Issues in Church Music Today
PAUL S. JONES
P & R Publishing, 316 Pages, Paper, $16.99
Here’s a book that everyone involved with church music ought to read. The writer, who is organist and music director at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia (where well-known James Montgomery Boice was pastor before his death), offers an abundance of thoughtful insight on music philosophy and practice that calls us to Biblical worship in today’s often shoddy scene of lowered standards. Presbyterian and Reformed in liturgical persuasion, Jones has very high standards for music that many churches, especially smaller churches, could never meet. For example, how many churches could, as Jones advocates, own or maintain a pipe organ? But the reader must not dismiss the material or fail to get out of the book its important points, especially the point that we do our very best with what we have.
In a chapter titled “Sermon in Song,” Jones argues that music needs a theological reason. He quotes Martin Luther on the subject and then writes: “Why would either worship or worship music be patterned after what a majority or minority (supposedly) want? . . . The worship of God is not all about young people, or any other demographic, or about attracting unbelievers to worship. . . . Christian worship is a sign to unbelievers; it is not about them.” He observes that many churches, including those from Scottish roots, have placed their choir lofts in the back, usually in a balcony, so as to not detract from the centrality of the preaching pulpit.
A chapter devoted to the subject of applause is, perhaps, by itself worth the price of the book, considering the current acceptance of the practice. Jones maintains that “if we applaud someone other than God, our misdirected praise is idolatrous.”
An interesting chapter on writing hymns lists and elaborates on tests for hymn writing, which include asking what? to whom? when? about what? where?
Other chapters cover such issues as why every Christian should sing, hymnology in the Scriptures, whether or not church musicians should be paid, teaching music to children in the church, the debate over music’s being amoral, and contributions of famous composers such as Bach and Mendelssohn.
Singing and Making Music is truly a noteworthy book on the subject. We may not necessarily agree on every point or be able to adopt all that Jones advocates, but certainly the book is a challenge to think through what we do and to do the best we can with what we have for the Lord’s glory.