Slang is Just a Style

Every now and then, an article appears, patronisingly explaining to all adults why there is a debate over music in the church, and, in under 400 words, telling us how to resolve it. It all comes down to preferences and styles, you see. Well, obviously we didn’t see, hence the recurrent need for these profoundly enlightening articles.

Now once again, for those of us who read stop-signs with our lips moving, articles like this really break it down for us. Traditional churches are those who love “older” hymns, and seem to have a ‘concern with reverence’. Older folks typically prefer these churches or services, you see. Contemporary churches or services are more casual and relaxed, but they’re “more intentional”, than traditional churches. The musical style is ‘blended’. Oh, and they want to be passionately expressive in the lyrics. And then, nudge, nudge – most are going this way, except the few of you who wish to be left behind. But, don’t worry, you can stay in the 1960s, if you want to. No prob. It’s your choice. No pressure. Those actually interested in ‘engaging their communities’ will be contemporary. And then, here comes the illuminating flash of wisdom that some of us just can’t seem to get- truth is taught only in words, not in music. Really, it’s no big deal, folks.

I wonder if evangelicals and fundamentalists would accept this kind of reasoning (and use of language) if applied to one of the only areas in which they are conscious of form: preaching. I wonder if those those who are convinced of the primacy (and dignity) of expository preaching, would accept this kind of argument if the form of preaching was dismissed as a mere style. Let’s try it out:

Traditional churches are those who expound the Word in a way that seems to be concerned with reverence. The language used tends to be sober, the vocabulary more exacting, the sentence structure more formal, and the whole approach represents a way of speaking that was found in speeches, letters and essays several decades ago. They are very concerned with trying to communicate the gravity and seriousness of God’s revelation, with preciseness.  Contemporary churches expound the Word in a far more relaxed way, using colloquialisms, slang, plenty of likey’knowsorta. It’s more of a conversation. It reflects how the average man speaks, and does not speak above him. It is more intentional, wanting to engage a man where he is. It’s, like, more expressive. And just so you know, the man in the street prefers the contemporary “style” of preaching. It’s where things are going. You can stick to your old-fashioned ways of speaking, preaching to your shrinking groups of gray-heads, or you can loosen up and, like, dialogue, man. Because, for the umpteenth time, folks, the style of preaching does not affect the meaning of what’s preached. The truth is in the words, not in the vocabulary. The truth is in the words, not in the sentences.  The truth is is the words, not in the tone of voice. Rhetoric is just a “style”, and enlightened Christians don’t make style an issue (though they know which style represents the real future of a growing church).

Would the proponents of the gravity of preaching (and I am one of them) nod approvingly at that paragraph? Why then do the same men, conscious of the form in which the Word is to be preached, become dismissive and agnostic when it comes to the form in which the Word is to be sung?

Richard Weaver would not agree with Ed Stetzer: “Thus we invariably find in the man of true culture a deep respect for forms. He approaches even those he does not understand with awareness that a deep thought lies in an old observance. Such respect distinguishes him from the barbarian, on the one hand, and the degenerate, on the other.”

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