by Tom Kraeuter
Former worship leader Dan Lucarini has written a book, Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement, that has become quite popular. Because several people have asked for my thoughts on the book, I decided I should read it.
I’ll have to admit I was not nearly as put off by this book as I thought I might be. Having sat face to face with numerous opponents of contemporary music all over North America, I thought this would be just one more snarling adversary. I was wrong. I appreciated Mr. Lucarini’s heart attitude throughout most of the book. He rarely seemed vindictive and certainly not mean-spirited. He is, however, misguided.
Honestly, much of the book is not about music or musical styles. It is more about guilt by association. Because many churches who utilize contemporary music also do certain other things (as varied as a lack of emphasis on sanctification to gyrations and immodest attire of musicians) that are inappropriate, then the music style is wrong. Although I would agree with some of his assessments about other issues, how those things can be directly linked to music styles escapes me. I’ve encountered sexual improprieties taking place in churches where only pipe organs are used and Southern Gospel musicians dressed in ways that would make most senior citizens blush. However, these are separate issues and should be discussed separately.
Abuses will always occur in nearly any area. They should not shock us. We should, as the Apostle Paul did, patiently teach and instruct in the ways of God. This does not mean we ignore wrongdoing or sin. We should not, however, throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. We also must not associate the inappropriate behavior with the area of ministry. Because a pastor acts like a jerk does not mean we discard the pastoral ministry. Because a worship musician acts like a jerk does not mean we stop using music or even a certain style of music.
Although Lucarini tries to make a connection between these peripheral issues and music styles, it reminds me of the evolutionist’s missing link. There is a piece of the puzzle that seems to be lacking. You can’t find it because it’s not there.
The author’s main argument against contemporary musical styles is that those styles are somehow associated with sin. Although he clearly had some situations in his life that would lead him to that conclusion on a personal level, he takes it further and superimposes his difficulties with contemporary music onto everyone else. He says, “I had to admit that I too was deceived by my own lusts and selfishness.” [pg. 46] Further, he refers to himself as “a person who was full of pride in the area of music ministry.” [pg 47] His shortcomings are then transferred to anyone and everyone else involved in contemporary music. Unfortunately, this is a fairly common but erroneous occurrence today in Christianity: someone realizes their own error and then assumes that everyone else must be guilty of the same.
His use of Scripture to “prove” how wrong it is to use contemporary music is sad. A person could use nearly any of the same passages to vilify practically anything new or different.
Near the middle of the book, Lucarini is apologizing to those who hold to a more traditional view of church music. He says, “We… portrayed our new music as evidence of greater spiritual awareness on our part, and made you appear, and perhaps feel, out of touch and out of date.” If he did that, he should apologize. However, that does not make it a universal, all-encompassing fact for everyone involved in contemporary music. Those who act like that need to repent. However, again, this is far more a heart issue than a music issue.
Lucarini frequently uses words and phrases that play well to his intended audience. “It is important to note that David chose Levites… Leading worship in the Old Testament was not something allowed for just any musician, nor would they use just any music.” [pg. 94] The part about the musicians is biblical; you can prove that from a scriptural perspective. However, the statement about music seems to be missing from my Bible. Of course it is only inserted to imply that proponents of contemporary music would use “just any music.” This is a blatant misrepresentation. Of course there may be some people who would use just any music. But that is heart and character issue and it has nothing to do with musical style.
At one point, the author is endeavoring to destroy the notion that music is amoral. He says, “No one actually plays or sings generic or neutral music in a service.” [pg. 90] I would agree with him. Every performance of any song will be affected by the performer. However, just because a performer can taint a particular song does not mean they can taint a style of music. To even suggest such a possibility is a gigantic leap in logic that cannot be substantiated.
At one point Lucarini is discussing a possible connection between the sinful beginnings of classical music (a style that he says is perfectly acceptable), a connection that proponents of contemporary music styles apparently like to point out. He says this, “…classical music today is so far removed from any of the supposed immorality of the original composers or performers, that no one can honestly claim it is generally and closely associated with evil.” [pg. 97] If you follow the logic in that statement, then as long as enough time has gone by, the sinfulness is no longer an issue. That’s a wrong assumption, a shaky foundation on which to build a case. According to the Word of God, the only thing that eradicates sin is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Neither time nor distance makes any difference. So if the style of music was sinful at its inception, then it is still sinful now. No amount of time will change that. The truth is, though, that there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that a certain style of music is inherently sinful.
One of his main arguments throughout the book is that we must choose a style of music that will not be offensive to people [see pages 84, 87 and 97 among others] based on Romans 14:21. However, for someone to declare how far each church carries that non-offense clause is going beyond Scripture. What if someone is offended by the color of our carpet? What if they don’t like the fact that we use wine for communion? What if they are offended by the message of repentance? There are some issues from Scripture that inherently will give offense. Additionally, every person has the potential of being offended by something we do. Not offending is clearly not the simple issue that Lucarini would like it to be.
He says that because contemporary music “has a sensual beat, is closely associated with worldly lifestyles, or splits churches” [pg 108], then it will cause people to stumble. Let’s look at these three arguments individually.
Sensual beat. J.S. Bach was once nearly removed from his position in his church because people thought his rhythms and harmonies were too sensual. Bach! What societies consider to be “sensual” changes dramatically and quickly and can vary greatly from one individual to another.
Worldly lifestyles. Every music that was ever current was associated with worldly lifestyles. We live in a fallen world and anything, music or otherwise, that is considered “in vogue” has the potential of being associated with a worldly lifestyle. If we as the Church must use music that is clearly outdated, then why should we not force our people to speak in old English? Or wear outdated clothing or hair styles? Exactly where should we draw the line? Scripture does not give us the exact place so we cannot draw that line for one another either. If the author wants to refuse to use a certain style of music, that’s fine. For him to tell everyone else not to use it, though, goes beyond Scripture.
Splits churches. I’ve encountered churches where the choice of Sunday School curriculum (or the lack of a Sunday School program at all) has split churches. Do we cease having Sunday School? Many churches have been split because of the pastor’s preaching style. Do we cut sermons from our services? Clearly, none of these three arguments have any honest validity.
Late in the book, Lucarini talks about what a typical service should look like [pg. 127] if it is done correctly (from his perspective). Among the things you would see and hear:
- A grand piano and an organ
- An orchestra with strings, brass and woodwinds
- An enthusiastic, well-rehearsed choir
- Soloists who sing with live accompanists
First, let me dare to declare that there is no scriptural basis for the use of a piano or an organ. This does not mean that using them is wrong. It does mean that for Lucarini to declare that they are essential is wrong. Second, the average church in America is attended by fewer than 100 people. A church of that size simply cannot support Lucarini’s ideal. They have neither the financial resources nor the personnel to make this list a reality.
In the same section, he also suggests that lyrics without “real music” should never be projected onto a screen. Why not? Scored music—especially music available to average people—is a relatively new phenomenon. If having scored music available for attenders is mandatory, then for thousands of years God’s people did it wrong. For centuries of Christendom and for centuries before in Jewish history, songs were learned by ear. Why is that suddenly a bad idea? At least we offer the words in plain view. That’s one less thing they need to work at memorizing.
Near the end of the book Lucarini offers a chart [pg. 120] contrasting the way Traditionals do things with the way that Contemporaries do them. Of course the idea is to show how much superior the Traditional way is compared with the Contemporary. One point made me laugh out loud. The question is asked, “What is the primary motive in selecting music?” The answer he gives for Contemporaries is, “Do the people like it?” The answer for the Traditionals is, “Does God like it?” Wow! This was a real revelation to me. Someone has enough of a hotline to God to know which is His preferred style of music. That’s amazing!
In the same chart was a comparison that shows a basic misunderstanding of why the people of God worship. The question is asked, “What is the primary purpose of the worship service?” The answer for Traditionals: “To prepare hearts for the preaching.” The Contemporary answer (according to Lucarini) is, “To usher people into the presence of God.” There is no way to go into the details here because of lack of space, but both answers miss a biblical understanding. Look at worship in the book of Revelation. It is not to prepare for the preaching. Worship is to honor and glorify God. Yes, it can prepare hearts for the preaching and it can usher people into the presence of God, but if either of those is your main emphasis you’ve fallen way short of God’s best. True biblical worship is to honor and glorify God because He alone is worthy.
Though I fear that this rebuttal has only skimmed the surface of this book, I hope you’ve gotten the point by now. Throughout the book Lucarini offers some worthwhile warnings to those involved in contemporary music in the Church: be careful with performance issues, heart attitudes and keeping the focus in the right place. Anyone using any style of music in church would do well to heed his advice on these issues. However, although his heart seems right throughout most of the book, his thoughts on music and musical styles have been very tainted by his own experiences. This is a book that would have better served the Church by not being published.
This article may be reprinted in full using the following credit:
“Reprinted by permission of Training Resources, Inc., 65 Shepherd’s Way, Hillsboro, MO 63050, www.training-resources.org”