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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.
I'd argue, however, what makes western classical music special as representative of High Culture. I love classical music, but why does it have a certain "appropriateness" for composing hymns? Also, although it is out of the scope of the book, it would be interesting to contrast it to other music forms, including Eastern and Latin American music.