Monday, June 02, 2008

Worship Choruses

In his book Losing Our Virtue, David Wells makes some interesting comments about contemporary worship choruses. He argues that these choruses, being the hymnody of postmodern spirituality, are essentially parasitic. “It lives off the truth of classical spirituality but frequently leaves that truth unstated as something to be assumed, whereas in the hymnody of classical spirituality the truth itself is celebrated. The one rejoices in what the other hides. That seems to be the most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the fact that the large majority of praise songs I analyzed, 58.9 percent, offer no doctrinal grounding or explanation for the praise; in the classical hymnody examined it was hard to find hymns that were not predicated upon and did not develop some aspect of doctrine. But that is not all. Not only is the praise in this postmodern spirituality often shorn of theological scaffolding, but what it facilitates is deeply privatized worship. One indication of this is that the Church, the collective people of God, features in only 1.2 percent of the songs; what dominates overwhelmingly is the private, individualized, and interior sense of God. By contrast, 21.6 percent of the classical hymns were explicitly about the Church. The texture of the songs in the postmodern spirituality, furthermore, is more therapeutic than moral…. The themes of sin, penitence, the longing for holiness appear in only 3.6 percent. And, as one might expect, while the holiness of God appears in 4.3 percent, his love, coupled with romantic imagery about loving him, ran through 10.4 percent of the songs, in comparison to about 1 percent in the classical hymnody. The though of loving God, and occasionally of being in love with God, that characterizes postmodern hymnody has replaced the emphasis on consecration and commitment that was so characteristic of classic hymnody.
At this point the essentially mystical nature of postmodern piety becomes obvious, even though it is a mysticism that is filtered through modern, psychological assumptions. This is evident, first, in the way that this kind of spirituality believes in direct access to reality. The experiencing self is admitted, as it were, into the innermost places of God directly, without any wait. The result of this assumption is that personal intuition about the purposes of God, how his will is being realized in one’s personal life, tends to blur into divine revelation and become indistinguishable from it. Second, the God so approached is often beyond rational categories. Third, grace in this form of Christian life is often understood as a power that brings psychological wholeness rather than as God’s favor by which we are constituted as his in Christ. And worship is less about ascribing praise to God for who he is than it is celebrating what we know of him from within our own experience.”

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