements with examples of biblical lament, and to highlight the need for incorporating lament into modern corporate worship gatherings.
Abstracts of Recent SWBTS School of Church Music and Worship Doctoral Dissertations
Sung Kyung Chang, DMA. “A Performer’s Study of Treize Prières, Op. 64 by Charles-Valentin Alkan.”
John Francis, PhD. “Shofar, Salpinx, and the Silver Trumpets: The Pursuit for Biblical Clarity.”
Bora Kim, DMA. “A Guide to Performing Two Twentieth-Century Song Cycles by Lori Laitman and Lowell Liebermann.”
KyeJung Rachel Park, DMA. “A Performer’s Analysis of Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109 by Ludwig van Beethoven and Trois Mouvements de Pétrouchka by Igor Stravinsky: A Historical and Analytical Study for Performance Guidelines and Musical Interpretation.”