We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lyrics Should Have More Impact Than Music

Some may object that they know many Scripture songs or praise and worship choruses that contain Scripture passages, perhaps even contemporary musical settings for beefy hymn texts.  But even these are failures because the music is light, bouncy, entertainment-type music; the aesthetic form communicates fun and good times to most people rather than serious worship of Almighty God.  Furthermore, the form may be heard with more lasting impact than the words, no matter how correct and noble the ideas in these songs may be.

There is a sharp cognitive dissonance here that the outsider often recognizes immediately because his life is basically a hedonistic or nihilistic party.  He knows those forms intimately, and he knows they are inconsistent with the message of the words.  Party music is inferior evangelistic music, for as Calvin Johannson says wisely, the way one comes to faith in Christ has profound implications for what that person will expect subsequently of the Christian life (Discipling Music Ministry, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1992, p.15).

Leonard R. Payton, "Reforming our Worship Music," p.14


Richard Ferguson said...

Let's apply that logic to one of the most "beloved" worship songs of all time: Amazing Grace. The tune is slow and depressing; there is a reason it is used for a funeral dirge and it's not because they want to play an instrumental about God's grace.

As an experiment, I juxtaposed the lyrics of Amazing Grace and the Metallica suicide song "Fade to Black" with the tunes of the songs. It was disturbing how much both songs were vastly improved thematically by switching the tunes.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


I totally disagree with your assessment of Amazing Grace being dirty. I think the tune is congruent with the message. And I cannot conceive of anything from Metallica to be congruent with any Christian theme.

castiron said...

I do think Richard has a good point about Amazing Grace. I don't agree that it should be switched with a metal song. But according to Wiki, the tune it has now is not necessarily the one that John Newton chose to go with it.

"It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have simply been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper's Olney Hymns but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States however, "Amazing Grace" was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named "New Britain" to which it is most frequently sung today."


I'm more observant about the music and tone of a worship song, than the words. There are songs I am leery of just because of the music. Amazing Grace is close, but in this case, the words are very, very strong so often rise over even what I call a "manipulative" pull of the tune. Another one, that is used, in my opinion, to manipulate an emotional response, is Just As I Am. I've been in services where that one is used to the maximum effect in altar calls. Another one is Battle Hymn of the Republic. The music is dangerous, in my opinion, but beloved, and very catchy. But worse are the words, ugh, it is nothing more than war propaganda and nothing short of blasphemy (My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, go Union Army, go, go, go...)

Back to Amazing Grace, I do think in spite of it's popularity and misuse, I mean, even ungodly people can treasure it and sing it with gusto, it has it's place. The words are so powerful and hopefully the tune can bring more than sentimentality and a touch of Christianity-by-default (false conversion or thinking one is a Christian because they grew up in America) but touch the heart with true repentance, godly sorrow, and a desire for a relationship with Christ Jesus. And for true believers, the song is worship, plain and simple.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


I know about the history and origin of the tune for “Amazing Grace.” I guess it depends upon the tempo; for funerals they usually play it quite slowly, which I don’t like. I also don’t find the tune to be manipulative.

I don’t see “Just As I Am” manipulative either. Again, I guess it would be the tempo used. I play that one on the pipes also, at pretty much a waltz tempo, and usually follow it with “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”

I don’t think “Battle Hymn” has any place in the church with its poor theology. Good martial tune though!

I agree with the total misuse of “Amazing Grace.” I think it got that way because of its use at funerals. Funny thing about it, I get about as many requests to play it for weddings as I do for funerals/graveside services!

Anonymous said...

Amazing Grace depressing? I don't think so. It's in a major key, and I've never heard it sung in a way that drags.

And this coming from someone who LOVES music in MINOR keys, which carries with it an innate sorrowfulness.

I don't see it Amazing Grace's music as manipulative either, nor Just As I Am. And if I'm not mistaken, Glenn, didn't you do a previous blog about some other verses in AG that are not typically sung, but that follow more in line with the meaning of the piece? Because the current 5th stanza isn't original...?

Metallica? Sorry, no, nothing of theirs is, as Glenn said, congruent with worship. Heavy metal is not a graceful genre of music.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...


Yes, I mentioned about the verses of "Amazing Grace" while discussing how modern artists have to mess around with a good song to make it more palatable to the younger generation:

castiron said...

I had one pastor who used Just As I Am nearly every single week in altar calls. The pianist would start it while he gave his altar call and then we would all join in. Every single verse. Then again. And again. "Christians! Pray!" he would say, and we'd sing some more until some poor soul gave up and walked up the aisle. That's what I think is manipulative. Also, it was played slowly, so yes, I think that's manipulative. The same as Amazing Grace, when it's played slowly, to make it more emotional. Played faster, it's fine, my opinion (and I'm not a musician, so no training whatsoever.)

Maybe it's altar calls that are manipulative, and not the song at all, but I can still hear it strained and over-used, ugh.

Jack Morrow said...

I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned that Amazing Grace can be sung to the tune of the theme from Gilligan's Island.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! That's the exact post I was thinking of!


Glenn E. Chatfield said...


It's the altar calls which are manipulative, and they can make ANY hymn drum up the emotions for it. Besides which, altar calls are not biblical anyway. I have visited churches where they've had them and I can't stand them.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


I'm sure you can find many tunes to which you could sing "Amazing Grace" -- or any other hymn for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Re: Jack's comment about AG sung to Gilligan's... and there it is, proof that just because you can sing a hymn or worship song to other musical tunes, does not mean those musical tunes are fitting for worship of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

2nd verse ending, Gilligan style "...the hour I first believed, the hour I first believed..."

Nope, I don't think so.

Scary thought though, in the name of "relevance", I am afraid there are pastors who would do that, and then use it to spring board into preaching some sermon about being stranded on an island of sin, unable to be rescued...

I'll stop now before everyone gets ill.


castiron said...

Carolyn, I bet you won't be surprised, but many sermons have been done on Gilligan's Island. There's the internet meme, "The Seven Deadly Sins of Gilligan’s Island" where each character is a different sin.

Hopefully not in a church near you, ugh.

I think you are all right about altar calls. The songs got the bad rap from me because of the wrongness of the altar call.

Anonymous said...

Billy Graham used "Just As I Am" for his 'alter calls.' And now after all of these years, look where his theology has taken him, down the path of universalism.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Anonymous 9/25

But it wasn't the fault of the song.

Anonymous said...

No, I love the song, just not a follower of Graham and his lot. No pun intended.

Anonymous said...

Castiron, oh seriously? Give me a break. Wow. I was half kidding, and unfortunately afraid I was half right...