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Enjoying God Blog


I want to say a few words about what is happening in the evangelical world of the present day with regard to worship. I once thought that the so-called “worship wars” ended around the turn of the century, but I was wrong. They continue to rage. Hardly a day passes that I don’t read of a denunciation of contemporary worship music and, in particular, the way in which so many more recently composed songs awaken, elevate, and intensify the affections of believers.

Supposedly, studies have been conducted that reveal the way in which certain chord structures and progressions exert an influence on the emotional mindset or experience of the Christian. Critics of contemporary music have jumped on this and concluded that such songs are dangerously manipulative and serve only to heighten spiritual feelings or affections. They are responsible, so we are told, for the spiritual euphoria that many in charismatic churches experience during the course of a corporate worship gathering. These songs should therefore be avoided. It would appear, on this view, that the primary (if not sole) purpose of all worship music is to inform the mind of the many reasons why God is worthy of our devotion.

If such be the case, one wonders why God has ordained that we sing our praises instead of merely reciting them. What purpose is there in music, if not to awaken and arouse and intensify those affections of the heart by which we experience ever-intensifying love, joy, peace, hope, godly fear, satisfaction, and zeal, just to mention a few?

No one has helped me more in understanding this than Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), who insisted, rightly so in my opinion, that “there never is any case whatsoever, any lively and vigorous exercise of the will or inclination of the soul, without some effect upon the body, in some alteration of the motion of its fluids, and especially of the animal spirits” (Religious Affections, Yale, 98). This language is probably unfamiliar to many, so a brief word of explanation is in order.

Edwards argued that because of the union between the soul and the body, that is, between the immaterial and material dimensions of how God made us, any substantial movement in the former will find a corresponding expression in the latter. In other words, when the Christian is awakened in his mind to the glory and beauty of God and all that he has done for us in Christ, there will necessarily be some alteration in the experience of the affections and in the body. In fact, in the absence of these affections there can be no true spirituality. Affections such as love, fervency, heartfelt joy, peace, godly fear, hatred of sin, sorrow, hope, passionate desire, spiritual thirsting, gratitude, compassion, and zeal are the unavoidable fruit of the mind being enlightened and informed regarding the great things of God and his work for our salvation in Christ Jesus.

The point Edwards is making is that these are not fleeting, insubstantial or dangerous emotions unrelated to our relationship with God. They are the very essence of what he calls “true religion.” They are the desired fruit of the multiple truths that the Spirit has enlightened the mind to grasp. And how, you ask, does this relate to worship? Edwards answers:

“And the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections” (115).

Note carefully what Edwards is saying. We sing our praises in worship precisely to “excite and express religious affections.” Edwards isn’t saying that any and all affections or heightened emotions are necessarily good and godly. Only those that are awakened and stirred by the mind’s apprehension of the truth are to be embraced. Neither he nor I would ever endorse affections or feelings or emotions stirred up as an end in themselves, wholly unrelated to revealed biblical truth. It is the latter, and only the latter, that serve to kindle the fire of godly and Christ-exalting feelings and elevated affections.

It is certainly possible for a “worship” service to be conducted in such a way that the aim is solely to generate heightened emotions that have little if anything to do with the truth of the gospel. God forbid that we should ever countenance such an approach to singing! On the other hand, says Edwards,

“If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the Word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind: if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things” (121).

From this Edwards concludes that “such means are to be desired, as have much of a tendency to move the affections. Such books, and such a way of preaching the Word, and administration of ordinances, and such a way of worshiping God in prayer, and singing praises, is much to be desired, as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means” (121).

I completely agree with Edwards.

Therefore, my response, then, to the objections raised in the church today to the sort of musical compositions or chord progressions that have a tendency to “excite” or intensify the affections and feelings of the soul, often with a corresponding impact on the body, is that such are to be desired and sought after if that with which we are affected by them is truth! If our affections or feelings or emotions or passions are rooted in gospel truth, as given in Scripture, then no objection can be raised to the sort of musical composition that serves to intensify them.

If a song is structured in such a way that my love for Jesus is deepened, then by all means let us sing it! If a song or chord progression is of such a nature that my heart is greatly warmed and my tears flow in gratitude for the grace of God shown to me in Christ, then by all means let us sing it! We should not recoil in fear of any musical composition, assuming its lyrics are biblically orthodox, that tends to intensify our affections or move us into ever-increasing heights of emotional euphoria, so long as they are in response to the glorious revelation of all that God is for us and has done for us in Christ Jesus.



Thank you for these words! We are praying, 'way up the Ottawa Valley, here in Canada, that our worship would be filled with godly "affections" or emotions, based on the Light of the glorious gospel in Jesus Christ! Preach it, Jonathan Edwards! Preach it, Pastor Storms! May God grant us a revival of true worship in Spirit and in truth!
Amen Sam.

As a Gideon, I get to visit various churches of varying denominations and non denominations. The common denominator in the various types of music that really stirs the spirit is not the songs or the instruments. It is the liveliness of the congregation’s singing, (when it is audible:)

It may be old hymns (many of which were designed to incite emotion in the truth (think of the slow starting older hymn that begins “Low in the grave He lay” and builds deliberately to “Up from the grave He arose”!

I’ve been moved by a contemporary band, a powerful organ, and a mandolin and banjo playing some hillbilly / mountain gospel songs.

Thanks for this one.

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