The Music of the Church

Adult Sunday School – Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church

Spring 2002


Class #10  (7/7/2002) – THE TWENTIETH CENTURY


NOTE:  Unless otherwise noted, all hymn and page numbers refer to the 1961 Trinity Hymnal.


I.          Modernism and Popular Culture


A.      The Modernist Rebellion

1.       Began in late 1800s, not 1960s!  The fruit of Romanticism 

2.       Threw out old norms and standards in art, music, literature, morals; rebellion against order, authority, truth; celebration of chaos and of self

a.       Art – Picasso

b.       Music – Arnold Schoenberg (atonal), John Cage (silence as performance)

3.       Paved the way for the rebellion (in every area) of the 1960s

4.       In 1933, art historian Herbert Read wrote that Modernism was “not so much a revolution, …but rather a break-up, …a dissolution.  Its character is catastrophic…. The aim of five centuries of European effort is openly abandoned.  [Cited in Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, Modernism, 1890-1930, Penguin Books, 1976, p. 20.]

5.       In 1954, C. S. Lewis said Modernism was the greatest division in the entire history of Western man, greater than divisions between Antiquity, Dark Ages, Middle Ages, and Renaissance.  [Kenneth A. Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes:  Christians and Popular Culture, Crossway Books, 1989, p. 110.]


B.      Pop Goes America

1.       Before the hegemony of popular culture, the two dominant cultures were:

a.       “High” culture (e.g., symphonic music, art museum); often urban

b.       “Traditional” or “Folk” culture (e.g, bluegrass music, square dances, folk songs, etc.); often rural

2.       High and folk cultures existed in many other countries – think of German/Austrian lederhosen and oom-pah bands (folk culture) versus Mozart and Haydn (high culture)

3.       Popular culture in America became more dominant throughout the 20th century until, in the 1950s-1970s, it became THE culture, supplanting high culture and folk culture, with permanent effects on art, music, etc.

4.       See Kenneth Myers pg. 120 for helpful comparison of pop culture vs. traditional and high culture.


II.        Popular Christian Music 1960-2000


A.      1960s and 1970s

1.       “Easy listening” (for lack of better term) – a marked change from “traditional” hymns

a.        Some key figures

1)       Ralph Carmichael – “He’s everything to me” (1964)

2)       Bill and Gloria Gaither - “There’s something about that name [Jesus]” (1970)

3)       Kurt Kaiser -- “Pass it on (It only takes a spark)” (1969)

4)       Andrae Crouch – “My Tribute (How can I say thanks)” (1971)

5)       Jimmy Owens - “If my people…will pray” (II Chr 7:14) (1973)

b.        Adopted by churches, represented in new hymnals

1)       Hymns for the Family of God (1976) contains all five songs above

c.        No longer “contemporary,” not hip.  Came and went.

2.       Jesus movement

a.       Folk style, peace music, Catholic guitar mass, etc.

1)       “We are one in the Spirit” - Peter Scholte, 1966

b.        Converted rock musicians

1)       Embraced Jesus, left the drug/immorality culture, but kept their rock music

2)       Hard “Christian” rock never made it into mainstream worship.  Main outlets are recordings and “outreach” concerts.

3)       Foundational Christian rock figure - Larry Norman

a)       “I w ish we’d all been ready” [for the rapture] (1969)

Š           Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (1970) was soon to follow

b)       “Why should the devil have all the good [rock] music” (1977)

Š           Reminiscent of Luther – “Why should the devil [the Roman church] have all the good music [chants, motets, etc.]?” – but Norman thought the rock world, not the church, had all the good music!

3.       Charismatic movement

a.        Maranatha! Scripture songs

1)       “Unto thee, O Lord” (Ps 25) – Charles Monroe, 1971

2)       “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Mt 6:33) - Karen Lafferty, 1972

b.       Jack Hayford

1)       Pastor of The Church On The Way (Van Nuys, CA) since 1969

2)       Has written 500 songs and hymns, including “Majesty” (1981)

c.        “Mother lode” of current praise and worship music

4.       Explosive growth of Christian recording industry

a.       CCM” – Contemporary Christian Music

b.        Andrae Crouch, Second Chapter of Acts, Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, etc.

c.        Primary goal – entertain/challenge those who buy records and attend concerts

d.        Some songs became used in church (Crouch’s “My Tribute,” Green’s “There is a Redeemer”)


B.      Early 1980s – CCM as both entertainment and worship

1.       Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Sandi Patti, Twila Paris, etc.

a.        “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic” (Ps 8) – Michael W. Smith, 1981

b.        “Thy Word” (Ps 119:105) – Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, 1984

c.        “He is exalted” – Twila Paris, 1985

d.        (Amy Grant and M. W. Smith are now huge stars, each with over 20 yrs in the biz)


C.      Late 1980s and 1990s

1.       “Praise and Worship” teams

2.       Movement away from earlier Scripture songs

3.       Sample songs:

a.        “Our God is an awesome God” – Rich Mullins, 1988

b.        “Lord, I lift your name on high” – Rick Founds, 1989

c.        “You are my all in all” – Dennis Jernigan, 1989

d.        “I will celebrate” – Rita Baloche, 1990 (Maranatha!)

e.        “Shout to the Lord” – Darlene Zschech, 1993


D.      Special Mention

1.       John Michael Talbot

a.       1960s folk/rocker

b.       Since 1980, a Franciscan Catholic monk with mercy ministy in Eureka Springs AR (Brothers and Sisters of Charity)

c.        Music includes liturgical songs for worship based on Scripture – typically acoustic, folk-style, reflective, classical instrumentation.  Not commercial pop.

2.       Michael Card (20 year career; 4 million records; 400,000 books)

a.       Similar passion for “real” music, based on Scripture. Has collaborated with Talbot on at least one album.  Has interesting chant version of Ps 121.


III.      Non-Pop Church Composers of the 20th Century (only a few listed)


A.      Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) - English

1.       Gifted and prolific composer of wide variety of vocal and instrumental works, both secular and religious (although he was an agnostic)

2.       1904-1906 – Edited the English Hymnal, replacing many poor tunes with his own:

a.        king’s weston – better tune for “At the name of Jesus” (#124)

b.        sine nomine (“No Name!”) – better tune for “For all the saints” (#281)

c.        randolph – better tune for “God be with you till we meet again” (#632)

3.       No RVW tunes are in the 1961 Trinity Hymnal.  (Why not?)  The 1990 Trinity Hymnal has eight RVW tunes or arrangements, including the three mentioned directly above.

4.       Many choral arrangements, including:

a.        “O taste and see” (Ps 34:8) – for coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1952)

b.        Old Hundredth Psalm Tune [“All people that on earth do dwell”] (1953)


B.      Sir David Willcocks (1919- ) - English

1.       Choirboy at Westminster Abbey from age 10-14; later would train choirboys himself

2.       Noted organist, and Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge 1957-1974.  (Get King’s College Choir recordings at

3.       In 1961 and 1970, published “the definitive” festival arrangements of many Christmas carols in the four-volume Carols for Choirs  (Oxford University Press) which he co-edited.  Source for much of our Lessons & Carols choir music


C.      Lesser known

1.       Richard Dirksen

a.       Composer, organist, choirmaster for Washington DC Cathedral from 1942-1991

b.       Wrote majestic vineyard haven tune (1974) for “Rejoice, ye pure in heart” (see #502); later used for “Lift up your heads, O gates” (1986 Bert Polman text – see #163 in CRC Psalter Hymnal, 1987)

2.       Many younger composers committed to enduring musical styles and principles

a.       Gregory D. Wilbur - composer in Nashville area, friend of Duck Schuler

b.       Timothy Dusenbury – student composer & instrumentalist, former PRPC member

c.        Yours truly would like to be included in the list

d.       Members of Church Music National Conference (

Š          CMNC Mission:  “[Reflect] the glory of God in corporate worship through means that transcend popular culture…promote musical discernment and excellence in Christian worship.”


IV.    Assessment of Contemporary Christian Music


A.      Strengths

1.       Jubilant worship, involving whole body (clapping, arms raised)

2.       Multiplicity of instruments, as mentioned in Bible (stringed instruments, percussion)

3.       Often Scripture-based texts, sometimes actual Scripture portions

4.       Textually and musically accessible to people today (“unfortunately”)


B.      Weaknesses

1.       Associations with music of other contexts -- dance floor, lounge

2.       Textual:

a.       Too casual, not reflective of Biblical language

1)       “…He ain’t just puttin’ on the Ritz…you’d better be believin’ that our God is an awesome God…”  (Our God is an awesome God)

2)       “…I'm so glad You’re in my life…” [versus us being found in Christ!]  (Lord I lift your name on high)

b.       Too repetitive

c.        Truncated Scripture context (Scripture snippets)

3.       Musical:

a.       Music does not well serve the text

b.       Less independent part movement.  Associated trend: decline of 4-part singing:

1)       Fewer people can read music, so can’t sing parts

2)       Many new songs are unison only

3)       Even four-part hymns are dropped in pitch to accommodate unison singing, making bass and alto parts too low

4.       General craft:

a.       Less concern for building upon the masters. Severs ties with church tradition, textually and musically

b.       Less concern for textual or musical depth and timeliness

c.        Relies on repetition rather than intrinsic harmonic, melodic, or textual elements for “build-up”

5.       Focus

a.       Subjective, feelings, self oriented; not Biblical, objective, God oriented

b.       Entertainment (sometimes)

c.        Commercial emphasis – songs often written to sell recordings


In a 1998 interview Larry Norman was asked his views on the Christian music industry. Long at odds with the commercial corporate mentality, he said, "Christian music barely affects society anymore. It's really become a microcosmic subculture without much power to change lives. It's like a soda fountain for Christians where they can go to taste different flavors. The best Christian music comes from the artists who work outside the industry and consider themselves ministers of the message, not purveyors and panderers."


d.       Being “relevant” here and now.  As a result, after a number of years, is neither culturally relevant nor artistically timeless (ex: Carmichael, Gaither)


V.      Our goal

A.      Rich, Scriptural texts

B.      Rich, timeless music that fits the text

C.      Better appreciation and use of the best of the old

D.     Encourage development and use of the best of the new