When the Music Fades: Why We Must Criticize Our Worship Superstars

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We the judge, jury, and executioner of the court of commercial worship apologists find the defendant, what’s-his-name from that damned Ponder Anew blog, guilty of the crime of honestly evaluating our golden boy, Christopher Aloysius Tomlin and other worship superstars. In accordance with a few pauline texts taken completely out of context, we hereby issue some verbal slaps on the wrist for keeping the little children from getting to Jesus through the my chains are gone refrain, “stirring up discord among brethren,” and pointing out that Tomlin’s music is poor, his texts, poorer, and his treatment of existing hymns cringe-worthy. If he doesn’t stop, he will surely go to hell, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, and where “Good, Good Father” will play on repeat, forevermore, world without end, amen, amen.

A Litany of Livid Lecturing

Every time I mention Chris Tomlin, even in passing, I have people telling me that I’d better shut up with these blog posts. Seriously. They are really defensive of this guy. Here are a few comments I received after my last post on how Tomlin messes around with old hymn texts:

“I think that anytime one Christian bashes another Christian church on social media it is wrong; shame on you!” – Kay Roberson Walker

“Well then. What are you doing to advance the gospel to today’s generation? Everyone’s a critic.” – Kevin Sullivan

“Patheos can stuff it!” – Scott Wesley “Please Don’t Send Me to Africa” Brown

“Give the guy and his genre a break.” – David MacGregor

“I am ashamed that I spent 2 seconds reading this. Maybe if we spent more time worrying about our own hearts rather than spending our time criticizing each other we would all be better off.” – Steven Bayer

“If songs like this have led to even one salvation, shouldn’t that be celebrated? Should men like Tomlin who serve God be subjected to such negativity from other Christians? This is so discouraging to me, it breaks my heart. Jonathan, I don’t know you, but I want you to know how sad this makes me.” – Joel

“Stop analyzing, you are missing out out on God’s gift for His people!” – Lauren

“Talk about a bunch of over 50 whiners.” – Rick Uhles

“No need to drag Tomlin through the mud like that. Regardless of anyone’s style preferences, Tomlin is still a brother in Christ!” – Annie Hall

“Chris Tomlin is a phenomenal artist. You are a snob.” – David

You know, I’m kinda tired of these helpful folks who think it’s their mission in life is protect me from dangerous theology (anything that differs from theirs), people with evil intent (everyone except them and people who agree with them) and impure worship that is unacceptable to God (any song written after 1950 apparently). Hey, Mr. Aigner, take a look at a hymnbook and you will find examples of what you incorrectly think originated with Chris Tomlin – like “At the Cross.” Issac Watts wrote the verses in the 1700s (“Alas and did my Savior bleed”) and then Ralph Hudson wrote the CHORUS in the 1880s… and I am sure there was some arrogant jerk who railed against that practice.” – Alan Riley

“How does this help build the kingdom?” – Chris Myer

“To ascribe greed to Tomlin’s motives is just mean-spirited and priggish.” – Jim Anderson

Actually, what we don’t need is more articles like this one…Ephesians 4:29″ – Aaron Quick

A Call to Critical Thinking

To be clear, I wish Chris Tomlin and his family well. I have no ill will toward him in the least. He is my brother in Christ, and he appears to be a fervent, earnest disciple, and an all-around nice guy. I genuinely believe he is doing his best for the kingdom. I don’t know him personally, but I’ve never been given any reason to doubt his character and integrity.

If there is any real indictment here, it belongs with the church, and the ugly animal it has sired called the worship industry. We’ve put “worship” artists and bands like Tomlin in a place they really don’t belong, a place they aren’t prepared for. Tomlin is a good guy, but he writes poor music. And it’s not wrong to say so. He is not a 6th grader writing a song as a Sunday school activity. The fact that he’s trying his best and loves the Lord doesn’t mean we have to support his music by publishing it, paying for it, or singing it.

Church, it is not only acceptable to call other Christians out, it is imperative that we be willing to.

I think there are times when we have to speak up. And we have good examples. Jesus publicly criticized 1st-century religious rock stars, using far more polemic language than I’ve ever used for a worship idol. So did Paul and the apostles. Theologians and church leaders have spoken up for the entire history of the church.

There are definitely times to remain silent. But when the cost is great, and the current is strong, and when people are afraid to ask inconvenient questions, we have to speak up. That’s why I write this blog. There is a dearth of dissenters willing to publicly question the direction of worship in the church. Stand up, folks, and speak out!

I Speak for I Cannot Be Silent

I don’t do it to assail anyone’s character or judge the depth and authenticity to their personal faith. But we need to ask questions, and yes, sometimes we must criticize.

When it comes to worship in the church, it would be wrong for me to stay taciturn and publicly smile upon its current state. By reducing worship to an issue of preference, we’ve reduced its importance, made ourselves into a cultural laughingstock, and hindered the church’s mission.

Specifically, I call out believers in the contemporary worship scene (and the trends they represent) because corporate worship is vitally important to the church’s mission. It’s the unifying, visible act of the church. For myself and those of you who are with me, it’s high time we returned to thoughtful, candid criticism of the things happening in Christian worship today. Even if we’re unjustly accused of being bitter, jealous, and resistant to change, we’ve got to make our voice heard. We’ve got to speak up.

That’s why I’m willing to name names on occasion. And it’s why I’m going to keep calling out Chris Tomlin et al., the worship industry, performance-worshipping churches, pastors and “worship leaders” gone wild, and anyone else who embraces the weird culture of commercial worship.

The powers of evil don’t rejoice when that happens. They tremble. God’s people are thinking, refining, pushing back, refocusing, and correcting. The church’s mission is in the process of being worked out.

That’s a good thing.

A very good thing.

A healthy thing.

A necessary thing.

And, as we’ve learned from our beautiful Savior, sometimes it’s a holy thing.

Lord, may your church always be prepared to speak up.

Amen.

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