A Little Contemporary Folk Music

(Posted by Paige just in time for present-wrapping marathons — and beyond, of course.)

In case you need a little lift, here’s a link to a free streaming of a newly released album by The New Empires, a group of friends who met at Covenant College and have created their own unique blend of sounds. Matt Brown, the clever and quirky lead singer and songwriter, is a son of our church (Faith Reformed PCA in Quarryville, PA) who currently works at Covenant.

Favorite lines:

Bristlecone pine
You were awake when God heard the laugh of Abraham’s wife
And in your youth you couldn’t see the humor of it all


Contemporary Classical Music

I think I have figured out why contemporary classical music doesn’t satisfy. There are several ways to create and resolve musical tension. There are rhythmical ways, harmonic ways, dynamic ways, timbrel ways, and more. However, of these various ways, the harmonic way is the most easily recognizable way. It works by creating harmonic tension and then relieving that tension. In much modern classical music, there is no harmonic resolution. Therefore you cannot tell when the musical plot has been resolved. Maybe you’ve noticed that when some of these pieces end, you don’t know when to clap. This is because many modern pieces have rejected the tonal system altogether. Without a tonal system, there is no such as resolution. Harmonic musical arcs proceed from tonal consonance to tonal dissonance, and then back to consonance for the resolution.

This idea can be applied to much modern novel-writing as well, especially the more stream-of-consciousness models. If there is no narrative arc from happiness to crisis to happiness, then readers will not be very happy. Of course, that will be the author’s intention in a tragedy, though even there, a resolution to the tension still takes place, just not the one we “want.”

Why do we love this narrative arc? I would suggest that it is because that is how we want history to flow, in its ultimate proportions. It is the narrative arc of the Bible (creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation). I think God put that arc in all of us, and that’s how we want the story to end.

Roundup Response

I don’t know whether this will be my last response or not, but I do want to thank Dr. Clark for his challenging and helpful posts. I am having a ball doing this, and I’m hoping he is, too. I’m learning a lot, and am being forced to think through many things about worship, which is always a plus. I plan on replying to both of his posts, so that we can sort of get back to one post, rather than potentially confusing 2-part responses. Part 1 of his reply is here.

The first part of his response has to do with the distinction between public and private worship. I must admit to being a tad confused here. I re-read my own post and was reassured to find that I hadn’t actually disagreed with that distinction. If I may ask, what was it in my post that gave rise to a feeling on Dr. Clark’s part that he needed to defend that distinction? Maybe some of the comments challenged that understanding. But I agree with his distinction, as long as it is understood that there is still at least some sort of organic connection between the two (a connection which does not require the same things of one worship as it does of the other). I do not see the same elements required in the one as in the other, and yet the covenantal context for both would suggest an organic connection. Moving on, then.

Regarding the question of consciences, specifically, the consciences of people who think that hymns are biblical, he writes:

The original Reformed understanding of Scripture and the original understanding of our confession was that God will have us praise him only with his Word. If that’s right, and no one has shown from Scripture or in principle that understanding was wrong, then that must be our goal.

Now, I can agree with this principle whole-heartedly, actually. The question is whether it is required that the Word be sung ipsissima verba only, or whether songs that summarize the teaching of the Word also sing the Word. I do not see in Scripture the principle that only the minister may summarize the Scripture and that the congregation is forbidden to do so. We both agree, of course, that worship must be biblical. However, I would ask what biblical warrant there is for saying that the congregation may not summarize in song, while the minister may summarize in prayers, preaching, etc. I am not convinced that this is simply an issue of distinguishing between the two offices. The question, it seems to me, revolves around what the content actually does.

Concerning biblicism, I would be the last person to accuse Dr. Clark of being, in general, biblicistic. I hesitated a long time before even using that word, given his rather vociferous objections to biblicism in other contexts. To focus the question a bit more, I would ask this: why are hymns that summarize biblical content not biblical? I suspect that he views this as his answer:

The response of God’s people to his Word in the setting of public worship is not primarily didactic (although it always has that function) but doxological and God’s Word is entirely sufficient for doxology.

To me, it is not clear why saying that the singing is doxological answers the question. For instance, there are many Psalms that are not doxological. There are many Scriptures that we might sing that are not (at least explicitly) doxological. For instance, Psalm 1 is most definitely a wisdom Psalm, is it not? Psalm 88 is hardly doxological, but is rather a lament. So, should all the congregational singing be classified as doxological? In order to do that, one has to broaden the category of doxology to include many things that are not typically regarded as doxology. How useful does the category become after that? Dr. Clark admits that the congregation’s involvement always has a didactic function, even though that is not primary. Admitting the various genres of biblical song, then, gets us to this point: if there is a didactic function (even though not primary), then why would summary be rejected? Didactic function always has an element of summary, does it not? If the singing of the congregation has any didactic function at all, then summary should be seen as part of that function.

As to my unintentional mis-characterization of his argument, I did not mean to imply in any way that our “wish” was determinative of worship. I was referring to the fact that God’s people desire to worship God in God’s way. God’s will is our command when it comes to worship. “What does God require in worship?” is certainly the essence of the question.

Moving on to his second post, he argues that my question regarding the metrical versions of Psalms and paraphrase overlooks the distinction between circumstances and elements. He argues that translation is a circumstance, and so, therefore, would meter be a circumstance. My response would be this: then why couldn’t the difference between ipsissima verba and summary be a circumstance? What biblical basis is there for relegating meter to circumstance and not summary or paraphrase? Again, I am assuming here that any hymn in question here is an accurate summary of Scripture. There are, of course, many hymns that are not accurate summaries of Scripture. These should never be considered for worship.

As to the next point concerning who chooses the music, I am not sure that we have gotten to the point here. My point in bringing up the fact that the pastor chooses the music is not to say that such an action confuses the two offices of minister and believer. My point is rather that if the minister chooses the music, then the office of the believer cannot be seen as the sole determining factor for the choice of music. The office of minister is also involved in the choosing of music. And if that is so, then it seems to me that summary is allowable, and Dr. Clark’s objections regarding the separation of office would not hold, since both offices are involved.

I found Dr. Clark’s discussion of creeds most interesting and revealing. He admits that he has been on both sides of this issue in the past (I’m not sure which side he is on now, though it seems like he agrees with Calvin on this). He regards creeds this way: “Calvin’s practice can be justified, however, insofar as the use of creeds by the congregation, in public worship, falls under the heading of “Word” (one of the two basic elements of worship).” Presumably, the singing of the congregation also falls under the same category of Word, does it not? So the question becomes this: if ecclesiastically sanctioned summaries of the Word in the Creeds are the Word, why not ecclesiastically sanctioned summaries of the Word in song?

As to liturgies, I agree that we should be ransacking the old Reformed liturgies of Geneva, Scotland, England, Holland, the Palatinate, and other places for their immense riches. I have been doing this recently, to my great profit and (I hope!) for the great profit of my congregations. They are wonderfully simple, aren’t they? And yet, they are the simplicity of majesty, not the simplicity of naïvete.

Response to Dr. Clark, Part 2

Just to be clear, this post is part 2 of my response to this post. Dr. Clark has already responded to my post of yesterday. So, to make sure that we don’t get hopelessly mixed up, I won’t respond to his most recent post until later.

So, to pick up where I left off yesterday, we will consider the two questions of paraphrase and office that Dr. Clark has raised. First off, paraphrase. On this question, I’m not getting the feeling that Dr. Clark actually answered my query. My query is this: are not metrical renditions of the Psalms themselves paraphrases? I have yet to see a Psalter that did not include a fair amount of paraphrase in order to make the rhyme and meter fit the strophic melody. The best poets/linguists in the world cannot directly translate the Psalms from Hebrew strophe (or Greek prose, for that matter, since Dr. Clark believes in singing the texts of Scripture, not just the Psalms) into rhyme and meter without some measure of paraphrase. Maybe we are operating under different ideas of what constitutes paraphrase. I would say that a paraphrase is any attempt to convey the meaning of the text in any kind of different words than the original, or than a word-for-word translation would do. By this definition, all Psalters are nothing but paraphrases, given the necessary constraints on rhyme and meter (not to mention the considerable editing that is often done!). If Psalters are paraphrases, and so is everything else that is Scripture set to strophic music, then what biblical basis is there for forbidding one further step, and allowing the whole counsel of God to be paraphrased, as many hymns attempt to do? Have we not already taken the necessary steps?

This leads us to the second question, that of office. To quote Dr. Clark directly, we have this:

The congregation is called to respond to God’s Word with God’s Word. Again, I address this in chapter 7 of RRC. The congregation exercises their priesthood in taking upon their lips God’s Word in praise, adoration, and worship not in taking over the function and nature of the ministerial office. So, it is one thing for the minister to paraphrase God’s Word in the discharge of his God-ordained office and quite another for the congregation to do the same.

Now, there are two issues with this argument. The first is that what the congregation sings is not usually chosen by the congregation from week to week. Usually the pastor chooses it. That kind of messes up the normal division of office as Dr. Clark formulates it (I agree with the distinction of office as he phrases it here, just not with the application of it). Furthermore, as has been noted in some of the comments, although the pastor prays, the congregation is supposed to pray along with him in such a way that his words become their words. The parallel with praying becomes a bit more obvious once we note that in both praying and singing, both the pastor and the congregation are fully involved. The only difference is that, in praying, the pastor is the only one actually vocalizing. So prayer is another place where the ipsissima verba of Scripture are not a limitation. As my brother-in-law Nels noted, many hymns are prayers set to music. These distinctions between categories then become a bit difficult to sustain, it seems to me.

Secondly, what about creeds? If the congregation may never say anything in worship that is not the ipsissima verba of Scripture, then they can never recite creeds. If it is argued that creeds are in a different category (or element of worship) than singing in terms of the content of what is said/sung, I would ask what biblical basis does that distinction have? Or, maybe Dr. Clark does not believe that creeds should be spoken by the congregation in the worship service. Of course, that could have problems, too, like cutting ourselves off from the church of history.

I’m Just Wondering

Scott Clark has argued that one of problems with the URC Psalter Hymnal that is coming out is a general resistance in the Reformed ethos to singing Scripture-only music in our churches. Singing Scripture only is a position that he advocates in his Recovering the Reformed Confessions. It must be clear here that Clark does not advocate Psalms-only singing, although he certainly loves the Psalms (as do I). He advocates that the only thing we should sing in worship is Scripture. His position is that the Regulative Principle requires this.

Now, this position has a very honorable pedigree in the Reformed tradition. It is not a position to be made fun of, or to dismiss cavalierly, as many are wont to do. I would certainly not wish to do so, even though it is not my position. Comments are closed on his blog, and so I thought I would write my question to him on mine. This question comes, it must be said, from a genuine curiosity, and not from any attempt at a “gotcha” argument. I do not remember Clark addressing this particular question in his book.

My question is this: we allow paraphrases and summaries of biblical doctrine in several places in the worship service. Usually, even the strictest advocate of the Regulative Principle believes this. Preaching inevitably involves this, as does prayer (at least, good prayer does!), and any reading of the confessional standards in the worship service. If we allow paraphrase of the text to occur in some places in the worship service, why not when notes are attached to the paraphrase? What biblical warrant do we have for placing good paraphrases of the Bible in hymns (and, of course, there are plenty of bad paraphrases in hymns which should never be used, but the bad does not in and of itself negate the good) in a different category from biblical paraphrases in prayer or preaching? If a service can have a made-up confession of sin, for instance, that paraphrases different biblical truths, why couldn’t that same confession be sung?

One other question I have arises from this quotation:

When our parent denomination was founded, one of the three principal concerns was that the older Dutch Reformed church in the USA (the RCA) had given up psalm-singing for hymnody. When the founders of the CRC came to North America they were shocked by such liberalism.

Now, no Reformed church should give up singing the Psalms. That is, after all, God’s own hymnbook given to us, and we should make regular and extensive use of it. However, is singing any hymns (even what I would call “good” hymns, which would be Scriptural in content with music that fits the words) a mark of liberalism? Clark, of course, is here talking about giving up Psalm-singing for hymns. I wonder if he would say the same for a congregation that sang Psalms, though not exclusively, but also sang hymns that paraphrase Scriptural truths well.

The Crisis of Word

I have started to read Carl F. H. Henry’s monumental 6-volume set entitled God, Revelation, and Authority. The first volume was written in 1976. For the most part, it feels like it was written yesterday. Henry had a remarkable feel for where culture was headed. Take some of these quotations as examples:

Few times in history has revealed religion been forced to contend with such serious problems of truth and word, and never in the past have the role of words and the nature of truth been as misty and undefined as now. Only if we recognize that the truth of truth-indeed, the meaning of meaning-is today in doubt, and that this uncertainty stifles the word as a carrier of God’s truth and moral judgment, do we fathom the depth of the present crisis…Such preference for the nonverbal is especially conspicuous among the younger generation who increasingly surmise that words are a cover-up rather than a revelation of truth. (vol 1, p. 24).

Neo-Protestant ecumenism, moreover, put its own premium on verbal ambiguity as being useful for promoting ecclesiastical unity. Such semantic juggling is not unlike the commercial practice of abusing sacred symbols for the sake of pushing sales (vol 1, p. 26).

Music and the arts become subjectively introverted and tend to lose significance as a realm of shared experience and communication…But the modern cult of nonverbal experience poses a challenge not only to revealed religion; it makes trivial the whole cultural inheritance of the Western world as well (vol 1, p. 26).

This Will Make You Smile

I would love to see this kid actually conduct a real orchestra. Maybe some orchestra will get off its high horse and let him. He’s a dead natural for this. 3-Year Old Conducting Natural

Jackie Evancho and Singing

This is a 10-year old girl with a rather amazing voice. It reminds me a lot of how Charlotte Church used to sing. But I can tell even now that she has some vocal problems. Her voice is way too heavy for someone that age. And singing “O Mio Babbino Caro” at age 10 is not what I would recommend either. She needs to slow down. She definitely has the raw materials to be a good opera singer, maybe even great, but she needs to go quite a bit slower than what she’s doing right now. She needs to concentrate on a natural unforced sound production, and she needs to sing a very light and carefully guarded repertoire. The twenty-four Italian songs and arias would be a good place to start, as well as some of the lighter Mozart songs. Folk songs would also be very good for her. But if they try to push her into operatic roles that are too heavy for her, then she will go the same way as Charlotte Church, with a ruined voice. It will be to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. That would be too bad, since she has so much enthusiasm, and she can very much engage the audience.

Some Music I’ve Been Writing

My brother in law Nels Nelson helped me record some pieces that I have written for my nieces’ graduation present. So far I have five written. Here are some links to the You Tube videos.






“Wer Singt Mit Mir”

Posted by Dr. Jeff Hutchinson

Church historian Mark Noll writes in his recent article for Christianity Today, “Praise the Lord” (found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/006/9.14.html):

An old German proverb runs: “Wer spricht mit mir ist mein Mitmensch; wer singt mit mir ist mein Bruder” (the one who speaks with me is my fellow human; the one who sings with me is my brother)….Believers who together sang the same hymns in the same way came to experience very strong ties with each other and even stronger rooting in Christianity….(But) as much as hymn singing has always been one of the most effective builders of Christian community, it has also always been one of the strongest dividers of Christian communities.

The one who sings with me is my brother.  Now, this is just a German proverb (not to be confused with the divinely inspired sort), but it does speak to a deep truth.  The one who is troubled by the hymns that sing of the gospel is, well, troubled.

One of Bob’s recent posts here at Green Bagginses reminded me of these unfortunate words from the Anglican scholar N. T. Wright, part of his lecture at the August 2003 Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference.  Wright says that Paul “looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God’s favourable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because like Lord Hailsham he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work.  ‘What is our hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ as his royal appearing?  Is it not you?  For you are our glory and our joy.’ (1 Thess. 3.19f [sic]; cp. Phil. 2.15f)  I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a quick rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.’ “

Well, I’m not sure that if N. T. Wright were to “say such a thing” in conversation with me that I would bring a “quick rebuke,” but I might see if he’d let me encourage him in the gospel.  Then maybe he would want to sing “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” with me, in praise and thanksgiving to the Triune God.  My great-grandfather (the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the 1920’s) would be thrilled to see such brotherly unity across the Anglican-Presbyterian divide.

Posted by Jeff Hutchinson

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