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Friday, August 6, 2010

When the Latest and Greatest Isn’t

I overheard a conversation with a youth leader not long ago who was deriding a popular praise song, not because of its lyrics or melody, but simply because it was from “last year.” It reminded me of what C. S. Lewis called, “chronological snobbery,” that is, regarding only those things that were considered “new,” or the “latest” as having value and anything else as “passe,” or no longer of any value. [If you want to read more on this, it’s found in chapter 13 of Surprised by Joy.] There exists a danger of this very attitude among those that lead worship for congregations, though it sometimes comes under other guises. The boast is that they only use the “latest and the greatest,” and only songs off the latest recordings and only from the “best groups.” This attempt at relevance maybe sincere or may even be a point of pride, but regardless, such attitudes reflect a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. This is precisely where Lewis’ comment is so appropriate.

There is nothing wrong with a desire to be relevant, however blind obligation to view only the new as valuable has some serious weaknesses which I would like to mention. I would not say that the list is exhaustive, but is at least a start, and I welcome others to add as they see fit.
It ignores the fact that truth is eternal. Truth is part of the very nature of an unchanging God, and those the expressions of that truth may change, the veracity of its nature does not.
It ignores historical perspective. God had commanded Moses to teach the history of the great acts of God from generation to generation, “so that when your son asks you, ‘why do we hold the Passover?'" they would have the opportunity of sharing what God had done and provide the basis for believing in the future. In the same way, the Lord’s Supper is that reminder of the saving work of Christ, a celebration so that we not forget: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” To emphasize only the new seems to minimize truths that might be handed down generation after generation.
It lacks the tests of time to validate its worth and usefulness. There are songs that are from generations past that continue to minister to countless across generational lines. By granting value to a song based on its publication relegates the theological filter to a calendar more than on the teaching of Scripture.
It reinforces an attitude that worship is “all about me,” when driven by personal preference for only the newest. This is ever present when the basis for what we use in worship is driven by personal preference more than on the message.
It sets itself for designed obsolescence, for built into the very nature of the attitude is that good is measured more by a clock that is ticking.
Is there proof that what was done before is no longer true? This was one of Lewis' own arguments to the issue.

When the psalmist wrote “sing to the Lord a new song,” he was not saying, “sing to the Lord, only a new song.” That “new song” was a encouragement to seek new ways to declare the infinite nature and character of God. We need to be like that the scribe that Jesus described as one who heard Christ’s words and accepted them, and so was getting treasures, both “new and old.” An active appreciation of the past is not an attempt to forget relevance, but better understand who we are. If we cannot see where we have been, we will not be able to see where we are going. It is not a matter of “either / or,” but “both / and.” Let’s move past any boasting, any of this “chronological snobbery,” and continue to seek the best new declarations of God’s nature and character and at the same time retain the insights and understanding of the past.


  1. Worship that focuses on only the latest worship songs is incomplete and disobedient. A worship service that utilizes only the most recent praise songs can be equated to a bible study that uses on the New Testament. Everything that came about from the New Testament originated from the Old Testament. Genealogies were given in detail just to show the family line tracing from the beginning all the way to Jesus. Likewise, the praise songs of today can be traced back to the psalms and hymns of old. I believe that church should strive to have multigenerational worship. Though, this can be quite a challenge for churches with a wide range of ages and interests (especially in music). There is too much to learn the psalms and hymns of old to never use them in worship. Lastly, as believers our worship should be an act of obedience to God with following his Word. His Word says that we are to embrace each other in unified complete worship (1 Corinthians 12). His Word also says that we are to let the word of Christ richly dwell in us, with ALL wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual song, singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). The key is for the church to be mission-minded for complete and unified worship, and to do it with thanksgiving in our hearts.

  2. I had always just assumed that limiting oneself to only new music is just ignorance. I never really put it into context before, but it seems like there's a decent helping of selfishness in the mix as well. It seems similar to what is happening in politics today: voting liberal or conservative simply for the sake that it's "liberal" or "conservative" and not really understanding who the candidate is. It comes down to blindly following what we are told to follow (i.e. "This music is brand new, therefore it must be good"). This creates a culture where singing "old" music is "not cool" and therefore worthless. It really does come down to ignorance, and I don't believe that the church as a whole is really helping (i.e. lots of youth ministers like the one mentioned above).