The Worship Quote of the Week for (08/19/2008):

Whose Tradition? Whose Music?
Have you experienced the powerful temptation to support your personal music preferences in worship with impassioned biblical, aesthetic, and cultural arguments? Do you have trusted Christian friends who are equally convinced of the superior spirituality of a contrasting musical style? Today's WORSHIP QUOTE gets at the root of our arguments over tradition and modern culture. The author is Tim Keller.

Any proponent of “historic” corporate worship will have to answer the question, “Whose history?” Much of what is called “traditional” worship is very rooted in northern European culture. While strict contemporary worship advocates may bind worship too heavily to one present culture, strict historic worship advocates may bind it too heavily to a past culture. Do we really want to assume that the sixteenth-century northern European approach to emotional expression and music (incarnate in the Reformation tradition) was completely biblically informed and must be preserved?

Hidden (but not well!) in the arguments of historic worship advocates is the assumption that certain historic forms are more pure, biblical, and untainted by human cultural accretions. Those who argue against cultural relativism must also remember that sin and fallenness taints EVERY tradition and society. Just as it is a lack of humility to disdain tradition, it is also a lack of humility (and a blindness to the "noetic" effects of sin) to elevate any particular tradition or culture's way of doing worship. A refusal to adapt a tradition to new realities may come under Jesus’ condemnation of making our favorite human culture into an idol, equal to the Scripture in normativity (Mark 7:8-9). While contemporary worship advocates do not seem to recognize the sin in all cultures, the historic worship advocates do not seem to recognize the amount of (common) grace in all cultures.

---Timothy J. Keller, “Reformed Worship in the Global City,” chapter four of WORSHIP BY THE BOOK, edited by D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, p. 196. ISBN 0-310-21625-7. Other chapters in this book are by D. A. Carson, Kent Hughes, and Mark Ashton. Highly recommended!

AUDIO BONUS: Would you like to listen to a message by pastor-author Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City) from a sermon on Psalm 95 and "biblical worship," July 7, 2002? The tape ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian has kindly granted permission to put this audio sermon on my Institute for Christian Worship web site. To listen, go to and then click on "other resources" at the bottom of the page. You'll find it. This, too, is highly recommended!

Have a great week,

Chip Stam
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky

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