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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.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department 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.

  1. Click here to see my treatment of that issue. []

20 Responses to Misdiagnosis

  1. Hi Scott

    I would agree that it is too simplistic to lay the blame for the departure of some at the feet of music alone. And I would agree that music is more likely a symptom than a cause.

    However, the charge of inconsistency with respect to associations is trumped up at best. Who in the non-KJO branches of fundamentalism is sitting on platforms with people who believe they can correct the Greek by the KJV? I can't imagine that if it exists, it is so widespread as to be an inconsistency of fundamentalism at large. Who in fundamentalism is teaching that repentance is not necessary as a part of saving faith? I really know of no one who is doing this. (Maybe I don't get out much.) But if this is the best you can say for frustration with inconsistencies being a root cause of the angst, it is pretty thin, I'd say.

    There are many motivators behind these changes. Perhaps the actual collection of motivators is different for every individual. I'd say youthful brashness and the thought that the young know better than their elders is a contributor. I'd say the materialistic and hedonistic-lite philosophies of youth ministry for the last generation are a likely contributor. I'd say reaction to the Preacher-as-pope mentality is a factor. I'd say the 'rock-star' status given to certain evangelical leaders is a factor. And I'd say the current enchantment with reformed theology is a major factor. There are probably more.


    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Mr. Nail, meet Mr. Hammer. Spot on. Thank you, Scott.

    It's easy to say that people leave because of what evangelicals are doing. I'm sure some are. But I think it has more to do with what fundamentalists are doing, especially in terms of our worship services, preaching, and toleration of nonsense to our right.

  3. Scott,
    Bullseye! I think you are "spot on." I don't think your examples of fundamentalist inconsistencies are far fetched. I know that I have visited websites that proudly proclaim their fundamentalist identity that strongly deny the necessity of repentance for salvation, declaring it to be a work, and therefor a denial of salvation by grace alone. This issue touches closely upon the "Lordship salvation" controversy, and as we know, there are still fundamentalists that deny the necessity of submitting to Christ as Lord as a necessary component of saving faith.

    Yes, there are some glaring inconsistencies, those that you mentioned, as well as others. No one can be perfectly consistent at all times, but we all need to examine carefully those areas that others see as inconsistencies, rather than blustering, denouncing, and failing to consider that possiblity that we just might be wrong.

    Thanks for an excellent article!

  4. Don,

    I think where you see this most is in fundamentalist parachurch organizations, particularly our colleges and missions agencies. The broad constituencies that these organizations need to maintain their existence almost inevitable results in their attempting to hold together various factions of fundamentalism that are otherwise utterly incompatible.


  5. Michael, I would agree that those institutions would be the most likely places where such errors could occur.

    However, I think that the griping of the discontented usually overstates the facts on points like this.

    I don't believe many (if any) non-KJO fundamentalists would tolerate Ruckmanites, though many (me included) are willing to work with KJO men who are willing to cooperate.

    I don't believe many would deny the need for repentance, especially those who are more or less informed about the Lordship salvation debate. The LS debate, however, is very slippery and there seem to be a wide variance of fine distinctions, most of which make little difference. There are some clear extremes at either end of it that should be avoided. But since it is so poorly defined, I think everyone should probably relax a little over that debate, while avoiding the extreme ends of it.

    So when I hear general comments citing Fundamentalist inconsistencies in areas like this, I think they miss the mark. In fact, I think this is just another symptom, a justifying rationale for making a change. It isn't that the discontented really think that Fundamentalists are so horribly inconsistent in these areas that they must simply leave – other things are motivating them, but these generalities have a higher justification value so they are stated.

    It is true that there is discontent. It isn't true that discontent is simply a desire for evangelical music, or widespread supposed inconsistency in fundamentalism.

    So in essence, I am agreeing with Scott's post, but quibbling with one paragraph.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Don,

    You have an interesting way of agreeing, but I'm glad you clarified your intentions. Your experiences may be a bit different from mine. Where I minister in NC, it would be virtually impossible to gather with a group of Independent Baptist Pastors in my county without a fairly significant number of them being KJV only types of the sort who would correct the Greek with the AV.

    Warm regards,
    Greg Barkman

  7. Greg, I guess we'll have to take your word for it. I can't imagine a Ruckmanite wanting to be involved in a meeting with anyone who supported any kind of openness to modern translations.

    Or it could be that you are a victim of the prejudice that describes all KJO men as men who would correct the Greek by the KJV. It is true that some of them would, but a good many of them would not.

    Regardless, I would be astonished that you could find a meeting of Ruckmanites in company with those who accept modern versions or the eclectic text. That is, they might allow them to attend… but sit on the platform? Allow them to preach? That is what we are talking about, right?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. FWIW, I've heard a mainstream FBF pastor tell me that making repentance part of the gospel response is "a false gospel."

    Further, it's not all that uncommon for men who preach in Hyles-type settings to be welcomed in BJ-type settings.

    And it's not difficult to find self-identified fundamentalists who are anything but reverent in the pulpit. Our claim to have the high ground on the reverence/fear of God issue is sketchy, I think. And I agree with Scott that young people notice.

  9. Fair enough, Chris.

    But is what you describe (re Hyles-type/BJU-type) exactly the same thing that Scott is describing above?

    "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"

    And finally, if they are exactly the same thing, I can see how inconsistencies could lead to a reaction by the youngsters, but I still submit that it is too simplistic to identify any one factor as the cause for discontent. Would you deny that the other things I listed earlier are factors?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  10. "People reject fundamentalism and/or conservatism either because they have a misunderstanding of one or more of these issues" must it be a misunderstanding? I'd say that some understand it quite well and just disagree with the fundamentalist's positions.

    "Or because in many cases fundamentalists do not apply the same qualifications that they insist upon for music to these other areas." That's definitely true and it doesn't help any. And I'm no youngster — just feel no need to shill for a team.

  11. I didn't mean to insinuate that there aren't multiple causes. But I think we comfort ourselves by blaming things "out there" rather than doing what we can to deal with the issues "in here."

  12. One more comment… in saying there are multiple motivations, I am trying to point out that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. I think the disaffection is a complicated problem.

    But I also think that it is just as simplistic to blame the "in here" issues as to blame love of worldly music. I am NOT saying we should hang on to the "in here" issues!!! (Although I might disagree with you on the nature and extent of the "in here" issues.) And I suspect the frustration of association inconsistencies are more symptom than cause as well.

    Don Johnson
    Jerimiah 33.3

  13. Don,

    I don't know if my honesty has been questioned :), or if you just have a confrontational way of engaging in conversation. In either case, I have not misrepresented the situation in my area. If you wish to describe a situation in your area, I will gladly accept your statements as correct, since I have no way of either verifying or denying them. Our local Independent Baptist Pastors fellowship, which meets monthly, includes a number of KVO only men who are extreme. They take turns preaching, so yes, anyone who paticipates is "on the same platform" with such men. They are, in my opinion, good hearted but poorly educated and ignorant men.

    One such pastor, now with the Lord, once asked me if a missionary from our church used the KJV. Said I, "I hope not. He ministers in Bolivia where they speak Spanish." He replied, "What I mean is, was the version he uses translated from the King James?" Said I, "I hope not. I hope it was translated from Hebrew and Greek." End of discussion. End of any possible financial support for the missionary.

    That's what we deal with in our area. I'm glad you don't have anything like that up your way.

    Greg Barkman

  14. In the northwest there is a divide between the KJO men and the rest. Mostly we have separate fellowship meetings. Those who argue for the KJV over the Greek tend not to attend the meetings of the rest of us. There may be some who attend meetings on either side, but generally, the division is too sharp.

    Personally, I wouldn't attend a fellowship meeting such as you describe. It isn't worth the aggravation.

    However, regardless of the nature of these meetings, I think it highly unlikely that men are abandoning fundamentalism because they exist. I think it is just an excuse from people who haven't clearly thought out the biblical teaching on which fundamentalism is based.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  15. But that's the thing, Don. The sorts of inconsistencies we're talking about are in *opposition* to "the biblical teaching on which fundamentalism is based." To refuse a speaker because he'd speak at Master's but accept one although he'd speak at Hyles-Anderson is a denial of separatist principles. As I've said in the past, I think we need to be separating *more*. Separatism should be based on one's (a) orthodoxy and (b) unwillingness to fellowship with heterodoxy…not just one's "camp."

  16. Are speakers refused simply because they would speak at Masters? (I assume you mean MacArthur's school?) Aren't there many other factors also involved?

    I am not defending speaking at HAC by those questions.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  17. I have gradually withdrawn from our local pastors' fellowship, largely because of the "nutty" KJV views I hear so often. Usually the comments are made in passing, and almost sound as if they are standard repertroire for these men, as if they must stake out their KJV only position somewhere in every sermon to establish their bona fides. I still receive monthly invitations to attend, and most welcome me warmly when I come, despite my well-known position that is not KJV only. Strange situation, but that's the way it is here.

    Incidently, the group is called, "Alamance County Fundamental Pastors Fellowship" and is the only fellowship of independent pastors in our area. I have chosen to meet with a group of men drawn from a much wider area, "The Tri-State Particular Baptist Fellowship" because I have so much more in common. So, have I "left" fundamentalism because I seldom fellowship with the self-identified fundamentalists in my area?

    Just wondering,

    Greg Barkman

  18. Gentlemen, might i suggest as a somewhat younger voice in the discussion — no offense intended :) — that there is much truth to what Scott has said. The majority of younger fundamentalists that are running to broader evangelicalism are running because they are dissatisfied with the fundamentalism of which their colleges, churches, and families are a part. They have asked questions and they have been treated like children. You can tell a five-year to not listen to CCM because "it's bad." You can tell a ten-year old that "CCM will make you dumber." But teenagers are not satisfied with these answers. Do yourself (and do them) a favor by honestly addressing issues. If young people are taught how to apply biblical truth, they can successfully sift through any situation that they encounter in life. That is the picture or mature Christianity (Eph 4).

    Unfortunately, this biblical maturity is often replaced with a "family conviction" or "historic fundamentalist stand." I am not a socially conservative fundamentalist who supports his convictions with the Bible; I am a student of the Word of God that believes being a socially conservative fundamentalist is the best outworking of Scriptural principles.

    Young people are enthralled with Calvinistic ideas, why? Young people prefer newer translations of the Bible and within 30 years will probably substitute these translations for the KJV in most of the fundamental churches in America, why? Young people challenge the exclusive use of TSM and are pushing for the inclusion of contemporary music (not necessarily the stereotypical CCM), why? Because they are not satisfied with the arguments against these issues. So treat them like adults — like mature Christians — and give them the true biblical principles about these topics. If they choose what you would not, make sure that they are choosing for the right reasons. If they are going to leave, they will not be leaving as a reaction to insipid answers and banal arguments; and If they stay, they will stay because they are firmly convinced – based on the Word of God — that they have taken the right stand!

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