Archive for September, 2012

Tozer on Worship Music: An Evaluation

September 28, 2012

We’ve gathered much of what Tozer wrote on music and hymnody. Having done so, some reflections on his writings might be helpful. I notice three outstanding features of Tozer’s approach to worship.

First, it’s clear that Tozer made an attempt to understand poetry and music. Tozer did not have to become a literary or musical critic in his office as pastor. He simply had to become competent enough to judge inferior from superior; ugly from beautiful, simple from trite. (No doubt, he read critics in this pursuit.) His criticisms seen in the quotations we’ve looked at demonstrate that Tozer did not simply tow a party-line, or reject songs for political reasons. He judged works for their meaning: for their beauty, truth and fitness for Christian devotion. His compilation, The Christian Book of Mystical Verse, is a collection of superior Christian verse. Tozer was not copy-catting another man’s taste when he put this collection together. It emerged from careful judgement of individual pieces. Remember, Tozer educated himself while cutting pieces of rubber in a factory in Akron. What’s our excuse?

Second, Tozer developed a healthy catholicity when evaluating the expressions of piety from the historic church. Tozer’s own theological leanings were baptistic, Arminian, Holiness, Keswick, with some dispensationalism thrown in. Had he wanted hymns to reflect only this slice of Christianity, his hymnbook would have been slim indeed – or made up entirely of A.B. Simpson hymns. Tozer was, thankfully, bigger than that. He understood the principle of catholic sentiment: when Christians of different ages testify similarly of their devotion. These testimonies are different, but equivalent. They represent a kind of consensus of what Christians have always felt towards God in worship. Whether it came from the Roman Catholics Bernard of Clairvaux and Frederick Faber, the pietist Tersteegen, the Lutheran Gerhardt, Anglicans Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, or Presbyterian Anne Cousin, Tozer could find the catholic affections in their verse amidst the errors of their churches. And he smelt a rat when people tried to use hymnbooks as political tools to advance their own doctrinal agenda.

Third, Tozer’s writings in these matters were after one thing: fitting worship. He had no interest in aesthetic refinement divorced from worship. If Tozer could spot beauty, it was because he was after the beauty of holiness. If he called for true sentiments in the lyrics of hymnody, it was because he wanted to worship in Spirit and in truth. He raged against the trivialisation of worship not because it violated his own aesthetic sensibilities. Rather, his aesthetic sensibilities had been so trained in the service of worshipping God, and God’s name is profaned when worship is trivialised. He knew the dangers of churches that become proud of their beautiful worship and are crossless and Christless. For Tozer, truth, goodness, and beauty are not the Trinity. They are indispensable for the worship of the Trinity.

Tozer understood the dire need of the hour: restored worship. Our churches have lost worship, because they have lost judgement. Discernment has evaporated, and with it, the ability to judge what is fitting for worshipping God and what is not. In response to this worship crisis, it is important to notice what Tozer did not try to do. He did not try to restore worship by calling for resolutions at the Christian & Missionary Alliance annual meeting. He did not try to restore worship by writing a book and then touting it as the solution. He did not try to build a coalition with enough clout to enforce his views on worship. He did not set up The Christian Book of Mystical Verse as the canon for private or corporate worship. These are political solutions, solutions that are tempting only when we do not understand how sensibilities are formed or how taste develops.

Tozer got down to the hard work of discriminating between good and bad. He opened dusty books that were not popular, relevant, or endorsed by celebrities. He searched, he read, he prayed, he sang, he wrote sermons, hymns and prayers, and then he wrote down his informed judgements for others to see. In his writings, he tried to revive the conversation that true culture is, a conversation of what is fitting and right and true – with particular respect to Christian piety and worship. These approaches, to me, represent much of what we must do in this new Dark Age.

Tozer on Worship Music -12

September 21, 2012

(From the Introduction to The Christian Book of Mystical Verse)

This is a book for the worshiper rather than for the student. It has been carefully and lovingly prepared for those God-enamored persons who, while they feel as deeply as the enraptured poet, yet lack the gift that would enable them to express their feelings adequately. Such will sense a kinship with the gifted souls they find on the pages of this book and will join them as they mount on high to pour out their hymns at heaven’s gate.

In making these selections I have largely followed my own bent, though I have been guided somewhat by a few simple rules. First, all sentimental verse was excluded, along with everything homey and maudlin. The only healthy emotions are those aroused by great ideas, and even these must be restrained and purified by the Spirit of God or they will spend themselves in weak and sterile rhymes. Of such there is enough in the religious world; I think none will be found in this book.

Second, while the compiler is not unfamiliar with the judgment of hymnologists and literary critics on the larger body of English religious verse, that judgment has been set aside and another adopted for this book. For this reason some of the standard classics have been omitted because I felt they would not contribute to my purpose. Conversely, certain poems of admittedly inferior literary rank have been included because I felt that they would.

Third, everything selected for inclusion in this work had to be judged theologically sound. While considerable latitude was allowed, even welcomed, in doctrinal outlook and emphasis, to be accepted every hymn and poem had to meet the test of faithfulness to the Christian Scriptures. Though almost everything here is pure lyric poetry and may easily be sung, yet this book is not intended for use in the public assembly. Had I meant it to be so used a wholly different kind of verse would have been chosen for it and the book would have been another sort of book altogether. Everything here is for use in private devotion. I have had in mind not a congregation but the lone individual. For this reason I would respectfully urge the one who may come into possession of this book not to “read” it as he would read another book. Let him try rather to enter into its mood, to capture and be captured by its spirit. How many pages he gets through in a day is of no importance; what one poem or even one single stanza does to him and for him and in him: that is everything.

Admittedly much pure gold has been left out of this treasury. The chief reason is lack of space. I have tried to keep the book small enough to be portable, that its possessor may carry it with him and so turn any bus or train or airplane into a sanctuary. Certainly not all the gold in the world is in this one volume, but what is here is, I believe, true gold of Ophir. I hope many of my fellow Christians will find it to be so.

—The Christian Book of Mystical Verse

Scientific Creationism

September 19, 2012

Many moons ago, I attended – what shall we call it – an independent Baptist institution of higher learning. It was staffed almost entirely by American missionaries, who seemed urgent to inculcate in us the tribalism of American Fundamentalism, and to import to South Africa controversies among American Fundamentalist Baptists. We had never heard of Lordship Salvation, MacArthur’s view on the blood, or the inerrancy of the King James Version. Thankfully, these men made sure that Christians at the tip of Africa were thoroughly embroiled in the same controversies.

I was there for all of one year, before it began crashing down, under the weight of the not-unusual IFB in-fighting. It was an early exposure to how seriously Fundamentalists take the life of the mind, and to what degree differences could be tolerated among them.

One of our courses was “Scientific Creationism”. To be fair, there were commendable and helpful sections in this course, summarising views such as the Day-Age Theory, Theistic Evolution, and the Gap Theory. On the other hand, much of the material was supposed ‘scientific evidence’ for creation. I was reared in a secular home, attended public schools and a secular university, and was unaware of a ‘scientific’ defence of Genesis. I was impressed.

As the years rolled on, and my reading broadened, my impression of “Scientific Creationism” changed. It now seemed like a weird hybrid. After all, the scientific method is essentially 1) the observation or measurement of empirical phenomena, 2) the formation of predictive, explanatory hypotheses, and 3) the repeatable testing of these hypotheses through experimentation. Understood in this way, neither creation nor evolution qualifies as science. They are both history. Certainly, one is a true history of origins, and the other is false, but neither is science.

Just as Darwinists are guilty of using junk science to supposedly verify their mythology, Christians do the same thing with Scientific Creationism. Instead of accepting the Word of the only Observer present at the beginning, we try to gain credibility for God’s own Testimony by referring to Moon dust, ocean sediment, the Earth’s magnetic field, and the Moon’s distance from the Earth. In other words, we say to the unbeliever, “We agree with you: science is objective truth! Look, we have science to prove the Bible!” This is not apologetics; it is politics. We want respect, so we insinuate supposed science into the conversation to ‘prove’ Genesis.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a creationist. I see value in Christians’ examining of the natural world and countering of the Darwinist interpretations. Christians ought to be interested in understanding if carbon-dating, dinosaur bones, or star distance is unassailable evidence for Darwinism. Origins is a deadly serious discussion. And to the degree that Christian botanists, palaeontologists, geologists, and astronomers can help us understand the physical phenomena interpreted through a Scriptural framework, this can help believers, and at least provide a serious discussion with committed evolutionists. I enjoy reading scientists who are creationists. I enjoy reading unbelievers (such as David Berlinski) who express doubts over Darwinism. I am not calling for scientists who are Christian to withdraw from the conversation. Besides, what we discover from the natural world ought to turn into worship.

What I now object to is masking faith with science. If we object to Darwinists pretending that their theory qualifies as science, let’s not be the kettle  who’s calling the teapot black. Let’s admit our theory is history, and state boldly that we trust history as written by the Creator over history written by 19th century Englishmen. Let’s not claim we are objective scientists, who have happened upon incontrovertible evidence for a Young Earth, and then present this stuff in biology classrooms or in church services. Rather, let’s affirm that Genesis 1 and 2 were spoken by One who cannot lie. Let’s put (or leave) science in its place – and it’s not in the pulpit.

Tozer and Worship Music – Hymnody – 11

September 14, 2012

Simple truth requires us to state that A. B. Simpson does not rate high as a writer of hymns. The effort on the part of some of his admirers to place him along with Watts and Wesley is simply absurd.

A hymn, to be great—to be a hymn at all—must meet certain simple requirements. 1. It must have literary excellence. 2. It must be compact enough to be sung easily. 3. It must express the religious feelings of the Universal Church. 4. The music must have dignity and reserve.

On none of these counts could Mr. Simpson’s compositions qualify. His poetry lacked literary finish. The central idea might be poetic, but his craftsmanship was not equal to the task of expressing it. His singing heart sometimes betrayed him into attempting to sing things that simply were not lyrical and could not be sung. The virtue of brevity also was lacking in most of his songs. He sometimes rambled on into eight and ten verses, and if by happy chance he got through before the eighth verse he was sure to append a chorus that would run down over the next page. The minister in him overcame the poet, so that when he attempts to write a song the sermonic division is apparent at once. With few exceptions his songs are simply sermons in verse, the whole thing being there before us in plain sight, the introduction, the various “points'” and the conclusion. But it is in the music that his songs suffer the most. A few of his compositions can be sung, but the most of them can be negotiated by none except trained singers. The transitions are too abrupt and the range too great for the ordinary congregation.

There can be no doubt about it, Mr. Simpson wrote too much poetry, or at least too much of it has been published. He could produce good strong, if ordinary, verse, and it is to be regretted that so much got into print which is not only very poor but is certainly far below what he was able to do at his best. In rushing into print with certain of his casual poems his friends have done him no small disfavor. Much is said there in bad verse which he could have said in beautiful prose at a great saving to his reputation as a writer.

“Scorn not the sonnet,” wrote Wordsworth, “with this key Shakespeare unlocked his heart.” “The less Shakespeare he,” replied the forthright Browning. The less Simpson for some of his poetry. Only a big man could live down such a failure. And he has done it triumphantly.

After saying all this I would yet confess that hardly a day goes by that I do not kneel and sing, in a shaky baritone comfortably off key, the songs of Simpson. They feed my heart and express my longings, and I can find no other’s songs that do this in as full a measure. Of his songs—there are 155 of them in the old Hymns of the Christian Life alone—only about three have attained to anything like wide popularity, and not above a dozen are heard even in the gatherings of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Yet it is my sober judgment that Simpson has put into a few of his songs more of awful longing, of tender love, of radiant trust, of hope and worship and triumph than can be found in all the popular gospel songs of the last hundred years put together. Those songs are simply not to be compared with his. Simpson’s songs savor of the holy of holies, the outstretched wings of the cherubim and the Shekinah glory. The others speak of the outer court and the milling crowd.


Tozer and Worship Music – Hymnody – 10

September 7, 2012

In the poetical works of Frederick Faber I have found a hymn to the Holy Spirit which I would rank among the finest ever written, but so far as I know it has not been set to music, or if it has, it is not sung today in any church with which I am acquainted. Could the reason be that it embodies personal experience of the Holy Spirit so deep, so intimate, so fiery hot that it corresponds to nothing in the hearts of the worshippers in present-day evangelicalism? I quote three stanzas:

Fountain of Love! Thyself true God!
Who through eternal days
From Father and from Son hast flowed
In uncreated ways!

I dread Thee, Unbegotten Love!
True God! sole Fount of Grace!
And now before Thy blessed throne
My sinful self abase.

O Light! O Love! O very God
I dare no longer gaze
Upon Thy wondrous attributes
And their mysterious ways.

These lines have everything to make a great hymn, sound theology, smooth structure, lyric beauty, high compression of profound ideas and a full charge of lofty religious feeling. Yet they are in complete neglect. I believe that a mighty resurgence of the Spirit’s power among us will open again wells of hymnody long forgotten. For song can never bring the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit does invariably bring song.

The Best of A. W. Tozer

Many beauteous names thou bearest,
Brother, Shepherd, Friend and King,
but then none unto my spirit
such divine support can bring.
Ishi, Ishi, is the jewel,
Mine He is while ages roll.
Angels taste not of such glory,
Holy Ishi of the soul.
Other joys are short and fleeting
Thou and I can never part.
Thou art altogether lovely,
Ishi, Ishi of my heart.

They sang that once. Where could you sing that now? I think we could sing it here, but there aren’t many places where you can sing it because people don’t have the experience that it conveys and embodies. Whenever a good song is rejected, it’s rejected because the people don’t understand it and they find it dull. If you like rock ‘n roll, you won’t like “Ishi.” And if you like Tenderly He Watches Over Me,” you won’t like “Ishi.”

Success and the Christian