Rhythms of Grace – A Review

My dad suggested that I read a new book by Mike Cosper titled ‘Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel.’ My basic summary of it is that I loved it! The book starts off with a theology of music throughout the Bible. Mike starts off by saying, “The story of worship (like the story of the gospel) is all about God.” Mike traces worship from creation in the garden of Eden through Israel in the wilderness to Jesus.

Mike then goes on to explain the premise of his book, something he calls “Worship One, Two Three” That is: “one object and author, two contexts, and three audiences.” Obviously, the one object is God, the two contexts are scattered and gathered. “Worship scattered is the Spirit-filled life of the Christian in the world, and worship gathered is the meeting of God’s people to remember, encourage and bless each other. And finally, there are three audiences: God, the church and the world.

One of my favorite chapters was chapter 6, ‘Worship as Spiritual Formation.’ I have tried to emphasize this through my ministry, all worship, even singing, is spiritual formation. In this chapter Mike writes “Whoever dubbed the debate over musical style a “worship war” failed to realize that worship is always a war. The declaration that there is one God, that his name is Jesus, and that he has died, has risen and will come again is an all-out assault on the saviors extended at every level of culture around us.” We are always at war with our flesh as we attempt to submit ourselves to the will of God in our lives. This even ties in to music as we won’t always sing songs that every person in the congregation enjoys, but the two main points of our Sunday morning singing are to encourage one another and to give praise to the only God who is worthy of that praise. Mike goes on in chapter 9 titled, “Sing, Sing Sing,” to talk about some of the issues that we deal with in music. He says a couple things that get to the very heart of the matter. “We love what we love, and we think everyone who disagrees with us is ignorant.” This is so true, and something I feel when driving every day. If someone drives faster than me I assume they’re a maniac, and if they drive slower than me I assume they’re a grandpa. But then he goes on to say, “Today, when many worship services are reduced to preaching and music, it becomes very easy to equate music with worship-and that’s a dangerous slope to park your car on. If music is worship, then when you mess with someone’s musical preferences, you threaten their acces to God. No wonder the debates become so heated.” Finally, Mike says, “Worship is a broader thing than music, and music’s purpose in the church is bigger than my personal experience. It’s not merely my song, but our song. We sing together, uniting our voices and our words.” Amen!

I really appreciate Mike’s approach throughout the book as he continually brings the reader back to Scripture and to the history of the church. So often people live with, as C.S. Lewis called it, “chronological snobbery” where we think we know better than any other generation before us. It’s helpful to have a historical perspective in our theology in regard to our whole worship service. And his use of Scripture clearly permeates his whole being as everything comes back to the Word. I would encourage anyone in the church, both pastors and lay people who want to know how they can better use music in their church and worship of God.

Zion – Hillsong United

One of the things about being a musician and leading the worship through music at a church is that many of the songs start to sound the same. There was a funny video put on youtube that is incredible true: How to Write a Worship Song in 5 Minutes or Less. All it takes is 4 chords and some popular “catch phrases” that people like to sing. Is this enough? As I’ve said before, I’m tired of Christians writing bad music, and the popular worship music that has been written recently has all started to sound the same. Yes, the words are good and I think many of the songs are very good songs, but I’ve been hoping and waiting for a little innovation. Enter: Hillsong United with their new CD Zion. This is the exact kind of worship CD I’ve been wanting to write!

I was first introduced to Hillsong United after my senior year of high school with the song “Mighty to Save” which I still do regularly at my church. I think Hillsong has tended to be on the front lines of worship music. We’ve gotten used to the music at church being: an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, piano, keyboard, bass, drums and a couple singers. I think Hillsong is starting to push back to that a little on this album. Someone on my facebook commented that it sounds like a mix of Passion Pit and Mumford & Sons. The Passion Pit comparison I can see, but not so much the Mumford & Sons one (side note: for a good Mumford & Sons comparison, listen to Rend Collective Experiment, another one of my recent favorite worship bands). Sure the guitars and pianos and drums are still there, but the main focus musically has been shifted to the electronics, which I think is a good change. In my first listening, my favorite songs are: Relentless, Oceans, Scandal of Grace, and Mercy Mercy. This CD is a must buy for those who are tired of hearing the same songs used for worship. Get the Deluxe Version too-the remixes are fun to listen to.

“Christian” Music

I so often struggle with “Christian” music. I grew up at a time where “good” Christians only listened to music by Christians, and one of the first CDs I ever got was ‘Jesus Freak’ by DC Talk. I still really enjoy that CD, and still regularly hear the title track on the radio…it came out in 1995. If I listen to non Christian radio I’ll hear the top tracks from today, yet the “most current” Christian radio station still plays songs from when I was 7. If that’s the best Christian music has to offer, we’re doing something wrong.

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that everything we do should be done to God’s glory, which means we should do the best we can for him. I think this applies to music as well! Christians should be on the forefront of musical trends and setting the example for others for how to do music well! Yet too often I see Christians copying whatever the latest trend is (Eminem gets popular, and we get KJ-52, Black Eyed Peas get big and we get Group 1 Crew). Granted, there are some people, like Lecrae, who are on the forefront of their musical genre and using it as an opportunity to spread hope, but overall we seem to be stuck in a rut musically.

This isn’t something I have a quick and easy fix for how we can get better music, and I’m still working through all the ramifications of this as well. But my overall sense is that Christians are greatly failing in so many areas to do things to the best of their ability. I’m honestly tired of the charts that compare “secular” artists to “Christian” artists – if the music is good, listen to it and use it as an opportunity to talk about different worldviews.

Worship Through Music

I was given the opportunity to preach this past week and began a series on worship, looking specifically at worship through music. My main text was Ephesians 5:19-21 and ended with this point:

“This leads us to the final point from this Ephesians 5 passage “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” Brothers and sisters this continues to be one of the biggest issues in our church today. That first word, submit is something that is not attractive to our generation at all! Everyone wants to be in control of everything they do instead of being accountable to someone. We have convinced ourselves that we can be our own little gods who sit on our own little thrones and control our own destiny. Yet reading through Job we see just how small and insignificant we truly are. We come to church, not to encourage or support each other, but to get what we can from the church. We just looked at why we come together to sing corporate songs of worship together, it’s not for our sake, it’s for God’s sake!

One of the most disheartening things for me about where we are now is that before we sing every song I can look out at you and know who’s going to refuse to sing this specific song because it’s not one you like. Once again, I hate to be the bad guy, but it’s not about you. This is the very reason we had the “worship wars” during the past couple decades, too many have refused to submit to one another and have chosen instead to focus on themselves, their wants and their desires. Believe it or not there’s even some songs we do that I don’t like at all! Wait, you might say, you get to pick the songs. That’s exactly my point! Would you like it if every time we sang a song that I don’t really like I put down my guitar and refused to sing? Besides not keeping my job here very long, that would take the focus off of God and onto myself.”

You can listen to the message in its entirety here.