Thanks to the pleasant surprise that there was free wi-fi available in Calvin College's Prince Conference Center, I'm able to do a little catchup today... since I missed posting yesterday...
Here's the fun part of this... I'm writing as I listen to Michael Card play an old upright piano in the corner of the room, singing a song from his recent lament album, "Come Lift Up Your Sorrows." A beautiful song. I'll have to write about it later.
In the meantime, I want to just begin processing through a couple questions that were raised at a workshop I attending Friday by the worship historian Lester Ruth - The Most Used Contemporary Worship Songs: Their View of God and our Love of God.
Lester Ruth studied the CCLI lists of the top 25 songs (most used, as reported by churches with CCLI licenses), two lists per year for a 15 year period, 1989 - 2004. The list of all songs that appeared on those 30 lists totaled only 72 songs.
Ruth studied the content of these songs, asking of them certain questions about their theological content, particularly regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. (i.e. studying who the songs speak about or address--God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit--and what titles were most used for God or the person of the Trinity being addressed)
One of the many interesting observations he made was that the largest single chunk of those 72 "most used" songs addressed or spoke about Jesus in particular, and not "God" in a general sense, and without mention of God "The Father" or the "Spirit" in a Trinitarian sense. 35 songs were about or to Jesus, whereas only 4 referred to God "the Father" and 6 to the Holy Spirit.
What was most intrigueing to me was not to see this as an indictment of the lack of broader content in these songs, or in the work of these composers. Many of these composers have written a broader range of songs... but these were the ones churches chose to sing more.
Lester Ruth suggested that these songs he studied can be a window into a particular sense of piety or spirituality that exists in American (mostly Protestant) churches.
One of the things I saw in this particular trend of Jesus-only songs (among a lot of other possible influences) were that perhaps these songs were used by the broadest spectrum of Christian churches because Christ is our primary commonality. Jesus is the unifying factor.
I agree with Ruth that when we who plan worship make choices about songs & prayers... words that we are putting in the mouths of our congregations to express their worship to God... we should be making wise and balanced choices that reflect a deep grounding in scripture and a the richness of formative Christian theology.
But I take it as a good thing that the one thing our churches are singing about the most is Jesus. We need to make efforts to make sure that this is the "real Jesus" we are singing about, not a watered-down or "gospel lite" Jesus. Not just a "Jesus is my boyfriend" Jesus. The real Jesus who really came, God incarnate, to love and heal and release and redeem... who really lived and died and rose again... who really is the embodiment of God with us.
As Michael Card said yesterday, "God is with us... Emmanuel either means everything or it means nothing."
May we always keep that Jesus, who has come and is already present in our midst, at the center of our lives, our churches, and our worship as the people of God.