Amusing the Church to Death

"When church music directors lead the congregation in singing some praise music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We had been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called, ‘Draw Me Close to You.’ The song has zero theological content and could be sung in a nightclub, for that matter. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed at us and said in a cheerful voice, ‘Let’s sing that again, shall we?’ ‘No!’ I shouted loudly. Heads all around me spun while my wife cringed."

"I admit I prefer more traditional hymns. But even given that, I am convinced that much of the music being written for the Church today reflects an unfortunate trend—slipping across the line from worship to entertainment. [We] are in danger of amusing ourselves to death, to borrow the title of the classic Neil Postman book."

That quote might have been written by any number of disgruntled (neo-, ultra-, or otherwise) traditionalist Catholics I know, but it wasn’t. Chuck Colson, a prominent Evangelical wrote it. Read the rest and leave a comment here so we can discuss this problem Evangelicals and Catholics must face together.

On a side note, Amused to Death is also the title of a very good Roger Waters solo album.

Comments 18

  1. Rob wrote:

    The actual lyrics are:

    Draw me close to You
    Never let me go
    I lay it all down again
    To hear You say that I’m Your friend

    You are my desire
    No one else will do
    ‘Cause nothing else could take Your place
    To feel the warmth of Your embrace
    Help me find the way
    Bring me back to You

    You’re all I want
    You’re all I’ve ever needed
    You’re all I want
    Help me know You are near

    Now, do I really need to go back through the psalms (and for that matter, the Last Supper) to point out the theological content? No, it’s not a debate over the Trinity, or an explication of the theory of salvation. This is a song of repentance, glorifying God, and worship.

    I like it. I’ve played it with our praise band at church on keyboard and bass, and I could easily manage rhythm guitar for it. So yeah, it’s simple. Sometimes we need simple songs in church to worship God to.

    Our band does some deeper numbers and you know what? The congregation either has trouble singing along or gives up on a lot of them.

    Colson was rude and ignorant in speaking out the way he did. His having spent time in prison is no excuse. He’s been out long enough to have adapted back to civilization.

    If Colson doesn’t like the worship that much, he’s free to pick another service or find some place else to worship. Of course, I’m not surprised he’s trying to force others to worship according to his beliefs and tastes. I wonder if he’ll suggest a constitutional ammendment to solve his problem with church music.

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 3:10 pm
  2. Funky Dung wrote:

    You ever think that maybe that church is his faith home (like the Oratory is mine) and that he’s appalled by how the worship there has degraded? I agree he shouldn’t have shouted out, but I can imagine myself doing the same under the right (wrong?) circumstances. As for the song being like a psalm, I think it’s too vague to be a psalm. There’s no address to God. It could just as well be sung to a girlfriend/boyfriend. The psalms are simple, but they are also elegent (at least most of them) and meaty. There’s no meat to that mush. Besides, there are better things to be doing during worship that swaying to Kumbayah crapola. Partaking of the Eucharist, hearing the Word preached, or listening to an exegetical or ehortative homily come to mind. There are times and places for all things (c.f. Ecclesiastes), and worship is not the place for warm fuzzies that don’t nourish the soul.

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 3:43 pm
  3. edey wrote:

    “Besides, there are better things to be doing during worship that swaying to Kumbayah crapola. Partaking of the Eucharist,”

    true, but they don’t have the Eucharist to partake. plus, it’s not just partaking of the Eucharist but also the offering of the Holy Sacrifice.

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 4:09 pm
  4. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Rob, the mere fact that you equated liturgical music with “the worship” really gets at the root of the problem, Freudian slip or not. As “worship leader” (I prefer the term “song leader” or “cantor”) in my Evangelical church for most of the last 8 years, it was a linguistic (and theological) error I tried, with limited success, to stamp out. The Christian corporate worship service (liturgy) is either a worship service (an offering up of our bodies as living sacrafices) from beginning to end or it is not. If it is, then every part of the liturgy is worship. If not, then the portions that are not are in utterly extraneous and, whether they be entertaining or drudgery, ought be expunged.

    Now I won’t argue the liturgical value of this particular song. It is not utterly devoid of value (“value” being defined in a liturgical sense as edifying or correcting or encouraging) and there are far worse songs in the Evangelical and (now that I’ve gotten acquainted with it) the Catholic “praise” canons. On the other hand, there are no doubt dozens of hymns and songs that convey a similar message much more powerfully and poignantly and engage the intellect a bit more thoroughly. Why weren’t they chosen? Perhaps because they are “boring”…. Oh my, we can’t have boring worship. “Here we are now, entertain us!”

    I think what was raising Colson’s ire was a perception that the “Worship Leader” was trying to use song to manipulate a certain feeling. “Worshipful” is an adjective that I have heard used often (and uncritically) in my Evangelical travels. To even use such a (made-up) word reveals a serious deficiency in our understanding of worship. Worship is a verb. Biblically it means to bow down and to serve. It is something you do, not necessarily something you feel. If we come to “worship” looking for a particular feeling, we are not worshiping Biblically. We’re doing something else… I know not what.

    Too often modern “worship” services attempt to put the cart before the horse by placing an emphasis on the feeling of worship. And hence you get these diddies (relatively inoffensive, possibly even useful, in small doses) repeated over and over, with the worship leader imposing his “worshipful” personality into the mix to try and whip up some corporate feeling, some mass delusion that now… finally… we are REALLY worshiping God… let’s sing it again… even slower. Hogswill. Feelings are fine, and when they come are surely icing on the cake, but true devotion (the cake) involves resolution of will and consent of the intellect as well. Unfortunately these latter aspects of worship are a whole lot tougher to extract from the average churchgoer, and therefore if you want to be a “relevant” church, an “attractive” church, you’ll put these harder aspects of discipleship behind a curtain, and put the touchy good-feely emotional aspects front and center. It’s a marketing ploy, and sadly, it works. It works so well in fact that traditionalist churches of all stripes are joining the fray.

    Postman’s point was that message content cannot be isolated from the medium–that the medium affects us in subtle and therefore all the more potentially harmful ways. This is exactly what is wrong with modern sing-songy “worship”. And what’s worse is that Postman’s point is really quite subtle, and those who do get it and try to apply it in public life often come off sounding like elitist prigs to the rest.

    I agree Colson should not have shouted “No” in the church service. It was rude, and, more importantly it displays a contempt for his Church’s leadership. If he trusts that leadership for the salvation of his immortal soul, as Biblically he must, then he should trust them to choose the right “worship leader” and the right “praise songs”. If he doesn’t trust them, then well that’s a different story.

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 4:22 pm
  5. Rob wrote:

    I put up a discussion of this song.

    In our tradition, not everything is worship in the worship service. I’m thinking specifically about announcements. Otherwise, everything is indeed worship, but different pieces can have different main objectives. The sermon, while a part of worship and (hopefully) worshipful, is often about edification. From a musician’s viewpoint, I see some songs as educational, some as setting a mood, some as having praise as their goal, and even some as being prayerful.

    As a member of the band, I am a worship leader, but I’m not one of the worship leaders. There are some positions in the church I avoid.

    If I need to, I can go into the theology of the worship service, going back to Isaiah 6. But a lot of times, I tend to take a brute-force approach to things.

    Humans do not only process on an intellectual level. We are both intellectual and emotional creatures. Appeals to only one aspect of who we are fail because they do not approach the whole human.

    (I’d argue that we’re even more than a duality, but that’s not appropriate here.)

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 5:18 pm
  6. Rob wrote:

    Sorry…forgot the URL:

    In Defense of Praise Music In the Church can be found on my blog, UnSpace.

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 6:31 pm
  7. The Waffling Anglican wrote:

    “Now, do I really need to go back through the psalms (and for that matter, the Last Supper) to point out the theological content?”

    Sorry, Rob. If you want to sing a psalm, there are – well – the Psalms! The lyrics could just as well apply to a girl I blew it with in High School as to Jesus. In my book, not being able to differentiate between Jesus and an old girl friend means it is indeed devoid of theological content.

    I’ve heard some modern worship music that’s pretty good; it’s not a matter of style but of substance. In all fairness to those who prefer modern worship, 90% of everything is junk, and the “old standards” are old standards because the junk has been filtered out by time. Eventually the junk will get filtered out of praise music as well. In the meantime, however, it is often painful.

    But modern or not, there’s a difference between what’s appropriate on the Christian radio station and what’s appropriate service music. One repeated verse of American vernacular with a good beat and some primo guitar riffs may be a very catchy song. But what goes into a Eucharist or Morning Prayer service should, IMHO, should uplift and inform as well as entertain.

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 6:57 pm
  8. edey wrote:

    here’s the thing: the high point of Christian worship throughout the centuries has always the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross that happens on the Altar. while everything else is to lead up to It, to support It, to draw us more into It, everything else is supposed to be God-centered rather than us-centered. i don’t see how any of these un-edifying songs draw us closer to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, particularly when there are more edifying hymns out there. if they don’t draw us closer to His Sacrifice, they are detracting from our worship of Him. i would also argue that Isaiah 6 is not the root of worship, but there are elements that do stem from it (the Munda Cor Meum refers to it and the Sactus comes out of it).

    i do agree, though, that we are complete persons, which is exactly why the externals, so to say, are important. that’s why edifying music, drawing us closer to His Sacrifice, is essential rather than things like “Draw Me Close”. that’s why incense and bells are good. we aren’t just minds; we aren’t just souls; we are also sensual, physical beings.

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 7:43 pm
  9. edey wrote:

    that should be Sanctus rather than Sactus

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 7:45 pm
  10. Funky Dung wrote:

    “Humans do not only process on an intellectual level. We are both
    intellectual and emotional creatures. Appeals to only one aspect of
    who we are fail because they do not approach the whole human.”

    If you think I disagree with that, you do not know me very well. Music is an important part of worship. Feeling loved is an important part of worship. Neither is paramount, though, or stands alone. Remember, heresy is often not about believing and teaching a wrong idea, but rather treating one right idea as though it’s the *only* right idea.

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 7:54 pm
  11. Mark La Roi wrote:

    A flower praises God by the very act of blooming, yet not once is His name said aloud. Yes, there is a slide going on that is moving worship through singin away from solid theology, but he (Chuck Colson) doesn’t clearly relate if the worship leader had verbally pointed folks in the right direction beforehand or not.

    I myself do find it becomes distracting to sing songs in which every other line begins with the letter “I”, but at the same time I know that “You light up my life” had a spiritual intent in its penning.

    Plus it starts with “You”. 🙂

    Posted 07 Feb 2006 at 8:55 pm
  12. Rob wrote:

    …the high point of Christian worship throughout the centuries has always the Eucharistic Sacrifice…

    You’re speaking of the Catholic tradition. Not everyone follows it. We Presbyterians diverge markedly right there, with Communion about once a month, more or less — and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday aren’t Sundays.

    One Presbyterian church that I attended celebrates Communion every Sunday, and there was quite a bit of concern that we had suddenly become Catholic!

    The meaning of Communion is quite different according to most people of the Catholic and Reformed traditions.

    So’s the source of the service.

    Posted 08 Feb 2006 at 1:30 am
  13. Funky Dung wrote:

    No, actually, she’s speaking about universal Christian worship prior to the Reformation.

    Posted 08 Feb 2006 at 2:43 am
  14. Tom Smith wrote:

    Worship isn’t about feeling good. It’s about glorifying God. Our edification *must* come second to the glorification of God.

    The primary problem with Evangelicals trying to define “worship” has to do with their unfortunate inheretence of Calvinistic Reformation iconoclasm. That may seem a rather tenuous connection, but let me explain.

    During the Iconoclasm crisis of the eighth century, we see the resurrection of the threefold theology of worship which came about in response to Nestorianism in the fifth century. St. John of Damascus, among others, points out the difference between dulia, the worship given to the saints; hyperdulia, that given to the Mother of God; and latria, the highest form of worship, given to the Holy Trinity alone. Traditionally (meaning universally before the Reformation), Christians have believed that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the only way to truly offer latria. Singing the Lord’s praise is an act of dulia.

    Needless to say, when Zwingli and Calvin threw out the idea of liturgical Sacrifice, there arose a little problem: there was now no way to tell the difference between the honor given the saints and that given God. Reformers struggled to define worship, settling on the idea that it is in the act of praising that worship is accomplished. Needless to say, if, in the act of praising God, one is offering divine worship, one can’t go about praising the saints with hymns and such, for fear of idolatry.

    Anyway, the point is that Evangelicals have inhereted this confused notion of what worship is, and their service music bears this out.

    (Also, take notice that so much of Christianity hangs on the theology of liturgical sacrifice; this is why the doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass is such a linchpin within traditional, pre-Reformation Christianity, and why it’s a shame that Catholics really don’t emphasize it much anymore.)

    Posted 08 Feb 2006 at 5:18 am
  15. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Anyway, the point is that Evangelicals have inhereted this confused notion of what worship is, and their service music bears this out.

    Tom, I mean no disrespect but what then explains the sad state of Catholic music? I’ve been an Evanglical. I am now Catholic in all but name. My impression is that the Catholics are TRYING to do (manipulate a feeling with shallow music) that thing at which many Evangelicals have long been successful, but that they simply don’t do it as well… yet.

    Rob, weekly communion is common (tho’ not universal) in the PCA and OP, and far from being Catholic these are the Presbyterian denominations that hold most ferociously (vis-a-vis PCUSA) to Calvin and the original complaints against Rome.

    I would agree that the modern quazi-charismatic evangelical praise service was utterly unknown in the pre-reformation world. But I think it arose much later than that. It is essentially a 20th century phenomenon, arising largely from the phenomenal growth in the charismatic sects. Churches of an heretofore traditionalist bent, but with weak ecclesiology and weak views on Christian Liturgy basically stepped back and said, “We gotta get us some of that!” And they did. Ergo, Willow Creek. Ergo, Vineyard. Ergo, Calvary Chapels. And in America, you can’t argue with success….

    Posted 08 Feb 2006 at 10:33 pm
  16. Tom Smith wrote:


    My main point was that the goofy ideas about worship, in the Calvinist churches, are rooted in the denial of the Scarficial nature of liturgy.

    Catholics have bad liturgical music because liberal people exploited Vatican II and pushed their modernist ideas on the Church, emphasizing, among a passel of other things, exaggerated notions of “inclusivity” and “participation” in worship.

    Posted 09 Feb 2006 at 6:09 am
  17. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    … and I don’t disagree Tom, but it is remarkable that diverse errors can have such similar effects.

    Posted 09 Feb 2006 at 3:41 pm
  18. Tom Smith wrote:

    I think errors generally have a tendency of converging, given the right circumstances and enough time.

    Posted 10 Feb 2006 at 12:55 am

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 3

  1. From Adam's Blog on 08 Feb 2006 at 2:52 am


  2. From UnSpace - Your friends need what you can be when you are no longer afraid… » In Defense of Praise Music In the Church on 07 Feb 2006 at 11:58 am

    […] In Defense of Praise Music In the Church By Rob F.D. over at Ales Rarus posts a quote from Charles Colson, where Colson complains about the worship song “Draw Me Close to You.” There’s a link to the original Colson rant, that seems to have been precipitated by Colson’s program getting knocked off the air because the audience wanted something different. Go to Ales Rarus to read the rest and follow the link to Colson’s diatribe. I’m not interested in debating Colson. […]

  3. From Still Amusing the Church to Death @ Ales Rarus on 11 Oct 2006 at 11:18 am

    […] April 6th, 2006 by Funky Dung Remember the post I wrote about Chuck Colsen’s critique of trite worship music? I agreed with Colsen’s distaste for “Draw Me Close to You” and its ilk. My buddy Rob didn’t. When discussion on both blogs died, I figured the matter was closed for the time being. I didn’t think the article had legs beyond my little corner of the net, but it seems I was wrong. […]

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