On the celebration of incoherence in P&W music

During a post on a new CCM group, 33 Miles (for those of you keeping score, that’s 31 miles after Second Mile), David Bruce Murray makes a good point in passing:

Remember East To West? At one point in time, they were thought of as the next huge group on the horizon. Just as they were hitting their stride with a critically acclaimed second CD, it’s like the faucet was totally turned off on Christian pop music. For the next ten years, “CCM” has been all about a constant supply of worship music with very little in the way of musical virtuosity, vocal harmony, or elaborate production quality. When is the last time you heard a decent guitar or keyboard solo on Christian radio?

It’s well past time to turn that faucet back on.

Just so. There are, though, very few signs that contemporary Protestantism’s appetite for lyrically undemanding, melodically derivative piffle will abate any time soon. Consider the lyrics of one of the more popular P&W choruses making the rounds these days:

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God

Age to age He stands
And time is in His hands
Beginning and the end
Beginning and the end

I have a whole box full of unexplored theories about the drift (or full-tilt sprint, depending on how you view it) toward the sort of unimaginative, undemanding, unobtrusive spiritual life these songs model.

For one thing, the ascendancy of P&W music in CCM, with its creative poverty and tautological structure (both lyrically and musically), signals the near total surrender in mainstream Christian worship music of anything like an independent or private artistic vision continually reinvigorating and enlivening the familiar conventions and tropes of a musical genre. No Isaac Watts. No Fanny Crosby, no Andrae Crouch, no Bill and Gloria Gaither, or even a Steven Curtis Chapman (arguably the last celebrity writer of mainstream Christian music before P&W obliterated took over everything and, as DBM puts it, the faucet was turned off).

Instead, we have, judging by their music, cds full of religiously self-absorbed writers who, I imagine, must approach the writing of a new P&W song something like this: “Isn’t God AWESOME, man? … I mean, I am just in so total AWE of how AWESOME Jesus is, dude. I wanna write a song about that … you know, just saying, God, man, you’re totally AWESOME to me.”

P&W music is the triumph of rhetorical trope for trope’s sake, an “awesome” chaos of bland pietistic conventions – the mindless repetitions, vapid imagery, and silly songs strummed on an acoustic guitar (and it’s always a guitar). It’s as though CCM has become overrun with writers and musicians whose musical sensibilities never developed beyond the youth rally, the church camp, and the praisejam.

The faith of a child is fine, but children’s music can never adequately accommodate the demands – psychological, metaphorical, moral – that accompany any serious effort to translate questions of belief and religious living into artistic form. And yet CCM nevertheless finds itself singing and celebrating songs that suffer badly in comparison to most Sunday School standards. “If the Devil doesn’t like he can sit on a tack” at least has a certain vividness (one might, however inadvisably, even say “sharpness”) of imagery to recommend it.

On the other hand, “How great is our God, sing with me / How great is our God, we all will see” telegraphs its own insipidity. One can forgive the unidentified, disembodied “me” of the first line, since (presumably) “I” and “we” are meant to be understood in the context of a worshiping congregation simultaneously exchanging a mutually recognizable invocation to acknowledge the Greatness of God. But then just as we’ve made our peace with the slightly off-kilter quality of that introductory lyric, the perspective of the second line jarringly shifts. Instead of declaring God’s greatness, “we” are now predicting its ultimate revelation to ourselves: “we all will see.” And just like that, barely two lines along, we’re in a different song entirely. Are we singing about God’s greatness because of its unmistakable reality in everyday life, or are we anticipating the future disclosure of that greatness to a faithful remnant? Is this a song of praise or a song about remaining faithful? If we are supposed to take this music seriously (and I assume that we are), the answer to this question – which presents two very different centers of focus for Christian life, one that emphasizes coming revelation, the other revealed truth – is rather of some importance, I would imagine. At least it ought to be.

Of course I suspect, as most reasonable readers will have by now, that the song simply wasn’t meant to bear this kind of scrutiny (”we will see” follows “sing with me,” I imagine, mainly because “me” rhymes with “see”). We discover meaning or significance in all manner of things that wasn’t necessarily “meant” to be there. So the problem is not that “How great is our God” wasn’t intended to support close reading, but that it can’t.

A good song – like all good creative writing and other artistic expression – can support any number of alternative, sometimes competing, interpretations because it possesses its own internal coherence. The P&W fad sweeping CCM not only fails to cohere artistically, but (appallingly, to my eye and ear) celebrates its own mushy-headed incoherence, rapturously incurious of the contradictory, unreconciled religious and spiritual implications flaking off the PowerPoint slides as the lyrics of one more uninspired song scroll by on the overhead each weekend at a thousand Victory Calvary Community Christ Church Chapels. That this obviously suits the mainstream of Protestant Christianity just fine amounts to the most damning critique I can think of.

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  1. Mickey wrote:

    –or to paraphrase Jed Bartlett (the President on the West Wing TV series, as he describes a modern symphony): “a nightmare of lyrical pretension.”

    Great post.

  2. Bob wrote:

    So you picked one song (granted, it was song of the year in 2006) to build your argument around? I recommend all your readers go listen to clips of the 33 songs on the WOW hits 2007 compilation (you can do this on amazon.com) and decide for yourself if it “…signals the near total surrender in mainstream Christian worship music of anything like an independent or private artistic vision”.

    MercyMe’s “So Long Self” has a great message in a catchy riff. Mark Hall wrote a book about the people and events behind the songs of Casting Crowns (Lifestories). Their songs like “If We Are The Body” and “Love The Like Jesus” command those of us who call ourselves Christian to walk the talk.

    I could write what you wrote above, substituting the McKamey’s song “Altogether Lovely” (currently #2 on the Singing News Charts) for “How Great Is Our God” to show how lacking in imagination Southern Gospel is, but I realize that the genre can’t entirely be represented by one song. (And before people start jumping on me - “Altogether Lovely” is a pleasant, charming song)…

  3. Bob wrote:

    The Casting Crowns song is “Love Them Like Jesus”. Forgot the ‘m’ in ‘Them’.

  4. SL wrote:

    P&W songs are pretty predictable. Minor chords over and over. Repetitious lyrics. Guitar guitar strum strum strum. Bodies weaving all over, hands hanging in the air. People drooling. Well, I mean, that’s just what I do…oops, I mean that’s just what I see happening around me - heh heh heh. Can anyone sing these songs and enjoy them without having to be in a mind-numbing zombie-like trance? I don’t think so. I’m scared, daddy…..the P&W songs scaaarrre me.

  5. LSJ wrote:

    Very good post! Bob, in the above comment, pointed out that the argument may be a straw man fallacy, which may essentially be the case. However, a generalization of the repeated characteristics of this particular genre of music is present in the song chosen to critique. I agree, also, that lyrics should be able to stand up to close scrutiny of message. Granted, WOW brings out a few songs that do not fit this mold; but, when you come down to it churches typically use the songs in their congregation that are essentially lyrically elementary and repetitive: spiritual milk rather than meat. Effective to many people who may be in the congregation, yes. But used as the only music, I feel, may leave much to be desired, spiritually, lyrically, and musically. (There’s my 2 cents; time for bed.)

  6. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Obviously, there are some exceptions in P&W. Not all P&W is simplistic. Besides, sometimes a simple song is great.

    My gripe is not so much that P&W and the “let’s sit on a circle of stools and sing some deep poetry set to music” movement that Jars Of Clay inspired took place.

    My gripe is that these blander, under-creative forms of Christian music somehow managed to totally stifle all other forms of “CCM,” particularly Christian Rock and Christian Pop. The artists that used to be leaders in those styles either shifted to doing their own brand of P&W (Michael W. Smith, Phillips Craig And Dean, Third Day, Newsboys, etc.) or slowly drifted away (Petra, 4Him, etc.).

    Michael English failed to make a full return partially due to his previous failings as a human being, on one hand, but also because the market was tired of Christian pop music by that point in time.

    TREMENDOUSLY, undeniably talented a cappella artists like Take 6 and Glad ended up on the fringes of Christian music, no longer worthy of appearing on the cover of _CCM_ magazine.

  7. RF wrote:

    I was introduced to P&W through my wife, who is Roman Catholic. About 1990, the RC came up with a supplement hymnal with P&W songs which everyone thought was simply the best thing since they started selling sliced bread. Those repeated choruses over and over were numbing to me and I hated it from the beginning.

    Void of any harmony and not much melody, they were like a redundant sing-song that never ended. No real Bibical meaning. No real message, but “God is Great.” They were easy to sing (easy is something P&W seeks and embraces. Easy must be better) and they expresse a simple thought without much thought. “God is Great,” is so simple, it never gets into the messy stuff. God is great. Isn’t it wonderful? Over and over. And over again.

    For this man, raised in the Baptist church and who ended up a United Methodist, harmony and lyrics that meant something were what I liked along with quality melody and great harmony. Isnt’t that what music’s all about? Or is it supposed to be easy? You know, no poetry or strange language that makes you have to dig into it and decide what it means? “He Hidest My Soul in the cleft of the rock”. What does that mean? But “God is Great” is easy. I know what that means. And I don’t have to wonder what it means. So churches all over America went with what is easy and simple. “God is Great”. What a concept. Words on the wall, so we don’t have to learn music. The same phrase sang over and over. It’s easy. And in the meantime, the characteristics of music have gone to the old, the infirm, and the folks who aren’t with it, so to speak. The young, the new, and the unlearned simply have to wave their arms and go into a trance.

    I think I need to leave so I can barf…

  8. Jim2 wrote:

    And the last time a tremendously , undeniably talented a cappella Southern Gospel Artist appeared on the cover of Singing News was????

  9. JimT wrote:

    Of course these insipid songs are always led by a “worship leader” who waves one hand, holds a microphone in the other, and stands up front with his eyes closed, pretending that the music really touches him. It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

  10. MDA wrote:

    I agree that many of the current PW songs are simply and poorly written. However, I think that in their purest form, PW songs are supposed to be musical prayers. (key words: supposed to be)

    I’m not excusing poor writing, or lack of a melody. I’m simply saying that true prayer is intended for an audience of One. Just because it has a melody attached doesn’t mean He’s scoring it according to lyrical content, and whether or not He can dance to it. Sometimes our most earnest prayers have a simple lyric structure like - “HELP!”- and no melody at all - and times God hears and answers that prayer.

    My experience is that Praise and Worship is neither and that a more accurate label might be “Performance Praise”. Performers performing what they think is praise and therefore it is neither. It is not entertainment worthy nor is is bringing the listener in to an experience of worship.
    Therefore it is useless.

    I’m not sure I want to venture in to the area of deciding whether or not a worship leader with closed eyes is feigning worship. I’ll leave that to the “experts”.

  11. Jugglernaut wrote:

    Your blog — and your commenters — are terrific. I was starting to think there was no discussion of gospel music that wasn’t warm & fuzzy. SO glad you’ve proven otherwise! As a newcomer to the genre, I appreciate your perspective.

  12. Daniel Britt wrote:

    Friend of God — granted the melody is catchy — but the repititous chorus just kills me:

    I Am a Friend of God
    I Am a Friend of God
    I Am a Friend of God
    He Calls Me Friend

    It would be like singing:

    I am my mother’s son
    I am my mother’s son
    I am my mother’s son
    I call her mom

    …..(I better quit writing now)

  13. Jennifer wrote:

    LOL@ Daniel Britt..that was SOOOOO funny!

  14. AM wrote:

    One point that seems to have escaped this discussion so far is that because songs of worship are intended primarily for the vocally untrained, there is a limit to how musically complicated they should be.
    Not that this should be used an excuse for over-simplification, but if I were writing a song for David Phelps I would try to write the kind of outlandishly complicated melody that would challenge his vocal abilities.
    When I write worship songs I have to try to strike a balance between creativity and accessibility — what would be the point of writing a congregational song that 99% of the congregation couldn’t sing?
    I too find it tiresome to wade through the seemingly endless outpouring of musically and theologically unmemorable music, but as a worship leader the only constructive thing I can do is keep my eyes and ears open for the musically and theologically substantive gems and, if possible, write a few.

  15. Elisabeth wrote:

    Go, Daniel!!! I enjoy a very small amount of P&W songs that are led, sung, etc. during the chapels @ the small Christian university i attend. Some of them have meaning and small amounts of actual musical complexity. I wish i could say that for the majority of them, but that’s not the case. I get so tired of hearing the same old praise band, playing the same old song, singing them in the same old slightly off-key voices (which they think are incredibly cool for some reason), repeating the same old words. And yes, i realize that many of our hymns and even (gasp!) Southern Gospel songs use repetition…but i find more meaning in them. I appreciate the comments about taking what’s “easy” & singing “off the wall” so we don’t learn music. I wish, just once, that we would be challenged in chapel to follow along in the BOOK and actually attempt to follow the notes…

    p.s. - Daniel, i love your website! :) I remember you from WRAF…great to find you again.

  16. RNGfreckles wrote:

    There is great confusion when it comes to CCM and P&W. They are not the same thing. Although, there may be some CCM groups that occasionally add a P&W song to their performances (or vice versa), the genres are different.

    I would have to agree with most opinions that P&W is just repetitive chanting. Artists who specifically sing this one brand, and nothing else, seems to take the easy way out.

    Then again, who can forget that simple “Sunday School” song:

    Yes, Jesus loves me
    Yes, Jesus loves me
    Yes, Jesus loves me
    For the Bible tells me so

    Sometimes, it’s needed. Most times, it’s not.

  17. Roger wrote:

    I’m just glad to hear there are other people who despise that “Friend of God” song - not the message, mind you - but the lyrics. Awful, awful stuff. And I thought I couldn’t write - LOL.

    Also, in regards to the post - I can’t say I disagree. There are numerous artists that I like in CCM that are creative and whose lyrics stand up to some scrutiny. But they’re not in the Top 40 - if you know what I mean. Popular CCM is pretty much synonymous with bland pap, sad to say.

  18. Johnny Francis wrote:

    I read your posts from time to time, and sometimes agree, sometimes not. At any rate, I always appreciate your intelligent comments.

    I am 6o+ years old, and have always loved Southern Gospel music, while not always loving every song. ( or group)

    You were able to describe my thoughts about P & W very accurately. There is, for the most part, no lyrical content, and no harmony. Indeed, when singing in a praise group, many times we are encouraged to sing in “unison”. (I consider this dumbing us down) Young people are seldom taught harmony parts and have no encouragement to learn the difference. Indeed, many look at you blankly when you talk about harmony.

    This is too long, but I just felt that I wanted to encourage you to keep on doing what you do.

  19. thom wrote:

    The “Praise and Worship” music phenomenon in the CCM genre of music is just that - a phenomenon. It only took one artist to sell millions of units of product of “P&W” music for every other label and artist to jump on the band wagon and try to get in on the action. They all want their share of the “market.” If the Christians are buying it then all the CCM labels will rush their version to the market place.

    The words “praise and worship” have become widely accepted in the vernacular of evangelical circles to represent a style or type of music - generally acoustic guitar driven, easy lyrics, etc, as you guys have already explained.

    However, true “Praise” and “Worship” of the Lord God goes way beyond a musical genre, category, or sub-category. True “Praise” and “Worship” of God is not confined to a genre of music any more than God Himself can be confined into our little boxes. Long before there was a business model to sell billions of units of product to the Christian market there were people worshipping God through their own individual expressions of song.

    In 1933, the song “He Lives” with that swinging 6/8 time was a contemporary song. Now it’s considered and old hymn. Interestingly, most CCM labels now have their artists doing “Hymns” projects to try and offer yet another “product” for Christians to buy. I think they realize the market for P&W has reached the saturation point so it’s time to try something else. Take an old hymn, add a few 7ths, and 9ths to the chord structure, slow it down, or speed it up, add some drums, add layers of guitar tracks, bass, acoustic, electric etc. and sell more product to the Christians.

    Go ahead and make several slightly different flavors since some will prefer a lighter jazzier sound and some will prefer a heavy metal sound with lots of distortion. You may even want to do a hip-hop/rap version and another version with those tight, straining, almost screaming, off-key snarling vocals - you know like a Seattle Grunge Hymns project.
    Point - as long as “Christians” keep buying this stuff - somebody will make it. Remember, the Christian Music Business is first and foremost a business. It is a business that sells stuff to Christians. The formula with many seems to be to find a secular artist that is moving product, find a Christian artist who can sound like them and record something to sell. As long as it’s labeled as “Chrisian Music” the sheep will follow and buy it!

    When the P&W craze is over and the sales of Hymn projects slow down, there will be another craze to follow. As long as it sells.

  20. thom wrote:

    while i like many of the newer songs and often incorporate them into our church service, there are many other songs out there that are way too repetitive for my taste. I heard someone describe these as “7 / 11″ songs. (it may have been Jim Hammill come to think of it!) “7 words and you sing it 11 times!”

  21. cmenges wrote:

    I found the article interesting. As a Director of Music for a large SB church, I find it difficult to locate contemporary songs that contain both enough “meat” to satisfy those with big theological appetites and enough “warm fuzzy” to keep smiling faces on the P&W fans. In of some great songwriters, In Christ Alone My Hope is Found is a real favorite of ours, as well as Days of Elijah (though one must really think about those lyrics and make an effort to understand what the song is about). There is a critic in every corner. It’s not about us — it’s about God. It’s time to get off the “me” kick and worship HIM. Calling P&W music incoherent and judging worship leaders — where is the Christianity in that? So what if we sing “How great is our God” repeatedly. Sing it like you mean it — sing it to HIM, and you’re bringing glory to HIM. Worship is a matter of the heart. No matter what the style of music or worship, if you enter the sanctuary prepared to worship — you will. If you enter the sanctuary prepared to be judge and critic — you will. In my profession, I have learned that it is impossible to please this generation of worshippers. So my ONLY focus is to please my Lord. Leave the P&W writers alone. You can be sure that hymn writers were subject to the same criticisms in their day. They wrote their hymns anyway. Let the P&W writers write their songs. If you don’t like the song, don’t sing it. Judge less, praise more.

  22. John wrote:

    Choose to listen to and worship with whatever type of music you prefer, but I don’t see any need to heave uninformed insults at another form of music (and especially the people that perform it) just because you don’t understand its appeal or personally feel “touched” by it.

    At any rate, I’m here to beg that the pigeon holing come to an end. Yes, praise and worship is usually performed with an acoustic guitar - those people should really consider utilizing a pianist with his back to the vocalist more often. Yes, praise and worship has its share of songs that are cliché and generic within that genre, but you’re drinking the Kirksey-Kool-Aid if you don’t see that southern gospel is churning out as many clichéd bible story songs and songs about what a big old happy camp meetin’ heaven is going to be as praise and worship does about God being “awesome”.

    Everyone here knows that there’s a lot more to southern gospel music than bad hairpieces, matching suits, big bass slides, screaming high tenors, and the one/four/five chord progression, it’s only those who don’t “get” our music who reduce it to that. By the same token, there’s quite obviously a lot more to the praise and worship genre than mindless repetition fluff music performed with an acoustic guitar and closed eyes. At the risk of sounding rude, those of you who choose to trivialize it choose only to make yourselves look ignorant. Maybe after you’re done here you can all go to an Indy car forum and talk about how NASCAR is nothing but a bunch of rednecks making left turns or find a nice straight pride forum to reel off a few Adam & Steve zingers.

  23. Danny wrote:

    Let’s get that music off the wall. Will someone help brother Levi Slocum pass out them songbooks -preferably the red-backed ones.

  24. LSJ wrote:

    (Just had one more thing)
    I love the purpose of Praise & Worship music. What better offering of music to the Lord than to sing to Him!? I like that many P&W songs are taken straight from the Bible–usually from the Psalms: these songs which are totally from scripture are the P&W I love. The extra- or sub- or supra-scriptural tautologies are what turn me off of the music, though.
    I appreciate AM’s comment to remember that the P&W melodies are simple for the musically untrained; this is a point that advocates for changing our US National Anthem to something simpler (”Star Spangled Banner” is certainly not written for the musically uninclined.)

  25. HML wrote:

    Good post. I appreciate you delving into this. I’ve grown up surrounded with hymns, old choruses, and generally meaningful music, because my parents were never too hot on P&W (or CCM at all for that matter). The more I see how things are going in the churches today, the more thankful I am for this heritage.

    Sometimes we get in such a hurry to embrace the new because it’s “hip & fresh”, when the new isn’t always good and isn’t necessarily fresh. And just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s dated or archaic…we can miss out on a lot by junking it.

    Now, maybe if we could get some “new” songs with the “old” practice of meaningful lyrics….but then, would that really sell? Sadly, the popularity of shallow P&W says more about our Christian walks than it does about the music industry.

  26. miles wrote:

    “unimaginative, undemanding, unobtrusive spiritual life”…

    …I’ve been thinking about this alot and could never find the words to describe it…this comes close…thanks.

    I’m afraid this idea has overtaken nearly all aspects of American life…

  27. Jeremy wrote:

    What a great post! I was raised on Southern Gospel and I love it. When I was in high school I was introduced to Phillips, Craig, and Dean and fell in love with that too. I agree that much of P+W is mind numbing repetitiveness but there are some groups (Casting Crowns is a great example) who are making intelligent worship music. I think that the music simply mirrors the church. Think about the mega-churches of today. Do you hear anything complex theologically or thought provoking coming out of them? Unfortunately, many of their pastors concentrate on feel-good motivational messages that don’t require much soul searching. It’s popular, it sells, but it represents a shallow expression of Christianity. Much of P+W and CCM does the same.

  28. JW wrote:

    thom, “I heard someone describe these as “7 / 11″ songs. (it may have been Jim Hammill come to think of it!) “7 words and you sing it 11 times!” ”

    How true!, how true!

    I’ve always loved either hymns in church of Southern Gospel.

    I never like Christian rock/pop because it just paled in comparison to regular rock/pop….psst, don’t tell anyone I listened to regular rock/pop!

    Praise and Worship, uhhhhh, borrrring! To me the best P & W is dull, just “We praise You, We worship” over and over.

    Yes, a great deal of Southern Gospel can be bad, but when it’s good it can’t be beat.

  29. JW wrote:

    In my post, “I’ve always loved either hymns in church of Southern Gospel.”…”of Southern Gospel” should be “or Southern Gospel.”

  30. KB wrote:

    Everything in the church has become more “user-friendly.” Instead of everyone bringing their Bibles to church, the verses are presented on a projection screen or LCD panel. Instead of “Sunday best” attired with ties, suits, dresses, and clean-shaven faces, we have scruffy hair, blue jeans, and t-shirts. Instead of pews, we have individual seats (which are easily moved for dinner-theater productions). And instead of intricate harmonies, lyrical masterpieces, and advanced musical interludes, we have unison, melodically-simple, easily-memorized ditties.

    I remember well one pastor telling me that certain hymns and songs were NOT to be played during worship services because they were not easy for the congregation to follow. He wanted songs that you could memorize within a week so everyone could sing along (augmented with the song lyrics projected overhead).

    When writing songs (as with everything else), you should give everything you have. Sure, Gloria Gaither may be long-winded and overly-complicated when writing, but at least she puts a lot of time and effort into it. I doubt Fanny Crosby had “easy to sing” in mind when she wrote her many song lyrics; she had absolute praise in mind.

    For me, the most moving song I’ve ever sung or heard includes such lines as:

    And Lord haste the day
    When my faith shall be sight
    The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
    And the trumpet shall sound
    And the Lord shall decend
    Even so, it is well with my soul!

    Just within those 6 lines, you have so much description that it feels as though it is actually happening. This is light years ahead of

    Here I am to worship
    Here I am to bow down
    Here I am to say that You’re my God
    You’re altogether lovely
    Altogether worthy
    Altogether wonderful to me

    You’re here to worship. Great. The best you can do is “You’re lovely, worthy, and wonderful”??

  31. Kathy wrote:

    OOH, JW and KB, I just love both of your post and toally concur with you!!!!

  32. SM wrote:

    This is beating a dead horse to the ground (and may be sacreligious or not stated in exactly the right words), but it seems like inherent in any discussion on music boils down to issues of personal preference and personal purpose. Lyrically-driven music–mostly hymns (yes, I recognize the generalization)–focus on recognizing the church as a tradition, heritage and institution ordained by God. Musically-driven music–mostly choruses–focus on being accessible to people in an effort to fulfill the Great Commission ordained by God. It all seems good and useful to me in its proper place, with its proper intent, to reach its proper audience. As DBM said in a recent post on his blog, this more resembles diversifying your assets than changing your stocks.

    As far as “Friend of God,” yeah, the chorus may be cookie cutter, but “Who am I that You are mindful of me…” is pretty thought provoking to me when I really think about it. My personal favorite P&W is Hillsong’s “From the Inside Out” which, to me, is lyrically and musically stimulating without either element getting in the way of the process of bringing people to worship.

  33. Joe wrote:


    One of your VERY best, and most insightful posts yet. Several years ago, I read an article where the author lamented the spiritual shallowness of this genre of music. He mentioned opening one of these songbooks, and found that the majority of the songs made no reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in any way, shape, or form. The phrases, he said, were mostly taken from the OT- and as such, were so generic in their praise to God, that any Jewish person could have sung them, and felt completely at home. Furthermore, other believers pointed out to him that even Buddhists and Hindus could have done the very same with some of them, as they refer to their heathen ‘gods’ as ‘god’ and ‘lord’.

    The Psalms are fine in themselves. But they do not represent the highest level of praise for any Christian. The song around the throne in Rev. 5 is to the LAMB, who redeemed us with His blood, and much is made of His work on Calvary. THIS is why He is worthy of our praise.

    One poster mentioned ‘It Is Well With My Soul’. (see verse two of this hymn…) Other hymns, such as ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’, ‘Man of Sorrows’, ‘And Can It Be?’ and the like, literally dwarf the theology of 99% of these so-called ‘praise and worship’ songs.

    I will give credit to one song, however- ‘How Deep The Father’s Love To Us’, written just a few years ago, is one of the lone magnificent exceptions.

  34. Al wrote:

    Fantastic post, Doug, and many great comments too. While P&W might be a part of the overall genre of CCM, I think they need to be handled somewhat seperately. I remember when a lot of sgm was pretty fluffy - fast, up-tempo songs whose main purpose was to get a crowd whipped up. Lyrically, they were poor. Often now, sgm features some exceptional depth of lyric. The great story-song writers/singers of ccm, like Ray Boltz and Michael Card, are seldom heard from anymore, and might be partially retired for all I know. Their loss is keenly felt. But then, there’s P&W, and a lot of it, I feel, either reflects the dumbing-down of the church, or might even have been a major contributor to it. When it’s good, it’s good. But so much of it is Gerber pureed apricots for adults. To me, for whatever it’s worth, I long for balance…if we sing some of the newer stuff, already (and too accurately) called 7-11 songs, then add a great, theologically deep hymn or two.When I read a few weeks back that Janet Paschal is recording a CD of old hymns, I couldn’t help but think of how perfect her timing is. No one will ever wrap a song like she does, and I can only hope and pray that other prominent artists will follow her lead, to help keep before us that the only thing that seperates any Christian music from its secular counterparts, are the lyrics.

  35. Singer's Wife wrote:

    My husband and I and our friends (we’re in the 30-something age group that a lot of the P&W music is directed toward) have been discussing just what it could be that’s missing from the services at the church we attend. I’m not here to bash praise and worship, but I just have to get this off my chest, and I’m glad to see that so many others feel the same way. I suppose it is the attitude of the worshipper that really counts, but I cannot depend on most P&W to even begin to get me into the mood to worship if I’m not already there. (Let’s be honest, I think everyone can admit to occasionally attending church and not really being all that happy that we are there.) I can count on the hymns to do it though. We were just listening to Greater Vision’s recording of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. If that one can’t adjust your attitude, nothing can. Maybe the difference is that the lyrics of the hymns drill right into the heart and convict it. P&W can just let you be on auto pilot. (I realize there are a few exceptions like the “In Christ Alone” mentioned earlier, which I happen to really enjoy.)
    Our church does P&W almost exclusively, and when they do put a hymn up on the screen (I hate those screens for a more practical reason in that I’m near sighted and a hymnal or book would help me tremendously) they repeat the same verse and chorus over and over! Never mind that there are three other verses…
    My friend mentioned that she had just seen Kay Arthur and how she was talking about that during Josiah’s reign the book of the law had to be searched for and found in the Temple. Her words were “the word of God got lost in the house of God”… when my friend related this to me it seemed to describe so much of what is going on in many churches today, whether in the songs or the study or the sermons. True Bible study seems almost non-existent - it’s all about topics, not studying actual books of the Bible. This is why I’ve joined a Bible study totally unrelated to my church - it provides that depth that is much needed.
    As far as P&W songs being easy to sing -well, I beg to differ! Many are not pretty - they just drone on and on, and I find several of them much more difficult to sing than a hymn with a pretty melody. Then there’s the praise leader/team that think they need to add their own touches that no one else in the congregation can follow. This practice makes me feel LESS a part of the worship than anything! I am reduced to a spectator much of the time, until they break out a hymn, that is.

  36. JWS wrote:

    For what its worth, the early 90’s CCM band “East to West” became as who we know now as Countrys-pop “Rascal Flatts” but not before becoming Micheal English’s band, along with Gary Levox singing the tenor.

  37. Jim E. Davis wrote:

    Excellent! Well said.

    Check out the first song that is written in the Bible found in Deut. 32. The songwriter is God and He expresses His heart in 43 verses (uh oh - we just lost several of you who suffer from Worship ADD and are turned off by multi-versed compositions). The song starts out sweetly enough with a little Praise and Worship but by verse five God is no longer just “great, faithful and awesome” but somewhat disappointed in His people for their worldliness, idols and their rejection of the ways of their fathers. Can you imagine how this song would be received in our hip feel-good worship service today?? Like a smoked pig at a Bar Mitzvah.

    How we approach the throne of God is no trifling matter. I’m afraid our flip-flop, cavalier, whazzup-God attitude will not cut it when we actually enter the presence of the Almighty as described in Revelation chapter five. Our suits, ties and designer dresses won’t impress Him either. It all comes down to the heart (which is desperately wicked, who can know it? - Jeremiah) and the music/lyrics we choose will either lead us to deeper devotion and greater commitment or to vain repetitions just like the heathen.

  38. Brent wrote:

    I can see both sides of the issue to some extent. While the lyrics ‘There is no shadow of turning with Thee’ from my favorite hymn made no sense to me until it was explained in a sermon, I wouldn’t trade one crushing pipe-organ-accompanied singing of ‘Great is thy Faithfulness’ for a thousand dronings of ‘Here I am to worship’.

  39. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    “JWS wrote:

    For what its worth, the early 90’s CCM band “East to West” became as who we know now as Countrys-pop “Rascal Flatts” but not before becoming Micheal English’s band, along with Gary Levox singing the tenor.”

    It’s inaccurate to say East To West transformed into Rascal Flatts via Michael English’s band. A former member of East To West named Jay DeMarcus joined Michael English’s touring band for a while, before going on to become a member of Rascal Flatts.

    Neil Coomer (who was 50% of East To West, and carried on with East To West for a bit after DeMarcus left the group as I recall) was never in English’s band (or Rascal Flatts either, as far as I know).

    To follow your logic, you could also say Petra became Michael English’s band because one of their guitarists played in his band briefly, but that just isn’t the case.

  40. Rod wrote:

    DBM/JWS…Actually you’re both kinda wrong…Jay demarcus was Michaels band leader and was more than just a temporary musician…Also for a quite a while Gary sang backup and Michael even featured him at some of his concerts. Just thought i’d share and be a blessing.

  41. Linda wrote:

    Purge with Hyssop, People! (take a laxative to the biblically illiterate).

    Come on, As a P&W leader I have to use what moves people. Most people this day in time do not have music class in school so they can’t follow the hymnals like I can. Young people want lyrical depth, old people want traditional foundations and the middle ground is use what works with your congregation. and if you don’t have a congregation to use it on that’s probably because of your nasty attitudes about certian types of music because you’ve judged them “lame.”

    I’ve got to reach people of every age group with every style type of music from Hillsong to Gaither to Crabb Family to vinyard-which personally gags me, but the people relate to it. and that’s the point isn’t it.

    Not all christian music is P&W and not all P&W is fit to sing. But the difference between Friend of God and Amazing grace is very little because its going to be sung over and over by the people in whom it touches something deeply for years and years to come.

    So please stop being critical of the huddled un-musical masses who need something simple to tap their feet to or raise their hand with. It meets their need and they are willing to put money behind it.

  42. L5man wrote:

    I loved the post by LSJ, John, and emenges! I couldn’t have said it better. I love SG and CCM. Legacy Five is my favorite group, but I still enjoy CCM. Here is the differance as I see it…SG is usually songs ABOUT God, while CCM is usually songs TO God. Both have purpose and meaning. I’ll take ‘hand-wavers’ over the ‘zombies’ that hold the hymn book trying to act like they can read music anyday. At least there is some life. What do you think we will do in Heaven? Will we sing “Mansion Over The Hill Top” or will we sing about the GREATNESS of God. I Scriptures tell us about a song to angels sing…and it only has one word…HOLY! Holy, Holy, Holy! Talk about repetitious lyrics…you better get used to it!
    One other thing…we who love SG music wonder why youngsters don’t embrace it. Here’s why…CLOSE MINDEDNESS. We who love CCM wonder why oldies don’t embrace it. Here’s why…CLOSE MINDEDNESS.

  43. Ken Berry wrote:

    Despite the most convincing arguments the doctrine of P&W will not be affected by their adherents. They will continue on this path. Eventually it will be hopefully worn out and will go the way of extinction. When it is jaded by a period of time, people may turn to something else.

  44. Poppi (pop-eee) wrote:

    Another BIG problem with the P&W songs(?) is there is no progression in them and therefore there is no melody and harmony and there’s nothing left but repitition. With no progression they are left without an ending. It’s like walking to the edge of a cliff and because there is no guardrail, it’s an abrupt end. Most of the people who write them do not have a clue for writing music.

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