Contemporary worship music is ubiquitous in many Protestant Christian communities today. Rather than debating or decrying this post–worship-wars reality, David Lemley accepts it as a premise and examines what it means for us to be singing along with songs that aren’t so different from the pop genre. How do we cope with the consumerism embedded in the mentality that catchy is good? How do we stay committed to subverting cultural norms, as Christians are called to do, when our music is modeled after those cultural norms? How do we ensure that the way we participate in the liturgy of contemporary worship music rehearses a cruciform identity?
Becoming What We Sing draws on cultural criticism, ethnomusicology, and liturgical and sacramental theology to process the deluge of the contemporary in today’s worship music. Lemley probes the thought of historical figures, such as Augustine, Hildegard of Bingen, Martin Luther, and the Wesleys, while also staying situated in the current moment by engaging with cultural philosophers such as James K. A. Smith and popular artists such as U2. The result is a thorough assessment of contemporary worship music’s cultural economy that will guide readers toward greater consciousness of who we are becoming as we sing “our way into selves, societies, and cosmic perspectives.”
Table of Contents
Introduction 1. Music and Formation in Worship 2. Music and Participation in Worship 3. Music as Pop: The Law of Song, the Law of Performance, the Law of Lifestyle 4. Pop as Worship: The Affective Orthodoxy of CWM 5. A Case Study: The Pop Ordo of U2 6. The Church of CWM 7. CWM and Liturgical Practice 8. CWM in Practice: Guiding Participation and Formation
David Lemley is assistant professor of religion at Seaver College, Pepperdine University. He is also a contributing author and hymn editor in A Teaching Hymnal: Ecumenical and Evangelical.
“Both generous-spirited and critically nuanced, Lemley’s interdisciplinary work is precisely the kind of scholarship that will help worship leaders to discern not just what kind of popular music we ought to be singing in our corporate worship but how popular music might uniquely form in us a cruciform identity—rather than, at its worst, pull us into musical and cultural inertias that fight against the demanding patterns of the gospel.” — W. David O. Taylor Fuller Theological Seminary
“Sometimes authors write something that the church is ready for but doesn’t need; other times they write what the church needs but is not ready for. David Lemley’s convincing examination of the formational realities of contemporary worship music is a topic that’s time has come: the church both needs and is ready for it. David Lemley succeeds in presenting an interdisciplinary, well-researched case for recognizing and embracing the obvious: not only that we are spiritually formed by the words and music of CWM, but also how it has become, in its own right, a symbol in Christian liturgy. This book will help us all move to the next level in valuing its effect on corporate worship.” — Constance M. Cherry Indiana Wesleyan University
“It’s terrible when a person gets older but refuses to mature. The same can be said for a way of worship. Lemley’s Becoming What We Sing can help us avoid that problem with respect to the use of contemporary worship music. With an appreciative yet discerning eye, Lemley explores key issues in using this music wisely to form mature Christian disciples.” — Lester Ruth Duke Divinity School
Dialog “[A] complex discussion which locates CWM in an “affective” category and relates it to the history, theology, worship, music, and life of the church beyond CWM’s origins.”
Interpretation “The greatest strength of the book is Lemley’s commitment to the sacramentality of contemporary worship music, the deeply liturgical nature of the contemporary worshipper’s experience.”
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