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A concern for JMM fans

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  • A concern for JMM fans

    I observed on CCLI's top 25 songs reported by churches (http://www.ccli.com/Support/LicenseC...op25Lists.aspx) that John Mark McMillan's "How He Loves" has been in the top 25 since February 2010. When I searched the name "John Mark McMillan" in forums on this website, I observed that many of the posts were in regard to this song, particularly its lyric, "sloppy wet kiss." I only read several of the posts and their comments - many of which were shockingly prideful.
    I wanted to share some thoughts on John Mark McMillan and the acclaim he's been receiving from church music leaders. I have a real concern about his songs being sung week after week during the fellowship of the saints.
    I have many convictions that his songs are not appropriate for corporate worship on a local church scale but I am putting those aside to talk about a larger issue. I am concerned that the church music leaders who select his songs are not listening to what JMM says himself about his philosophy of song writing - which reveals a bigger problem of the music leader selecting his songs. I'm not talking about the lyric "sloppy wet kiss" and whether or not it's too irreverent for corporate worship. I'm talking about the me-centered, emotion-driven, un-biblical songs that are being scarfed down by "Christian" radio and churches.
    For example, in this interview with JMM (you should really read the whole thing) he says of his song Ten Thousand, "In this particular situation it’s not, so much, a Biblical presentation of resurrection but a picture of death and resurrection in everyday life. But that certainly isn’t an unbiblical concept." The entire explanation of the song (which isn't quoted here) is almost as cryptic as the song itself. But his remark here, to me, is like another way of saying, "This song's concept does not come from the Bible, also, don't assume I'm being unbiblical." There appears to be an overall writing process for JMM to write songs that are not really for edification but are just artistic creations, thus, when the theology in his song is bad, he is not responsible for it because that was never his intention. This is bad for the church music leaders who selects JMM's songs because of what they teach.
    And in this video interview JMM is asked what he thinks about the Christian critics of his music. He replies, "My ultimate goal isn't to be theologically correct, it's to express a pure emotional, um, work. You know? A piece of art to express something purely. Whatever's inside of me will come out in that expression." THAT is what is coming from the guy acclaimed by CCM magazine as modern worship songwriter of the year in 2010 and has gained momentum since.
    In DA Carson's book, Worship by the Book he says:
    In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the “feelings” of things - whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is “better worship” there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.
    I'm also reminded of Bob Kauflin's remark in Worship Matters, "Great music can make bad lyrics seem profound. Bad music can make great lyrics hard to hear. Music matters."
    I have many good friends who like his music, and I do like the sound of the music. However, the praise he has received by so many Christians seems to have accredited him as a modern worship music writer of the hour and that is what has ruined him for me. Please pray for me that I would be generous to JMM and his fans and not a prideful critic. I do not wish to add to the noise. I am sincerely concerned about his influence on church music leaders and writers.

  • #2
    Thanks for this well-thought post. Many will agree, and many will disagree, no doubt. It is great food for thought. I personally believe that if a song is not clearly scriptural in content, it should not be sung in our churches. By that, I do not mean that a song has to quote scripture or be taken directly from scripture, but its message should be completely consistent with scripture.

    In my own songwriting,(which no one listens to) I usually take a scriptural truth and re-say it in a modern, poetic manner. I shy away from trying to write about a feeling and trying to "Christianize" it.

    Paul told Timothy (1 Timothy 4:1-4: "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths."

    I think we can see the second half of that scripture taking place in our culture, and it is infiltrating the Church. In the same way Timothy, a pastor, was to preach the word, so too, should Christian songwriters preach the word in the songs they write.
    Tom

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    • #3
      Very good points, to be sure. I've sung "How He Loves" with my congregation, it's a very beautiful song. However, it is more poetry than scripture, and sometimes that is okay in the right setting. I also believe that worship shouldn't be ambiguous or "touchy-feely" for the very reasons you mention: losing sight of scripture. Quoting scripture between or during songs is a good way to refocus.

      Ultimately, I think the song used isn't as important as the worship leader's heart and use of the song. Really, the problem is worship leaders who choose songs based on what's popular instead of seeking God's direction. There are thousands of songs labeled as "Christian" that contain little to no scriptural basis, but reflect on the emotions of salvation. Is there a place for these? Absolutely. Should you base your entire service on them? Absolutely not.

      I don't pick songs based on who wrote them generally (there are a few exceptions, like Paul Baloche, who have proven themselves) but everybody should examine each song to see if it's suitable. I'm not saying I'm innocent, just stating what I have learned from my own mistakes.

      I am more lenient in what I personally listen to nowdays, but early in my conversion I was disgusted by half-hearted "christian" music because I was unable to draw the line for myself. Now, I am cautious about what I tell people about what they listen to, but I am still responsible for myself, and my congregation's worship. I won't compromise for their sake, our the sake of someone who might like a certain type of questionable song.

      Comment


      • #4
        First off, it seems like you are tying everything John Mark is doing to one or two songs. And, unfortunately, many people's understanding of his catalog is limited to "How He Loves." The song was never meant to be written for anything, really, then a personal catharsis over the loss of a close friend. But, like "The Heart of Worship," (which Matt Redman never intended to have made public) the song resonated with the people who heard it, and it grew from there. While there is nothing profoundly biblical about it, there is nothing profoundly unbiblical, either.

        People come to church broken, hurting, empty and desperate. Sometimes we need to bridge the gap between our hurts and our low points. It's not going to be all "A Mighty Fortress is our God" or even "Happy Day." Those songs wouldn't even connect one little bit to someone who is hurting. We need to get them there.

        Like anything, blend an moderation is key. Songwriters like this absolutely have a place in the church today. I've done "How He Loves" to great connection in more than one church, as well as "Dress Us Up" and "Skeleton Bones." They're not right for every service, but they have their place.

        Comment


        • #5
          I agree that we need to be careful about the message of the songs we select for congregations to sing.

          I think it's interesting that you picked out JMM though and no one else. Truthfully, I think JMM is more honest than most songwriters in admitting his motives. That makes me like his music more because he doesn't make it under false pretenses.

          Comment


          • #6
            Great points all around. Although I don't know JMM or his songs much, I can only offer this. What is his heart? If JMM is writing out of his pursuit of God's heart, followers are only joining him in his journey - wherever that journey is. As JMM actively seeks God's heart, his followers will see it. So, I wouldn't put too much concern into how much attention he is getting. If he is writing from God's heart, may he flourish. If not, his music will result in merely a fad.
            Melanie Siewert, Christ's Servant
            BLOG: http://www.worshipvanguard.blogspot.com

            Comment


            • #7
              All songwriters who have a church worship platform should take their responsibility to reflect Gods word in their lyrics seriously. But the problem is not the writer. You seem to be concerned that a writer who disavows writing from a theological basis has such a wide church platform. I think our attention is better spent asking how and why that is and, if it isn't how it should be, what do we do as a body to change that?

              Sent from my SGH-T959V using Tapatalk 2

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              • #8
                Great conversation so far.

                There are a few things that come to my mind about situations like this.

                There are some extremes that a Christian artist can get to that are unhealthy. One, writing songs that are pop tunes that throw Jesus in so they get Christian radio (and the subsequent praise team platform) exposure and sells albums. The other one, reducing each song that comes out to an intellectual dissection of a word-by-word theological litmus test- and if any section shows weakness, the whole song is rendered "not Biblical" and therefore blasphemous and the writer is a black sheep that should be excommunicated. Neither extreme, no matter how well-meaning, is healthy.

                There appears to be an overall writing process for JMM to write songs that are not really for edification but are just artistic creations, thus, when the theology in his song is bad, he is not responsible for it because that was never his intention.
                Well, that's what most songwriters are doing, whether they admit it or not. I appreciate the fact he's up front about it. Personally, I don't look for songwriters to be theologians.

                We expect Christian songwriters (who are human) to be theological superheroes and every song should be above reproach or rebuke. It doesn't matter who you are- if you write a song and 3 million people dissect it, someone will be able to poke holes in the theology. JMM, Redman, Tomlin, et al each put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us. They do have a responsibility to be true to themselves and God the best way they know how. But they are not perfect, and we should not expect them to be. It's our responsibility to discern what songs are suitable for use on Sunday morning.

                Which brings me to my next point. Christian music has several purposes, just like Christian literature. For example, a pastor may read every book by Rick Warren, Hilton Sutton, or Kenneth Hagin, but that doesn't mean they should or do preach from these authors. Music is the same way. Many artists have a large collection of work. That doesn't mean every song they write should be used in a worship service. However, just because they can't be used in a worship service does not mean they should be dismissed as not "Christian" enough. They do have a use. There are some good songs that address life issues, personal struggles, and other elements from a Christian perspective. I don't know about everyone else, but I have found the Christian life is not lived in a church vacuum. People have lives, issues, experiences, and moments of truth that can't all be captured in the obligatory Bible verse. Songs about every day life events from a Christian perspective help people connect. They are a place to build from.

                In the end, we will each be responsible for our own choices. I am called to work out my own salvation, no one else's. My hands are full with that.
                If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Mike on Bass View Post
                  JMM, Redman, Tomlin, et al each put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us. They do have a responsibility to be true to themselves and God the best way they know how. But they are not perfect, and we should not expect them to be. It's our responsibility to discern what songs are suitable for use on Sunday morning.
                  I get what you're saying. And I apologize for not making myself clear when I mentioned being responsible for the theology in songs for church. I need to make mention that I see a distinction between JMM and other songwriters like Redman and Tomlin. The understanding I have is that JMM is not intentionally writing songs for the Church, whereas Redman and Tomlin are. My understanding is that JMM's music career is driven by being an artist and his art is strongly influenced by spiritual matters. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. What concerns me, however, is that he is being categorized as a top songwriter of worship music. This concerns me because, as you state, that subsequently lands him on the praise team platform.
                  So, personally, I DO think we should look for songwriters to be theologians if we are going to sing their songs in church. I pray for more theologically responsible songwriters who have steel in their spine, truth in their head, and kindness in their heart.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Unlike a poster above, I do believe that Christian songwriters should be theologians. But, of course, I believe every Christian should be a "theologian" in the sense that he/she seeks to please God and understand and obey His Word in all he/she does. To reserve the title of "theologian" for only those who devote their lives to understand the Word of God (as a vocation) is to miss God's calling on each of our lives. I don't want to be influenced by any believer who does not seek to know God and His Word more completely. Whether a songwriter is writing just for his/her own ear or for a church of thousands, I believe to write without a pursuit of theology is to abuse God's gift.

                    Having said that, I also believe in songwriting as an art. But, a Christian who writes artistically should, by definition, be writing out of his/her understanding of God, whether to song is meant as art or for church worship. A song that is not theologically sound is just that, whether it was meant as an artistic song or not...the song is a reflection of the songwriter, and a song that contains poor theology comes from a writer who is either lazy or deceived. For me to not use a song in worship, (among other criteria) it must be contradictory to what I know about God and His word. On the other hand, I have no problem with a song written by a Christian artist that does not explicitly talk about God but neither contradicts His Word.

                    Also, while I can certainly avoid a certain artist and maybe even warn others about an artist who is theology is off, my responsibility lies with my local church, selecting music that is appropriate for who we are and fits with our beliefs. There is not much I can do about JMM or any other artist who I do not know personally.

                    While I appreciate the OP's desire to warn against something he believes is detrimental to the church, I would also appreciate if he gave specific examples of JMM's work that directly contradicts Scripture. I have one of JMM's albums on my iTunes, but haven't given it much attention since his music isn't really my style.

                    Nate
                    Practical Worship

                    Please Pray For My Wife

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I tried to simplify what I thought the worship songwriter's mission should be into a tweet. Here is what I came up with:

                      The worship muse's calling is to be a student of men, a student of the Word, and to strive to illuminate God in the hearts of men through music.

                      I think this simple statement encompasses both the responsibility of the writer as an artist (to speak to the heart of man) and as a 'theologian' or, better stated, a student, for even the best theologians among us are just fellow students.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hey Gang,
                        Screen Shot 2012-06-27 at 7.58.41 AM.jpgGreat thread here - thanks to our "Morning Edition" email, I saw it --- would've missed this completely if it weren't for the little link that caught my eye in that email. So yeah, shameless plug here, if you're not already receiving TheWorshipCommunity.Com's ME (Morning Edition) email, signup for it on our homepage.

                        Now, on to this discussion ... very good points. Generally, I have two thoughts to add:

                        #1: I think the real problem here isn't JMM or his writing, but the sick way our culture wants to award and recognize people (top songwriter, best album, blah, blah, Top this, Top that). Recognizing peers is OK but it becomes a bit ridiculous to have all the various places shouting out who is the best this or that of the year.

                        #2: I wholeheartedly agree that our corporate songs should be theologically correct and Scriptural; however, I also wholeheartedly advocate the use of emotional songs and expressions in our corporate worship. LOOK AT THE PSALMS! They are not a bunch of theological mini-sermons or poetic recaps of the Gospel ... they are often gut-wrenching cries of the heart. God cares about this.

                        If my only communication with my wife is fact and philosophy, constant recapping of the vows we made and our promises to one another, that won't quite do it. I need to tell her how I love her, why I love her. I need to tell her why I'm upset and I need to vent appropriately.

                        A lamentation is not necessarily theology, and a modern one doesn't come from Scripture, it comes from the heart, but I fully believe it can have a place in corporate worship.

                        Like Mike said earlier on, balance is key.
                        And that's my $.02!
                        Fred McKinnon, Pianist/Composer/Worship Leader
                        blog: www.fredmckinnon.com

                        Please check out my piano/instrumental music at:
                        www.soundcloud.com/FredMcKinnonMusic
                        www.youtube.com/c/FredMcKinnonMusic

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Unlike a poster above, I do believe that Christian songwriters should be theologians. But, of course, I believe every Christian should be a "theologian" in the sense that he/she seeks to please God and understand and obey His Word in all he/she does.
                          Perhaps I should clarify my picture of a theologian being a PhD-level student of the Word, above most pastors, teachers and leaders. Most singers and songwriters are not at that level.

                          I do agree that we should all be the best 'theologian' that we know how. I just expect that songwriters will have different interpretations of scriptural issues, as the rest of us do (hence over 5,000 Christian denominations who think they are 'right").

                          I think the real problem here isn't JMM or his writing, but the sick way our culture wants to award and recognize people (top songwriter, best album, blah, blah, Top this, Top that)
                          I agree. This whole "Consumer Christianity" culture is getting to the point of being shameful.

                          My pastor preached a series based on a book (I can't remember the title) but the author works for a large ministry organization and traveled to many parts of the word. He discovered that many people he encountered abroad knew who wrote the Gospels, knew all 10 commandments, knew the Bible stories such as Exodus and Noah's Ark, but did not go to church. In America, many people he talked to didn't know the 10 commandments, didn't know who wrote the Gospels, but they go to church. I believe this is a direct result of our 'seeker friendly' church culture, where we don't preach about sin, we don't preach about discipline or righteousness, we don't make disciples, but we have awesome bands and coffee bars.

                          I am not against amenities and great bands, but our first and foremost responsibility is to win souls, not fill seats. I wonder how many people would stay if some of these churches removed the coffee bar, light show, band, and stadium seating...

                          Mike (Or for Nate "A Poster Above)
                          If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by fmckinnon View Post
                            Like Mike said earlier on, balance is key.
                            And that's my $.02!
                            I definitely agree... too many church worship leaders are going for the feelings, but staying there is missing out on the deep riches of the Word. It can't be one or the other, needs to be both!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              What is good for your people to sing to God during worship?

                              I think part of this issue may be what is suitable for corporate worship in church meetings, versus what may be good for solos, listening on CCM albums, radio stations, etc. The criteria should be tighter for the former: styles you can do well, nothing in the lyrics that your church disagrees with, and more scriptural references than in a typical Dove award song. And IMO that choice should be made by the worship leader/pastor rather than by the music industry or church culture.

                              The more spiritually vague 'inspirational' songs may be good for occasional solos, or outreach situations...

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