Skip to comments.Evangelical editor picks a quarrel with his cohorts (claims they have lost their way)
Posted on 06/12/2009 3:31:04 PM PDT by NYer
Evangelical Protestants – born-again, Bible-believing and ever-ready to spread the Word – make up the country's biggest religious group, with 26 percent of all U.S. adults.
Marching under that banner are some of America's most prominent figures of faith, from Rick Warren to Franklin Graham.
And who is most closely identified with mega-churches, contemporary Christian music, mass-rally evangelism and best-selling, purpose-driven Christian books? That's right: Evangelicals.
Sounds like a golden age for the evangelical church, right?
Wrong, says Warren Cole Smith, an evangelical journalist and longtime editor of The Charlotte World.
In his new book, an insider critique called “A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church” (Authentic Books, $16.99), Smith argues that many, if not most, evangelical churches have lost their way. Instead of sticking with core biblical principles, rich traditions and church-as-community, he says, they promote feel-goodism, technological fads and church-as-entertainment.
During a recent interview, he laid out his criticisms – as well as some of his solutions.
Among his more provocative charges: “For the sake of money and power and status and celebrity … we've made ‘church' easy. We've made being a card-carrying member of the evangelical movement easy. But being a disciple of Jesus in the early 21st century is hard and, for the most part, the evangelical church doesn't teach us how to do that.”
Smith, who attends Presbyterian Church in America-affiliated StoneBridge Church, told me he's not in favor of destroying the evangelical movement, just reforming it. Call him an Orthodox evangelical.
For starters, he's put off by what he calls the sterile look of modern evangelical churches.
“You see PowerPoint presentations, projection systems. You've got to spend an hour looking in the cubbies to find a cross or an altar,” he said. “We have, in the space of 20 years, almost completely discarded the historic symbols of Christianity.”
Smith is also no fan of the latest practice in some churches: Twittering. Typing a mini-message into your BlackBerry may give the pastor feedback on his sermon, Smith said, but it also turns the congregation into an audience. He'd prefer his fellow evangelicals join in the recitation of the Apostles Creed or extend a handshake of peace to a pew-mate.
“The liturgy understands that humans need to actively participate and not be spectators,” Smith said.
Contemporary Christian music?
He'll take the time-tested hymns of yesteryear any day. When evangelical churches sing spiritually shallow “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs, Smith said, they are following the lead of today's Christian radio listeners, rather than the theologically astute composers of old.
“Music in church is not meant to make us feel good. It's to bring glory to God and be part of the teaching ministry of the church,” Smith said. “Those (hymns) have been vetted by the best theological minds of the last 200 years.”
OK, I know what you're thinking: Smith sure sounds cranky. What's so bad about feeling good about ourselves?
Plenty, said Smith. He calls it “the triumph of sentimentality,” recasting the world as we would like it to be (humans are basically pretty good) rather than what it really is (we are sinful creatures who need a divine savior).
In our hourlong talk, Smith saved his sharpest jab for smiling televangelist Joel Osteen, a Houston mega-pastor who fills auditoriums, goes on “ LarryKing Live,” and sells millions of books with his upbeat message.
“Joel Osteen has a view of the world that you can have your best life now,” Smith said. “If I were going to rewrite Genesis and put (modern) words into the mouth of Satan … I'd put Joel Osteen's words there: ‘You're not so bad. You're so close to being God now. Just a little tweak, a little tune-up, a little bit better. Just follow these 7 rules.'”
So how would Smith save evangelicalism?
Among his answers: Make pastors accountable to deacon or elder boards. Urge churchgoers to discover the vocation God is calling them to. Recover face-to-face community. Develop a stronger sense of history. Plant new churches. And avoid easy answers.
“I'm not saying that I've got all the answers,” Smith concluded. “But I am saying we have a rich biblical Christian tradition that has given us many, many good answers. We've forgotten them. Let's try to recover them.”
***I yearned for the Apostles Creed rather than the Mission Statement our church had. ***
Psst. The Nicene Creed is the only Creed authorized at any Ecumenical Council. But the Apostles’ Creed is better than a Mission Statement, I agree.
***We are loving the beauty of the Catholic Church now, and the historicity.***
Right back to Jesus, sister.
Ugh, I've attended one of these. I knew I was in the wrong place when at the end of the sermon I'd not heard the name of Jesus mentioned. There *was* lots of entertaining music, though. A *good* stage band. Drama. Professional lighting. A nice-looking, "contemporary" pastor in casual clothes. Attractive worship singers. Wireless network access. Different sorts of coffee. Multiple camera views on big screens. Lots of "God-speak" about being all you could be. The only thing missing was.....Christ.
There’s a whole bunch of that here on these fora.
***Not all Catholic parishes are a musical wasteland.***
Tell me that you guys sing Gregorian chants as well and I will be in violation of the 10th Commandment. :)
Wrong! The Catholic Church tried that, and failed. Youth are smart, in a clever way. They want to worship God. Even they recognize the difference between rock and prayer. Just take a look at the huge turnouts for World Youth Day. These youth travel from the 4 corners of the world to spend time on a pilgrimage of faith and prayer with the Holy Father.
***if we are to get young people into the church we must play the music they like.
Wrong! The Catholic Church tried that, and failed. Youth are smart, in a clever way. They want to worship God. Even they recognize the difference between rock and prayer. Just take a look at the huge turnouts for World Youth Day. These youth travel from the 4 corners of the world to spend time on a pilgrimage of faith and prayer with the Holy Father.***
Excellent point. We had four full buses from our parish alone in NE Indiana travel to Toronto for World Youth Day. And, come to think of it, none of them spoke of popular music as the draw.
We are a small choir of amateurs, with one staff singer per voice part to make sure there's an anchor. The rest of us are NOT professionally trained, NOT a concert choir, NOT beautiful voices.
BUT - with a good director who selects music within the ability of the choir, AND with a willingness to learn and concentrate, even a small amateur choir can sound very, very good. For example, we sing all the old Renaissance motets (especially the English ones) because they were originally intended to be sung with a small choir, by amateurs.
Our man has had charge of the choir for about 4 years now, and you can really hear the difference. Rumor hath it that the music is attracting people from all around the north side (probably a lot of renegade Episcopalians in that bunch).
We are going to make a recording soon, and then I can demonstrate how well we do sound! (I may have my husband the amateur recording engineer mike us up some time, just for grins. He's got all the equipment.)
Our music director has even taught us to read Gregorian notation. THAT was a first for me, coming from the Episcopal church. "Chant" in our former life meant four- and six- part Anglican chant. Which is cool stuff, but quite different from Gregorian.
Here is a spoof recording of the British Highway Code pertaining to pedestrians, done by The Master Singers in three or four different Anglican chant settings - The Highway Code. But it gives you an idea of the Anglican sound -- the part that begins with "always use subways, footbridges, pedestrian crossing or central refuges" is the traditional setting for Psalm 22 and my favorite Anglican chant.
Nope. Didn't work for the Episcopalians. Didn't work for the Catholics either (all either church did was jettison 1500 years of beautiful, entrancing, Godly music for pop kitsch.)
The person who has done the best job explaining the problem with contemporary pop music in a worship service is Pope Benedict XVI:
On the one hand, there is pop music, which is certainly no longer supported by the people in the ancient sense (populus). It is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. "Rock", on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit's sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp 147-8)
Music and Logos
Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship. It has its standards, and that standard is the Logos. If we want to know whom we are dealing with, the Holy Spirit or the unholy spirit, we have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to say, "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3). The Holy Spirit leads us to the Logos, and he leads us to a music that serves the Logos as a sign of the sursum corda, the lifting up of the human heart. Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality? That is the criterion for a music in harmony with logos, a form of that logiké latreia (reason-able, logos-worthy worship) of which we spoke in the first part of this book." (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p 151)
Pop and rock are both of the marketplace. They are designed to grab the emotions, as our music director says "there has to be a 'hook' in the first 4 bars" and they are designed to sell records. They're also very "me" focused (hence the "Jesus is my boyfriend" quip) rather than on God.
“The above statement caught my eye. He is, of course, absolutely right.”
I’m not saying this just to be contrary, but because it is very important to me: I couldn’t disagree more strongly.
If I wanted glad-handing, applause, banjos, tambourines, and the rest of that protestant crapola, I’d go be a protestant.
One of the most wonderful things about the Church is her dignity, and the dignity she accords the faithful.
People should keep their hands to themselves.
“Christianity is a religion that requires study and mental discipline. Paul in 1 Timothy commands diligence in Bible study...let a preacher do their thinking for them and hope for some message from God while maximizing the emotion and avoiding the mental.”
Quite true, but I would also like some intellectual stimulation from the clergy. A couple of weeks ago the entire homily was about why we should give money to this visiting priest’s pet cause. Very disappointing.
Jesus is my boyfriend songs
LOL! That's what our music director calls them!
Quick, the antidote:
O Sing Joyfully (Batten)
See you, and raise.
(Ah, internet ephemera. I once found a wealth of beautiful acapella congregational psalm singing from various (mostly) Free Church of Scotland websites, not a one of which I can find now. Got 'em saved here, but wish I had something to link to.)
Our local variant is the Sacred Harp Singing
I've been singing OSH for years and years, my first sing was back in the 1980s at Lacey's Chapel in Henager AL.
The film that this trailer was made from actually features some of the singers at Lacey's Chapel. I saw the film at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon GA . . . they had a room set up just like a hymn sing, with the benches in a hollow square and everything.
Like they say on the trailer . . . just a wall of sound. Eat your heart out, Phil Spector!
Ignore the silly costumes. The tune was composed in the 1930s by one of the Cagles, who pretty single-handedly saved Sacred Harp singing. It was devised strictly according to the rules, though, and it's typical of the tradition.
One interesting thing about OSH is that each part can stand alone as a melody, it's one of the rules. Another is that the treble and tenor are doubled in octave (alto, if present, and bass are not). The really old tunes are 3 part, but most are 4. And the 'fuging' part at the end of each verse is pretty much a tradition too. It ought to go a LOT faster (at least that's the way we sing it in the South).
It took a little doing but it's nice to know he converted something. ;O)
He’s right but take it further: God genetically coded us to seek Him and need Him. I am convinced that the Sacraments, those outward signs, are given to us for our souls- but also to nourish us viscerally.
Humans do better with a glass of wine a day. It’s no fluke Christ came at a time when wine was very important to humans and used it in the Mass. Humans find frank “confessing” to be healing. Humans need authority, and signs, and symbols, and community, and ritual to be mentally healthy and happy. Humans need God on many levels. We are each programmed to search for Him; to recognize Him when we find Him; and to thrive when we live with Him.
That’s why people who don’t search for Him, recognize Him, or live with Him are so unhappy. We are coded to need Him, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.