Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"What Can Miserable Christians Sing?"

I was reminded of the following excellent article by Carl Trueman from a mention on the WTS website. It is included in his book The Wages of Spin.

Anyway, each time I read "What Can Miserable Christians Sing?" I am reminded of how impoverished the corporate worship has become in much of contemporary evangelicalism. As Carl makes clear, it is not about style but about the woefully shallow content.

Having experienced — and generally appreciated — worship across the whole evangelical spectrum, from Charismatic to Reformed — I am myself less concerned here with the form of worship than I am with its content. Thus, I would like to make just one observation: the psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, have almost entirely dropped from view in the contemporary Western evangelical scene. I am not certain about why this should be, but I have an instinctive feel that it has more than a little to do with the fact that a high proportion of the psalter is taken up with lamentation, with feeling sad, unhappy, tormented, and broken.

In modern Western culture, these are simply not emotions which have much credibility: sure, people still feel these things, but to admit that they are a normal part of one’s everyday life is tantamount to admitting that one has failed in today’s health, wealth, and happiness society. And, of course, if one does admit to them, one must neither accept them nor take any personal responsibility for them: one must blame one’s parents, sue one’s employer, pop a pill, or check into a clinic in order to have such dysfunctional emotions soothed and one’s self-image restored.

Now, one would not expect the world to have much time for the weakness of the psalmists’ cries. It is very disturbing, however, when these cries of lamentation disappear from the language and worship of the church. Perhaps the Western church feels no need to lament — but then it is sadly deluded about how healthy it really is in terms of numbers, influence and spiritual maturity. Perhaps — and this is more likely — it has drunk so deeply at the well of modern Western materialism that it simply does not know what to do with such cries and regards them as little short of embarrassing. Yet the human condition is a poor one — and Christians who are aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart and are looking for a better country should know this.

A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party — a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is — or at least should be — all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship? Few Christians in areas where the church has been strongest over recent decades — China, Africa, Eastern Europe – would regard uninterrupted emotional highs as normal Christian experience.

Read the entire article HERE.

Dr. Trueman will be one of the speakers at the "Full Confidence Conference" being held at Church of the Saviour in September.


mozart said...

Thank you for sharing this. It's a terrific article! I get frustrated that the only melancholy songs or songs of lament we sing in chruch are on Good Friday. This is an excellent reason to return to the Psalms for our songs. And Trueman is always an excellent observer of our church and culture.

Todd Pruitt said...

It is a terrific article indeed. Too often the church's corporate worship is one dimensional - happy. It's designed to provide an emotional high. But biblical worship covers the whole range of human emotion. This pattern is established well in the Psalms.

And I agree that Carl is one of the better observers of the church out there. And I can tell you that it is not some academic exercise for Carl. He is an elder and teacher at his local congregation.