Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Would you like some wine with that cheese?

Some thoughts on one of America's most common exports - cheesy evangelicalism.

I recently attended an English-speaking Evangelical church while on vacation in Mexico (the location is withheld to protect the guilty). It was the only Protestant church that I could find. I would have gladly attended a Spanish-speaking Reformation church: Presbyterian, Reformed, Lutheran, even old-school Anglican. A good liturgy overcomes language barriers. Unfortunately, in this Mexican town it’s either Catholic or ex-patriot American schmaltz.

The service began with some high-energy praise choruses. As soon as the first note was struck, people were bopping around with plastic smiles on their faces and hands in the air. I am absolutely certain that these people are more spiritual and pious than I am. There is no doubt about that. It is just impossible for me to break into a shiny happy people-type feeling at the drop of a hat. Early on Sunday morning I am not ready to pretend that I’m at a Wham! concert circa 1985. The music at this church was closer to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” than it was to anything in the Psalter.

Of course there was the stereotypical praise band led by a forty-something Carly Simon wannabe. Behind her was the middle-aged but still trying hard to be cool guy. Three teenage girls, a drummer, and a keyboardist rounded out the group. Praise bands remind me of softball-guy – people living out their unfulfilled dreams at the expense of others. Softball-guy has a longsuffering girlfriend/wife who follows him to every game and listens to how his high school coach and/or injury cost him a shot at the bigtime. Praise bands have longsuffering churches that are trying to worship in spite of mediocre musicians imagining that they’re playing Red Rocks while singing 46 verses of each identical Jesus is my Boyfriend song interspersed with “Ohhhh” and “Ahhhh” in between the actual words, all with hands raised. I’ll take the Psalter and an out of tune piano over this stuff any day.

Read the entire post HERE.
* A thoughtful member of COS pointed out to me that this post sounded like I was indicting the music of COS. She was right in that I was not very careful in the post to make that clear. Let me say very clearly: I love and appreciate the hard work and gifts of those who serve in the COS worship ministry. I am blessed because of what they do. This post was intended as a reflection on the broader trends in church music over the last 25 years or so, much of which is not encouraging. Sorry for any confusion.


Mike said...

I was at a church recently that met in a local high school... praise band worship included smoke machines...I was like being in a bad 80's music video...Bring back the mullet!

Todd Pruitt said...


I was discussing this kind of thing with a church member this morning. And we were wondering who it is that this stuff appeals to. It is interesting that so many 20 somethings are headed to Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and in some cases historic Presbyterian churches. They don't want the "seeker" schlock of the 80's and 90's. They want something that historic and reverent and have not found it in the Protestant church.

I'm not suggesting that we use historical rootedness and reverence as church growth tools (ie - "They want it. Let's give it to them."). But this is a wonderful opportunity for the Protestant church to demonstrate to a generation that we do indeed have a history of deep, substantive, and reverent worship and spirituality that does not lapse into sentimentalism or mysticism.

Mike said...

I wonder if this is a pendulum swing. When it comes to adoption of popular culture, evangelical christians always seem to be the late-comers. I can remember when guys were just starting to get earrings and in the church there was this "is it OK for guys to wear earring? is it not OK" culture. By the time that the church culture figured out it was "OK" (for some) the fad in popular culture was already considered passe. I see this in clothes, hairstyle, music, language, movies, etc. We all know the sexual references in Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac" without some lame attempt to clean it up (I actually heard this in a church once).

I think some of the movement to a historic and reverent style of worship is a backlash to the poor, half-hearted attempt to adopt to popular culture..maybe for the better in the long run...but I expect the pendulum will swing back again...I knew I should have kept those parachute pants!

Harley A. said...

I've witnessed smoke machines myself - in a large and established church in town. I think it has less to do with folks really desiring that kind of thing and more to do with a lack of sound-thinking Christian leaders in the churches standing up and saying "you're not going to do that in this church".

Mark W. said...

It's also worth pondering the "softball guy" comment. Even without addressing the skill of the musicians, much modern praise music just isn't very good. With the exception of Townend and Getty, there are very few works produced in the last 25 years that compare favorably to the great hymns. The church needs to do a better job of teaching theology AND aesthetics so our people can recognize songs that are biblically faithful and musically excellent. Climbing off soapbox now. : )

Todd Pruitt said...


Agreed. Getty and Townend are two of the very few good hymnists today. It is interesting that among university students and other 20 somethings there has been a resurgence of appreciation for the old hymns. "Indelible Grace" and "Sojourn Music" are doing great work at recapturing the hymns that the baby boomers and gen-xers (my generation) jettisoned.