Somehow, I doubt whether T. David Gordon's new book, Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns, will change anyone's mind on matters pertaining to what evangelicals call "worship wars," but it does offer, I think, a fresh new argument. According to an article in Christianity Today--and an interview with Gordon himself--the argument is based on what he calls "media ecology," which is "the social and individual human consequences when a new medium is introduced to a culture."
The argument goes like this: when people who've sung only psalms in worship, for as long as anyone can remember, are surrounded and even bombarded with another music genre, all the time, the "ecology" changes as the environment does. If that assertion seems stretched, simply assess for yourself contemporary worship these days. CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) has probably done as much to rid evangelical-dom of denominationalism as any other force. It's caused wars and engendered peace ;and, in many ways, it's become the norm, the way we live.
A preacher told me just last week that a college student came to him not long ago and generously offered his services as a guitar player because he simply assumed the reason the preacher's congregation still used an organ was that they simply couldn't raise the talent for a good praise band. "No," the pastor told him, "we actually prefer the pipe organ." The kid was shocked and mystified.
Prof. Gordon, who teaches at Grove City College, says the immense transformation that has taken place could not be explained on theological or aesthetic grounds, so he started asking himself "why people feel this emotional distance from hymns that was not felt by generations before."
Gordon argues that the shift has occured because of pop music is, simply, everywhere. If the only music people ever heard was "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," he argues, we'd have no idea anything else was even available--which is roughly the equivalent notion of the college student with the handy guitar, a kid who was stunned to hear some people actually prefer a pipe organ.
Technology and the internet has made our world incredibly democratic (small d). Look, almost anyone can publish books or burn CDs these days. Video technology is getting cheaper and cheaper, and even third-graders know how to edit. Just about every municipality in the country has a film festival because millions of kids with incredibly cheap HD cameras are making their own movies. It would take some time, but you could--with enough energy and some capital--create your own DrudgeReport without ever leaving the security of your own desk chair, as long as you have internet access.
There is immense individual power in the democratization of media. With blu-ray, you can watch what you want, when you want; not that long ago, just three networks controlled everything any of us watched on a given night. Now, choice is totally individual and virtually limitless.
All of that is terrific.
But gone, or on the way out, are gate-keepers--the disk jockeys at local radio stations; the editors whose appraisals used to count, the in-depth reporters--the people who used to choose for us. Today, in every last media area, we do the choosing. Will it be MSNBC or FOX News? Walter Cronkite is dead.
Like I said, I honestly doubt whether Prof. T. David Gordon's Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns will alter anyone's musical tastes, but what he's saying strikes me as an interesting and relevant argument, not simply about why we love the music we do, but also because of what's happened all around us, the really significant revolution taking place in what we call, not incorrectly, the Information Age.
It's a brave new world.