Praise Music Flunks - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Praise Music Flunks

My sister came for a quick visit this last weekend to attend a going-away party for our older son, who is off to prep school. On Sunday, my wife took the gang to church for 9:00 a.m. Sunday school. My sister and I dawdled behind, aiming to be late for the worship service at 10:00. Why? We were both agreed: We hate praise music.

Praise music, for those who don’t know, has sprung up in the last couple of decades as a replacement for traditional hymns in “Bible” or “Gospel” churches. In its tunes, it resembles modern pop, soft rock, or country music. It is generally played by combos — in church! — that include guitar, bass, drums and piano. There are generally a handful of singers, usually including unschooled sopranos.

It used to be said that singers like Aretha Franklin, who made the jump from gospel to pop, sang music much like they used to sing in church, only substituting “Baby” for “Lord” or “Jesus” or “God.” Gospel music at least has the benefit of soul, that ineffable quality of passionate excitement that adheres to the black voice. Praise music, by contrast, is pure whitebread.

And it just isn’t very good.

CONTRAST THE CLOSING “PRAISE” SONG we sang in church that Sunday, “You Are My All in All,” with “O, Worship the King,” the traditional hymn that our praise band played during the dismissal. You can listen to “You Are My All in All” at a Barnes & Noble site here (scroll down). “O, Worship the King” may be heard at the Cyber Hymnal, here.

“O Worship the King,” with its stately, beautifully harmonized tune, illustrates its theme — “God is our king” — in its every word and part, without ever literally saying so. It has a distinguished history. In its original lyric, it appeared in the Genevan Psalter of 1561. Robert Grant modernized the words in 1833. It appeared as “Old 104th” in Whole Book of Psalmes, by Thomas Ravenscraft in 1621. The current tune and harmony? Johann M. Haydn.

There are six stanzas. I quote two:

O worship the King, all glorious above,
O gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

“O, Worship the King” is, in sum, a splendid and stirring example of the best of traditional hymnody.

Here, by contrast, are the lyrics to “You Are My All in All,” copyright listed as Dennis Jernigan, 1991 Shepherd’s Heart Music.

You are my strength when I am weak,
You are the treasure that I seek,
You are my all in all.
Seeking You as a precious jewel,
Lord to give up I’d be a fool,
You are my all in all.

Jesus, Lamb of God — worthy is Your name.
Jesus, Lamb of God — worthy is Your name.

Taking my sin, my cross, my shame,
Rising again, I bless Your name,
You are my all in all.
When I fall down, You pick me up,
When I am dry You fill my cup,
You are my all in all.

First, note that the key phrase, the supposed theme, “You are my all in all,” means really nothing. It’s a piece of pop endearment. Triteness follows upon triteness, “treasure that I seek,” “precious jewel,” and so on, with “Lord to give you up I’d be a fool” almost literally gag-making. The chorus has nothing to do with the verses.

You cannot quibble with the song’s sincerity. You cannot quibble with the sincerity of adolescent love songs, either, which is what “You Are My All in All” most closely resembles — a pastiche of “holy” words no more meaningful than “moon, June, soon.”

IT IS AN INTERESTING PARADOX. Churches devoted to rigorous, difficult theology — real Christianity, in short — have largely adopted praise music, mainly to get people in the doors. In doing so, they have denied their parishioners an intimate connection with the art, the music, the poetry, and the history of the faith of our fathers, embodied in hymns.

Mainstream churches, which have left Christianity behind for liberation theology, “peace and justice” theory, deconstruction, and modernism, still cling to the hymnbook, to the hard work of teaching choirs to sing in harmony, and to the expense of maintaining pipe organs.

If only they took as good care of the faith.

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