Lost Boys Need Marriage, a Trade, and Worship


Samuel James, working with research from Erik Hurst, gives a bleak picture of manhood in the 21st century in his article on America’s Lost BoysThe article is worth your time.

Young men, significantly more so than young women, are stuck in life. Research released in May from the Pew Center documented a historic demographic shift: American men aged 18-30 are now statistically more likely to be living with their parents than with a romantic partner. This trend is significant, for one simple reason: Twenty- and thirtysomething men who are living at home, working part-time or not at all, are unlikely to be preparing for marriage. Hurst’s research says that these men are single, unoccupied, and fine with that—because their happiness doesn’t depend on whether they are growing up and living life.

Several thoughts occurred to me as I read the article.

First, there are numerous reasons why we are in the predicament this article describes. But one of the key reasons is sex divorced from marriage and procreation. We need to return to marriage as a public good and something to be desired and children as one of the goals of marriage. Churches and politicians need to teach and model the glory of marriage, not as a idol that will provide you with personal fulfillment, but as a way to create a productive family unit that will benefit the home, the church, and society at large. There are few things as dangerous, exciting, and ultimately productive as starting a family.  Of course, this is hard when Dad has been divorced twice and his children are scattered all over. But here is where the gospel comes in. Christ restores, heals, and strengthens relationships. In world filled with lies and cheap substitutes, the church must lead in helping young people who have lost faith that marriage can be done well and be good to understand and see the good in getting married, having sex with one woman for your whole life, raising kids, and showing up at work every day.

Second, we need to get young men involved in the trades.  We have been taught a four year degree or more is the goal for all men. Thus many men who do not finish college or high school believe they are failures. If success looks like four years in a lecture hall followed by low job prospects and tens of thousands in debt many young men decide to forego college all together. They used have an honorable option: get a good trade skill and serve your fellow man. But now they are viewed as failures by our society. When is the last time a politician pushed the trades to a high school audience? They push college. That is a shame.

 “Hurst says that his research indicates that young men with less than a four-year degree (according to virtually all data, that’s an increasing number) are spending their days unemployed and unmarried, but not un-amused.”

More young men need to be taught to fix cars, weld, build houses, plumb, fix electrical, and drive trucks. They should be given a trade-school education and be taught that this is not a step down from the really important work such as law, engineering, and medicine. It is really important work because it serves your fellow man. Part of this goes back to my first point. If the goal of our vocation is to make money, have a certain reputation, and be self-fulfilled then fixing cars would be down the list of desirable vocations. But if the goal of work is to serve others and provide for a wife and children then trade-school vocations should be just a popular as four year degrees. They often earn more, they earn more quicker, and those who learn trades usually come out of school with less debt.

Finally, the last paragraph has this sentence in it,

“Rather than try to attract these millennials by reshaping faith in the image of entertainment, we as Christians should offer a gospel that saves not only from hell but also from meaninglessness.”

James is talking about our faith in general, but my mind went directly to worship. Do we try to reshape worship in the image of our entertainment driven culture? Is our worship baptized pop-culture? And just as important does church life and the worship promote passivity? Do we call the worshiper to engage their heart, mind, and body or do we allow them to spectate? Does the fellowship in our churches allow members to drift in on Sunday and leave one hour later with little commitment, little push to serve?  All Christians suffer when our worship reflects the world instead of the Lord’s priorities. But men especially suffer in our current worship environment that is driven by emotionalism, theologically shallow, low commitment (just like porn), and often led by men who act like women.  Does our worship feed the adolescent fantasy described by James or does it offer an alternative?

Boys are lost in this world. Truth be told most men are as well. The good news is that the Scriptures, creation order, and our fathers in the past provide a way forward. It will not be easy. The devastation of the sexual revolution and the abdication or abuse of so many biological fathers, church fathers, and political fathers has left a parched landscape with little sign of water. But our job is not to count the obstacles, but to do the job. We must help these boys find their way again.

Can Pop Culture Transmit the Great Truths of Christianity?

Worship Band

Here are three consecutive paragraphs from T. David Gordon’s book, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns. 

The Christian religion is old, like it or not. It is not a new thing: it is two thousand years old in its current form, and its roots in the religion of Abraham and Moses go back almost another two thousand years. And it will continue to be here until history concludes at the return of Christ. Christianity is not monogenerational, nor is it monocultural; it transcends generations and particular cultures as a global religion. Similarly, it is communal, not individual. We once confessed belief in “the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints,” but this would require acknowledging the existence of a many-generational communion of followers of Christ. As our athletes remind us: “There is no in team.”

Surely Christianity is transcendent, not immanent. It teaches us, if anything, that there is Something, indeed Someone, beyond us, and beyond your entire universe. It functions to draw us out of self-love to love for neighbor and for God. It is most certainly not “all about you.” And Christianity is not accessible, in the ordinary sense of the word. It does not exist for our amusement or entertainment; it challenges us to forsake a broad way and embrace a narrow one; it calls us to repent of and forsake our current values and habits; it demands that we take up a cross and bear it daily. it surely is not trivial; there is nothing trite or insignificant about part of the Godhead’s becoming incarnate to die for sinners. None of this stern, transcendent seriousness is consistent with the values of pop culture. The sensibilities of pop culture and those of Christianity are almost entirely opposed to each other, and when we attempt to force Christianity into the constraints of an individual affirming, consumerist, monogenerational, immanentistic genre, it simply won’t fit. Inevitably, the content is shaped by the form into which it is put, and the message becomes a casual, consumerist “Hey what do you think about this?” rather than a call to “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

In fact, for those who promote contemporary worship music, there tends to be an impatience even with this present discussion, because for them, “Hey why fight about something like this–it’s only music, after all”…But such an attitude is precisely that of the dehumanized, trivial, ironic posture of our pop culture: nothing is really serious, nothing is really significant. Everything is just a consumerist choice: I like my choice, and you like yours.

Six Criteria for Judging Worship Music

Hymn PageIn his book, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, Dr. T. David Gordon laments how much modern worship music is not scrutinized by any fixed standard. One of the key points in his book is worship music, both lyrics and the music, is not a matter of taste or indifference. We are worshiping the living God. What we sing and how we sing it matter. Here is his list of six criteria for judging worship. He notes that you could add more. The criteria are his while the comments are mine.

  1. Theologically orthodox lyrics-This is the one almost everyone agrees with. The lyrics must be orthodox. But theology is not always simple, especially when talking about things like the Trinity, Christ’s incarnation, the atonement, etc. It is not as hard to be heretical or at least unclear as one might think.
  2. Theologically significant lyrics-The lyrics should not be childish or banal. A truth is true no matter what. But there is a sharp difference between Jesus Loves Me and O Sacred Head Now Wounded or O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High. Do the lyrics reflect the majesty and grandeur of God and his works of creation, providence, and redemption?
  3. Literarily apt and thoughtful lyrics-Hymns should be good poetry. They should read well, not just sing well. There should be a depth to them that can sustain extended thought, but also a simplicity that does not make them too difficult to understand. Is this hard to do? Yes. That is why we need theologically trained music pastors.
  4. Lyrics and music appropriate to a meeting between God and his visible people-One burden of Gordon’s book is to convince a culture that has lost any sense of a special time and place that worship is a unique event in the life of God’s people and should be treated as such. Worship music should not be like music you listen to in the car or work out to or dance to. Why? Worship is none of those things. Worship is where God’s people come before their Lord to sing his praises, learn who he is, what they are to do, and pass on the teachings of Scripture from generation to generation. Does our music reflect this?
  5. Well written music with regard to melody, harmony, rhythm, and form-Dr. Gordon does not spend a lot of time on this. But I think he would say that the music needs to be singable by God’s people. Many praise choruses began as songs written for a solo artist or a band, not for a large group of people of all ages and voices. He encourages modern worship  musicians to write more choral pieces or pieces intended for numerous voice ranges. This will help them write better pieces for corporate worship.
  6. Musical setting appropriate to the lyrical content-In other words, if the lyrics have a lamenting tone so should the music. If the lyrics are joyful then the music should be. If the lyrics are pensive, then the music should be pensive. This also implies that lyrics should be varied as to tone, length, and content.

I believe there are two key ways we can help worship songs begin meeting the above criteria.

First, we need theologically sound, musically trained, and pastorally wise music pastors. We don’t need anyone with a burning love for Jesus, a good voice, and the ability to play guitar to write and lead songs. We certainly don’t need more youth ministers or older guys who act like youth ministers writing songs. We need men trained to shepherd God’s people in this area. Dr. Gordon says, “Few things influence our Christian life more than how we sing praise to God.” Why would we leave this monumental task to those not trained in theology, church history, music, and pastoral ministry?

Second, anyone who is going to write music for God’s people must know the Psalms backwards and forwards. The Psalms provide us with lyrics that are deep, beautiful, and varied. Those desiring to write worship songs need to have the Psalms and the others songs in Scripture in their bones. Without this biblical foundation our worship music will be impotent and transitory, which is exactly the opposite of what the worship of the Triune God should be.

We Need Theologians Devoted to Worship Music

Martin Luther 4

In a previous blog post I listed Dr. T. David Gordon’s musical preferences for worship. He listed these in an article title “Coral Ridge Reply.”  Below I have quoted the final paragraph in that article.  Dr. Gordon lists three harmful effects that come from the assertion that worship music preferences are trivial.  Bold is mine.

 I am very disappointed, however, to hear that Coral Ridge regards music, and the various preferences associated with it, as “trivial.”  To regard it as such will inevitably have three effects, each harmful:  First, it will continue to marginalize those of us who regard music (and the sociology of music) as an extremely significant humane consideration.  We have apparently wasted our time attempting to develop informed preferences, since all such preferences are, apparently, “trivial.”  Second, this will continue to embolden those who have not studied music, music history, aesthetic theory, theology, etc., because their uninformed preference is, apparently, to be regarded as neither more nor less “trivial” than the preference of those of us who are informed.  Third, this determination will continue to foster some degree of division because Pastor Tchividjian assumes, as a given, one answer to the very question that needs to be resolved, to wit:  Is the matter of how we sing praise to God in corporate worship a serious matter, worthy of the attention of our best theologians (Luther and Calvin wrote about the matter, and Luther and Charles Wesley wrote about hymnody and hymns themselves), or is it merely a “trivial” matter, about which we should not really have any firm opinions?  Pastor Tchividjian’s post begs the very question that needs an answer.

I want to make one point about Dr. Gordon’s list. The church needs men, pastors and teachers, who are trained in theology, Bible, pastoral care, church history, and music. Too much of modern church music is rooted in the romantic and sentimental idea that love for God, the ability to play an instrument and/0r sing make one fit to produce church music. Like most evangelicals, church musicians are weak on theology, church history, and Bible. Thus much modern church music is empty. It is telling that the best worship music today is either putting the Psalms to new tunes or taking old hymns and putting them to new tunes. The original stuff is not that great. The worship of God demands our best theologians, professors, and pastors to carefully think through worship music and build on our fathers in the faith so that moving forward we can have music that ministers to God’s people, present and future, resists the current cultural trends, and is pleasing to the Lord. Without this our generation will contribute very little to the church’s musical heritage.

Dr. T. David Gordon on Musical Preferences

Church Organ

Dr. Gordon is best known for writing two books: Why Johnny Can’t Preach and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns. Apparently he has written some other stuff too, which can be found at this rather archaic website.  While the website is not very modern, the articles have been helpful as I continue to look at worship music. In an article titled “Coral Ridge Reply” Dr. Gordon explains why musical preferences in worship are not trivial. He is responding to the ex-pastor of Coral Ridge Tullian Tchividjian when he said it was wrong “when we separate people according to something as trivial as musical preferences…”  In this article Dr. Gordon lists his musical preferences, which I found rather interesting.

I prefer theologically orthodox lyrics to those that are heterodox.

I prefer theologically significant lyrics to those that are theologically insignificant, even if true (e.g. hymns that touch upon the significant moments in the humiliation or exaltation of Christ are preferred to hymns that ambiguously refer to God’s “salvation” or “grace,” amazing or otherwise).

I prefer in corporate worship lyrics that celebrate the objective work of redemption to those that recount our/my subjective experience of redemption (e.g. I prefer “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out” to “the hour I first believed” or even a “sweet hour of prayer”).

I prefer literarily apt and thoughtful lyrics to those that are not (the language should correspond more to the imaginative language of poetry than to the clinical language of a textbook; “Crown him with many crowns” is preferable to “I affirm his sovereignty”).

I prefer lyrics and music appropriate to a meeting between God and His visible people to lyrics and music that are common to run-of-the-mill meetings with other humans that we experience every day.

I prefer music that makes it easier for the congregation to participate (e.g. the key signature should keep everything at an e-flat or lower) to music that makes it more difficult for the congregation to participate (such as printing lyrics but not the musical score).

I prefer well-written music with regard to melody, harmony, rhythm, and form to music that is less well-written with regard to the same considerations (e.g., formally, music should resolve; we shouldn’t repeat the last stanza several times simply because it doesn’t resolve and we don’t know what to do with it, as with Sandra McCracken’s musical setting to “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”).

I prefer that the musical setting be appropriate to the lyrical content (e.g. that celebratory lyrics be accompanied by celebratory musical settings; that contrite or pensive lyrics be accompanied by pensive musical settings).

He is closing paragraph of this section of the article.

Each of these preferences is debatable; each could be challenged, and I am perfectly willing to entertain a discussion of why each or all is wrong-headed or mistaken.  But not one of these preferences is a consumerist preference, and not one of them is a merely personal preference.  I do not own any CDs with traditional hymns on them; and I do not listen to traditional hymns in my leisure time, so I am not saying that I “prefer” the church’s liturgical choices to be dictated by (or even informed by) my consumerist choices.

Tullian was essentially saying, “One man likes country, one likes hip-hop, one likes hymns, and one likes choruses. Let’s not divide the church over trivial musical preferences that arise from our individual likes and dislikes.”

Dr. Gordon does not agree. His preferences do not arise from what music he likes or doesn’t like. He is not for hymns because he likes to listen to hymns throughout the week and this his is preference as a consumer. He does not go to church to sing what he likes. He goes to church to sing church songs. And his study has led him to determine that there are certain songs and music fit for worship and certain ones that are not. He is willing to argue about what criteria should be used to judge whether a song is fit for worship or not. But such criteria must exist. He is unwilling to concede that worship music should be left up to the consumerist preferences of the pastor, congregation, or worship team.