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By In Music, Podcast, Worship

Episode 8b, Fighting Musical Relativism in the Church with James B. Jordan

In part two of this series on music, Jarrod Richey again interviews James B. Jordan, scholar in residence at the Theopolis Institute (Birmingham, Alabama) and founder of Biblical Horizons.

On this podcast, Jordan addresses the question of the appropriateness of music in worship, the use of chant in the Protestant tradition, and musical instruments.

Jordan makes the argument that “worship shouldn’t sound like the rest of the week.” He acknowledges that this often makes modern worshippers uncomfortable, but points to John Calvin’s example of teaching the Genevan Psalter, then strange and unfamiliar to the adults, to children. “Do you want you children growing up not knowing the psalms?” asks Jordan. “Or are you willing to set aside what makes you feel good for the sake of your kids?”

Demystifying chant, Jordan points out that part of the problem is the English language itself. He explains that “other languages don’t have two different words for sing and chant.” Jordan surveys the various Protestant uses of chant and explains the surprisingly recent history of what we think chanting sounds like.

Finally, James B. Jordan offers practical wisdom for pastors and worship leaders on how to develop music in their local congregations. “Don’t do anything that calls attention to yourself,” says Jordan, who prefers to see the leaders in worship as servants, not performers. On the issue of instruments in Worship, Jordan playfully tackles to the controversy of guitars and explains how the pipe organ most fully respects the orchestral dignity of the worship service.

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About James B. Jordan

James B. Jordan Theopolis Biblical Horizons His father was a professor of French Literature and his mother a piano teacher and a poetess. Jordan graduated from the University of Georgia in 1971 with a degree in Comparative Literature and studies in music and political philosophy. He finished his master’s degree in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia and was awarded the D. Litt. degree from the Central School of Religion, England, in 1993.

Jordan is the author of several books, including The Sociology of the Church (1986); Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (1988); Creation in Six Days (1999); and several books of Bible exposition, worship, and liturgy.

Music:

Psalm 119 – Psalm Sing, Christ Church, Moscow, ID.
Rendition of Psalm 119 by Dr. David Erb.

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By In Culture, Music, Politics

Happy AR Day! a holiday to counter Bastille Day

Twenty-some years ago my sister was in France, studying Gregorian chant with the monks at the Abbaye Saint-Pierre in Solesmes. During her time there, the 14th of July rolled around, when the rest of the country celebrates la Fête nationale, better known to us as Bastille Day. But things were quiet in Solesmes and the surrounding countryside. Curious at this lack of merriment, my sister asked why they weren’t joining in the celebrations and was greeted with faces registering shock. In a heavily Catholic region, they would never consider observing a day that marked the start of a godless revolution that wreaked such havoc on the Church, France and the rest of Europe.

There are now 359 days remaining until the next Bastille Day. As we await its occurrence, I would like to propose for that day a counter-holiday to be titled AR Day, “AR” standing for Anti-Revolutionary. After the generation of war and instability set off in 1789 finally ended with Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, many Europeans, especially those still loyal to the gospel of Jesus Christ, set about attempting to combat the ideological illusions the Revolution had engendered. This entailed breaking with the modern preoccupation—nay, obsession—with sovereignty and recovering a recognition of the legitimate pluriformity of society.

In any ordinary social setting, people owe allegiance to a variety of overlapping communities with differing internal structures, standards, and purposes. These are sometimes called mediating structures, intermediary communities or, taken collectively, civil society. This reality stands in marked contrast to liberal individualism and such collectivist ideologies as nationalism and socialism, each of which is monistic in its own way—locating a principle of unity in a human agent to which it ascribes sovereignty, or the final say.

Recognizing that the only source of unity in the cosmos is the God who has created and redeemed us in the person of his Son, Christians are freed from the need to locate a unifying source within the cosmos. Thus the institutional church can be itself, living up to its divinely-appointed mandate to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, and maintain discipline. The family is free to be the family, nurturing children as they grow to maturity. Marriage is liberated to be itself, free from the stifling constraints of the thin contractarian version now extolled in North America and elsewhere. And, of course, the huge array of schools, labour unions, business enterprises, and voluntary associations have their own proper places, not to be artificially subordinated to an all-embracing state or the imperial self.

This pluriformity is something worth celebrating! It may sound perfectly mundane when described in the way I have here, but the fact that the followers of today’s political illusions find it so threatening indicates that we cannot afford to take it for granted. Here are some suggested readings that highlight this dissenting anti-revolutionary tradition:

  • Johannes Althusius, Politics (1614)
  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)
  • Guillaume Groen van Prinster, Unbelief and Revolution (1847)
  • Abraham Kuyper, Our Program (1880)
  • Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1891)
  • Jacques Maritain, Man and the State (1951)
  • Yves R. Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government (1951)
  • Friedrich Julius Stahl, Philosophy of Law: the Doctrine of State and the Principles of State Law (1830)

I could go on and list many more resources, but these will suffice for purposes of our new holiday. I propose that we celebrate it by holding public readings from these and similar works. The food would consist of such anti-revolutionary delicacies as boerenkool met worst, haggis, Brazilian pães de queijo and pamonhas, and, for the sake of all those Byzantine-Rite Calvinists out there, loaves of white bread with taramosalata, Kalamata olives, and cruets of extra virgin (Greek!) olive oil.

Music will consist of mass communal singing of the Psalms, preferably from the Genevan Psalter. Additional music will be provided by (why not?) the monks of the Abbaye Saint-Pierre in Solesme! Let’s do it!

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By In Culture, Music, Podcast

Episode 8, Fighting Musical Relativism in the Church with James B. Jordan

In part one of this series on music, Jarrod Richey interviews James B. Jordan, scholar in residence at the Theopolis Institute (Birmingham, Alabama) and founder of Biblical Horizons.

This podcast on “fighting musical relativism in the church” is a discussion about a Christian theology of music, how to read the Bible’s musical themes, and developing mature church music.

Jordan also discusses the historicity of the psalms and how music shapes our theology.

Subscribe to the Kuyperian Podcast on iTunes and Google Play.

About James B. Jordan

James B. Jordan Theopolis Biblical Horizons His father was a professor of French Literature and his mother a piano teacher and a poetess. Jordan graduated from the University of Georgia in 1971 with a degree in Comparative Literature and studies in music and political philosophy. He finished his master’s degree in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia and was awarded the D. Litt. degree from the Central School of Religion, England, in 1993.

Jordan is the author of several books, including The Sociology of the Church (1986); Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (1988); Creation in Six Days (1999); and several books of Bible exposition, worship, and liturgy.

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By In Family and Children, Music

Musical Segregation: Questions from a Concerned Pastor

I am not a trained sociologist, though I play one at home as a father. I am constantly analyzing trends and the origination of certain behaviors and offering solutions. Thankfully, as a Christian father, sociology can be summarized simply by the study of sinful patterns; patterns that can be easily studied and analyzed.

As a pastor, I also have the opportunity to study trends and patterns in the local church. Church life is messy, and with it comes messy patterns and behaviors that only Jesus can undo. But I am not only a student of my congregation, I also enjoy studying modern church trends. In such cases, my studies will lack the gravitas found in well-funded research teams. Still, I am comforted by the fact that every sociologist is biased. He may have correct numbers, but what he does with the numbers is based on his presuppositions. How he phrases the questions determines what responses he will receive.

I set this background to emphasize that my conclusions are not flawless but grounded in my personal, ecclesiastical, and societal concerns. With this in mind, let me make the following assertion: “Churches that segregate musically are bound to segregate corporately.” I have seen it happen again and again, but beyond the anecdotal evidence, the rationale of modern trends seem to affirm that proposition. Let me flesh out my concerns with a few questions and affirmations:

First, why do we assume that children and teens need a different kind of music than adults? Why do we think that “praise and worship” provide something for young folks and not for older saints? We attempt to accommodate the tastes of Christians in different stages of life, but what are we actually accomplishing? Are we merely perpetuating society’s self-centeredness? Is ecclesiastical music shaped to fit particular tastes and styles?

Second, I have noticed that every church that has a modern flavor differs from other churches that offer modern musical flavors. So to say, “I like contemporary music,” leads to another question: “What kind?” Is Amy Grant “old” contemporary? Is Michael W. Smith “old” contemporary? Is Hillsong music “new” contemporary? We must keep in mind that we are dealing with a span of 20-30 years here.

Third, we have abandoned Psalm-shaped music. I am not advocating exclusive psalmody, but I am saying that when we abandon the regular singing of psalms, we lose gospel creativity to compose biblical hymns. Historically, psalm-centered churches produced psalm-like hymns.

Fourth, as our children continue to grow in evangelical churches where music is dispersed according to age and style, how will they and their aging parents ever come to a proper understanding of the role of music in the Church? Will they ever be able to sit together to sing? Will the college bound son ever wish to come to dad’s church during summer breaks and genuinely enjoy singing praises to God? Or will he merely tolerate it, as a kind gesture to his Fanny Crosby-loving parents?

Fifth, have we considered the consequences of dividing our services into contemporary and traditional? Are we making it easier for older saints to bless younger saints, or are we making it harder? How are we stressing unity when our churches naturally divide over musical styles? Can we fulfill Paul’s exhortations to eat and drink together?a

Sixth, is contemporary music as a category truly contemporary? “Shine, Jesus, Shine” appears archaic to modern worship services. While new musical compositions can be admirable things, many churches only use music composed by their musical team. What happens for visitors who are long-time Christians? What happens when people from diverse contemporary churches visit a church that writes their own contemporary melodies? Are the contemporary going to feel divorced from their fellow contemporary music lovers?

Seventh, does the predominant hunger for the new ever get old? In other words, what happens when millennials raise their own children who think their parents’ music is as old as an MP3 player? What happens when the world turns against the modern?

Eighth, are we teaching through our music that music divides rather than unites? Are we teaching our children that what we sing is what we like and we like only what we sing?

Ninth, will our children leave us when they find us to be evangelically irrelevant to them? Are we setting the stage for their departure by granting their generation musical style privilege?

Finally, what role does the Bible play in our church music? Does tradition provide any help in our consideration of what we should sing? Can we merely discard 1,900 years of church music for the new? Are we a better generation than our faithful forefathers who gave their lives for the gospel? Do we follow in the train of the latest trend, or the Davidic train that offered us divinely-inspired music? Does our inspiration in modern composition stem from cultural romantic tales or the gospel romance of Ruth and Boaz? Is our church music bringing our families closer together, or is it separating us? Can your 18-year-old say, “Dad, let’s sing together?” If not, is that a good thing?

We all claim our music is praise-worthy, but can our music be God-worthy if God’s people are not singing a new song together?

(more…)

  1. I am fully aware of functional/practical building issues, but here I am referring to churches that can easily accommodate everyone in one service  (back)

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By In Culture, Music, Worship

A Mighty Fortress: Then & Now

A Mighty Fortress: Then & Now

Unless you grew up in a Lutheran church, chances are that you’re singing quite a bit different version of that great hymn of the Reformation, Ein feste burg ist unser Gott or A Mighty Fortress is Our God. This great hymn based on Psalm 46 has a story that the average evangelical Christian has not heard. Here’s an audio post with sound clips explaining how this hymn has changed over the years. There is more that could be said and those who could say it more eloquently, but my hope is that we can begin to better appreciate this hymn in ways we hadn’t before.

Here’s the direct link to the audio file: http://kuyperian.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/EinFesteBurg-ThroughHistory.mp3.

-Jarrod Richey

P.S. – Here’s a link to the PDF of the Lutheran version closest to what Martin Luther penned:

 http://kuyperian.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/AMightyFortress-Lutheran-LETTER-.pdf

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By In Family and Children, Music

Why Don’t Men Sing in Church?

Why are men not singing in Church? Various articles have attempted to answer that question recently. But before we can try to offer a rationale for such a spectacular question, we need to observe that some are entirely comfortable allowing this trend to continue. After all, music plays a minimal role in their worship expressions. Others find the issue of congregational singing irrelevant due to the trained praise bands that lead worship each Sunday. “Let the professionals lead.”

Certain environments encourage people to hear and feel the music rather than sing it. And some groups have placed such high priority on the preached word that the very idea of a singing congregation seems secondary, if not tertiary in the priority list.

But on to better things.

Fortunately, there are a vast amount of churches and leaders that still treasure congregational singing and long for a time when men return to the old-fashioned task of singing God’s melodies. The cruel reality is that we are far from the mark. In my many visits to evangelical churches over the years, the few men who opened their mouths, timidly read the words like a child attempting to spell out his phonics assignment.

Timid singers make for timid Christians. (more…)

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By In Music, Worship

Pipes Worth Playing: Four Lost Lessons from the Pipe Organ

PipesWorthPlaying-FeaturedImageI know what you’re thinking. Organ: funeral, ball game, grand dusty cathedral. Why should modern Christians of such a technological age revisit a thousand year-old instrument? Don’t worry, I will not be trying to punch another hole in my Weird Music Preferences and Opinions card here. The truth is, our Christian culture is missing out on one of the great blessings to the Christian church, an instrument with capabilities that lend both strength and maturity to how we worship. Only a caricature of what it once was, the pipe organ has endured a history that has left it unloved or at best uninteresting to most Evangelical Christians in America today. By remembering its origin and the theology connected to its design, we can push air once again through the pipes with joy!

First, the pipe organ was built for the Christian church.

It was installed into the actual walls and framework of protestant and catholic churches and cathedrals throughout western civilization. No other instrument is installed with such permanence. This is not an argument of who had it first, rather this is a call for Christians to revisit the value of this instrument not in the narrow light of its present-day uses, but in the broader light of history. The pipe organ’s design was intentional, purposeful in church worship, and ever pointing to God as no other instrument was made to do.

Second, the pipe organ highlights God’s diligent sovereignty in creation.

  All is lifeless without His hand as the organ does not spontaneously create music without a master’s hands. The hundreds of pipes and sound combinations require the fingers of a master musician on the keyboard manual and the subsequent inspiration of air through the bellows and pipes. The hollow tubes of metal and wood stand dormant until this inspiration gives way to sound. The pipes of various lengths and sizes remind us that through the multitude of layers in God’s created order, all come under submission to the composer and chief musician who gives them life and purpose. The pipe organ’s bellows moving air through flue and reed pipes much like the human lungs moving air through larynx and vocal reeds is a creational model of the Holy Spirit breathing life and transforming cacophony into a symphony of sound that proclaims his goodness and glory. (more…)

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