The weblog of Darren Friesen

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Update from article with Steve Bell

There has been great response to the Christianity Today interview with me and my thoughts about Contemporary Worship Music. If nothing else, the response shows that there are more than a few of us who are feeling that some sort of corrective is needed.

Below is the posting I submitted to this website some time ago that caught the interest of Mark Moring, the fellow who did the interview. I thought I'd repost it. But before you read it, if you want to think a bit further on these things, please go to:

This is Brian McLaren's website. Brian is a friend of mine – a thoughtful fellow and great songwriter. He is also the author of the wonderful and controversial book, “A New Kind of Christian” and its two follow up books, “The Story We Find Ourselves In,” and “The Last Word and the Word After That.” If you haven’t read them, you might want to check them out. Make sure you read them in order, and that you read the introductions. (Jossey Bass Press)

Anyway, in the sidebar on front page of Brian’s website there is a link to “Articles.” Click on articles and then find and read the following two articles: “An Open Letter to Songwriters” and, “An Unauthorized Postscript to ‘Open Letter to Songwriters.’”

These are two of the best articles I’ve read on the subject we’ve been talking about. I’ll post them on this website soon for easy reference.

Here is the posting that got this conversation started:

I hesitate to put my two cents in here regarding the state of the Christian music arts. I certainly don't mean to set myself up as the example of the quality I desire to see return. But to whatever extent I've been able to reflect truth, goodness and beauty in my music, I'm thrilled.

I think one of the main reasons that much new Christian music is poor is simply that the art itself has been devalued and sacrificed to the god of the seeker-friendly pop culture churches and radio stations. These certainly attract lots of people. And it's hard to criticize results like huge numbers isn't it? But when a "lowest common denominator" aesthetic (for the worthy goal of drawing folks into the church) precludes any serious thought about art and excellence, the result will be music that tickles the ear and animates the body but rarely will it provide access to the interior castle wherein the Prince of Peace resides and profound transformation is inevitable.

Recently I was in a conversation with a bunch of songwriters. I asked which books and poets they were reading - and only received blank stares. Here, at least, is part of the problem: pop music requires very little from either the writer or the listener. Great art demands much from both. I think we are basically lazy. Songwriters and musicians need to invest as much discipline, study and work as doctors, teachers, pastors, nurses, massage therapists etc. And they need to commit their lives to continuous development and growth. This romantic bohemian notion of the artist who simply waits for inspiration is so unfortunate. On my last tour I had a magnificent piano player named Mike Janzen. He is incredibly spontaneous and free on his instrument. There where moments where his music was ecstatically and absolutely rapturous - but the lad works like a madman on his craft. That gift of music comes at great sacrifice and cost. It inspired me so much that I came off the tour and immediately signed up for guitar lessons.

Songwriters too, need to work harder - read good literature, poetry, history, theology, listen to great music – study music. We need to practice more, edit more, throw away more, pray more, listen more. And we artists desperately need to deal with our vanities and egos so that our pursuit becomes for that which is truly good rather than merely hip.

And Christian artists need to fast from cliché - please!!!! My friend, John Stackhouse, in a rather cheeky essay about this very topic playfully penned the following as an example of the clichéd and lamentable modern worship lyric that at best contains interchangeable bits of scripture with no obvious progression of thought:

Precious Jesus, Rock of Ages,
Holy Great I Am,
Friend of Sinners, Our Messiah,
Worthy is the Lamb."

John observes that the many a modern Christian song has the quality and maturity of a teenage heartthrob song where, “Baby, baby, love, love” of MTV gets baptized into “Jesus, Jesus, love, love,” with approximately the same effect. (see Evangelical Landscapes, John Stackhouse / Baker Academic)

If the purpose of music and arts in the church is simply utilitarian – to draw them in and set a mood – then we’re doing a good job. But if the arts are to example the truth, goodness and beauty of our God and lead creation in excellent response, then I fear we have sinned.

In closing, there is certainly a place for the song that is easily accessible and simply fun or delightful. Pop music isn’t by definition bad. But any good song in the end must have the quality of an iceberg whose observable aspects are supported in the silent depths.

Steve Bell


Anonymous Chris Armstrong said...

In re: "Songwriters too, need to work harder - read good literature, poetry, history, theology, listen to great music – study music." May I humbly recommend my own blog--linked, I assume, to my name on this post. AND the magazine Christian History & Biography--see (I don't get paid to say this--though I did managing-edit the magazine for three years. I just love the mag and think everyone should read it.)

7:55 AM


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