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The Sovereign Grace/Getty Music Question

Just about everywhere I go, I am asked for my thoughts and opinions about using songs produced by Sovereign Grace Ministries, Stuart Townend, and/or Keith and Kristyn Getty. (Songs written by these writers are often closely associated, in large part because Sovereign Grace Ministries has an influential music publishing arm that also promotes Townend/Getty songs. From this point on I will use the abbreviation “SG/G songs” to include songs written by all of these folks.)1

The most popular of these songs used by fundamentalists include the following:

  1. In Christ Alone (Townend/Getty)
  2. Before the Throne of God Above (Cook)
  3. How Deep the Father’s Love For Us (Townend)
  4. The Power of the Cross (Getty)
  5. O Great God (Kauflin)
  6. The Gospel Song (Kauflin)
  7. Speak, O Lord (Getty)

I have really hesitated on making any comments on this question for several reasons, not the least of which being that I really don’t have an incredibly strong opinion one way or another about the songs. My intent with this essay is not to convince people one way or another. It is simply to offer information and observations. If you are an avid promoter of the songs, this essay may give you some things to think through. If you are a vehement opponent of using the songs, this essay may reveal that your arguments are weak or that you are inconsistent. Either way, I hope that it will be helpful.

I should first address the fact that the question is even being asked before I tackle the question itself. My guess is that some, when they read the title to this essay, are already scoffing that such a question would even be asked. I do understand why such a question would seem silly to many, but I would suggest that asking careful questions like this is a wise characteristic of biblical conservatism. Paul commanded believers to “test everything,” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and for many, this question is part of that careful testing process. If you have chosen to use these songs, perhaps you have already taken careful time to “test” them. I am not really writing this essay to convince you to stop using them. I am writing this essay to give those who are still in a “testing” process the information they need to make a wise decision. If you still insist that even asking the question is silly, I would yet urge you to be sensitive to those asking the question.

I should also say that I am writing this for those who agree with me that pop/rock forms can never and should never be wedded to biblical truth. There may be some disagreement over what is and is not appropriate, but this fundamental assumption must be exist for any of this essay to make sense. If you have no problem with the mixture of God’s Word and pop music, this essay is not for you.

Final caveat: This is a somewhat difficult question for me to quickly and directly address for at least two reasons:

  1. My personal decisions depend upon very specific theological and philosophical presuppositions that I have, which the questioner may or may not share with me.
  2. My personal decisions are made within the context of a specific repertory of congregational hymnody that I use with my congregation, which the questioner may or may not share with me.

In other words, my personal decisions with regard to these songs make sense only because of the presuppositions that I have and the hymn repertory that I regularly use. If the questioner has different presuppositions or does not already regularly use a similar body of hymnody as I do, we likely do not share enough common ground for my answer to make sense for his situation.

Therefore, the only way I know of that I can be of help in this decision is by at least raising what I consider to be the important issues. There are at least three levels of issues to consider when deciding whether or not to use songs produced by Sovereign Grace Ministries:

  1. Associations
  2. Lyrics
  3. Tunes


The first issue to consider is the associations with these songs. These associations take two forms:

  1. The theological convictions of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
  2. The musical forms used on Sovereign Grace Music and Getty albums.

Theological Convictions of SGM

The first association issue to consider is the theological convictions of Sovereign Grace Ministries.2 Sovereign Grace Ministries is a movement of evangelical churches committed to the following theological convictions:

  1. Reformed Theology (both Calvinism and Covenant Theology)3
  2. Continuationism (Third Wave Pentacostalism)4

If you are Reformed and charismatic, then you have nothing to worry about.5 However, if you are not one of those, and if associating yourself with a movement with which you disagree theologically concerns you, you will want to consider the theology of Sovereign Grace Ministries even if you find songs with which you have no specific lyrical or musical disagreement.

I must note at this juncture, however, that fundamentalists have been using songs written by both Reformed writers and charismatic writers for years with no problem. I am not arguing for or against this practice at this point, but I am urging for consistency. For example, if your church sings “As a Deer,” “There is a Redeemer,” or even songs by John Rutter or Craig Courtney, then I do not see how you can reject SG/G songs on the grounds of theological associations alone.6

Musical Associations

Sovereign Grace/Getty songs produced on their own albums are arranged and performed in distinct pop/rock styles. If you have convictions against using these styles in worship, then you will at least want to consider this point. Of course, you can use these songs in a “cleaned-up” style,7 but it is the issue of association with this kind of style that I am raising at this point.

Pastors should at least consider that if they use these songs in their churches, most of the recordings of these songs are in pop/rock styles. If associating yourself with that kind of style concerns you, then you will want to consider that.

Again, I must note, however, that fundamentalists have been “cleaning up” songs written, produced, and recorded in pop/rock styles for years. They also frequently sing and promote songs written by composers who write both in a “conservative” style and in a “contemporary” style. Again, I am not arguing for or against this practice, but I am arguing for consistency. For example, if your church sings “cleaned up” versions of Cindy Berry or Lloyd Larson songs, then I do not see how you can reject SG/G songs on the grounds of musical associations alone.

In summary, if associating yourself with movements with which you disagree theologically or musically concerns you, then you should consider the theological and musical convictions of Sovereign Grace Ministries as you decide whether you will use their songs. But if you choose to reject their songs on the basis of associations alone, then be sure to be consistent with other writers and movements.

My personal opinion concerning associations is that associations are not the most important factor when evaluating hymnody, but we must at least be aware of them and consider them carefully for the sake of weaker brothers. Evidently the Apostle Paul thought that associations mattered, even with something as morally neutral as meat (cf. 1 Corinthians 8-10). In other words, if a pastor chooses to reject SG/G songs on the basis of their theological and/or musical associations out of a desire to protect his people from what he considers error, and if he is consistent in that practice, I do not believe that anyone can or should questions such a decision. I think we also need to recognize that whether or not it is a good or bad development (and I’m not arguing either way in this essay), many fundamentalists who are promoting SG/G songs have changed their traditional position on whether negative associations render a given song unusable.


The first of the theological convictions of Sovereign Grace Ministries (Reformed Theology) affects the lyrics of SG/G songs, at least in some instances. For instance, songs about the gospel are going to be from a Calvinistic perspective,8 and songs about the Church or the Kingdom may reflect the hermeneutic of Covenant Theology.9 Of course, these influences may or may not be readily apparent depending on the particular lyric, but in at least a few cases, these theological convictions are evident. So, if you are not Reformed, you will want to at least examine the lyrics carefully to make sure that you agree with them. If you are Reformed, you will likely find full agreement with the lyrics. Even if you are not fully Reformed,10 you may find agreement with at least some of the songs.

Assuming basic theological agreement, the lyrics of SG/G songs are distinctly God-centered, gospel-focussed, and Christ-exalting. For the most part, they are poetically rich, although colloquialisms and clichès slip in from time to time, weakening the durability of the texts in some cases.

Now, in my opinion, the doctrinal content and poetic beauty of these lyrics are quite a bit better than much of what many fundamental churches have been singing for years and some of what fundamentalists have written, produced, and recorded. This seems to be at least one of the primary reasons many fundamental pastors are beginning to use and promote these songs, and I certainly understand this kind of motivation. “In Christ Alone” is a breath of fresh air if you’ve been used to singing “In the Garden” and “Beulah Land.” Further, more and more fundamentalists are becoming Reformed, and so the lyrics of these songs fit better with their theology than perhaps many gospel songs do.11 It makes sense for someone who is Reformed to prefer Reformed hymn lyrics over more Arminian or Revivalist lyrics. So setting aside any concerns of association, someone who wants theologically rich hymn lyrics will be very happy with SG/G songs.

Having said that, I do believe that there is a great body of hymnody (both ancient and modern) that is quite a bit better lyrically than SG/G songs. While SG/G texts have their strengths and are perhaps stronger than many gospel songs, they do not match up to the design, poetic beauty, and durability of Watts, Wesley, Cowper, Gerhardt, Boice, Clarkson, or Alexander. Once again, this is not necessarily an argument against their use; it is simply an observation for consideration.


The second of the theological convictions of Sovereign Grace Ministries (continuationism), in my opinion, affects the musical forms they use on their recordings, and perhaps even the bare tunes themselves to some degree. The scope of this essay does not allow me to enter a full discussion of this claim,12 but I do believe that a charismatic theology of worship leads to a preference for musical forms that create a more sensational atmosphere. So, if you are not a continuationist, you will want to at least consider whether the musical forms used on SG/G recordings or even the tunes themselves reflect a charismatic theology of worship.

With the bare tunes of these songs I see a difference between what Getty is doing and what Kauflin and other Sovereign Grace writers are doing. At the heart of Getty songs is a clearly apparent Irish/folk base written to be sung by congregations and constructed to fit in either conservative or contemporary services. Strictly Sovereign Grace tunes are generally pop in their construction, written for recordings, and targeted for a contemporary audience.13

What makes these songs so attractive to some fundamentalists is that many of them (especially Getty songs) are written to be sung by average congregations, and in that sense, they are much more accessible than many songs originally written to be sung by choir or soloist that fundamentalists have been trying to sing in their churches. Again, I certainly understand and even applaud this kind of motivation.

Having said that, even Getty songs have a pop “edge” to them, mostly because Getty uses a lot of chordal parallelism, syncopation, and other pop techniques that do not follow the normal rules of counterpoint in the crafting of his tunes and especially in the harmonic arrangements of the tunes. Again, the scope of this essay does not allow me to go into depth on this point, but from a strictly musical analysis, most of these tunes and especially harmonic arrangements are often awkward, repetitious in their use of common pop “clichès,” structurally weak, and therefore not very durable.14 Further, some of these songs really aren’t as “congregational” or “singable” as some claim them to be. They’re relatively accessible, to be sure. But they’re really no more accessible than classic hymn tunes, and their singability may have more to do with the similarity of their musical vocabulary to current pop tunes than to their inherent lyrical or musical strength.

A relatively few of these tunes are actually pretty good. The problem is that once fundamentalist leadership began highlighting the relatively few really good ones, that opened the floodgates for people who began using practically everything coming out of Sovereign Grace, most of which is not very good musically. What’s worse, while the fundamentalist leaders rightly encourage singing quality classic hymnody alongside these new songs, many of the young people who are attracted to the new songs actually disparage the use of classic hymnody. This raises questions in my mind about what, exactly, these young people are really attracted to.

Several fundamentalist composers are seeking to remedy this kind of poor composition by rearranging the harmonic structures of these songs, and even sometimes the tunes themselves.15 So if poor musical construction is the only basis for rejection, perhaps these alternatives provide a solution.

Even recognizing the relative strengths of some of SG/G tunes, I do believe that there is a great body of hymn tunes (both ancient and modern) that is quite a bit better musically than SG/G songs. SG/G tunes, although somewhat folk-sounding and relatively singable, do not compare to the compositional quality, legitimate “folkishness,” durability, and true accessibility of Cruger, tunes from the Genevan Psalter, Neander, Forrest, Pinkston, or Jones.


My personal choice has been to not use Sovereign Grace/Getty songs as I choose hymns and plan worship services in my church. Actually, it’s not really that I have chosen to not use them; these songs really aren’t even on my radar. I haven’t even had to consider using them for the following reasons:

  1. I have more than enough hymn texts to choose from (both ancient and modern) that are better than Sovereign Grace lyrics and do not carry any of the potential baggage.
  2. I have more than enough hymn tunes to choose from (both ancient and modern) that are better than Sovereign Grace tunes and do not carry any of the potential baggage.
  3. While associations are not a primary factor in my decision, I am at least aware of the potential of causing a weaker brother to stumble into what I consider error (either by being attracted to the Sovereign Grace pop/rock styles or a charismatic theology of worship) if I were to use these songs.
  4. I do not sing any similar songs, so I am consistent with my decisions.

I can only use approximately 150 hymns a year with my congregation, and I have more than enough excellent hymns (both ancient and modern) to choose from. It is really not prudent for me to use them. Perhaps if I had nothing else, I might consider using them. But I don’t need to even consider the question.

The reason I have a hard time answering more succinctly when someone asks me about these songs is that my guess is that if someone is struggling about whether or not to use them, they are probably already singing songs that are either very similar or actually inferior to SG/G songs in association or form. In other words, they think they might need these songs. My opinion is that if they were consistently applying their reasons for concern (usually the concern has to do with associations) to their current hymn repertory, they wouldn’t even be asking the question.

However, for sake of argument, I offer the following concluding considerations:

If you choose to reject SG/G songs on the basis of associations alone, then I see wisdom in your decision, yet I urge you to be consistent in your other choices. I am personally bothered by fundamentalists who publicly decry the use of SG/G when at the same time they promote and sing songs that are really no different in association or sound, and perhaps actually not even as good doctrinally.

If you choose to reject SG/G songs because there are better hymns, in my opinion, that is the best reason to not use them.

If you choose to sing SG/G songs with your congregation, I would encourage you to examine your reasons. It does seem that many pastors are choosing to use some of these songs after careful deliberation and for good reasons. Many others, however (usually young people) like the songs simply because they’re “cool.” Further, many don’t only like the “cleaned up” versions for their theological richness; they are attracted to the songs because of the original pop/rock versions themselves. This is usually evidenced by the fact that that while they say they like SG/G songs because of their doctrinal depth, they don’t like classic hymns with the same or better texts.

Thus, my hunch is that these songs have entered the repertory of fundamental Baptist churches, not because leaders recognized their strengths and happily found that their young people enjoyed singing them, but rather something more like the following:

  1. Young people (high school and college age) in fundamental Baptist churches were attracted to the Sovereign Grace/Getty recordings themselves, not just the hymns.
  2. As fundamentalist leaders were exposed to the songs, they recognized the relative strengths of the texts and bare tunes compared to a lot of CCM and gospel songs.
  3. The fundamentalist leaders began promoting the songs because they were encouraged that their young people were attracted to such relatively strong hymns (I mean, they could be listening to much worse, right?).
  4. This gave the young people justification to continue listening to the Sovereign Grace/Getty recordings, go to their concerts, etc., and defend it based on the strengths of the hymns and the promotion by their leaders.

In other words, of those young people who enjoy SG/G songs, I would offer an educated guess that 90% of them enjoy the pop/rock versions of the songs, and would choose those versions over any “cleaned-up” renditions.

Having said that, if you choose to sing SG/G songs because you want to sing songs that are more theologically rich and congregational, then I applaud your reasons. But I would at least ask you to explore other hymnody that is just as rich, if not more so, including those by the following modern writers and composers:

James Montgomery Boice (lyrics)
Paul S. Jones (tunes)
Eric Alexander (lyrics)
Joan Pinkston (tunes)
Dan Forrest (tunes)
Brian Pinner (tunes)
Margaret Clarkson (lyrics)

One final challenge to each side of the debate:

First, to those who choose to use SG/G songs. Each pastor is responsible for his own congregation, and each local church is autonomous. If after careful deliberation you choose to use these songs because you think they are best for your congregation, then you have that right. But please honor and respect the decisions of those who have chosen not to use the songs for whatever reason. It concerns me that those who use these songs seem to have an almost arrogant and condescending attitude toward those who don’t, as if those who don’t are somehow silly and foolish for their reasons. I have even been told by one individual, “You have a responsibility to be using these songs.” Please show grace to those who have chosen not to use them, and when gathered with believers from a variety of churches, why not choose from the vast body of hymnody that is gospel-centered and theologically rich while not as controversial out of respect for the decision these other brothers have made?

Finally, to those who have chosen not to use SG/G songs. As illustrated in this essay, there are many legitimate reasons to not use SG/G (or, as in my case, they may not even be on your radar). You don’t have to use them. But my observation is that for some fundamentalists, the reason they are afraid of SG/G is more because of the associated Calvinism than anything else. I may be wrong, but in my opinion there can really be no other reason why a pastor who is comfortable singing “As a Deer,” “Worthy of Worship,” and cleaned-up Cindy Berry songs would be afraid of using SG/G songs since they are very similar in sound and association (and actually better lyrically). If you do not want to use the songs because you are uncomfortable associating yourself with the Calvinism of these writers, then honestly state your reasons and be consistent. But please show grace to those who embrace Calvinism and choose to use these songs because they reflect their soteriological convictions.

At the end of the day, there is great need for discernment, wisdom, and grace in this discussion.

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. I must at least note at this point that I do see a difference between songs written by Getty & Townend and songs written by Bob Kauflin and other Sovereign Grace writers. Even within the Sovereign Grace writers, those songs written by Steve and Vicki Cook are quite different than those written by Kauflin or others. My main points in this essay will apply to all of these, but I must recognize qualitative differences among these writers. In my opinion Getty songs are better than Sovereign Grace songs (see below). []
  2. The Gettys are less directly connected to a particular theological movement, although since their songs are most prominently promoted by Sovereign Grace Ministries, most people see them all in the same grouping. []
  3. See my article, “Are Calvinism and CCM Connected?” for a thorough explanation of these positions and an argument as to why holding to these positions has no direct bearing on one’s music philosophy. []
  4. From the Sovereign Grace website: “We describe our doctrine as being essentially Reformed, yet including a commitment to continuationist practice as biblically defined” ( []
  5. To my knowledge, there are no charismatic fundamentalists, but there are certainly many Reformed fundamentalists. []
  6. I must note here that I do see a difference between associations that are current and associations with writers who have long been dead. I am not at this point arguing whether theological associations render a song unusable. I am simply pointing out that I believe that it is consistent to reject a song based on a current, potentially harmful association while at the same time accepting a song written by someone with theologically errant views who has been long dead. []
  7. In fact, Getty and Townend proactively write their songs so that they can be sung accompanied by organ or band, in a “conservative” style or a “contemporary” style (cf. []
  8. God of Grace” by the Gettys, for instance, reflects a Calvinistic understanding of election. []
  9. See “Hear the Call of the Kingdom” by Getty and Townend, for example. []
  10. There are many fundamentalists, for instance, who are Calvinistic but also Dispensational. []
  11. Again, I am not arguing for or against Reformed Theology in this essay, but I would urge those who are not Reformed to at least recognize that such positions are well within biblical orthodoxy, they have always been held by at least some fundamentalists, and they have no direct bearing on a particular philosophy of music and worship. Cf. my article, “Are Calvinism and CCM Connected?” []
  12. See my article, “Correcting Categories: the Bible, Music, and Emotion” for a more thorough explanation of the connection between a charismatic theology of worship and the use of pop musical forms in worship. []
  13. By “pop,” I mean musical forms that are formulaic, full of musical clichès, harmonically shallow and often awkward, immediately stimulating, and emotionally sensational, all with a focus on the novel, which renders them transient. See Kenneth Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1989) for an explanation of the difference between pop culture and folk/high culture. []
  14. Again, I will readily admit that there are many songs in standard hymnals that have some of these same weaknesses. But I don’t sing those songs either, so I’m being consistent in my analysis and applications. []
  15. For instance, Dan Forrest’s arrangement of “Before the Throne of God Above” adds a richness to the song that was not in the original song or arrangement of the song. []

38 Responses to The Sovereign Grace/Getty Music Question

  1. I'm glad someone brought up this issue. It is one that I'm personally trying to work out as well. My heart was settled on the issue of the Getty's just by going to their website and seeing their philosophy of music. I have taken the quotes directly from their site.

    "There are two reasons we write modern hymns," explains Keith. "First, it's to help teach the faith. What we sing affects how we think, how we feel and ultimately how we live, so it's so important that we sing the whole scope of truth the Bible has given us. The second reason is to try and create a more timeless musical style that every generation can sing, a style that relates to the past and the future."
    “In the Church, the purpose of singing is to express the community we have as the Body of Christ" and "bring more people in". Kristyn adds, "To try and search for the melodic ideas and song structure that might bring more people in, that's what we're trying to investigate. Is there a way to bring everyone together musically?”
    – Keith and Kristyn Getty (quoted from (under Keith and Kristyn))

    I take very serious issues with some of the above statements, especially that "the purpose of singing is to "express the community we have as the Body of Christ" and "bring more people in". That is a complete unbiblical view of music as it is man centered, and not focused on celebrating the excellence and glory of God. Help me out on this one – if the basic foundation and purpose of the music is in error, can great truth come from a false premise? I ask that question humbly and respectfully – I by no means claim to be an authority on it. But it was the Getty philosophy and SGG affiliations that gave me doubts – and doubts are enough to keep me from recommending them.

  2. I have recently been confronted with these modern hymns and upon going to the Getty/Townsend site found this quote under "How can you pray for Getty music"

    2. "For the writing of great new hymns and songs that feed the global church"

    I immediately found that SoundForth music and Dan Forrest were promoting someone(s) who have decided to "feed the global church." I have in the music ministry here at Faith Baptist Church decided these "would be hymns" would not be acceptable. Thank you for your article and God bless!

  3. Is it possible, Jonathan and/or Kaycie, that the "feeding of the global church" means something different to the Gettys than what you're interpreting it as? I'm assuming (which is dangerous, to be sure) that you're reading this statement as one that ultimately desires all "Christians" to put aside doctrinal differences and unite.

    Isn't it at least worth the consideration that they simply desire to edify true believers around the world

  4. Jonathan and Kaycie Cook said: "I immediately found that SoundForth and Dan Forrest were promoting someone(s) who have decided to 'feed the global church.'"

    I've not heard or seen this. What is the basis for your statement?


  5. Steve (whose 2 comments I have deleted),

    This is not a venue for airing complaint or disagreements against particular individuals or ministries. We are discussing the merits and demerits of their music only. Thank you for your understanding.

  6. Scott, I'm just curious…

    Do you use any modern songs in your selections for congregational singing?

  7. Whether one agrees or disagrees with your observations, your comprehensive and appropriately nuanced grasp of the subject matter is at a level lacking in many evaluations which unfortunately often results in inefficient conclusions on such matters. Thank you for the abbreviated but thorough treatment. I post at Sharper Iron and will modify this comment and repost it there.

  8. Thank you for expressing these thoughts on the subject much, much better than I could. We will be using your article as basis for thorough discussion on this subject with the intent to form a Biblically defensible position and standard.

  9. Scott, I appreciate your analysis. While I agree with you that there are plenty of good hymns for churches to sing, many Fundamental churches do not sing them. They have instead chosen to fill their services and members with junk. Many of the above mentioned songs by SG or the Getty's stand head and shoulders above poorly written polka tunes with shallow lyrics. It is no wonder that "In Christ alone", "Before the throne", "How deep the Fathers love" and "Power of the Cross" are so popular and loved by Christians. They all have as much doctrine as many of the great hymns with very enjoyable and singable tunes. These songs are sound doctrinally and the old arguments employed by the Fundamentalists are beginning to run into some roadblocks.

    With these songs one can't argue with the doctrine because it is indisputably good, so it's on to the music. How can one say the music is bad? That is a tough one. I am almost of the persuasion that most of music is endorsed or condemned because it is what people know and enjoy or don’t know and dislike. That does not mean all culture and taste are acceptable but, it is in many cases it is what determines each individual's standard of music. Many led by Garlock imposed a standard on all of Christian music that was fabricated out of thin air. For nearly 50 years Fundamentalists have followed this standard because it is just what Fundamentalists are supposed to do. The bottom line is there was and is no biblical basis for many of these“standards”. They are man made and imposed like many other items in Fundamentalism. Does that mean any and all contemporary music in the Christian church is good? No, but it is time for Fundamentalist to scratch the concept that anything that does not sound like they sound, is always bad. Music is subjective and there must be space to accommodate different ideas within the realm of Christianity. The real question is what music is appropriate for corporate worship? What is appropriate for an individual privately? I would contend that we need to examine both and address an objective standard that raises the bar on both counts.

    Finally, when both of these arguments fail, guilt by association becomes the battle cry. Again, I am not saying this is a bad route to take. I just think we need to be careful to note that not all Christians fit into the neat little box that is Fundamentalism. I am a firm believer that unless the gospel is being compromised, Christians should strive to live peaceably. What makes something or someone a bad association? Is it because some preacher has defined the thing or person being disassociated with as bad or is it because the bible does so. If you really wanted to you could be guilty by any and every association because everyone is flawed with heresy somewhere. You could even go further and say no association with so and so, not because so and so is bad but he has a cousin that is bad. Before you know it you would have to disassociate from yourself. I hope you understand where I am coming from. This is a good discussion to have. Thanks for posting!

  10. Kirk, You are describing the sin nature of man perfectly. In the Garden of Eden Satan told Eve that when she ate fromk the tree of knowledge of good and evil, her eye would be opened and become like God, to know good and evil. you know they ate fron that tree and became 'like god'. Because of this nature, every man thinks he is right, whether Christian or not; man will always take 'sides' in an arguement. One man will like contemporary music and argue his points with one who likes the hyms of Charles Wesley or Fanny Crosby, and on it goes. The problem is that the sin nature of man is not taught in our churches, I mean the root and where sin began, with Adam. You will never convince man to stop taking sides in an arguement until you 'show' him why he does thath behavior. Think about it and teach it to your friends and release them from this constant bickering that is literally killing the Church!

  11. Jerry, I understand what you are saying but not sure I know where you are coming from here. I am not saying that if you have 2 different viewpoints on the same piece of music that one of them has to be sinful. 2 people could look at the same piece of music and one love it and one hate it. Someone's poor opinion of something does not necessarily make it sinful. That is where the music described above would fall. There is nothing really wrong with it. Certain people like it while others discard it. I am contending that those who want to discard it are having a more difficult time due to the fact that you cannot prove from the bible that it is objectively sinful. Maybe we need to examine it and as Scott has done institute some real charity for those who dont see eye to eye with our own musical opinion. We need to realize that there is room for some diversity in the church.

  12. Scott, thank you for the post. You have attempted to tackle an issue that is very sensitive in our circles. I would like to propose an argument that was proposed to me. It caused me to think a little deeper on this subject. The argument was this: In a town where the native people have grown up in a non-Christian atmosphere and have been exposed almost entirely to today's pop/rock/country music, the classic hymnody seems inaccessible. They can't identify with it and therefore reject it. Most visitors in a church that uses classic hymnody will not return simply because the music is so "stiff" compared to what they have grown up listening to. At this point, you might be tempted to say, "That is exactly why they should use classic hymnody. It gives Christianity a pure name and a standard far above the world." In saying this you would be correct. However, would not SG/G music be a far cry different from what they are listening to? The people hear that music and immediately respond with a heartfelt passion for the truth of the text. It is immediately more singable for them and is an enormous step in the right direction toward solid music that glorifies God both with its lyrics and music. While songs like "Immortal, Invisible" are probably the best songs, the SG/G songs connect with the people much more quickly. Just something to think about.

  13. Scott:

    Alton Beal, President of Ambassador Baptist College, wrote an article in The Ambassador (Summer 2009), titled, The Winds of Change are Blowing, in which he briefly addressed on the Sovereign Grace music movement. For your consideration I’ll reproduce it here.

    Through the years, God has gifted many men and women in the rae of music. Many of us are accustomed to singing congregational songs by composers of years gone by such as fanny Crosby, Frances Havergal and P. P. Bliss. In recent years, the Lord has also blessed others to write songs that glorify God in both the music and lyrics. However, it appears that some fundamentalists, especially fundamental Baptists, have changed their minds about the morality of music. One group in particular that has been gaining traction in recent days is the Sovereign Grace music movement. While many of the words are supposedly rich in doctrine, the music is no different than soft rock or the contemporary Christian music (CCM) genre. Can the truths of God’s Word rightly be transported in the vehicle of worldly music? I say not. This wind of change in music can only be resisted if the younger generation understands the importance of Christ-likeness in both lyrics and music. Sometimes, there is a great difference between doing what is fashionable and that which is right.”

  14. Could someone please explain to a non-musician what makes music secular/worldly vs sacred/godly? For example, how would Alton Beal (via Lou's post above) define "worldly music" so that one could listen to any tune and put it in that or another category?

  15. Scott, one minor point, you suggest that 1 Cor 8-10 is discussing associations. Can you elaborate a little on that. I think that the passage as a whole is a reference to Christian liberty — not necessarily on associations.

    Paul's point seems to be (to summarize one of my seminary profs) — A Steak is a Steak and a Stick is a Stick. The idol is harmless — the meat is good — Eat it! But, if you are with someone that will be offended by this harmless (and tasty) meat — Don't eat it!! I can see how associations are entering into the thought process of the weaker Christian — "the meat was sacrifice to an idol!" However, the acceptability (not sinfullness) of the action is contingent upon not offending a fellow believer.

    What are your thoughts?

  16. Hi, Todd.

    I think associations are important to consider only if the given association is going to cause someone to stumble into sin, and I think that's Paul's point here. An association doesn't render something that is otherwise good always wrong, but it may make something unusable in a given situation because it would cause a stumbling block.

    So I think there may be some music that of itself is good, but may be unusable in certain situations because of its potential to lead someone into sin.

  17. Scott,

    Praise the Lord!!!!! I've been looking for *someone* who has anything to say about this. My husband and I have prayed for two years about this, and we thought there was nobody else who was alarmed at the fundamental churches who are using this music. I so much appreciate your article, as well as the other comments in response. It has been very helpful, and I look forward to reading it again.

  18. I'm glad you found it helpful, Suzanne. Please let me know if I can ever be of help to you with anything else.

  19. I have noticed over my lifetime that much of the the traditional hymn texts have rich doctrine and are quite beautifully crafted. However, I have come to realize that the average church goer is simply not grasping much of the meaning of the texts and unpacking the doctrine because much of the text is often times culturally and linguistically too far removed from their context. The result tends to be church goers singing a lot of jargon called "church speak"  that begins to function a lot like a Latin liturgy or a general assumption that sound doctrine is too difficult for me, average joe, to understand. People need to have theology expressed to them in meaningful ways and in current linguistic forms. That is a major reason why Bible translation is such a vital issue. Language and meaning change over time.   

    Secondly, as a historian I have queried various hymn traditions and contexts and found a lot of the same association problems, theological positions, bad theology, and musical inconsistencies that are brought up in this article as issues with SG/G. Somehow I think it is insufficient to say that a few hundred years has sanctified it. I urge better scholarship. 

  20. Well Scott, what you have offered us is an opinion, which is at best, what nearly all that the worship wars are when it comes to otherwise good music–guilt by association or guilt by theological aberration  . . . "In my opinion yada yada yada" I hope you don't use Luther's music or Charles Wesley. There is baggage there also! I did a presentation last night at 4th on Baptist hymnody. The fundamental problem in church music today is that musicians are writing the music and not theologically trained pastors as was the case in most of church music for generations. Having a music degree may qualify you to write tunes but it does not necessarily qualify one to write lyrics. Your first and second principles are . . .frankly silly –"potential baggage" Scott . . .we know the baggage of Luther and Wesley and sing their stuff anyway (changing egregious texts where they are theologically unsound.) You actually think that singing "Before the Throne" will lead someone into continuationism . . . Really? REALLY? Huh? So why am I not a Methodist after years of sining Wesley" or an Arminian for that matter. You talk about being inconsistent!

  21. Thanks, Scott. Just some comments as they come to mind….

    I have had problems with the SG/G music personally for a long time. Something in my spirit told me there was a problem. (Sounds subjective, doesn't it?) Was it the devil sending me alarms? Was it my flesh? The world around me? I was into Rock music many years ago. To me this music sounds very similar.

    Recently, (March 2010) there was a lady's seminar in Chattanooga, TN with the Gettys providing the music. My wife and 2 of my daughters went. A few other mature Christian lady's from church also went. But I did not feel right inviting a new Christian (saved from the world) to attend. I knew it would bother her. (As it turned out, she went without us knowing …and as I assumed… it bothered her greatly. And she has no musical background, no theological background, and no understanding of separation/association issues. But she condemned the music as a new Christian anyway. Probably not all new Christians would condemn it as she did.)

    Anyway, we had seen some of their Getty music on-line and were prepared, we thought, for it. However, in person, it was much worse than we could have expected! The response from the 2500 +/- ladies was also interesting. A few really got into it. Some were half-hearted, others were OK with it…sort of, and then some didn't participate. It was not a two-sided issue of black and white. There was actually CONFUSION in the responses to the music. Confusion was in the minds of many. Many were not on the extremes but in the middle trying to figure out how to respond to it. "Was it good or bad?" "Was it acceptable?" Many did not know.

    Let me quote from the conference booklet as it presents Keith and Kristyn Getty: "Irish composers and artists, have been at the forefront of the modern hymn movement over the past decade, SUCCESSFULLY BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN THE TRADITIONAL AND CONTEMPORARY."

    I am not interested in bridging that gap, myself. If they have been so successful, why is there still so much controversy? Are other fundamentalists who use their music perpetrating this bridge between the traditional and contemporary themselves?

    Why are these "worship leaders" now called "artists?"

    I have seen the world laugh at our predicament… Christian "artists" using THEIR "worldly" music. One billboard I read actually asked the question, "Who do they (Christians) think they are fooling?" Why does the world know the difference between the two?

    Personally, I think we have to do our best to raise those in our churches to discern better than ever the difference in Bad, Good, Better, and Best. (Actually I have a list of 20 Biblical principles that I use to screen anything that might seem questionable in the least.)

    Others, will do their own thing anyway…. like the sheep we are.

    Besides, as KRAML says above… Rationale is futile. They love their music!

    God bless you, Scott. I know I probably did not add much to the discussion but a few things were on my heart after this last lady's conference … regarding the Gettys.

  22. @ David,
    Thanks for your comments.
    1. I have also seen the confusion that you reference — but I have seen it in a "traditional" worship service. I think alot of what you are talking about can happen any time an unfamiliar song is introduced.
    2. What do you mean by "traditional" and "contemporary"? Jesus didn't have a piano or an organ. The apostles didn't sing Isaac Watts — what is our "traditional" style? Where/When did it emanate from? You do realize that almost every hymn writer wrote in the contemporary style of their day?
    3. Having defined these terms, what establishes contemporary as wrong? You will have to define what level of cultural interaction is appropriate. Why can we wear suits and ties (contemporary fashion) but not allow contemporary music styles? I'm not arguing that you need to listen to contemporary music, but do you know why you choose not to?
    4. I would suggest that "Rationale is futile. They love their music!" is true of everyone to some extent.

    Leadership magazine (Spring 2010?) published an interview with the Getty's. I suggest that you read it to understand what they are doing. You might not appreciate their style — but their music philosophy is much more biblical than that of many "song-leaders" in our churches.

    In Christ,
    Todd Bowditch

  23. Thank you so so much! You expressed it well. I have been searching for a couple of years for this information when I had a feeling of "uneasiness" ~ and a desire for my children to learn and become familiar with the long-tested hymns.

  24. Wow, this is why non-believers laugh at Christians.

    Are you guys/ladies telling me that as intelligent as some of you sound, you don't see any relevance to this discussion with 2 Timothy? Specifically 23?

    People…really. Wow.

  25. Where is love and compassion for others. Jeff you give valid points but I sense you are in trenched with the worldly culture with your Jerry Sinfeld response. Scott is clear and has done a great job responding to the issue. I will not allow "Christian Rock" in my house. I once asked if a main stream hard rock artist wrote a hymn solid in Bible truths and we clean up the music to our standards, would we allow it in our church? The response was yes. As long as it is worshipful and doctrinally correct. I have a problem with that. As should you.

  26. Priorities.
    Sometimes, they get out of alignment.
    Out of alignment with our purpose and task, and out alignment with God’s character and plan.

    Scott, I would reject much of your argument, sadly. False presuppositions on several fronts make up much of the foundation of it (IMO), and when these are understood, much of your very gently offered thoughtful observations and critiques don’t stand up. To your credit, you own these presuppositions openly!

    I agree with much of the framework of the rest of your argument – we are called to be gatekeepers of what is done and taught within our communities of faith. Associations, theology and musical content are all proper things to evaluate and consider. And, many within the current trends and culture do a poor job of exercising these evaluative measures, sadly. More articles espousing the power and proper-ness of evaluation and how to properly exercise it would be a welcome thing!

    However… as is often the case, when we bring evaluation and “standards” to any endeavor, when “experts” who have committed their lives to the study of these criterion and measures (maybe…to the neglect of their faith and relationship with the Creator??), an unbalance can occur. I see the pendulum-like swing in THIS direction just as often as the other, sadly.

    As understanding and a desire to continually refine and “make better” our offerings in the area of corporate worship grow; at what point does “Music” become the central focus of our adoration?? If truth be told, I have met and worked and worshipped with folks for whom this scale had tipped – it became evident that the object of their worship was…worship, or the music/art that it utilized.

    That’s why I started this post with the word “Priorities”. When does the offering of the most exquisite musical composition, done with exacting care an interpretation, actually trump the original goal of worship – to enable the expression of praise and thanksgiving of God’s children? Or the “ascribing of worth” to our Creator from the lips and hearts of His people.

    “Excellence” is a worthy goal, in all that we do for God. However, excellence is both absolute and relative – absolute in the understanding that is the best we can offer. But also relative – “best” is defined by who we are, what our experience, abilities, history and physiognomy can offer. I would posit that enabling the voice of God’s people to express truth about our creator, to express their thanks and their praise and adoration, should be at the top of the list of our priorities. I would also posit that God has given through His artists a panoply of possibilities for achieving this. God, in His infinite creativity and diversity, has also created us in his image (Imago Dei), and we have a responsibility to exercise this diversity and creativity when we bring to bear our expressions of praise.

    My last posit – that sometimes our backgrounds, our desire to elevate forms (thus denigrating or de-emphasizing others) can limit us artificially in the possibilities that lie before us. And, as stated before, our obsessive adherence to our hard earned “greater understanding” of the art forms (rather than the Author of Art) can cause us to create within our life an – call it what it is – an idol.
    The exercise of evaluation, of filtering and rejecting and espousing and limiting – that becomes our means of discipleship, the product we create by our refined understandings and slavishly fostered skills becomes the idol around which we gather, from which we draw our motivations and joy.

    Scott, I know that “limiting” or “diverting” our faith or worship is NOT your goal. However, I worry that the broad sweeping judgements reflected in this article may have that effect, encouraging that “limiting” or idol-making that I feel is not the heart of God. So much more needs to be a part of this conversation, I think, before one can make some of the statements written there.

    For the record – I am an ordained minister, with a doctorate in Music, a licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music in London, also with a graduate degree from Seminary. I have been in ordained ministry for 27 years, all in the area of shepherding the worship of His people.

    I say that last bit only to support the next statement – there is within God’s creation an amazing, diverse, beautiful and God-honoring range of expression out there that wonderfully reflects both the amazing creativity and diversity of our Creator, and also the amazing diversity of His followers. To not explore, expand and experience these together seems, to me, like going through life with the very narrowest of blinders on. It would be such a shame to miss it.

    Scott, I would challenge you and anyone to be careful not to get caught up in the exercise of focusing and making perfect “the dot” when there is an entire beautiful “sonnet” of expression going on throughout God’s Church, with (at least in my experience) the clear call of God to join in this dance of expression of our relationship with Him.
    Soli Deo Gloria

  27. Scott, I appreciate your comments.

    The heart of difference between us is reflected in this statement you made: “When does the offering of the most exquisite musical composition, done with exacting care an interpretation, actually trump the original goal of worship – to enable the expression of praise and thanksgiving of God’s children?”

    Your assumption is that the purpose of music in corporate worship is to give expression to the worship of God’s people.

    I disagree. The purpose of corporate worship in general, and music in the context of corporate worship specifically, is to make disciples; it is to shape and form the beliefs, affections, AND expressions of God’s people so that their worship and lives are mature.

    Thus, it is essential to carefully evaluate every aspect of our corporate worship, including what we sing, to make sure that it is forming mature followers of Jesus Christ.

  28. Scott,

    Thank you for these thoughts on the SG/G issue. It is something that I as well as my friends and family have been trying to work through for several years and found this post through a recent discussion on the topic.

    Could you give further examples of songs that are used in conservative circles that have been “cleaned up,” especially in regards to musical associations? I was not able to identify any from the two authors you mentioned that I have ever been exposed to but would like to explore that subject further.

  29. It’s been a long time since I wrote this post! But I think what I was referring to is using songs originally performed in a pop/rock style, but doing so in a conservative style. That “cleans them up,” but for some the association will still be a problem.

  30. I am heart-broken. I had 12 years invested with the same pastor/congregation. We moved to something called sovereign grace worship, where traditionally we had done hymns. Older congregation. NO INPUT FROM US. Just sprang it on us, without warning.

    The gal who does the music now, can’t sing, (his type of music REQUIRES strong vocal leadership). She plays 3 chords on a keyboard like instrument (beep, bop, boop) — so we don’t know the words, and there is no melody. We tried this. But after 3 months…..The deacon, his wife and I couldn’t tolerate the music. So we all left the church this past week.

    There was no budget for this, but they are paying $300/month for music now. I told him this has to stop. His reply — well we don’t need the internet. Well I am not going back to manual cheque writing, m’kay? (I also served as treasurer, besides being an Elder).

    The Pastor usurped the plurality of the leadership.

    We are broken. How do we heal?

    Sorry to unload


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