When triumphal praise songs just don’t work
I’ve been thinking about hymnody and worship music a lot lately. I keep returning to single theme that marks contemporary worship music–triumph(-alism). One of the things I most ardently miss about the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the wide use made of hymn re-writes–lyrics of old hymns set to a contemporary tune.
The beauty and theological richness of the old lyrics become newly accessible through their marriage to new music.
Here’s one of my favorites:
There’s a sense in a lot of these older hymns that I am a broken person for whom pleasing God is impossible, and who fumbles and stumbles through life desperately in need of a savior to guide me. I like this because it one of the more accurate descriptions of who I am and how I experience the Christian life.
I am not a saint. I am a pilgrim. I get side-tracked and wander off into paths that lead away from God and into sin and temptation.
When I try to please God, my actions are very often tainted by my own desire to be applauded, approved of, or thought well of.
I’m something of a wreck.
There are things I have experienced and am experiencing that shake me to the core of my being. At times, I am angry with God. I believe, but my faith is immeasurably smaller than a seed of mustard–it’s nano-faith, if you will.
I often feel that contemporary worship songs make much of our experience of God, but little of God himself. The logic of these songs is that because of our first-person experience of God, we can sing about how we won’t be moved, we won’t be shaken, we won’t give in.
I have to be honest, I believe that in the end God’s grace will sustain me and he will never give me up. At the same time, I’m not able to affirm that “I won’t be moved,” “I won’t be shaken,” “I won’t give in.”
The truth is that to the extent that any of these things happen (i.e., not being moved, not being shaken, not giving in) it will be because of God. In reality I’ve been moved a hundred times, I have been shaken a thousand times, and more than that I’ve told God that I quit.
So far, none of these has stuck. Yet, I cannot get all chest-bumpy about this because I know that there really is a single thing that’s holding me–the Covenant love of God.