Tue 8 Jun 2010
One subject that is particularly dear to my heart is worship theology. As a bit of an amateur song/hymnwriter myself, I tend to pay particular attention to the “worship wars” which have divided large parts of Christendom, especially in my own Lutheran heritage.
One of the most frequent – and, frankly, often justified – criticisms of contemporary worship music (even when used in a liturgical framework) is that so many of the songs are theological weak or even plain wrong. In a discussion of the interpretation of Colossians 3:16, the author of Lutheran Hymn Revival (who, by the by, is a rather excellent poet) expressed his frustration that so many of the new songs the church now sings “do not have God’s Word dwelling richly in it so that we might teach and admonish each other.” I agreed with his sentiments, but continued, “I see this not so much a failing of a particular literary or musical style; it is rather the failure of the church to raise up theologically astute songwriters.” As the discussion moved to another post (Worship Wars: Bridging the Divide), he echoed my sentiments, wondering why Lutherans were failing to take up the challenge of composing new theologically strong music:
I know that every now and then we get a Presbyterian or Baptist who writes “Lord, ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee,” or “My Hope is Built on Nothing Else,” or “In Christ Alone,” but what does it say of us today that we cannot put together music and hymnody that is better than all that? What has happened to us and what is our problem? Doesn’t this show a spiritual dearth among us?
I had no easy answers at the time. I still do not. But I have more hope that Lutherans are beginning to take up the challenge. Recently the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod held its first ever Lutheran Songwriter’s Conference. Michael A. Schmid has an excellent reflection on the event in this month’s issue of WorshipConcord Journal. In his words, “the intent was to gather Lutheran songwriters, to encourage and equip them in their craft, to engage in substantive discussion about theology as it pertains to worship songwriting, and then to challenge them to apply their art to blessing the church with Lutheran worship songs.” Let us pray that this truly represents the first steps in a serious commitment to “commissioning and creatin… worship songs with authentic confessional theology.”