About that EDM…

“What ought to make worship delightful to us is not…its novelty or its aesthetic beauty, but its object.”

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An earlier post made note of a CT article detailing the emergence of EDM (electronic dance music) into corporate worship settings. When making light of the latest fad, conscientiousness can sound an awful lot like crankiness, and since no one gives serious thought to the arguments of a crank I thought I might offer reasons for my dissent.

My antagonism toward EDM has very little to do with style per se. I do think it’s naive to act as if all styles are created equal when it comes to a corporate worship service but, objectively speaking, my dissent has less to do with what it is than why it is.

The CT article leads me to believe that a major reason why EDM has been brought into the church service is because we’re hoping to keep up with the cultural trend. Now a trend isn’t necessarily sinful but, like a man-bun, that’s no excuse for accepting it. Years ago Os Guinness astutely noted:

A common reason many people are uncritical today is that they see trends as simple, straight, and short–almost like the flight of a missile. But in fact, trends are much more like the bounce patterns of a ball in a pinball machine. Where it comes from, where [it] is bouncing to, and what it is hitting on the way are more important in interpreting a trend than seeing precisely where it is at any particular moment.

Read through the article with an eye toward answering the Guinness questions and you might just see the EDM trend in a different light. But beyond a general wariness of all things trendy, we have many other reasons to keep EDM out of a church service:

(1) Spiritual ≠ suitable. In a nuanced discussion on the appropriate use of tongues in the church Paul says “I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1Cor 14:18-19). Notice that Paul (a) affirms the gift and (b) claims to make use of it personally but (c) curtails it’s use in a corporate setting. So even those things which have spiritual value are not necessarily suitable for an assembled church. The test, Paul says, is what’s edifying for the body (14:4, 26). The relevance of the edification principle to EDM is worth considering. Maybe we could take a cue from Paul and say “I listen to EDM praise more than you all but in the church I’d rather do something different.” Of course, this assumes that EDM shows signs of an edification deficit. Read on.

(2) Aesthetics vs. articulation. From the article: “the aesthetics and structure of EDM also present challenges in terms of balancing instrumentation and the articulation of the message through text.” Like it or not, the Christian faith is word/text based and that has to shape the way we use music in the assembly. See, for example, Col 3:16 where song is a means of instruction.

(3) Delighting in novelty. Quoth D. A. Carson: “What ought to make worship delightful to us is not…its novelty or its aesthetic beauty, but its object.” Try finding the object of worship in the CT article. See also the quotes in #4.

(4) EDM’s contribution to a corporate service is trivial (at best). To wit:

But it’s the effect the music has on congregants . . . that has worship leaders most    intrigued. “It just brings more of a liveliness to the worship atmosphere,” [a worship pastor] said. “When you hear it, you just kind of want to move a little bit more.”

“[EDM] gives permission to have fun and jump around . . . When you look out into the congregation or the crowd, everyone is just jumping to the music. And I feel that is the beauty of EDM—you can’t not jump to the beat.”

(5) Ironically, EDM advocates are sowing the seeds of their own irrelevance. What stirs passions today will be passe tomorrow. What then–identify & adopt the next latest trend? [On the whole, I think Christians are more likely to pick up a trend on it’s way out but that’s a discussion for another time]

(6) EDM is more exclusive than inclusive. Being far removed from my club days I’ll go out on a limb and say that the EDM crowd is a decidedly small demographic in our population. Unless we’re ok with generational segregation, EDM seems to be a poor medium for corporate worship. Again from the article: “People in the crowd dance, clap, and sing. Others stand statuesque, as if wondering what’s happening.”

Indeed.

Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

4 thoughts on “About that EDM…”

  1. I agree with you… this appears to focus “worship” on the performers rather than God. Part of me thinks the Worship music in general is done a bit backwards in the service. In the bible, don’t we usually see some revelation occuring followed by an act of worship? So… David with the Arc, ezra reading the law, ect. Maybe we would get more out of our own worship if we had time to hear the pastors sermon first and reflect on the ways of God second in Worship – Rather than using song to prepare us to hear the pastors sermon?

    1. Revelation-response is definitely a pattern in Scripture. Of course, worship happens through song *and* the Word so I would also want to be careful that I don’t fall into the trap of limiting my worship to the “music time.” But your point is worth noting–I think we actually did that a time or two at Edgewood (i.e. sermon then song) but I can’t remember when. Maybe you become a worship agitator at your next church.

  2. Culturally, EDM doesn’t make much sense to southerners… it’s not a huge part of the culture. However, southern and black gospel styles are very relevant. People in the northeast think those styles are awful. Oh, and then the Pacific Northwest will think differently from the other two…. and then there is Texas… and on, and on, and on.

    I don’t know if EDM is a fad per see’. It’s certainly been around in many forms since the mid-80’s and it shows no signs of permeating popular culture any less. In fact, I heard a dubstep stutter in a country song the other day… I wasn’t surprised… it was only a matter of time.

    I think corporate worship should be a reflection of the local body. That is what gives all the many styles of worship such richness… what works at church “A” won’t necessarily work at church “B” and it’s interesting to hear the differences. None of those styles is right or wrong so long as it adheres to Christian tradition and theology. Truly, what speaks to the individual will be vastly different from person to person… finding a church/style is much like finding a Bible translation that makes sense.

    Personally, I actually like the Christian EDM when I’m out and about during the day… it’s a refreshing change from some of the sappy praise and worship music, horrible “blended” arrangements, and theologically incorrect lyrics that seemed to fill much of the 1990’s/early 2000’s worship world. I don’t see EDM as a replacement for hymns, and songs of worship, but an augmentation that brings variety and authenticity to worship when it’s done well, done creatively, and done within the context of the local body.

    1. Thanks for the discussion, Christian. You bring up some good points and I find myself agreeing with some and disagreeing with others. Personally, I don’t understand why we can’t just all agree that the classic rock style is the music style we should all enjoy. Seriously though, it’s hard to differentiate between style & substance when it comes to music because the style of music conveys a message (one of the reasons you’ll never hear big top circus music at a funeral).

      I think a lot of the differences in these discussions really depend on how you view the nature/purpose of corporate worship. Expression is an element of worship but if personal expression is in the driver’s seat I think we run into a lot of problems–some of which are reflected in the CT article.

      I’m at peace with your enjoyment of EDM so long as you leave me Jimi Hendrix.

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