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Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal Paperback – June 1, 2010
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"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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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.") So having shaken off the past we are left with a pop culture that is neither beautiful nor ugly. It is simply banal, trivial, inconsequential.
The author's chief concern is church worship and the jettisoning of centuries of Christian hymnody. For the first time in Christian history we hve churches totally cut off from the worship experience of past believers. - from the "communion of the saints", from parents and grandparents, from "the spirits of just men made perfect" of Hebrews 12. No Apostles Creed. No Gloria Patri, No Doxology - No "Sacred Head Now Wounded.". . . .churchs that are mono-generational.
The book opens with a dedication to "the memory of our
first child, Marian Ruth, who, before leukemia took her at fourteen weeks of age, taught her parents the ancient Christian practice of singing praise through tears.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou Lord their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle; they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
What will Johnny sing when he faces such loss?. . .
The closing chapter of this book, "Teaching Johnny Hymnody," deals with ways to help Johnny.
And his challenge should be heard.
Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns is a clear, concise analysis of the Contemporary Worship which occupies many churches on Sunday mornings, and provides articulate and thorough reasons for those involved in church music to reconsider the incorporation of such music. Gordon rightly points out how modern music is associated with the spirit of contemporaneity in the culture, which treats tradition and history as things to be disregarded in favor of what's new and hip. He addresses the nature of ritual and how (contrary to the way society and mainstream evangelicalism currently think) ritual is not an inherently bad thing, but is rather a right and necessary component to the Christian faith. He points out the inconsistencies of Contemporary Worship's understanding concerning casual vs. reverent attitude in relation to church, using the example of a preacher who doesn't wear a tie while preaching, but was sure to wear one for another occasion which had nothing to do with worship before Almighty God. And he encourages churches to go back to teaching the congregations hymnody, which contains some of the most treasured, most instructional, and most uplifting songs for Christians to sing.
This book is a must read. For the one who believes in traditional and liturgical worship, this book will reinforce the advantages of such a method of worship, and articulates the justification in a well-written, cohesive argument. For those who maintain that Contemporary Worship is both acceptable and good for the church, Gordon challenges such a stance, not with empty, emotionalized criticisms, but with honest and challenging questions--an approach which ought to be welcomed by any Christian brother or sister when disputes arise.
Get this book. If you have it, get a copy for somebody else. It's money well-spent, and time well-taken.
Gordon's argument is at its best when he's directly analyzing the culture's impact on church music. At times, his tone can be a bit divisive and less than generous, but it doesn't negate his message. Contemporary Christian music is killing the church, theologically and emotionally, and this book explains why.