Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns

I just received fantastic news from a friend that Dr. T. David Gordon’s sequel to his potent Why Johnny Can’t Preach is slated to be released on June 1, 2010: Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-Wrote the Hymnal. This friend has the privilege of editing Dr. Gordon’s new book for musical accuracy (lucky!), and wrote that “it’s excellent. It’s worded simply, but clearly…and it’s intriguing. SO GOOD. You need to buy this book and read it when it is published.”

Dr. Gordon writes about his book, “In this, I attempt to locate some of the cultural forces that have caused hymns to sound so foreign to this generation that they feel they need to replace them with something contemporary. I also express misgivings about this circumstance.” The table of contents is available on Dr. Gordon’s website. A good blog interview about the book is available here. My reaction to the interview is “why didn’t I think of that?” I just might try contacting Dr. Gordon for my own interview for my blog. If I pursue that, would my readers have any specific questions or general topics you would like him to touch on? Two questions I would have relate to his view of the use of Psalms in worship (his views differ from mine) and how his views of hymnody can be applied across geographical and cultural divides. Any other thoughts?


3 thoughts on “Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns

  1. were traditional hymns written in a non contemporary manner as well? or is his problem with the current contemporary (pop music… non folk etc…)? from the interview its hard to tell if he sees today's contemporary as inconsistent with christian values or if contemporary is always inconsistent with christian values. thats why i wonder if traditional hymns were written to be non-contemporary in their time or if they have simply become non-contemporary over the years.

  2. Wow, that's a media ecologist's playground! I don't know the question precisely, but it would involve this provocative quotation from the interview:"Christianity is not a new religion, and whenever it is “dressed up” in contemporary garb, that itself is problematic; it sends the wrong meta-message. The solution, that is, is not to write BETTER contemporary-sounding music, but to write music that doesn’t SOUND contemporary."Isn't that unworkable? At what precise point did Christianity cease being new and become old? What year marked the cut-off point?I think he's half right, but I worry about the other half… though I'd like to read the book, I'm sure it would challenge me in helpful ways overall.Ken

  3. Alex – Dr. Gordon doesn't dislike the "new" just because it is new. All hymns were new at one time, so just because something is new doesn't mean it's inherently bad. His argument is that because of the culture in which we now live (dominated by pop-culture, digital technology to name two), the new Christian material we are getting is influenced by these factors, and is thus bad. He would agree that there are some good new hymns being written, but that they are incredibly scant (in terms of music and words). Likewise, he agrees that just because something is old doesn't make it good – there are some doozies of old hymns out there that should never see the light of day.Christians should sing the timeless hymns and psalms that the church has sung over the ages, and let our new material be influenced by that instead of the culture around us. To paraphrase Dr. Gordon, we can't see the banal because it surrounds us and we don't notice it.


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