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The value of contemporary Christian Music

The usage of contemporary Christian music and choruses has grown over the years, alongside much discussion of its theological weight and impact. In an upcoming story, Index editor Gerald Harris will also write about the impact of hymns and more traditional forms of worship music.

DULUTH — It appears that more churches are incorporating contemporary Christian music in their worship experiences. While worship is still a major ingredient of the contemporary Christian culture, there are those who claim that contemporary Christian music really reflects and engenders a hunger for God’s presence in worship.

Bob Hostetler, a writer, editor, and frequent speaker at churches and conferences, writes, “Hymns are great. The level of erudition and expression in the hymns of Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and Fanny Crosby is unequalled in today’s worship music, because they are two different genres. They are apples and oranges.”

Hostetler continues, “In my experience, at least, hymns enable me to worship with my intellect, by and large. There are exceptions, but generally speaking, when I sing a hymn my mind is engaged with lofty thoughts and divine truths, but my emotions, not so much.

“Much of today’s worship music, by contrast, does something else entirely for me. With some exceptions, these songs engage my heart and soul. They draw me into the presence of Jesus Christ. Some are theologically shallow – even questionable. Some are repetitive – even annoying. Some are confusing or vapid or even comical.

"Hymns are great. The level of erudition and expression in the hymns ... is unequalled in todays' worship music, because they are two different genres. They are apples and oranges."

Bob Hostetler
Writer, editor, and frequent speaker at churches and conferences

“While that is true of modern worship music, it seems to me that a much higher percentage of the worship songs we sing in church are designed to lead me in God’s presence, keep me there, express my heart in prayer, and commune with Him in ways that even the best hymns seldom do.”

"Contemporary praise and worship music lends itself to a freer expression of personal relationship the worshipper has with the Father ..."

James Dollar, pastor of Worship Ministries
Concord Baptist Church, Clermont

Scott White, senior minister of music and worship at First Baptist Church Woodstock, is one of the most respected leaders in the field of church music and was asked to make a statement about the value of contemporary Christian music to the church worship experience. He referred The Christian Index to Shelly Johnson, a gifted musical artist and composer of such works as “Power of he Cross,” who often leads in worship at the church.

Johnson explained, “The story of God is ever unfolding, developing, ongoing in our lives. He is constantly and consistently at work in and through us – in the hearts and lives of believers all around the globe. He worked personally and supernaturally in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and in the same way He is at work in the lives of us today.

“While the Israelites were wandering in the desert, experiencing firsthand the miraculous deliverance of God from trials of every kind, new songs of faith burst forth, moments of inspiration and gratitude that became songs of worship from the people of God.

“Through the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the same thing continued to happen. The people of God experienced the works of God in their lives, and as a result, hymns and songs of worship and gratitude burst forth. We still sing many of those hymns today.

“So, it would only make sense that as God is continually moving and working in our lives today, new songs of worship would continue to burst forth. That is all modern worship really is – new songs of the faith.

Singer Shelly Johnson, who is a member of First Baptist Woodstock, connects the music she composes with the experiences of Christians from earlier centuries and the hymns reflecting their own experiences.

“At some point in history ‘Amazing Grace’ was a new song, a modern song for the people of its time. The same can be said of ‘The Old Rugged Cross,’ ‘How Great Thou Art,’ and ‘Be Thou My Vision.’ Every song we describe as a ‘sacred hymn’ was at some point a brand new song.”

Johnson concluded, “So, why is it important to use contemporary worship music in churches today? The reason is because someday these new songs of today will become the sacred standards of the future church. Songs like ‘In Christ Alone,’ ‘10,000 Reasons,’ etc. will continue to be sung and used in churches 100 years from now. People will talk about the Gettys and Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman in the same way they talk about Charles Wesley and Fannie Crosby.”

James Dollar, pastor of worship ministries at Concord Baptist Church in Clermont and worship leader for chapel services at Truett-McConnell College, cites Psalm 3:3, Psalm 96:1, Psalm 98:1, Isaiah 42:10, and other scriptures to highlight the Biblical admonition to sing a “new song.”

Dollar explained, “Ephesians 5:19 and a parallel passage in Colossians 3:16 tell us to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. I love these verses, because they tell me that every style of music can and should be used.

“Most of the contemporary music we do is based on or taken straight from the scripture. I love singing the Word. I enjoy singing the hymns (and do so often), but I love doing contemporary praise and worship music, because it keeps us fresh and learning.

“Contemporary praise and worship music lends itself to a freer expression of the personal relationship the worshipper has with the Father – allowing the worshipper to bow the knee or raise the hands.

Dollar exclaimed, “After reflecting on some of the new songs being birthed out of the local church I realized that I love to sing these new songs because they express what God is up to today.

“This is a great reminder to me of Psalm 40, which tells us that God has ‘put a new song in my mouth – a song of praise to my God. Many will see it and fear, and place their trust in Him.’ Wow! That is awesome.”