A few weeks ago, Christianity Today published an article by Jeff Neely called “Wait upon the Drop.”
The bass drop, that is.
Yes, churches in this country and beyond have begun to incorporate electronic dance music (EDM) to, in the words of the author, “elevate praise.”
The Church of Right Now
Russ Jones, Pastor of Worship Arts at The Crossing, a non-denominational Tampa congregation, says that EDM is a perfect fit for them, especially their youth ministry, as “that’s their culture right now.”
Did you hear that?
This is what their “right now” sounds like at The Crossing.
The momentum of the jesusy EDM movement is undeniable. Even worship superstars like Chris Tomlin are incorporating it into their routine. Here’s Tomlin’s version of “God’s Great Dance Floor” at Passion in 2013.
Gettin’ Jiggy Wit Jesus
There were two quotes in this piece that caught me off guard:
“[EDM] gives permission to have fun and jump around. When you look out into the congregation or the crowd, everyone is just jumping to the music. And I feel that is the beauty of EDM—you can’t not jump to the beat.” – Aodhan King, Hillsong Young and Free vocalist.
Right. That’s what EDM is supposed to do. It’s not supposed to draw out the voice of a congregation. It’s supposed to make people want to move and leave their rational selves behind. And buy music. And stay in the club longer and spend more on drinks. It doesn’t facilitate the liturgy, it hijacks the liturgy, making it something else entirely. It’s more about letting go, giving in to a medium that cannot elicit the gravitas and sobriety needed for the holy work of God’s people.
“’It bridges something primal in us,’ [Scott Blackwell] said. ‘That’s something God put there, and it can be used for good or bad.’ …At the same time, people need to follow their own convictions, Blackwell said. If a person finds that listening to Christian EDM personally elicits sinful temptations, ‘then you know what, you probably shouldn’t do that.’”
But what need do we have to be primal in worship? [And if we really feel the music itself could elicit some generic “sinful temptations” in our congregants, why would we use it in the first place?] Certainly, there is room for a complete range of human emotion. Joy, enthusiasm, and amusement can all be present. But the task we’re supposed to be about is never one of complete abandon. Our charge in this world is a serious, sober one. We’re not called to check our brains when we worship God. In fact, as humans with [perhaps more or less] developed prefrontal cortices, why would we even want to completely give ourselves over to our primal, limbic urges, especially in worship?
Same Song, Second Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Repeat Chorus
My response to this entire article was one of grief and dismay. We still haven’t learned. The church in each recent generation has done its best to leverage cultural trappings, primarily commercial music, to bring people in. But every study done, every survey taken over the past few years demonstrates the failure of this strategy.It’s not working, church. And it’s certainly not sustainable.
Never was the title Christianity Today more appropriate. This is certainly not the Christianity of yesterday, nor is it the Christianity of tomorrow. It is only today.
As quickly as they appeared, these latest incarnations will fade away, leaving the now not-so-young adults with a church they don’t recognize. By and large, they will wake up one day without any real connection to the saints gone before, nor the masses that follow. The only tradition in contemporary church culture is reinvention. That is the only Lord and Savior they seem to know. And as those winds of pop-culture blow, a new generation will come on the scene, with their own entertainment language. Their god’s great dance floor will be swarming with newer, younger, trendier versions of themselves.
We’re promised that Word and Sacrament are enough to sustain and strengthen us. But we’ve decided we must know better.
The contemporary church’s mission is coming clearly into focus: to help young people dance Sunday morning away for a few short months or years, and hopefully get them to follow some sort of jesus in the process.
But the jesusy bait and switch simply doesn’t work.
You might be able to leverage current entertainment to get butts in your seats for a while. But they will only stay as long as your product remains the same.
Because you won them with the music, not with the message.
Not the gospel message, anyway.
Church, when will we ever learn?
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