Pastor's Blog

The most typical complaints I’ve heard traditionalists lodge against contemporary worship songs have to do with the lyrics -- too repetitive, too shallow, theologically weak, or too much focus on self or personal experience.  I want to talk about that last one because I think it’s the most important.

Evangelicalism by its very nature is about personal spiritual experience.  Evangelicalism is largely a reaction against dead orthodoxy, against formal religion removed from life, removed from real connection to the real God.  Evangelicals often insist that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.  If that’s not the drumbeat of the theme of personal spiritual experience, I don’t know what is.

Personal experience cannot help but be about self in some way.  Self has the experiences.  And when I express myself, I talk about my experiences.  I can’t speak as knowledgeably about the spiritual experiences of others as I can about my own.  Shouldn’t we, then, expect an artist or musician to create songs born of and reflecting their own experiences?   We should expect her to convey what she saw or heard or thought or felt.

People often miss the fact that a good many hymns – many of the old favorites – are about personal spiritual experience.

”I come to the garden alone . . . and the voice I hear, falling on my ear . . .”
  And He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own . . .”

“O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
  Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee:  How great Thou art!  How great Thou art!”

“At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light and the burden of my heart rolled away;
  it was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day.”

“My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;  for Thee all of the follies of sin I resign . . .”

“I once was lost, but now am found;  was blind, but now I see.”

To quote Captain America, “I can do this all day.”  All these hymns sing about me – about my personal spiritual experience.  And yet I’ve never heard a traditionalist complain about the hymns being too self-oriented.

Faith is not something removed from experience.  It is an experience and it is the living out of that experience.  Why would we not expect songs composed by a heart of faith to speak of personal spiritual experiences? 

I have more that I want to say about this – but not enough space, so I’ll continue next time. 

Let me remind you that what I’m really writing about here is learning how to love one another when we have different tastes in music.  Loving one another is the hallmark of the faith, and we can move in that direction better by seeing things we have in common and focusing on them.

Since personal spiritual experience is a common topic in both contemporary worship and the old hymns, perhaps both the old and the new share more than we realize.  Perhaps we’ve been too busy criticizing and fighting the unfamiliar instead of building love out of our common bonds.  Perhaps we need to work a little harder in that area.

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