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Charismatic worship?

In the most recent issue of In the Nick of Time, Kevin Bauder warns against the dangers of even the recent, more mild forms of charismaticism. He points out that such beliefs affect a number of important doctrinal and practical matters.

WorshipOne of those areas is worship. In fact, I would suggest that it is in the worship issue that charasmatic theology has been most influential, even among those traditions that do no themselves hold to charismaticism. Many non-charismatic evangelicals have adopted a worship theology and musical forms that were birthed from within charismatic movements, and they somehow assume that such theology and music have remained uninfluenced by the theological traditions that formed them.

You might ask how charismatic theology could influence something like one’s philosophy of worship and music. Grant Wacker, a historian writing sympathetically about the Pentecostal movement, answers that question:

And then there was congregational singing, one of the most notable and remarked on features of Pentecostal worship. . . . Music offered leaders a ready means for managing the intensity of the service. They could ratchet up the tempo until worshipers broke into ecstatic praise, or tone it down when things seemed to be getting out of hand. Either way, music gave leaders a tool for regularizing the expression of emotion.1

Robert Godfrey, commenting on Wacker’s observations, notes the following:

What Wacker sees as true of early Pentecostalism is even truer with the Contemporary Christian Music phenomenon. Praise songs, which originated in charismatic circles and spread widely in other Protestant churches, seem often to express rather spontaneous waves of emotion. But their use is carefully planned with an eye to the emotional effect on the worshiper. In such a session of singing one can predict exactly when the hands will be raised and when other emotional responses will be exhibited.2

You might object that while this is certainly true of some of the “crazier” wings of the Charismatic movement, surely it isn’t true of the more thoughtful developments of men like Bob Kauflin, right?

I would answer in a similar way that Kevin did: while there is no doubt that men like Kauflin are more theologically astute and thoughtful than other charismatics, they nevertheless operate under the same theological and philosophical presuppositions. While many of their lyrics are more theologically rich than typical praise songs (and even many gospel songs!), their charismatic worship philosophy shapes the musical forms they wed with those lyrics.

What’s more, these charismatics are the ones driving the most of the worship discussion in evangelicalism today. Do we assume that their theology of the Holy Spirit does not influence what they say about the nature of worship?

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. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture, 109 []
  2. “Worship and the Emotions,” in Give Praise to God, Philip Graham Ryken,, 369 []

24 Responses to Charismatic worship?

  1. This is a good article that makes a lot of great points. I do have some questions though. Let me put one disclaimer on what I am about to say. I am not charismatic or Pentecostal nor do I believe in that theology. However one thing I cannot seem to understand is that the majority of articles that I read “attacking” CCM (not to mention the fact that it is such a huge bucket) seem to focus mainly on the emotions. Why is the emotion aspect always the focus of what makes CCM wrong? Does that beg the assumption that conservative music lacks emotion? I’m not trying to open a can of worms – it’s just something I’ve been thinking about and cannot seem to understand.

  2. Hi, Jon. Great question, and thanks for posting it over here! Facebook conversations get easily lost, but here they are preserved and can be helpful for others in the future. :)

    The question you raise is really central to a lot of what we write here, and why I chose the title “Religious Affections” for the ministry.

    We’re certainly not opposed to emotion! But that word emotion, in my opinion, is too fuzzy and nebulous to be helpful. So here’s a better way of putting it: I am not opposed to the expression of holy affections; in fact, I would argue that religious affections are central to what true worship is! Without expression of affection to God, there is no worship.

    What I would warn against is the artificial manipulation of what were once called passions. These are almost involuntary, “gut” reactions, things like appetite, fear, sexual drive, etc.–the “chemical” movements of our bodies. These are not evil–God made us this way–but Christians have always (until relatively recently) warned that these passions must be kept in control by the mind, lest they overcome us and lead us to sin. So, for example, appetite not kept in control leads to gluttony, sexual drive leads to immorality, etc.

    With this important distinction between affections and passions in mind, I would also suggest that certain art forms target the mind and affections, while others target the body and the passions.

    It is this latter category that we warn against, for to manipulate the passions is to create false worship.

    Charismatics, inexorably tying physical passions with true spiritual experience, naturally find in this kind of music the perfect tool for creating what they believe to be true worship experiences.

    Does that help at all? If you do some searches on this site for affections and passions, I think you’ll find some other helpful and more thorough explanations.

    Again, thanks for joining the conversation!

  3. I have read many of your articles and understand that.. I appreciate your view on this and tend to agree with you. My comment is merely a generalized comment. It just seems sometimes that the internet is flooded with articles from conservative Christians taking shots at what they label as CCM (whatever that means) and the focus is always that CCM is too emotional. When I ask the question though “What is CCM,” very few seem to be able to conclusively define that yet they have a lot to say about what is wrong with it. I personally don’t believe that “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” is the right approach. While I completely agree with this article in the fact that pentecostal and charismatic movements and the music generally associated with them tend to be (dare I say) manipulative emotionally, it’s hard for me to apply the same “judgement” on all music just because of its label. There are a lot of rich deep contemporary songs written today by artists such as Keith and Kristen Getty. Their song “In Christ Alone” is one of my favorites and yet that would fall into the bucket of CCM in most circles and be generally be judged on this same criteria. I have met them personally myself and their passion is to bring the Gospel and the deep truths from God’s Word back to church music. Thanks again for posting. It’s always good to think through this.

  4. Thanks, Jon. I agree with you that there is a lot of broad brushing that goes on in these discussions, and we need to be careful in how we label things and clearly articulate what characteristics we find objectionable.

    Thanks for your insights.

  5. I heard an analogy once that I believe applies here. A chess instructor explained one time that the best way to learn how to play chess is to remove the queen and learn how to play effectively without it. The queen is the most powerful player on the board. If you can learn how to play without it, then once it is re-introduced to the board, you are much stronger of a player. I believe the majority of churches in America culture, both in the realm of conservative and contemporary, tend to have a “queen” that they depend on. Everything is put into making that “Sunday morning production” perfect. Churches can’t exist without it. As conservative Christians (if you can apply a label) we cast judgments on charismatics and pentecostals because of their emotional “productions”, musical and otherwise, while at the same time we spend the same effort and resources on our own conservative “productions” that are merely just a different style. We like to think that we’ve got the corner of the market on theology and we’ve got it right but when you get to the root of it, aren’t we in some ways the same just in a different place? Just some thoughts. I hope I didn’t get off topic. Thanks so much for posting this. I truly appreciate your stand on this and truthfully enjoy reading your articles. Please continue what you are doing.

  6. Jon, I think you’ve sensed what many of us at this site have been suggesting for some time: traditional fundamentalists who argue against CCM actually defend music and worship that is different only by degree from what they reject. Thus their arguments often fall on deaf ears.

    We at this site are trying (often failing, I am sure) to articulate a philosophy of worship and music that rightly critiques both the passion-driven worship of contemporary charismatics and the passion-driven worship of many traditionalist fundamentalists in favor of biblically-regulated, modest, rightly-ordered worship.

  7. You state, “their charismatic worship philosophy shapes the musical forms they wed with those lyrics.” Could you give a/some specific or concrete example(s) of this, Scott? Thanks in advance.

  8. Sure, Ray. I discussed this a bit in my replies to Jon above, but I would suggest that since charismatics necessarily connect spiritual experience with outward manifestations, they are prone to use (and create) musical forms that easily facilitate the kinds of physical expressions they firmly believe are true worship.

    The quotes from Wacker and Godfrey in the original article also explain what I mean. Wacker, someone sympathetic to Pentecostalism, admits that the early Pentecostals used emotionally manipulative music (usually the choruses of gospel songs sung over and over) to create certain atmospheres in their services that they believed were conducive to the Holy Spirit’s work.

    Likewise, Godfrey argues that modern Praise and Worship music just takes that to the next step.

    I would suggest that the more thoughtful, doctrinally-rich songs coming out of some charismatic circles have corrected the shallow doctrine problem, but they nevertheless still have the same philosophy of worship, and this is evidenced in the musical forms they employ.

    What do you think?

  9. Thanks for the reply, Scott, and I agree with what you’re saying. I guess the clarification or examples I’m after mostly have to do with ‘musical form’ per se. When you talk about musical forms, are you referring to the musical structure of, say, repetitious choruses (or melodies) sung over and over again, or is there more to it. It seems to me that most of what conservative churches are using of the SG repertoire don’t really fit this mode. Can you give an example of an actual SG song that would employ Charismatic musical form? And please feel free to use musical terminology or jargon, as I’m a trained musician and would understand most things related to music theory, rhythm, melody, timing, etc. Thanks again!

  10. I see. Glad to try in this short form. You’ll find other articles here on the site that elaborate more fully.

    As you trained musician, you know that historically, music has been divided into two categories; different names were used: Dionysian vs. Apolonian, carnal vs. spiritual, romantic vs. classical, pop vs traditional, and so on.

    What primarily distinguished these two categories were how musical elements were used to affect the listener. With the former category, sounds are used primarily to move the listener, to stimulate his senses, to create a mood or atmosphere. How this was accomplished changed, but the goals and affects were largely the same.

    With the latter category, musical elements were used to modestly reflect a transcendent order, to nurture noble affections, to shape the character of the listener. Again, how this was accomplished developed and changed over time, but the characteristics of this music were very similar: modest music form driven by a text.

    I would argue that pop music is the epitome of the former category. The music is designed to titillate the senses. Since its primary purpose is to make money, the creators of this music employ mere surface level musical elements that don’t require much contemplation and immediately gratify the passions. So yes, things like undeveloped repetition, trivial chord progressions, and especially driving rhythm produce the desired results.

    These elements and their results fit perfectly with what the charismatic desires in his worship: a charged atmosphere that progressively builds in intensity. Traditionally, this also included shallow lyrics since a lot of mind involvement just got in the way of the Holy Spirit.

    Now as I’ve mentioned, with the SG guys and others, the lyrics have improved considerably, although I would note that most of the lyrics are centered around triumphalistic catch phrases that can also be used to build excitement.

    Even the tunes themselves, divorced from other elements, have mostly been improved from previous forms, yet you will quickly notice the melodic and rhythmic cliches borrowed from pop idioms. These composers speak the language of pop for sure.

    So my concerns are not primarily with the lyrics or even the melodies, and I have only modest concerns about these songs being used in “cleaned up” performance styles. I’ve even used a couple myself on occasion.

    Where the charismatic theology reveals itself clearly is in the performance of these songs. Instrumentation, use of dramatic dynamics, driving rhythms, and sensuous vocals are used to create the desired affects.

    Even (or especially) when these folks are forced to do their songs without the instrumentation, like at T4G, their desire to create energy is clearly present. Since they don’t have the instrumentation to back them up, they resort to repetition, shouting, and use of even the piano to manipulate climax.

    And this is where my concerns enter for even those with traditional worship using these songs and adopting the charismatic theology. I’ve seen plenty of traditionalists clearly desire and try to create the same kinds of emotional climax through the use of piano, orchestra, organ, and directing techniques.

  11. Worshipping God should bring a variety of emotions “in” us: contrition and sorrow for sin, a fervent longing to be in the presence of God, a trembling awe of the glory of His presence and greatness of His power, thanksgiving for the blessings of God, rejoicing and hope for the salvation which God supplies. Emotion is necessary, but it is not to be the basis of our faith and worship, nor is it an end to itself. Welling up emotions for the sake of being emotional is not sincere worship. It is emotionalism.

  12. Good comment, Rod. I would qualify, though, that worship shouldn’t create emotion, it is the expression of affections that are brought by the Spirit through the Word. It is when we try to create emotion in worship that we run into problems of manipulation and emotionalism.

  13. Thanks, Scott. It’s a very fascinating dynamic and resulting discussion, to be sure, and I appreciate this forum to be able to have this discussion. Much to think about. You say, “…yet you will quickly notice the melodic and rhythmic cliches borrowed from pop idioms. These [SG] composers speak the language of pop for sure.” For the sake of clarification and example, would you say that SG popular works (especially in conservative churches) such “Speak, O Lord,” “In Christ Alone,” “By Faith,” “Before the Throne,’ et al, fit this category? Thanks again in advance.

  14. I would, but again let me emphasize that it’s primarily about performance style; I don’t necessarily object to those songs done in a conservative way. But even then, I would suggest that the melodies especially are pretty weak. I don’t use those songs often primarily because I think there are a lot of other songs that have much stronger tunes and just as good, if not slightly better texts.

    For example, I’d much rather sing “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” to BRYN CALFARIA than “In Christ Alone.”

  15. Thanks, Scott. That helps clarify quite a bit, and I understand better what you meant previously. I think there is still quite a subjective dynamic to all of this as well. A weak melody to one is a strong, wonderful melody to another, etc. I think of still way too many traditional hymns and songs used in conservative churches that I believe to be musically weak, or just downright very poor.

  16. Hey, Ray. While I might agree with you that there is a certain amount of subjectivity in these matters, I cannot agree that there are no objective standards. Strong and weak, as applied to tunes, are objective terms based on real criteria.

    I would also agree with you, however, that many “traditional” songs (especially those of the gospel song variety), are VERY weak!

    One more concrete explanation: most of these new “modern hymns” are quite formulaic, and I would suggest are so because of the underlying charismatic theology this post discusses.

    For example, most of them start in in a lower register (often too low for most singers) with a more sedate AA section. Then, more often then not, they burst in a sudden climax in a high range (often too high for most singers) in a triumphalistic fervor. This flows, I think, unconsciously from the desire to “move” or “motivate” people to emotional climax.

  17. What objective standard musically could be applied to melodic content, then? Theoretically, what separates a weak melody from a strong melody? “Busyness”? Wide range? Simplicity? Complexity? “Catchiness factor” or memorability?

  18. Hey, Ray. Yes, all of those things would contribute. Also the use of pop cliches and render a tune stereotypical would make it weak. Also rhythmically and melodically, a sudden burst to climax without careful development is manipulative, in my view.

  19. I am a cessationist, and not charismatic at all. But I just want to comment how the examples above are any different from Fundamental Baptists that plays “Just As I Am” and similar music on altar call? In many ways the music sets an emotional atmosphere manipulating the congregation to come forward.

    In addition, I would reiterate what Bauder said that it is not fair to think of all charismatics together. Guys like Kauflin would be first to say ‘no’ to using music to manipulate emotions. He strongly emphasizes proper emotion as reaction to biblical truth. It is truth-informed emotion and not mere emotionalism. I don’t agree in everything with Kauflin, but I don’t think it’s fair to include him with other charismatics.

    Lastly, I don’t find anything necessarily wrong with physical manifestations of emotion as long as they are based on truth and orderly. Without the aid of music, I find myself lifting my hands when overwhelmed by truth in my Bible reading. I think that is religious affections.

  20. Hi, Jared. Thanks for your contribution.

    First of all, I agree with you completely about your assessment of many Fundamental Baptists. Revivalism and Charismaticism are kissing cousins, and I am equally critical of both.

    Second, while I agree that Kauflin would not purposefully manipulate emotion, that he emphasizes truth plus emotion, and that he would say that not all emotion is proof of spiritual worship, he nevertheless DOES insist that true spiritual worship will produce physical manifestations. I have documented that several times on this site.

    Third, I also agree that there is nothing necessarily wrong with physical manifestations. However, they should never be the goal or target, and we should never insist that they MUST accompany true spiritual experience. Charismatics (including Kauflin) insist that they will and must be there, and therefore I would suggest that they use kinds of music and other techniques (shouting, repetitions, etc.) in order to ensure that they are present.

  21. Thanks for your response, Scott.

    I think I did read or listen to Kauflin say that. I disagree with him on that. I think emotional manifestations vary–whether it is physical manifestations (raising of hands) or Fundamental Baptist’s loud “Amen’s” or just deep, silent emotion in one’s heart. I would insist thought that, while manifestations may vary, there has to be emotion. Jesus said that worship is “spirit and truth.” There has to be religious affections.

    While I certainly don’t use all of SG music, I appreciate many of them not only because of its rich theology, but also because of its melody. And I know (based on comments above) you probably would disagree with me on this, but that’s okay. I just think that the climaxes of their melodies matches the doctrinal content of the lyrics.

    Since both music and lyrics communicate something, they have to be in agreement. I think SG music has done well on this in many songs (but not to others). This is one of the reasons I reject many Christian rock songs is because their melody doesn’t elicit holy affections, but rather the opposite (rebellion, anger, sex, etc.), not to mention the shallowness of doctrinal content. This is probably why many within Fundamental circles employ SG music.

    Kauflin’s tune to Watts’ “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” for example, has a more reflective melody to it than the original. The original tune–though not wrong–has a more bouncy, happy melody. I would prefer the serious, reflective melody for such a serious text. The music helps the congregation match their emotion with what the text says and therefore aiding in their understanding of the text.

    A negative example would be Fanny Crosby’s “Face to Face.” I love the words to this hymn. The story behind the lyrics’ composition makes me appreciate it more. But I felt like the original tune doesn’t help communicate the message of the lyrics. The message brings rejoicing and excitement, but the melody sounds sorrowful. When I sing it, I feel like I’m sad that I’ll be dying and finally seeing my Savior.

    I guess I went off-topic on the last few paragraphs, maybe. But thanks for your gracious responses. :))

  22. Hey, Jared. Again, thank you for the helpful discussion!

    I would just qualify one thing you said, which really gets to the heart (no pun intended!) of the issue.

    You said that “There has to be religious affections.” I wholeheartedly agree. I also agree that this is what Jesus had in mind when he said “spirit” in John 4. So we’re on the same page there.

    However, you imply by what you say that you equate “emotion” (which you define as something physical, the raising of hands, shouting Amen, etc.) with religious affection. That is where I would disagree with you.

    The affections are something completely internal. Religious affections may produce a feeling or some kind of physical response, but affections are nevertheless distinct from the physical response. This is why two people can both experience the same affection and yet have very different physical experiences.

    And so this is why I insist that the physical manifestations, although not wrong, should never define the experience of worship, nor should they be the goal. The fact of the matter is that no physical evidence can prove the presence of religious affections.

    Edwards made this clear, after listing a whole litany of what he called “signs of nothing,” including praising God, intense feelings, etc., Edwards argued that the only true sign that someone has holy affections is through changed life, and this can only be witnessed over an extended period of time.

    One more minute adjustment. You say that Kauflin’s tune to “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed” is better than “the original,” which you note is “bouncy.” I assume you are referring to the “At the Cross” melody, and if so, I agree that the melody does not fit the text. However, most of us here sing the Watts text to MARTYRDOM, a far more fitting hymn tune! :)

    Thanks again for this helpful engagement.

  23. I think we are on the same page in many things.

    I agree that physical manifestations doesn’t equal emotion. Emotion at times could be there with or without physical manifestations. God-ward affections are internal (I say “Amen” to that :D)

    Thanks for taking the time to respond, Scott!

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