Praise Music Progress (124)

In this episode John and Gregg return to their discussion from the last episode titled Problematic Praise Music following comments by listener “Lynette.” In partial response to Lynette, Gregg undertook to re-write the lyrics to one of the main Christian choruses of which Gregg was critical.

Gregg’s new (amended since their reading in this episode) lyrics to “How Great is our God” are:

Creator, father, king,
You sought that everything
Through Abraham be blessed:
A response to faithfulness.

So you called a single race
And asked them to embrace
A law to set apart;
To circumcise their heart.

How true is your claim,
That your love for each is the same,
And all things in your holy name
You will reclaim.

Yet Israel grew proud,
Law and love disavowed
(Though were I in their place
I too would know disgrace).

Righteous in word and deed,
You saw your people’s need:
And on their part complied
With law and love… and died.

How great is your love,
That—God and man—Christ came from above
Covenant fulfilled, renewed, to
Gentiles include.

Love and truth entwine,
Your goodness lights my mind,
And so I sing:
How great are you God.

The promises you kept—
Your Spirit I accept,
And so I sing:
How great are you God.

How Great are you God
Your creativity and wisdom
Integrate belief and real life
I believe.

How Great are you God
Your way your truth your life, we embrace,
And so we gain our own truest face:
I trust you.

How Great are you God
Your love reigns and your kingdom comes
So that with you we will be one:
I love you.

John sees these lyrics as a great improvement on the original because they offer explanation about / indicate why God is “great.” Gregg notes that this was a major source of his own discontentment with the original lyrics: they claim to present God as “great” and yet offer so very little about who God is that is coherent and so little in support of the claim of God’s greatness.

Instead, Gregg argues that Christian choruses should function similarly to stained glass windows, where in medieval churches the stained glass windows were not only beautiful but played the important role of teaching Bible stories to the (essentially) illiterate masses. As such these windows are actually to be “read” in a particular manner as the story progressed from frame to frame, much like a modern day graphic novel.

Gregg argues that, in response to listener Lynette’s view that Christian choruses need not necessarily be comprehensible to non-Christians, these songs must a) be comprehensible to Christians and b) must not undermine the possibility of belief by non-Christians, and c) must do what they putatively claim to do.

On the first point, Gregg notes that any lyrics he sings must be clear enough at least for him to agree or disagree with what they are claiming / presenting. On the third point, the lyrics to a song should be thematically coherent with their title, such that the lyrics to “How Great is our God” should present a clear (and hopefully, compelling) image of God’s greatness!

So Gregg sees the lyrics to “How Great is our God” as entirely disconnected with the purpose of the song which, according to its title, is to communicate why / how God is great. Specifically, the non-chorus sections of the song are:

a) “The splendor of a king, Clothed in majesty, let all the world rejoice…”
b) “He wraps himself in light, And darkness tries to hide, And trembles at his voice…”
c) “Age to age He stands, And time is in his hands, Beginning and the end…”
d) “The Godhead Three in One, Father, Spirit, Son, Lion and the Lamb…”
e) “Name above all names, Worthy of all praise, My heart will sing…”

Yet these appear simply as a collection of Christian “soundbites” (i.e., God is King, light, trinity, holds time and is worthy of exaltation). So they do not tell a story / paint a picture of God in any coherent or even aesthetically meaningful way, nor do these lyrics describe God in such a way as elicit the idea of God being “Great” (except perhaps the “lion and the lamb” reference, which is unexplained and disconnected from the rest).

John favours Gregg’s approach here because it is addressing the solution and not focusing on the problem. John notes his concern around wanting the podcast to bring solutions and new ideas instead of continually bringing problems and criticism. Gregg believes the ratio of “pushing back” versus “offering” seems about 3 parts to 1 part in the podcast. However, Gregg sees this ratio as necessary because he and John are not simply identifying problems but helping Christians who do not see these issues to identify them as problems. And this involves, at least in part, teaching Christians to develop the “stance and posture” of looking for / assessing the degree of integration between their beliefs and life / living “in the real world,”

Thus there is a different way of seeing that is required if one is going to be able to make sense of the problems and of the solution—if we are going to be able to see them as such.

Gregg explains this situation (where the church lacks the ability to see the issues for what they are, and thus accepts a marked lack of integration between belief and life) on the example of being in a dysfunctional family: in a dysfunctional environment all manner of inappropriate behaviour is taken to be normative, yet it is not.

So in many evangelical contexts Christians have construed the matter so that belief and life are only related be way of hierarchy, where belief “trumps” life. So in many church environments there appears to be excessive distinction between sense and meaning in life versus in faith.

2 thoughts on “Praise Music Progress (124)

  1. Joanne Poelstra

    Thanks for the new lyrics to “How Great is Our God.” Beginning with God’s call of Abraham, you tell God’s story, including my part of being included in His family. When I think on these words, I really do want to shout my thanks that God has brought His love to me.

    Your podcast reminds me of yarn when it’s a mess and all tangled up. You have to spend time first untangling a small part and winding that into a ball before you can tackle another section. Then, finally, all the yarn is wrapped neatly in a ball and you can pull from it for the purpose of your project.

    Reply
    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Joanne,

      I’m glad that you find these new lyrics valuable and that by encapsulating some of the biblical story they actually give you a sense that God’s actions in / with humanity are praiseworthy: this is how it impacts me and how I had hoped that it might impact others–thanks for letting us know! In terms of your “tangled yarn” analogy it’s good to hear that this is how you experience the podcast. John and I do try both to explain what we’re seeing / comment on what’s problematic and to present better, more viable options. I don’t know how successful we are at getting the whole piece of yarn wrapped up, but it’s nice to hear that you find that we are making some good progress in that direction.

      Gregg

      Reply

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