For Part I, click here.
Traditionalists worry that this “modernization” is a weak euphemism for “homogenization” and “dilution.” Though Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace” does not vary much theologically or linguistically from the original, it represents a genre of music that is, at times, repetitive, simplistic, and—most troublingly—theologically wishy-washy or wrong. Praise music may send everything into 4/4 time, but there are more important concerns: “One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing…is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics,” writes United Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas. “You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.” Further, noted the late thinker Richard John Neuhas writes in an October 2000 article in First Things:
“I love you Jeeesus!” Or at another meeting, an orgy of self-praise, “We Are Here and We are Ali-i-i-i-ve!” Well, good for you. Such junk is an embarrassment to Christianity. One wonders what a sensible outsider stumbling into such a gathering might think. He would likely beat a hasty exit, and I wouldn’t blame him. I would have, too, except I was scheduled to speak after the noise subsided. I saw in Christianity Today where one such group of sentimental bedlam was described as having “a joy that is contagious.” Contagious as in smallpox. The joy is painfully forced. “Look how joyful we are!” If this is joy, give me melancholy. Don’t tell me these people are sincere. The praise of God has nothing to do with being drenched by the agitated effusions of their sincerity. Sincerity is no excuse for tackiness…Christianity has over the centuries produced a musical heritage without parallel in human history. It is a great pity, for which some are criminally responsible, that most Christians are unaware of it.
Those could just be two ornery old men, or they could be the last line of defense against the erosion of quality Christian music. This update of a timeless classic could be nothing more than an insidious entry point for other, more cloying and maudlin praise music to slip into our spiritual consciousness. Regardless, Tomlin’s harmless, if not amazing, update comes just as contemporary praise music seeks a place at the table amongst more mature keepers of Christian discipleship, who are resistant to the perceived watering-down of a centuries-old tradition that is historically, lyrically, theologically, and musically rich.