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Culture doesn’t just change

I received an email a few days ago asking what I thought about a few particular contemporary Christian songs. The individual mentioned that he thought that hymns have always been simply reflections of whatever music existed in the current culture, and that these songs were no different. I’ve copied my reply to him below in hopes that it might be a help to someone else:

My particular views in terms of application are built upon dozens of foundational philosophical and theological presuppositions. So it’s sometimes difficult for me to give a simple answer regarding what I think about a particular song without fully explaining the underlying philosophy (hopefully my book will help with some of that).

However, I’ll give you a short answer and address one foundational issue.

I’ll admit that I’m not thrilled with the songs you mentioned, for several different reasons. One reason is textual, and the other has to do with the musical forms employed.

But now to the more foundational issue. You said, “I feel as though Hymns were established with the form of music from that time. I think that as music changes so does the music we use to worship.”

You are certainly correct to a certain extent. It is true that culture and musical forms change over time, and the church will likely (and probably should, in most cases) reflect at least some of the current cultural forms.

But that is nevertheless a very simplistic way to look at the issue. Culture doesn’t just change; it changes for a number of reasons, most of them religious and philosophical. Culture is not neutral, it is an expression of values and worldview. Culture is essentially the behavior of a people that flows from their beliefs about God, the world, man, life, salvation, etc.

Therefore, certain cultural expressions are better reflections of a biblical worldview than others. So as culture changes, it is important for Christians to ask why it is changes and what values the newer forms express.

It is also important to recognize that in times past Christian values were more dominant in Western civilization, and therefore the predominant cultural expressions were more closely connected with biblical values. Today this is not the case; values quite contrary to Scripture are becoming more and more dominant in our civilization, and this is reflected in the prevailing culture.

So when we choose what musical forms we are going to use in worship today, the choice is not a simple as copying the music of the day. We must decide which cultural forms best reflect the values of Scripture and the lyrics we wish to express.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.