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Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal Paperback – June 1, 2010

3.9 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"T. David Gordon's writing is refreshingly candid and insightful. In this very readable volume he helpfully contextualizes the ways pop music has impoverished our culture and worship in so many churches, while calling us to embrace again the enduring values of hymnody and psalmody. I encourage anyone concerned about biblical worship to read this book." --Paul S. Jones

"T. David Gordon's writing is refreshingly candid and insightful. In this very readable volume, he helpfully contextualizes the ways pop music has impoverished our culture and worship in so many churches, while calling us to embrace again the enduring values of hymnody and psalmody. I encourage anyone concerned about biblical worship to read this book." --Paul S. Jones, Music Director, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia

"Witty, persuasive, and gracious, he challenges the conventional wisdom in the midst of the so-called 'worship wars,' asking for a serious inquiry into the nature of worship song and the media appropriate to it. He convinces us that if we are to worship with reverence and awe, we must not unthinkingly accept the message of popular music." --Gregory Edward Reynolds, Pastor, Author of The Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age

About the Author

T. David Gordon has been professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College since 1999. Previously, he was an associate professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for fourteen years and pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church (Nashua, New Hampshire) for nine years.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: P & R Publishing (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596381957
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596381957
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.7 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This book follows through on the promise of its title. It actually explains why Johnny can't sings hymns, not why he should.

The author, who teaches media ecology at Grove City College, states that media ecology is a sub branch of cultural anthropology, and it is from this perspective that he attempts to answer his title question. Why, for so many people, do traditional hymns seem so foreign, strange, inaccessible?

He only states the obvious when he says that as "background music," contemporary music is everywhere. We hear it on TV, radio,in commercials,. We shop to it, dine to it in resturants,bake to it, and brush our teeth to it. We are so saturated with contemporary sounding music that any earlier music is foreign sounding.

"There are many people in our culture whose musical listening has been almost entirely banal; 98% of the music they have heard has been pop. To their ears, this is just what music sounds like; they haven't heard enough significant music to distinguish significant music from insignificent music."

Things were different for his father's generation. No one had TV, and those who had radio did not play it all day long. They did not buy groceries or shop for clothing to music. They experiencd music in four different idioms: sacred, folk, classical, and pop. (For them, pop music was Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, etc.) Each was accessible, each sounded familiar, and none sounded unfamiliar.

He explains not only why Johnny now has a preference for church music that is often theologically and musically inferior, but he posits how it came abut.- (the determination of the 60's generation - and Johnny is their offspring - to shake off everything to do with the "dead past.
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It's no secret that, in most of today's churches, hymns have given way to "praise choruses" as the predominant form of music used in corporate worship services. Why is this? Is this a conscious choice to not sing hymns, or is it -- as the title suggests -- that the average Christian today can't sing hymns?

These are the type of questions asked in Gordon's book, a sequel of sorts to his previous book Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers. Both books take their title from a 1955 book by Rudolf Flesch called Why Johnny Can't Read: And What You Can Do about It, which showed that changes in society and in the educational methods being introduced to the schools at that time (particularly what has now become known as the "look-say method" of reading) had produced a generation unable to read.

In this latest book, Gordon successfully builds his case that the average Christian today is unable to understand or appreciate either the musical or theological content in traditional hymns. While he also argues for the importance and value of the church's rich tradition of hymnody, he avoids making any sort of legalistic claims that churches must use one form of music over another. As he says in the introduction, this book is intended to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

The reasons for our inability to sing hymns are many, but can be more or less separated into two categories: musical and theological.

Musically, "pop culture" has conditioned us to not even recognize -- much less appreciate -- non-pop forms of music.
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T. David Gordon makes his position clear and does not deviate from his position assessing the value of traditional hymn forms verses music used in public worship that is influenced if not drawn directly from pop culture. Gordon's introductory chapter places his argument squarely in reality as he voices his experience as a pastor and father. A notable posture is exposed when he writes how his weekly choices of hymns for worship were not only selecting what worshipers would sing, but what they would not sing. Song selection for congregational singing in worship is by nature exclusive of other songs in the church's repertoire.

Gordon's style is persuasive and direct. He boldly challenges present day conventional wisdom that chases pop styled songs for public worship based on the assumption that doing so will draw the unchurched. He values time-honored music expression as well as rich poetic texts and makes a strong case for evaluative measures that result in selecting such material for worship. Those who favor contemporary worship forms for use in congregational singing will be appropriately challenged and confronted through this book. Some may find it difficult to read the essay without becoming defensive. Serious worship planners, nevertheless, would benefit by its reading to consider ways spiritual formation is taking place through worship music among the congregations to which they belong. Gordon's final chapter on "Strategic Issues" sums up the current scenario and his reasoning to push against it very well.
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