Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What’s wrong with contemporary?

There is a continuing debate in the churches about “traditional” versus “contemporary” music. The term is typically used to refer to pop, rock, or “praise & worship” styles. The Dictionary of Christianese[i] defines contemporary Christian music (CCM) as “A genre of music with a pop or rock sound and lyrics that are related to the Christian faith.”[ii] The adjective “contemporary” on the other hand means “of the present time; existing, occurring, or living at the same time; belonging to the same time.”

I notice that sometimes the word “contemporary” gets “played with” in the discussions of worship wars.[iii] Those who like contemporary music with a pop or rock sound in church often “switch horses” in the middle of a discussion and begin speaking of contemporary in the sense “of the present time” – that is, newly written music. This is diversion by design. For example, Mike Bergman writes,
“…even the most traditional song was contemporary at the moment someone first wrote it. And this rejection of the contemporary based on its newness is itself a rejection of Scripture which commands us to “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful” (Psalm 149:1).
Responding in a comment Dave Miller says, “I always wonder what standard we use when we start saying that new is less worthy than old. How old is old enough?” Most Christians agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with a song simply because it is new, recently written. A song can be “recently written” in any style. I write hymn tunes. I have written one as recently as the first of February, and am working on another now. It is contemporary (new/just written). It is Christian (tune combined with biblical text, to be sung by Christians). It is music (at least I think so!). But it is not Contemporary Christian Music/CCM.

The origin of CCM is older than the song on which I’m now working. By nearly 50 years! It is not a matter of age. According to the CCM Hall of Fame, Larry Norman “is widely accepted as the ‘father of Jesus rock.’ In 1969, nearly a decade before CCM was founded, Norman was signed to Capitol Records (home to The Beatles and The Beach Boys), where he created ‘Upon This Rock,’ a groundbreaking work believed to be the first ‘contemporary Christian music’ album ever made.” Gospel Music Hall of Fame says, “Norman’ s music—an unlikely mix of love songs, the Gospel message, and wry commentary on American culture—exemplified the goals, ideals and standards of everything the original architects of contemporary Christian music intended for it to be.” CCM is a style or genre within the overarching label of “Christian music.” The debate is not about the age of the songs. It is about style and sometimes preference. There is nothing inherently wrong with “contemporary,” though all contemporary songs do not fit the theology of the Word or the “style” of God’s people.[iv] “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Away with thee, confusing cavil and diversionary discussion of the age of songs. “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.” (Psalm 149:1).

[i] “The casual slang of the Christian Church...authoritatively defined. The Dictionary of Christianese is a new dictionary currently being written that explains the slang words and expressions used by Christians. The Dictionary is a serious work of scholarly research, and it is written for use by all kinds of people, including new Christians, long-time Christians, non-Christians, linguists, journalists, historians, and word nerds and curiosity-seekers of every kind.”
[ii] Tim Stewart, the chief researcher for The Dictionary of Christianese, is a proponent of this music, writing “I myself enjoy CCM quite a bit, and I also love the fact that we coined our own word for our brand of popular faith-related music.” This is not a definition concocted by the opposition as a strawman.
[iii] “Worship wars” refer to the debates over the style and content of the music in churches.
[iv] “The fact that so many Christians gauge their personal estimate of the worth of a worship service on the basis of personal enjoyment indicates that they do not really comprehend what is involved in corporate Christian worship.” (Robert G. Rayburn, in O Come, Let Us Worship: Corporate Worship in the Evangelical Church, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, p. 129)

No comments: