One man’s journey away from contemporary Christian music.

imageHere is the opening excerpt from a recent article by Dan Cogan:

I have been what many would call a “worship leader” for close to two decades. When I first became involved in “worship ministry” in an Assemblies of God youth group we sang such songs as The Name of the Lord Is a Strong Tower, As the Deer, Lord I Lift Your Name on High, and others of the era of the 1980s and 90s. Ours was considered a stylistically progressive church since we used almost exclusively contemporary songs.

This meant that if I were to visit a “traditional” church, not only would I be unfamiliar with the hymns, I would also likely cringe when they sang them and in my heart ridicule them (the people rather than the songs) as being old-fashioned.

It was during these formative years in my experience as a worship leader that I began to introduce even more contemporary songs to our youth group. It was then that I discovered artists like Delirious, Darrel Evans, Matt Redman, and Vineyard Music with their songs Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble, Trading My Sorrows, Heart of Worship, and Hungry.

As a young musician who desired to honor Christ, I found these songs to be particularly compelling. I felt different when we sang them. The way Nirvana gave voice to the angst of Generation X, bands like Delirious were giving voice to a generation of young Christians who didn’t feel they could relate to the songs of their parents and grandparents.

Over the years when I would occasionally hear a hymn, the language was always strikingly foreign, with Ebenezers and bulwarks, diadems and fetters. Which only served to confirm my bias that hymns were simply out-of-date. They had served their purpose. They had run their course.

Continue reading the entire article here at

King of Kings, Majesty

As we prepare for times of worship through the weekend, may our focus be solely on our King of Kings, He who alone is our Majesty. If you are attending somewhere that Christ and Him crucified is not where the attention of each person is directed, then you are in the wrong place.

Rock of Ages

Sir Will­iam Hen­ry Wills, in a let­ter to Dean Le­froy, pub­lished in the [Lon­don] Times in June, 1898, says ‘Top­la­dy was one day over­tak­en by a thun­der­storm in Bur­ring­ton Coombe, on the edge of my prop­er­ty, Blag­don, a rocky glen run­ning up in­to the heart of the Men­dip range, and there, tak­ing shel­ter be­tween two mass­ive piers of our na­tive lime­stone rock, he penned the hymn,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

There is a pre­ci­pi­tous crag of lime­stone a hun­dred feet high, and right down its cen­tre is the deep re­cess in which Top­la­dy shel­tered.’ – Telford, p. 257

This hymn was sung at the fun­e­ral of Prime Minister Will­iam Glad­stone in West­min­ster Ab­bey, Lon­don, Eng­land. Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) of Britain asked it be sung to him as he lay dy­ing. In Hymns That Have Helped, W. T. Stead stated:

…when the Lon­don went down in the Bay of Bis­cay, Jan­u­ary 11, 1866, the last thing which the last man who left the ship heard as the boat pushed off from the doomed vess­el was the voic­es of the pass­en­gers sing­ing “Rock of Ag­es.”

In ano­ther sto­ry:

A missionary complained of the slow prog­ress made in In­dia in con­vert­ing the na­tives on ac­count of ex­plain­ing the teach­ings of Christ­i­an­i­ty so that the ig­no­rant peo­ple could un­der­stand them. Some of the most beau­ti­ful pass­ag­es in the Bi­ble, for in­stance are de­stroyed by trans­la­tion. He at­tempt­ed to have [Rock of Ages] trans­lat­ed in­to the na­tive di­a­lect, so that the na­tives might ap­pre­ci­ate its beau­ty. The work was en­trust­ed to a young Hi­ndu Bi­ble stu­dent who had the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing some­thing of a po­et. The next day he brought his trans­la­tion for ap­prov­al, and his ren­der­ing, as trans­lat­ed back in­to Engl­ish, read like this: ‘Very old stone, split for my ben­e­fit, Let me ab­sent my­self under one of your frag­ments.’ – Jones

The hymn was al­so re­port­ed­ly sung at the fun­er­al of Amer­i­can Pre­si­dent Ben­ja­min Har­ri­son be­cause it was his fa­vo­rite hymn, and the on­ly one he ev­er tried to sing.

HT: Rock of Ages – Cyber Hymnal

10 Ways to Hinder Growth in Worship

This is a very interesting video worth watching in regards to worship. Too many churches have gone down this path of being relevant and producing worship that is mind-numbing. In a recent ministry, it was more important to have more songs than doctrine or preaching. The preferred timing of the service is that the preaching should be no longer than the 20 minutes of “worship” drivel that some preferred. This is not true worship. Further, if it appeals to your feet or your emotions before it speaks to the renewing of your mind, it is not honoring to God and has no place in worship.

Jesus is our Hiding Place

Matthew Smith is a young musician who takes lyrics from old folk songs and hymns, modifies them if need be, and a0375493876_2puts them to his music. Here is a wonderful hymn from a Baptist hymnal printed in 1776.

Listen to this song, free, here. Then buy lots of his work.

Hiding Place

Against the God who rules the sky
I fought with hand uplifted high
Despised the mention of His grace
Much too proud to seek a hiding place

Wrapped in shadows of the night
Fond of darkness more than light
Blind, I ran the sinful race
I felt no need for a hiding place

But then the eternal council ran
“Almighty love, arrest this man!”
I felt the arrows of distress
And found I had no shield, no hiding place

Holy justice stood in view
To Sinai’s fiery mount I flew
But justice cried with frowning face
“This mountain is no hiding place”

But then a heavenly voice I heard
And mercy for my soul appeared
She led me on with gentle pace
To Jesus as my hiding place

Should seven storms of vengeance roll
And shake this earth from pole to pole
No thunderbolt shall daunt my face
While Jesus is my hiding place
While Jesus is my hiding place

On Him almighty vengeance fell
Which would have sunk this world to Hell
He bore it for a sinful race
To make Himself our hiding place

It’s About The Cross

While many will discuss whether Christians should even participate in Christmas celebrations (which is discussion worth having) one thing thing we all agree upon is that almost 2,000 years ago Christ took on human flesh and was born into this world. The Incarnation is truly one of the greatest miracles of God. Divinity took on humanity, He became like us. But He did not do this for a parlor trick, or because He was bored. Christ became man so that He could die for us. God took on flesh so that He could be executed in our place, to pay the price for our sins. Then He rose three days later, proving His power of death and giving a promise of eternal life to those who would repent and trust in Him.

As we consider the season of Christmas, and whether we should or should not celebrate it, let us dwell on the miracle of the Incarnation. Let us be in awe of His death and resurrection. And let us share with everyone, “It’s about the cross.”

An Open Letter to Praise Bands

Dear Praise Band,

I so appreciate your willingness and desire to offer up your gifts to God in worship. I appreciate your devotion and celebrate your faithfulness–schlepping to church early, Sunday after Sunday, making time for practice mid-week, learning and writing new songs, and so much more. Like those skilled artists and artisans that God used to create the tabernacle (Exodus 36), you are willing to put your artistic gifts in service to the Triune God.
So please receive this little missive in the spirit it is meant: as an encouragement to reflect on the practice of “leading worship.” It seems to me that you are often simply co-opted into a practice without being encouraged to reflect on its rationale, its “reason why.” In other words, it seems to me that you are often recruited to “lead worship” without much opportunity to pause and reflect on the nature of “worship” and what it would mean to “lead.”
In particular, my concern is that we, the church, have unwittingly encouraged you to simply import musical practices into Christian worship that–while they might be appropriate elsewhere–are detrimental to congregational worship. More pointedly, using language I first employed in Desiring the Kingdom, I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performancethat are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.
So let me offer just a few brief axioms with the hope of encouraging new reflection on the practice of “leading worship”:
1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship. Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular “form of performance”), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music. In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo. And there’s nothing wrong with concerts! It’s just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body. But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us. When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can’t hear ourselves sing–so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become “private,” passive worshipers.
2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship. In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and “be creative,” offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations on the received tune. Again, that can be a delightful aspect of a concert, but in Christian worship it just means that we, the congregation, can’t sing along. And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. And while you may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.
3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship. I know it’s generally not your fault that we’ve put you at the front of the church. And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate. But because we’ve encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we’ve also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention. And when your performance becomes a display of your virtuosity–even with the best of intentions–it’s difficult to counter the temptation to make the praise band the focus of our attention. When the praise band goes into long riffs that you might intend as “offerings to God,” we the congregation become utterly passive, and because we’ve adopted habits of relating to music from the Grammys and the concert venue, we unwittingly make you the center of attention. I wonder if there might be some intentional reflection on placement (to the side? leading from behind?) and performance that might help us counter these habits we bring with us to worship.
Please consider these points carefully and recognize what I am not saying. This isn’t just some plea for “traditional” worship and a critique of “contemporary” worship. Don’t mistake this as a defense of pipe organs and a critique of guitars and drums (or banjos and mandolins). My concern isn’t with style, but with form: What are we trying to do when we “lead worship?” If we are intentional about worship as a communal, congregational practice that brings us into a dialogical encounter with the living God–that worship is not merely expressive but also formative–then we can do that with cellos or steel guitars, pipe organs or African drums.
Much, much more could be said. But let me stop here, and please receive this as the encouragement it’s meant to be. I would love to see you continue to offer your artistic gifts in worship to the Triune God who is teaching us a new song.
Most sincerely,


Postscript to “An Open Letter to Praise Bands”

So, I guess my little “Open Letter to Praise Bands” generated some interest. I’m glad that it could be a catalyst or foil for some intentional reflection on the howof Christian worship. I won’t even attempt to address the array of responses it has generated. I’m content to let some misreadings spin themselves out. So I’m not out to police the ways I’ve been misunderstood.
However, I do think it’s important to name an issue in the background that affects how we can have this conversation: not all Christians share the same theology of worship. Indeed, my concern is that some sectors of North American Christianity don’t have much of a theology of worship at all. Many of us–including many congregations–have only an implicit understanding of what worship is, and we have not always made that explicit, nor have we subjected our assumptions to rigorous biblical and theological evaluation.
It is my passion for theological intentionality about worship that generated my book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. It’s not fair to ask those who read a blog post to read an entire book, but I would invite those who both agreed and those who disagreed with my “Open Letter” to consider Desiring the Kingdom as a fuller articulation of the theology of worship behind my criticisms.
Many of the negative reactions to my missive stem from a fundamentally different understanding of what worship is. That means we are working from fundamentally different starting points. So when someone thinks that I “misunderstand” what’s happening in worship, actually I just disagree with the assumptions behind such worship.
I think this is why some have missed two crucial points in my “Open Letter”–points that were admittedly touched on just briefly. Let me reiterate them here:
1. Worship is not only expressive, it is also formative. It is not only how we express our devotion to God, it is also how the Spirit shapes and forms us to bear God’s image to the world. This is why the form of worship needs to be intentional: worship isn’t just something that we do; it does something to us. And this is why worship in a congregational setting is a communal practice of a congregation by which the Spirit grabs hold of us. How we worship shapes us, and how we worship collectively is an important way of learning to be the body of Christ. (For a helpful account of how our congregational practice of singing embodies the oneness of the body of Christ, see Steve Guthrie’s marvelous chapter, “The Wisdom of Song.”)
2. Because worship is formative, and not merely expressive, that means other cultural practices actually function as “competing” liturgies, rivals to Christian worship. In Desiring the Kingdom, I analyze examples of such “secular liturgies,” including the mall, the stadium, and the university. The point is that such loaded cultural practices are actually shaping our loves and desires by the very form of the practice, not merely by the “content” they offer. If we aren’t aware of this, we can unwittingly adopt what seem to be “neutral” or benign practices without recognizing that they are liturgies that come loaded with a rival vision of “the good life.” If we adopt such practices uncritically, it won’t matter what “content” we convey by them, the practices themselves are ordered to another kingdom. And insofar as we are immersed in them, we are unwittingly mis-shaped by the practices.
Again, there’s much more to be said about this, and a blog isn’t the venue. I do invite those who have been prompted to think about these matters to consider Desiring the Kingdom as a way to continue the conversation.