Book: The Contemporary Christian Music Debate: Worldly Compromise or Agent of Renewal?

Steve Miller. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993. 261 pages. $8.99.

Next to theology, there has been no more contentious an issue throughout the church's history than music. Church fathers, popes, priests, ministers, evangelists, reformers, and laity alike have swayed, sometimes violently, between tendencies toward asceticism on one hand, and accommodation on the other. Every so often, these conflicting tendencies clash openly. We are in the midst of such a time today.

Into the fray of print that has become part of the so-called "contemporary Christian music debate" comes a firm and sagacious book by Steve Miller. Backed by an unmatched breadth of research and facile reasoning, Miller brings the warring factions to the table to dispel misconceptions, open the dialogue on common ground, and, ultimately, to promote healing in an emotionally charged debate. He is not, as one might believe from the title, a neutral moderator, but clearly an advocate for the affirmative position: that "Contemporary Christian music is a medium whose day has come" (p. 1) as an "agent for renewal" for the church and its mission.

In the preface he admonishes objectivity and craves that those who would opine on the issue of music in the church employ prayerful consideration, biblical understanding, particularly of worship, humility, and a fair-minded willingness to be challenged on all sides of the issue. The entire book is filled with a spirit of resolve and gentle persuasion, combined with respect and tolerance for all views.

Miller spends the first quarter of his book dealing with the major criticisms of the Christian Contemporary movement in music, from charges of poor aesthetic quality and worldly accommodation, to the questionable motives and morality of contemporary artists, to evil associations of certain musical instruments and styles of writing. In Thomaic fashion, he offers each objection, then rebutts and replies to each one. The argument is rigorous and thorough, yet never dry or verbose.

Part Two rests the case of contemporary music solidly on the Scriptures, particularly the Psalms, the epistles of Paul, and other passages dealing with worship in general and music in particular. Part Three provides an illuminating glimpse of historical controversies over music, with special emphasis on the Reformation and Martin Luther's writings on the subject. Part Four has the author moving from the defensive mode to offer some prescriptive ideas on contemporary music's potential in reaching children, the church, and the world. A useful appendix provides a look at "How Four Growing Churches Use Contemporary Christian Music."

Miller manages to capture a breadth of material poignantly and succinctly, providing an invaluable resource for pastors, youth leaders, music leaders, and parents. His book is a stimulating challenge for the mind and a refreshing drink for the spirit. It promises to take an important place in the intense struggle over this issue.

Michael Burgess, Jr., is a teacher of music at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 39 © March 1996 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.