By Andrew Sheffield
Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-wrote the Hymnal is a forthcoming book by T. David Gordon, a follow-up to his 2009 book Why Johnny Can’t Preach, which addresses the (detrimental) reshaping of preaching by modern media. I came across an interview with the author in which he comments on the transformations that occurred in America’s music culture within the past century, and I thought his comments were worth sharing with you:
“In the last 70 years, substantial changes happened to music in American culture:
* music moved from being participatory to passive (folk music, performed by average people, has all but disappeared, and has been replaced by pop music)
* music went from being communal to being, largely, individual (began with the Sony Walkman, [and] music is now heard solitarily)
* because of the commercial interests, pop music has replaced sacred music, classical music, and folk music. For the vast majority of Americans, the only music that SOUNDS like music is pop music, because they are surrounded by it. It is in the “background” when shopping, putting gas in the car, dining in restaurants, on TV and film. So nothing else registers as music. The consequence is that many churches have effectively abandoned the church’s rich history of hymnody for trifling contemporary stuff.” (emphasis mine)
In relation to these comments, the thought has struck me that much of today’s church music is not actually produced by the church, for the church: it is produced by producers, for consumers. In other words, church music has become market-driven (just as much of church practice in other areas). I don’t mean to condemn free markets; but just as preachers should preach with consideration only for what God has to say to His people—not what will sell well or attract a crowd—so church music should be produced with the sole considerations of how to edify the people of God and how to help them make the praise of God glorious.
This is just one more reason I’m so picky when it comes to the songs we sing. It’s also yet another reason I gravitate more toward older rather than newer: because by and large, hymns from the era of Amazing Grace, And Can It Be?, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross were written by the church, for the church—often by pastors for their own congregations to sing. They became popular because they were used so widely in the church—rather than being used widely in the church because they were popular. (In the same way, many of the newer songs we use in corporate worship are not necessarily songs you’ll hear on the radio but come from people seeking to edify the local church rather than to sell records. Not that selling records is wrong, but again, when it comes to corporate worship, market success should never enter our thinking.)
I hope this helps you sharpen your thinking about church music, and I hope it helps you see just a little more clearly my desires for us as a church in the area of singing.
(quote from http://theologyinverse.blogspot.com/2010/03/interview-with-t-david-gordon-on-why.html)