Notice that I have rephrased the question from last week. Thanks to my friend, Dustin, I stepped back to the point where I wanted to be with this inquiry; that is, I wanted to assess the status of Christian music in churches, not just contemporary music. The previous question could be misunderstood and biased toward one position.
So it is either ask two questions or rephrase the original. Is there a gap in contemporary Christian music? This is relative to whether contemporary music can express lament and sorrow as part of the full range of Christian faith and experience. The corresponding question also needs to be asked: Is there a gap in traditional music? This is relative to whether traditional hymnody can express the joyousness of the Christian faith.
So we can look at the question from two perspectives: availability and use. Note that I will mention songs/hymns by title because some people may be unfamiliar with them. While some might want to question my choices, keep in mind that these are for illustrative purposes only.
1. Is there a gap in Christian music — availability?
By this question the focus is on the fact of music actually available. Yes, there are contemporary Christian writers who have provided solid lyrics and music to cover the gamut of Christian experience. As Dustin noted,
Lament has been a part of CCM for nearly 20 years, from Twila Paris, to Chris Tomlin, to Casting Crowns to John Michael Talbot and Michael Card. Each has had multiple albus with lament as a major key. Card has three and two books — one of them A Sacred Sorrow is mandatory reading in both my pastoral care and my worship classes. Even Michael W Smith has addressed it — very publicly. Even some of Keith Green and Larry Norman’s songs in the 70’s and 80’s were lament.
So, we find the rendition of Psalm 51, “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” and Psalm 119, “Thy Word.”
For traditional music, one of the hallmarks is its wealth of songs/hymns expressing the lament. “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091-1153, and Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676) comes to mind, as does“Lord Jesus, Think of Me” (Synesius of Cyrene, c. 370-414).
What strikes me in the above paragraphs is that the Church throughout the ages has benefited by those who could express such sorrow, yet hope in the midst of disaster. It is not a traditional or contemporary issue, it is a Christian issue because it is the Christian faith experienced in the lives of those confessing the faith.
The corresponding question is whether there are gaps in expressing the joy of the faith. For contemporary music, this seems to be the major emphasis. Some great songs of joy have been written the past 30 years; consider: “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise” (Heb. 13:15) “Blow the Trumpet in Zion,” etc. Obviously some of the great hymns do exactly that as well: “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” (Latin carol from 14th century, and one stanza by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788) and “Now Thank We All Our God.”
One positive development is the merging of the two groups, lyrics from a traditional hymn have been put to different melodies with contemporary focus and instruments. Likewise, traditional hymns have been the basis for new lyrics. Another area not mentioned is the Messianic music that combines traditional and contemporary elements in a unique blend.
So, we find that there are indeed a wide variety of songs and styles for both contemporary and traditional worship. The second question addresses the more practical issue. Do churches, pastors, worship leaders actually provide that range of musical expressions?