A Review of “Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense”

February 11, 2017

Twenty years ago, John M. Frame produced a highly touted work that has been spoken of as a premier biblical defense of contemporary worship music (CWM). I recently finished reading this work and found it to be commendable in some ways but lacking in key respects.

Strengths

Frame is a skilled writer who writes with an engaging style. He generally maintains a very commendably irenic tone throughout this work.

He treats his subject with considerable thoroughness concerning biblical considerations about the lyrics and many other related aspects of CWM. For those who approve of CWM, he provides what should be helpful direction in the selection and use of such music.

Weaknesses

In spite of choosing “A Biblical Defense” as the subtitle of the book, Frame’s treatment of the Bible is lacking because he does not provide any detailed exegetical treatment of many specific passages in the Bible that speak about instrumental music (such as 1 Samuel 16:14-23). He may have done so because he believes that they do not provide pertinent information concerning a biblical assessment of CWM.

In support of that evaluation of his views is what he writes as a concluding point in his chapter on some basics of a theology of worship:

Music is an area in which we have little explicit scriptural direction, and in which, therefore, human creativity should be encouraged, within the limits of general biblical standards.

—Frame, 28.

In my opinion, it would have been helpful in his attempting to make his case had he spent the time discussing what those “general biblical standards” are and how specifically they determine what music is acceptable for use in worship.

Because Frame assesses the Scriptural data in this way, he provides very little discussion of the fitness of the instrumental musical styles used in CWM. Later in the book, interestingly, he does say that he personally does not find Christian words set to heavy metal music to be edifying:

I cannot hear this style of music, even performed by Christians, without being harassed by emotions of anger, contempt for others, justification for drugs, violence, perverted sex, and other forms of rebellion against God. Musically, it draws attention to the artists, as audiences marvel at the increasing outrageousness of each performance. This atmosphere may be acceptable as entertainment, but it is not easily reconcilable with the purposes of worship.

—Frame, 58

In spite of having such a corrupting personal response to this music, he yet holds out the possibility that “in time that may change” (58). Yet, he provides no biblical justification for holding such optimism.

The rest of the book is similarly lacking in any biblical treatment of the key issue of whether the instrumental musical styles used in CWM are acceptable to God.

Conclusion

Christians who are looking for a solidly biblical defense of the contemporary instrumental musical styles used in contemporary worship music will be disappointed with this book. Because this book has been highly touted as a key work in supporting CWM, I find that its lack of Scriptural attention to this key issue supports my view that it is in fact not possible to make such a biblical defense of using contemporary worship music that incorporates certain contemporary instrumental musical styles commonly used in CWM.

Rajesh

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