Depth and Mystery

Any lasting cease-fire in these worship wars is not likely to emerge from a resolution of the so-called culture wars which feed them, or from large-scale conversions of taste, or from carefully buttressed historical arguments about ancient liturgical precedents. Finally, such a cease-fire can only issue from the depth and mystery of the gospel which Christians proclaim. Christian worship is strongest when it is integrally and self-consciously related to the person and work of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The study of Christian worship is most helpful to Christian communities when it demonstrated how this has happened in the past and how it might happen in the future in more profound ways.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), Page 304-305


I believe that we can move beyond these sterile disputes by putting our discussion of worship within our larger picture of heaven and earth, of God’s future and our present, and of the way in which those two pairs come together in Jesus and the Spirit. . . . This, I believe, sets the right framework for all our thinking about worship, and all discussion of the church’s sacramental life. The rest is footnotes, temperament, tradition, and—let’s face it—individual likes and dislikes (which is what I call them when they’re mine) and irrational prejudices (which is what I call them when they’re yours).

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, 157

Get on with It!

As our culture changes, and as change itself becomes the most constant feature of our culture, we shouldn’t be surprised that many people find traditional forms puzzling and off-putting. I’ve met people in the last year or two who have stopped going to their local church because people have started singing new songs and dancing in the aisles. And I’ve met others who have started going for precisely the same reason. It’s time to give ourselves a shake—to recognize that different people need different kinds of help at different stages of their lives—and get on with it.

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, 167

Old and New

Some churches sing only old songs and some sing only new ones. Both are faulty. To fall to the first side is to fail to take advantage of the legacy of great Christian songwriting. To fall to the other side is to fail to add to the legacy of great Christian songwriting. We faithfully steward our music when we sing the best of the old and find the best of the new.

—Tim Challies, “Why Your Church Should Sing New Songs (Not Only Old Songs)”

Musical Idolatry

How perplexing to think of the burden we have placed on music, this fleeting human construct! . . . The church desperately needs an artistic reformation that accomplishes two things at once: first, it takes music out of the limelight and puts Christ and his Word back into prominence; and second, it strives creatively for a synthesis of new, old and crosscultural styles.

—Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts, 75

Don’t Lose the Forest for the Trees!

It is wise for all of us who engage in constructive criticism of worship songs to learn to turn down our analytic mode, especially as we worship. Biologists who study butterflies in laboratories do well to step back from (or look through) their scientific precision as they enjoy a nature walk in a national park or read appreciative poetry about the beauty of butterflies. And those who engage with CWM do well to step back from (or look through) their analytical questions to enter, in a biblically childlike way, into the simple joy of God-centered worship.

—Robert Woods and Brian Walrath, eds., The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise & Worship, 187

Beyond Style

It is fruitless to search for a single musical style, or even any blend of musical styles, that can assist all Christians with true worship. The followers of Jesus are a far too diverse group of people—which is exactly as it should be. We need, rather, to welcome any worship music that helps churches produce disciples of Jesus Christ.

—Michael S. Hamilton, “The Triumph of the Praise Songs,” Christianity Today 43:8 (7/12/99), 11