I always enjoy reading Anthony Bradley, a WORLD magazine columnist. Dr. Bradley, an Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at The King’s College in New York City as well as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute, provides keen insights into the church and the impact of the culture upon it. He is often called upon by the mainstream media to give his commentary on events of the day, particularly those involving racial matters.
Yesterday he had an intriguing article on how Christians producing hip-hop music often show more theological integrity and depth in their lyrics than most of the Contemporary Christian Music being produced. Having listened to some examples, I agree. I’ve heard some hip-hop songs with the Heidelberg Catechism and other doctrinal statements that are theologically rock-solid.
However, I could not help but notice that he linked to the denomination I serve when he made the following comment:
What we consider to be “ugly” forms of music often depend on personal preferences and social location. For example, in Christian traditions that sing only the Psalms without instrumental accompaniment, the worst thing for them would be to sing praise to God using lyrics not directly from the Bible and to pollute music offered to God with instruments like a pipe organ. Could Christian hip-hop simply be the “ugly” music of our era?
I wanted to offer a gentle correction to this statement. Dr. Bradley follows a typical stereotype of psalm-singers that, though perhaps deserved as I have commented on previously, is not the current practice of our denomination as I have experienced it. I do not want to be overly defensive and add to the stereotype, but please consider the following.
Our conviction about singing psalms exclusively in worship comes not from “personal preference or social location” but simply from the belief that, as the church worships, God has commanded in His Word for us to sing the songs that His Son Jesus sang. An application of Sola Scriptura, the gathered church singing from the hymnal that God gave to us in the middle of His Word fulfills God’s purpose for them. However, this does not mean that in other settings we do not enjoy a variety of genres of music. Dr. Bradley himself had said earlier in his post, “It is important to keep in mind that Christian hip-hop, unlike other contemporary genres, generally is not intended for use during corporate worship, so rejecting its appropriateness for the liturgy is not relevant.” I would agree, though Dr. Bradley then appeared to make our liturgy his purpose in referencing us.
My experience in the Reformed Presbyterian Church is that there is a great deal of love and appreciation for the gift of music. One of my daughters is majoring in piano performance at our denomination’s college, where she is being trained by excellent teachers. I just enjoyed recently a concert by the college’s choir, where they sang psalms but also medieval hymns, black spirituals, humorous barbershop pieces, and even a classic love song or two. One of the writers on this blog regularly entertains us at social events with his singing and guitar playing, while another one had me at his house playing Rock Band recently (here I must admit my complete lack of rhythm). One of my son’s friends, I’m told, loves to go around the college campus rapping the very songs Dr. Bradley references.
As the proverbial statement goes, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Such is true for songs and music.