Andrew Gant's lively book tells a history of sacred song.
On Saturdays at First Presbyterian, the congregants know good jazz when they hear it. But the event is first of all a church service.
The church’s recognition of the reality of radical evil opened its music to dissonant, jagged 20th-century soundscapes and what they could express.
In response to our request for essays on song, we received many compelling reflections. Here is a selection.
As new forms of congregations arise, new musical forms are developing. Walls are coming down—secular vs. sacred, intellect vs. emotion, contemporary vs. traditional.
In a major hymnal, an unauthorized edit is an embarrassing oversight. In the local church, it's pretty routine.
I like Keith Getty's "In Christ Alone." I think the PCUSA hymnal committee probably made the right call on the whole "wrath of God was satisfied" business, but still: it's a good song for congregational use, accessible but with some theological meat. It's a little bizarre, however, to present "In Christ Alone" and Getty's other songs as one side of a two-sided debate over church music, as NPR does here.
Somewhere in my queue of non-time-sensitive articles to write—yes, it’s been there a while—is one on the history and practice of making theologically significant changes to traditional American songs. Not just line-level edits like neutering/diversifying gendered language or using “love” in place of “wrath.” I mean re-imagining songs in a thoroughgoing way, while also preserving much of the existing imagery and language patterns. (I posted some time ago about one historical example.) I write songs and play traditional music, but I haven’t actually tried this approach myself.
Many churchgoers greet the announcement of a new hymnal with a single puzzled, even outraged question: Why?
In preparing the new PCUSA hymnal, our committee may have made some wrong decisions. But they weren't careless or cavalier ones.
In the evangelical subculture of my youth, there were three categories of pop music. There was secular music, the avoidance of which was, as with alcohol, a nonessential of the faith. (My parents’ approach was more tight regulation than outright ban.) There was Christian music, the Nashville-industry pop records that we heard on Christian radio during our school carpool and then saved our allowances up to buy. And then there was worship music, which we sang at church.
I will be the first to argue that good church music can be old or new, classical or pop or folk or whatever, content dense or repetitive, celebratory or somber. And as I've pointed out before, the best critiques of praise-band music usually come from within that world, not from outside haters. Anyway, this "How to write a worship song (in five minutes or less)" tutorial from Blimey Cow is a heap of fun.
Some post-worship-war churches revel in musical eclecticism. Others have a singular approach and sound, rendering the terms traditional and contemporary irrelevant.