There has been a lot of talk in recent years on the internet and at conferences about why young people are rejecting fundamentalism and/or a conservative philosophy of worship. Everyone likes to play the blame game, but the issue that seems to get most often cited is music. Young people are being attracted to the “worldly music of evangelicalism,” and so they’re rejecting everything they’ve been taught to get it. What’s more, these folks are usually quick to insist that we must not sing songs written by such evangelicals, even if we do so in a conservative style, lest we further cause young people to be attracted to their movements. Of course, Sovereign Grace and Getty songs are the ones most often cited1.
I’m certain that this is true in at least some cases. I’ve heard the stories and met some of them myself. I’m sure that for at least some young people, attraction to certain music is a gateway into embracing a movement.
But while I do believe that worship and music philosophy is very important (I’ve given my life to teaching on the subject after all), I do not believe that music is the root cause in most cases for people rejecting separatism and/or a conservative worship/music philosophy. Embracing pop music in worship is a symptom of much deeper issues.
In other words, I believe those who blame music for leading people into certain movements are misdiagnosing the problem. Not only does this misdiagnosis cause them to ignore the real issues, but I believe that it also actually contributes to the problem.
The root issues, I believe, have more to do with certain doctrinal issues and consistent application of those issues than music itself. Such issues include understanding worship, biblical separation, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and soteriology. People reject fundamentalism and/or conservatism either because they have a misunderstanding of one or more of these issues or because in many cases fundamentalists do not apply the same qualifications that they insist upon for music to these other areas.
For example, fundamentalists insist (rightly) that our music must be reverent, and yet at the same time many fundamentalists are quite irreverent in their services and especially with how they handle the Word of God in preaching. Even some of their music, while it is certainly not current pop, is nevertheless unmistakably irreverent (especially children’s music). Young people recognize the inconsistency of saying that pop music is irreverent while making preaching a time of funny stories and one-liners and producing songs like “God Put the ‘Ha’ in “Abraham.”
Fundamentalists insist (rightly) that we must separate from doctrinal error and that associations matter, and yet at the same time many fundamentalists tollerate connections and associations with theological aberrance just because that person holds to some form of traditional music philosophy. Young people recognize the inconsistency of saying that we must be careful of associating ourself with error while sitting on the platform or speaking with people who teach that an English Bible translation should correct the original Greek, that repentance is not part of salvation, or that certain standards will gain us favor with God.
Fundamentalists insist (rightly) that continuationist movements are in error, and they warn that singing songs from such movements will lead people to embrace continuationism, and yet at the same time many fundamentalists speak of “impressions” from the Holy Spirit, being “led” by the Holy Spirit, or other forms of extra-biblical revelation. Young people recognize the inconsistency of warning against continuationism while practicing plenty of it.
I am a committed separatist and a committed conservative. In no way do I agree with or endorse young people who reject separatism or conservatism. But in many ways I understand why they do. In some cases it is certainly rebellion and immaturity. But in many cases young people are “leaving,” not because they are attracted to certain music, but because of unclear teaching and/or inconsistency in practice. Music is just a side-effect.
I do believe that music philosophy is important, but rejecting a conservative music philosophy is a symptom of deeper issues. And unless we correctly diagnose the problems and take steps to resolve them, we are only delaying the inevitable. We cannot expect people to listen to warnings about the flesh wound when we’ve got tumors infesting our body.