For years I’ve bemoaned the lack of serious, thoughtful, theologically rich lyrics in the praise songs and worship choruses I’m subjected to at church. Some of the recent praise and worship music remedies that, but I’m still occasionally struck silent by vacuous, empty lyrics using clichÃƒ©s to resonate with worshipers and the time-tested trick of singing a single chorus line over and over until we all fall into a trance-like worship state.
:: sigh ::
I miss scripture in my worship. I miss theology in my worship. I miss the hymns.
But what I don’t necessarily miss are the hymn’s melodies and forms. As my wife and I have discussed this, I’ve often wondered aloud why church worship directors don’t apply their musical talents to translate older hymns into contemporary sounds. Okay, maybe most church worship and music directors really aren’t that good at creating new melodies, but surely a denominational juggernaut could afford to hire somebody to update some good, solid hymns into a contemporary structure. Surely?
So, we’re left with borrowing our hymnody from the twenty-something songwriters out there who have a catchy, engaging sound, but have little depth in either their life-experiences or scriptural knowledge, and thus the worship music they give to the church have little power to teach, to train our thinking, to engage our minds, and provide transformation.
Recently, Christianity Today interviewed Jars of Clay about a new release I haven’t heard yet, but hope to. It’s worth the read:
Old Words, Vibrant Faith
Christian pop/rock band Jars of Clay explains why the church needs more Redemption Songs.
Interview by Collin Hansen | posted 10/21/2005 09:00 a.m.
Jars of Clay
Availability: Usually ships in 2 to 3 days
Format: Audio CD
This sounds like a project that deserves to be on my shelf. I guess, that is, if I were still buying CDs. Most of my listening now is podcasts and sermons, but if I were to buy a CD, I think I’d give this one a serious shot. The interview reveals that JoC has been playing with updated versions of “Be Thou My Vision,” “And Can It Be,” and “This Is My Father’s World,” three of my favorite hymns.
This quote really lays out what I wish more churches were doing:
“There has been a worship resurgence over the last five years or so. And Jars hasn’t really had much of a place in that conversation. We just had a different encounter with worship. And we really credit it to our church. After we moved down [to Nashville], we all ended up at this place called Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee. They place a real value on the hymns. They sing modern songs and praise choruses, but they’re always mixing in hymns. They change the melody or just give it a little more modern folk treatment or some other spin on it. So we got used to that over the years, and a few songs in particular worked their way under our skin. The richness of the words and the theological grounding really became something pretty special to us. …
“Most of us grew up with hymns. It wasn’t a new thing. But it was the way [Christ Community Church] used hymns with more of the context that gave them richness. It was like we need these songs. These were the songs that I could go to on a really tough dark day when I’m not really sure what I believe or nothing quite makes sense. And these songs will reset my heart and remind me of what’s true again, in a way that a modern worship song or praise chorus can’t or won’t do.”
And here is JoC’s indictment of the current state of worship music contrasted with the older hymns:
“I think a lot is the theology behind it—[hymns are] based on Jesus’ work on the Cross. It doesn’t depend on what I do, what I bring, what I want. It’s not based on my feelings or on my senses. It’s solely on who God is and what Jesus has done. And it’s such a blunt reminder in the mix of my selfishness and the things day in and day out that will tweak with my beliefs and compete for my attention. It’s a reorienting to what’s true.”
Update: I like Robbymac’s take on the current state of hymnodic affairs as well:
“What we need are more songwriters who will take spiritual formation into account when they write their songs, and make a point of bringing Scripture into their writing. Stained glass windows were once a teaching tool for a non-literate society — good songwriting will fulfill the same need for our culture today.”
[tags]BlogRodent, music, worship, worship-music, hymns, hymnody, praise-and-worship, Christian-music, Jars-of-Clay, Christianity-Today, contemporary-christian-music, spiritual, spirituality, religion, church[/tags]