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Review of Worship in Song in Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal

I just noticed a helpful review of my book, Worship in Song, in the most recent edition of the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary journal, written by Ken Brown. I’ve secured permission to reprint it here since it is not available online:

Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, by Scott Aniol. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2009, 246 pp. $17.99.

Scott Aniol is a well-trained musicologist with theological acumen who has a burden to help the people of God think deeply and accurately about worship in general and music in particular. As Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries (www.religiousaffections.org), he has written numerous articles on these and related matters, seeking to bring biblical principles to bear on subjects that are often considered matters of mere personal opinion. Worship in Song (WiS) is the product of careful reflection about music and theology, and aims to “search the Scriptures diligently and ascertain, in the words of the Westminster Confession, the ‘general rules of the Word’ that might be applied ‘by the light of nature and Christian prudence’ to a discussion of music and worship in the Christian life” (p. 21).

WiS is divided into three sections: “After discussing some foundational matters [in the first section], the [second] section discusses…the secular music we listen to, and the [third] deals more narrowly with sacred music” (p. viii). The opening, foundational section contains chapters that address such topics as biblical authority and its application to music, music and culture, and the importance of affections in sanctification. The sections on “lifestyle worship” (“secular music we listen to”) and “assembled worship” (“sacred music”) each end with a chapter on how to make musical decisions within those categories, based on the criteria presented in the previous chapters.

While Aniol allows that “…when it comes to the secular music we enjoy, much greater latitude exists than with the music used for sacred purposes” (p. viii), he is concerned about the effect that “pop culture” has had on the music evangelicals use in “assembled worship.” Pop culture, as opposed to “high” and “folk” culture, is “intrinsically commercial and secular. Whatever appeals to the masses and makes money is produced” (p. 69). Among other ill effects for the church, music that is the product of pop culture “does not foster affections for God, but rather surface emotionalism” (p. 198). The antidote is to choose congregational music that is “God-oriented,” “doctrine-oriented,” “affections-oriented,” and “congregation-oriented,” – with separate chapters devoted to each.

Among the many strengths of WiS is the emphasis on biblical and theological authority for the choices we make in every area, including music. The discussion of the scope of biblical authority in the first chapter is very helpful in that regard. In addition, Aniol is careful to define the terms that are at the heart of his argument. For example, “Worship is a spiritual response to God as a result of understanding biblical truth about God” (p. 34). “Culture is the tangible expression of a society’s collective worldview” (p. 60). And, WiS issues a much-needed (in this reviewer’s opinion) call to God-centeredness in our congregational worship, and identifies many of the reasons for lack of theocentric emphasis in today’s church.

WiS does have some weaknesses as well. While Aniol clearly wants to help us make God-honoring choices for music and worship based on biblical sufficiency and authority, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, for him, our choices in this area are not only informed by extrabiblical data, but they are sometimes dependent on such data. In the chapter on “Beauty and Glory,” Aniol says, “This leads us back to the important question, ‘How can we discern what is beautiful?’ I think Mortimer Adler’s answer is biblically acceptable, ‘The judgment about the beauty of an object in terms of its admirability for intrinsic excellence or perfection is the judgment of an expert, with special knowledge and skill in judging specimens of a certain kind’” (p. 119). And, following a presentation of much very helpful information that stimulates thinking in these areas, it nevertheless appears that what we need to know is out of our reach: “It would be nice if music were a black and white issue with a clear line distinguishing bad music from good music. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. We must affirm, however, that this is the case in the mind of God.  In His mind there is a line” (p. 138). Although the preceding chapters contain much profitable material regarding biblical sufficiency and authority, and many direct citations of Scripture, yet at the crucial point of practical application many will still be left to wonder how the quotations above (and others like them) can be squared with these words from the very first page: “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture…contains all the words of God we need…for obeying him perfectly.”

WiS also suffers from one very significant omission. In the effort to direct us toward a more vertically-oriented worship, Aniol fails to deal with one of the few explicit New Testament texts on assembled worship, Ephesians 5:19. While he alludes to this passage in a couple places, he does not deal with its significance for the horizontal purpose of worship. Despite having a subsection (pp. 183-84) that deals with the ‘horizontal effects’ of worship, and a full chapter (fifteen) on the need for ‘congregation-oriented’ worship, neither applies this significant passage. The ‘horizontal effects’ section simply acknowledges that believers will benefit from the worship of God.  The ‘congregation-oriented’ chapter (helpfully but merely) emphasizes unified as opposed to individualistic worship. This, despite the fact that Ephesians 5:19 explicitly tells us that one purpose for assembled worship music is to “speak to one another.”

Still, the biblical, theological, theocentric emphases of Worship in Song make it a valuable contribution to the worship music debate. While this book does not have, and makes no claim to have, the final answers on the matter, it does raise very important questions that need to be asked. We may not arrive at the same conclusions, but we all need to ask the same questions.  Scott Aniol has done the Church a service by articulating and framing those questions, and offering many cogent and biblically defensible answers.

For more information about Worship in Song, click here.

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.

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