Saturday, June 25, 2016

Music 23 - Contemporary Music’s God Problem

"Really? Another blog on what's wrong with CCM? Honestly, you just need to move on already."

why-hire-usNo. I am not moving on. Indeed, I plan to camp here for quite a while yet. To mix metaphors entirely, I have been loading my gun for a long time, and since this series may be my only chance to shoot said bullets I aim to fire 'em all. We independent Baptists are fairly good at telling people what to do and what not to do. We are also fairly lousy at explaining why. In a very real sense this blog series is my attempt to address that latter weakness in the area of music. So I plan to keep saying "here's why" for a long time to come.

In point of fact, in my view there are about a dozen good reasons to avoid CCM. Thus far I have indirectly addressed several of them – CCM produces in Christians an incorrect understanding and application of worship, and CCM has a tendency to convert the church service into a show. I have also directly addressed others such as the fact that CCM blurs the clear distinction that ought to divide the church from the world, and that CCM produces stars instead of servants. In today's post I offer you this thought: contemporary music lowers God.

What do I mean by the phrase "lowers God"? I mean that CCM essentially redefines God as being oriented toward us instead of us being oriented toward God. It drains God of His majestic holiness and thus us of an appropriate view of Him. Isaiah famously said, In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. (Isaiah 6.1) Philosophically, however, CCM reduces God. It explains Him as essentially existing in order to minister to us, to meet our needs when the scriptural fact of the matter is the exact opposite.

"Hold on a second there, Right Reverend Brennan. You best climb off your high horse. CCM sings more praise to God in a week than you old-fashioned IFB duffers do in a month. For crying out loud, it was exactly for this reason we switched from those tired old hymns and that depressing organ. And it worked. We got the people up, we got their hands in the air, and we are singing praises to our Lord."

Good. No, seriously, good. I am heartily glad CCM sings praise to the Lord. In fact, if it has a strength it is indeed that. It is wonderful about teaching people the importance of telling God He is amazing, and I am not afraid to admit that. Indeed, I love it. Having said that, however, I want you to back up and notice a word I used a paragraph or two up – the word "philosophically". The philosophical foundation on which CCM is built and for which the average church embraces it lowers God. It changes Him; it orients Him to us rather than us to Him.

0787a35ee8b6482a2da72214a405aa42For example, take a moment and contrast the approach CCM takes in reaching people with the approach a traditional preaching-heavy church takes. Preaching is specifically designed to directly confront the individual with their hopeless sinfulness in the eyes of a holy God. It tears an arrogant man down brick by brick. It stacks the Word of God up unapologetically beside our rotten lives and demands that we change.

To say the least, CCM is not preaching in this sense; it is art – and art was never made for preaching. Art was made for self-expression. Art was made for beauty. Art was made to produce an inner emotional response to that beauty. In this context CCM seeks to produce in the audience a good feeling. It is specifically designed to make people feel relaxed and comfortable at church. In order to accomplish this it must of necessity go easy on scriptural concepts such as sin, judgment, hell, and condemnation. Contemporary music was not made to confront; it was made to mesh unchurched Harry with the church. As such it presents God as being conveniently approachable. The philosophy of contemporary music is the philosophy of a 24/7 warm welcome. It is Motel 6 and "we'll leave the light on for you." It is not the philosophy of conviction and repentance. It is not the philosophy of a God high, and holy, and lifted up who commands and demands.

The proof of this is revealed in the service structure of the typical contemporary evangelical American church. Take for instance the following quote by John Frame (one of only two men I know who have written a book defending the use of CCM):

These nontraditional forms of worship have displayed some fairly common patterns: more contemporary language and music, informal atmosphere, greater emphasis on joyful celebration, less on mourning over sin. The church seeks to encourage an atmosphere of welcome and friendliness. CW [Frame's preferred term, contemporary worship music or CWM] avoids 'turn-offs' like ancient liturgy, emphasis on denominational history and theological distinctives, ten-minute prayers, forty-minute sermons, uncomfortable seats, ministers' begging for money, and crowded parking lots and restrooms. The preaching assumes little congregational knowledge of Scripture and doctrine, and avoids technical theological language. It begins by addressing 'felt needs.' Sometimes the church uses drama, films, and multi-media, usually to pose questions the sermon seeks to answer...CW is often called 'seeker-sensitive' or 'user-friendly'...

Please do not misunderstand me. I do not for one moment think we ought to be unfriendly or unwelcoming. But if the unsaved sinner does not feel uncomfortable in our church services at some point then what is the point? Contemporary music and its underlying philosophy recoils with horror at that last sentence. In turn, I recoil in horror at its recoiling.1813 If our church services are not confronting the sinner with his sin then what are we converting him from? What are we converting him to? The answer to both those questions is absolutely nothing. He does not feel any pressure. He sees no need to change anything. He experiences no sense of condemnation or shame but rather only one of approval and welcome. In his mind then God feels toward him just like the church service feels to him – it's all good. But God does not want your "come as you are." He wants you to come despising what you are and desperate for His grace to change.

A switch to CCM in a church is much more than a change in musical style. It is the embrace of a philosophy that lowers God and excuses man. And that is a problem.