Critical reviews (by Lutheran pastors and church musicians) of books and other resources for Christian worship, preaching, and church music from a perspective rooted in Holy Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and good common sense. LHP Quarterly Book Review asks, "Is it worth the money to buy, the time to read, the shelf space to store, and the effort to teach?"
Feed: Intrepid Lutherans Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:00 PM Author:firstname.lastname@example.org (Brian G. Heyer) Subject: Praise for the Praise Song Cruncher
A few years ago, Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller (Hope Lutheran Church—LCMS, Aurora, Colo.) proposed several criteria for evaluating 'praise songs.' As co-host of a humble radio show, "Table Talk Radio," Rev. Wolfmueller uses the "Praise Song Cruncher" segments to draw attention to the error of Mysticism which imbues that genre. While steering us clear from our feelings about insipid 'praise songs,' he identifies here in this podcast the Scriptures against which so many chart-topping CCLI praise songs are crunched.
It's a simple discernment tool — just one page (linked here) exploring five basic topics. It seems incredible that it must be stated, but the first criteria is whether or not Jesus is actually mentioned in the song. If a nuddist Buddhist could sing your 'praise song,' isn't that a cause for concern? The fourth criterion is thoroughly Lutheran: Is Law & Gospel properly presented? Is Law & Gospel rightly divided? Is the Gospel presented as conditional? The fifth criterion is simply to identify obviously false teaching in the song while remaining cognizant that some songs are so blandly repetitive that they don't teach anything at all (an error itself.)
The Mystical content of the genre is the millstone which typically pulls these songs underwater, and points two and three of the Cruncher address this concern. Interestingly, Wolfmueller identifies that many of these songs don't even use complete sentences. At first it may seem a minor point against musical art for art's sake. However, Paul gave the Corinthians a going-over in Chapter 14 (the first time around) about the harm that comes when people (particularly unbelievers) don't know what you're talking about in church. The Church's acceptance of Post-Modern laxity in language is working against us here as well, but that topic will be handled in a different post by a more gifted pen.
I'm told our seminary teaches pastors to preach in manner in which they will be understood but also in such a way that they won't be misunderstood. This is also sound advice for deciding when to drift from the half-millennia of Lutheran hymns prepared for us.
(By the way, speaking of language, is it too much to ask for our churches and publications to consistently capitalize the pronouns referring to God? Back in the day, my government grade school teacher would correct essays in bright red ink if our "written language diminished the superior authority of God." That's a quote.)
The final challenge of the Cruncher is to make the user thoroughly aware of the Mystical content. Reflecting the fallen self-absorbed culture, understandably a common error is that these songs are not about God and what He has done but instead about me and my feelings. (As if my feelings have anything to do with Christ's Gospel, but carrying over sectarian worship songs introduces their false doctrines as well.) Does the song use language better suited for a Top-40 love ballad? Can you substitute your sweetheart's name in the song and still sing it? Does the song encourage abandoning oneself, being lost or absorbed into God? Does the song seek to find God inside of you? Does God come to me/speak to me internally or externally? Is this a Lectio Divina warm-up act?
It's no mistake that so many 'praise songs' make the focus of the songs not about Jesus, but about us. Because of the thorough flogging dozens of CCLI-topping 'praise songs' receive in the Cruncher, and the harm they introduce into our congregations, once again we're left with only one justification for continuing these sectarian practices: "But We Want To." Stop me if you've read this sentiment in the Old Testament over and over and know where this cycle leads.