Still Amusing the Church to Death

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.

Sam Storms of Enjoying God Ministries and Justin Tayler of Between Two Worlds threw their two cents in with Rob. I wouldn’t have know that, though, if Godblogger heavyweight Tim Challies hadn’t joined the fray. I’m happy to say he’s on my side. 😉 Challies presents a seven-part test for “whether a particular song is suitable for worshiping our God, especially in a corporate setting”, borrowed from a book by Elmer Towns and Ed Stetzer. He also adds an eighth criterion of his own.

  • The Message Test – Does this song express the word of God? Is there a strong message and one that appeals to the new man or to the old man?
  • The Purpose Test – What is the purpose of this music? Was it written to lift you up or to bring you down? To make you joyful or to make you sad? Different types of song may be appropriate at different times. Obviously the very nature of music dictates that certain patterns in music have the ability to stir emotion independent of the song’s lyrical content.
  • The Association Test – Does the song unnecessarily identify with things, actions or people that are contrary to Scripture? An otherwise good song may have to be rejected simply because people will make inappropriate associations with it in their minds. The authors provide the example of singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “The Rising Sun” which is a song about drinking and gambling. As people were singing worship to the Lord they would also be thinking of the song’s original words, leading their minds to think of things that are inappropriate for a worship setting.
  • The Memory Test – Does the song bring back things from your past that you have left? The purpose of this test is not to guard against music that people may dislike, but to guard against music that may cause them to sin, heeding the biblical warning about not offending one’s brother. So it has less to do with taste and more to do with leading people to sin.
  • The Proper Emotions Test – Does the music stir our negative or lustful feelings? Amazingly enough, music does have the power, once again independently of lyric, to stir emotions to sin. If you don’t believe this, watch a room full of young people during a hard, driving rap beat, even before the words begin.
  • The Understanding Test – Will the listeners have a hard time understanding the message or finding the melody. Different people know and understand different types of music. People will have an easier time worshiping to a type of music that they understand. Those new believers in Papua New Guinea may have a difficult time worshiping to contemporary Christian music as they would simply not understand it. The same principle holds true with the lyrics, though I would suggest to a lesser extent, because unlike music, words are objectively true or false. If a song is strong in its theology, the people should eventually understand it, even if they do not now. With music this is not the case. Those natives will be no farther ahead if they learn to appreciate church-rock (and many would suggest, perhaps correctly, that they would actually be farther behind!).
  • The Music Test – This test asks if there is really “a song within the song”? Is the song singable? Does it flow from verse to verse? Does it stir the listener’s heart to join in the song? A song with beautiful words may quickly disappear from the hymn books simply because it is not singable.

So there are the seven tests suggested by the authors. Conspicuous by its absence is one I would like to add, which is:

The Excellence Test – Does the song provide God with the best music and lyrics? We should strive for excellence in all we give to God. If our giving to Him should not be half-hearted, how much less our worship?

They look like good tests to me. I’d be very interested to see them applied to Catholic hymnody, both ancient and modern. Feel free to do so in the combox.

Addendum: A kind reader who wishes to remain anonymous pointed out a potentially racist comment in the tests, and suggested I address it before I am mistakenly labelled as racist.

“Does the music stir our negative or lustful feelings? Amazingly enough, music does have the power, once again independently of lyric, to stir emotions to sin. If you don’t believe this, watch a room full of young people during a hard, driving rap beat, even before the words begin.”

Having not read the book these tests were drawn from and not knowing anything about the authors, I will give them benefit of the doubt that the comment was not meant to be racist. Still, the point could be made is a less taste-specific manner. It’s fairly apparent that the authors don’t care for rap. I like some rap, though mostly old school. The kind of rap I think (and hope) the authors are referring to is the violent, mysogynistic variety, which seems to be ever more prevalent. Regardless, I think rap is adequately covered by the Purpose Test. “Different types of song may be appropriate at different times.” I don’t believe rap has a place in liturgical worship.

Anyhow, I didn’t want anyone thinking I’m racist or anti-rap. Now I’ll go back to listening to DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince and leave you folks to your commenting. 😉

This entry was posted in arts and entertainment, philosophy and religion and tagged , , , , , , , , on by .

About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

7 thoughts on “Still Amusing the Church to Death

  1. Squat

    “old school”? you think that dj jazzy jeff was “old school”? man, when you said that i though you meant the late-70’s early 80’s old school rap. the kind that was almost funk. you know, like the sugar hill gang, run-dmc, or even ll cool j in his early days. but heck, i used to listen to nwa, easy-e, and 2 live crew. though i really considered them “old school”. 😉

  2. Laudemus

    I agree with the authors’ tests. Some music is not suitable for worship.

    I just went to an evangelical Protestant wedding, and someone at the reception sang a song called “Precious Savior” to the tune of “Pretty Woman.” It was kinda funny, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the lyrics to the original song (which really aren’t that bad compared to many lyrics nowadays). If that song had been used during a worship service, I would have been far more focused on the tune than the words.

  3. Rob


    I was the one who warned F.D. about the line.

    The quote is an almost direct quote from a Bob Jones pamphlet from 1971 that railed against the effect “negro” music was having on “white” children. Bob Jones wasn’t the first, nor the last to use the argument.

    Look at the sentence: “hard, driving rap beat.” What’s the purpose of the word “rap?” Musically, there is no “rap” beat. Most rappers sample from other music, and I’ve heard classical, country and western, and even Gregorian chants sampled in rap. Yes, it usually (not always) has a strong beat, but so does a lot of classical music and traditional Christian hymnody.

    The purpose of the word “rap” is to act as a replacement for “negro jungle,” the words used in the original racist arguments. Cut the word “rap,” and the sentence actually makes more sense and fits in with the argument Challies is making.

    I doubt Challies understood what he was repeating. F.D. is too young to remember the overt racists that tried to use Christianity to prop themselves up, the folks who invented the above lines.

    “Appeals to racism have become the last refuge of those who demand immunity from criticism” has nothing to do with it. The phrasing is extremely offensive to those of us who knew where it originated.

    I easily could have posted the quote and a link on some e-mail lists for African-Americans and multi-racial people and sat back and watched the nuke-fest. I didn’t, because F.D. is a friend.

  4. Squat

    “The purpose of the word “rap” is to act as a replacement for “negro jungle,” the words used in the original racist arguments. Cut the word “rap,” and the sentence actually makes more sense and fits in with the argument Challies is making.”

    i beg to differ. i come from a pretty good musical background and have enjoyed listening to many different types of music in the past. if you cut the word “rap” out, it makes less sense. better yet, try replacing it with other types of music, ie: a hard driving metal beat, or a hard driving country beat. it just doesn’t stir up the same kinds of feelings that a hard driving rap beat does. any good music(rap, country, metal, classical etc) should stir up some kind of emotion. if it dosen’t, the composer is doing something wrong and, most likely, will not be popular.
    as far as “picking” on rap music, since when is rap a “black vs, white” thing. i know plenty of white people who listen to rap. i also know of many black people who listen to metal and hardcore. there have been good white rappers (i disclude vanilla ice ;-)) as well as many good black metal/hardcore musicians. music is not race or gender specific. music is universal. though you will find that a certain genre of music may have a greater appeal to a certain group of people (be it race, religion, or geographic) it is not limited to that group.
    i agree to the orignal comment about rap music as it pertains to the current rap (and even some of the newer wave of what i call “rapcore”, the mix of rap and hardcore, ex:korn and it’s ilk). the older rap didn’t have the same type of driving beat. the driving beat we have nowadays is digitaly generated. you can’t get those types of tones from a bass guitar. and with what type of music do you almost never see a bass player (let alone any band at all). rap. it’s all done with sampling, scratchin, and digital enhancements. you just don’t get that with any other type of genre.

  5. Pingback: Deep Furrows

  6. Pingback: UnSpace - Show; Not Tell » Seven-Eleven Troubles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *