Manliness and Church Music
Not Mutually Exclusive
The movement of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) has been trucking along for quite some time now. It’s not the point of this post to break down all of the reasons why it’s a problematic movement, however, one of the damages CCM has done to men is it has presented professing Christendom with a less manly way to sing in church and thus driven many men out of churches of all kinds. It has feminized church in the minds of many men. Let me explain.
I’ve spoken to men who used to attend churches where this kind of music was used and they described it with words like, “Awkward”, and “Uncomfortable.”
David Murrow, in his book, “Why men hate going to church” did concur with my observation in his research on the subject. His book has some interesting data but, boiled down, it is essentially a marketing book on how to get men to come to your church. That’s not how church works. So, I don’t really recommend the book.
Simple fact: Most men on average prefer thinking over feeling, and see being manipulated as a challenge to their masculine autonomy.
Finding depth in music
One of the problems with all of this is that when a man does start realizing he needs more depth, and starts attending a church where scriptural depth is taught, his senses have now been tainted about language that deals with Christ’s love or the believers’ love for Christ. Whether the man is actually saved or not is irrelevant to the illustration.
While not all CCM songs are "“Jesus is my boyfriend” type songs, many are. And, men who attend churches where this music is used don’t exactly get to choose what songs are used in “worship.” I’d be curious to know how many of such “worship teams” are led by women- the more emotional sex. I suspect that may influence what songs are used? I’m speculating there.
I think you will rarely (not exclusively) find Christian songs with more depth than hymns. They’re doctrinally rich. They don’t distract you with loud music that sounds no different than the worlds immorality-glorifying music.
Hymns primarily tend to make you think things rather than primarily make you feel things. This is not to say that some CCM lyrics are not doctrinally rich, in fact, a few are (as much as I hate to admit it). I’m wanting to deal primarily with music not lyrics here.
The music typically plays a supportive role not a primary one in most hymns, or at least it seems that way. CCM often focuses on slowly heightening your feelings and then deems that a “spiritual experience”, which it isn’t. It does this by making the music primary and the lyrics secondary.
This is the part where many critics of CCM throw in the “7/11 song” argument. I don’t like that one. It’s more of jab, which I’m ok with jabs, but an argument it does not make. Honestly, some hymns are sort of like 7/11 songs (think No not One, and Blessed be the Name). I must concede that.
I’m suggesting here that old-fashioned, traditional church music, i.e. hymns, are more in line with the natural need of men than CCM because they try to emphasize thinking over feeling by making music supportive and not primary or emotionally driven.
Hymns tend to affect this supportive role of the music by making the music what many people today consider simple, old-fashioned, and yes, even what some consider boring! They use simple structural elements like a predictable meter and rhythm, identifiable melodies, mostly major chords, a noticeable musical resolution, etc.
I’m not a music theorist, I’m just pointing out what I’ve observed here. Hymns are often simple and “old-fashioned” which makes the music more supportive and less emotionally driven. (Note: I’m aware some attempt to argue the morality of music theory elements like rhythm, intervals, etc. I think they have many practical points I agree with and are worth observing, but arguments from music theory are often extra-biblical. While they make sense, they lack Biblical authority, so while I believe they are often correct, we must be careful how we frame those arguments. I believe extra-biblical arguments can be right and at the same time not have revealed Biblical authority).
I think church worship music should be primarily intellectual. Men need purpose, meaning, and reasons. CCM tends to bypass those in favor of leading with the emotions which can often make one act in a way they cannot later explain. Nothing intellectual about that.
Many men just don’t like the feeling of being manipulated emotionally, and it’s tainted what men think of singing in church. Men feel manipulated by songs that pry out feelings indiscriminately; in a way that causes men to respond to the music totally skipping over the internal questioning mechanisms that ask, “Why should I participate in this?”, “Why should I put my hands in the air and cry?”, “Why should I act moved?”.
Men feel like their masculine autonomy has been challenged when they are compelled to a response by skipping over the rational internal mechanism through which they typically filter their choices. And men do not like their autonomy challenged!
Most men may not know why this use of emotion is uncomfortable. They just feel uncomfortable. Men are not, on average, the more emotional sex. I know that is contrary to popular modern narratives, but it is an intuitive observation both historically and presently known, though not always acknowledged.
So, by “emotional manipulation”, I mean the use of music (apart from lyrics) to elicit a response without having to rationally think through what one is doing or why. As a side note, this is exactly how the American left (and others, but mostly the Left) poses arguments to their base. If they can get them emotional, i.e. angry, sad, etc. then they can get them to rally for a cause they haven’t thought through. When led by rationality- emotion good. When used to bypass the intellect- emotion bad.
If the emotional manipulation of a song is successful, it can afterward make men feel like they’ve had a weak moment. It makes them feel like they’ve lost some of their manly resilience. It feels like someone has slipped a dagger through a chink in their emotional armor. Emotion isn’t bad, it’s just not the main point of church or church music. The main point must be the intellect.
Emotions are down-stream of understanding. Understanding is down-stream of reason. Reason is downstream of instruction/knowledge. In short, you can’t get to the heart (emotion) without getting through the head (intellect). To skip that order in your behavior is a weak moment. A moment in which a man has not ruled his spirit.
By “weak moment” I mean an emotional response that did not begin with a rational understanding of a truth. Rational understanding of truth can often elicit emotional responses, and that’s ok. In fact, the Psalmist was often emotionally responsive to understanding truth. That’s good. That’s the response of a contrite heart, the response of an intellectually honest concession. That’s not weak at all.
In fact, the “macho-man” image is often one of refusal to concede, sadly even when wrong- stubbornness! That’s the real weakness. A man who can admit when he is wrong and the Lord is right is a strong man; a rational man.
So, let’s not equivocate a weak emotional moment with an intellectually honest concession to truth from a contrite heart. They’re not the same.
So, the often emotional response to CCM’s limit-free music style, and its primary role instead of supportive role tends to lead to a bypassing of the internal questioning mechanisms that make men the more rational than emotional sex. It is tantamount to being manipulated in a similar way to a political propagandist stirs up his base with emotive rhetoric.
After such an emotional high brought on by CCM, a man can feel downright silly when he comes back to his senses. He may wonder exactly how he acted in the moment and fear he embarrassed himself with an unbridled display of emotion. He might wonder, “Did anyone see me?” To be clear, again, emotion isn’t bad. It’s just not the primary point of church music. So, what is the point?
I believe church music is supposed to aid the presentation of doctrinal truths that then affect the understanding. Only when one understands things about the Lord, is he legitimately affected. That’s what makes church music “to the Lord” (see Colossians 3:16). To be affected without engaging the mind, is essentially subversion.
Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
CCM attempts to present a few basic thoughts about the Lord, but primarily aims to affect your feelings with the music first. That makes it mostly “to you” and not “to the Lord.” It makes music about my feelings, not God’s.
Whether this is intentional or not on the part of the CCM writers, who knows? It just seems obvious that thoughts and understanding are placed very low on the priority spectrum in CCM. One only need read the lyrics of most CCM songs to know that.
So, I am asserting that music that is about “feeling” something is for the listener, and music designed to direct the thinking toward Christ is designed for the Lord. The former must not subvert the latter. I don’t think that as a whole CCM accomplishes this order.
Singing in church then, is primarily to make your thinking awash with Scriptural truth as a corporate body of believers and is to be directed toward the Lord, not the listener’s feelings. It’s a way of, as a group, assenting to and agreeing with the doctrine that the song writer is presenting. That’s why it’s good to make sure the song has good doctrine.
You’ll find that old hymns are often rich in their musical composition as well. Much of CCM uses the same four chords over and over. In reality, that’s bland and boring! All energy - no craft.
“But hymns seem boring!” Well, so does broccoli, but I eat it because greens are better for me than donuts. Tastes can change when we start to see the value in things that are better for us. I used to hate stevia. Now I don’t mind it because sugar is a slow death and I prefer hanging around for the time being. Arguably, church worship should be about spiritual health, not emotional indulgence.
Good church music makes you smarter
Doctrine in hymns can sometimes even “tie up loose ends” in ones understanding of Doctrinal things. I myself have had “Aha!” moments while singing a doctrinally rich hymn. They didn’t teach me “new truth”, it just made sense of the old ones. So, yes, hymns can even make you smarter. And frankly, that aligns with the goals men ought to have.
Emasculate or leave
With all this emotional manipulation going on with CCM, it’s no wonder then that men are disassociating from churches of all kinds in large numbers, among other reasons (it’s likely not the sole reason).
These emotionally manipulative, “love songs to Jesus” are a major “turn-off” to the gender that on average tends to shy away from emotional things and things that undermine masculine autonomy.
That may also be why it seems some men in some Christian circles are increasingly less masculine in their deportment. To stay comfortable in a church where they have to yield emotional autonomy to the music and sing love song-type things to a man (the God-man, Jesus), makes a man feel emasculated.
Men who grow comfortable feeling emasculated tend to stick around, while men with a little more masculine dignity might move on. Some then begin to associate church in general with femininity. It’s a vicious cycle.
Employing the Biblically Separated Conscience
I will also concede that a few hymns have language commonly seen as less than masculine too- phrases like “lean for succor on His breast”, and whole hymns like In the Garden.
Interestingly, the musical accompaniment to them, as written, is often rather plain allowing them to be sung without the same awkwardness typical of emotionally driven music. For instance, I can sing Oh, How I Love Jesus, without feeling like I’m courting Jesus, because of the way the music is written.
The music of the hymn itself does not elicit weird emotions. Though it’s arguable that such songs could be “performed” in an emotionally distracting way thereby defeating the purpose for which they should be used.
I realize this particular point could be debated back-and-forth ad nauseam and would end up “in the weeds”. But, at some point (early) in the music discussion, people need to start using a Biblically separated conscience. Some arguments just get deep enough to end up living in that sphere where debate is difficult.
So, all that said, men should not feel awkward or uncomfortable singing in church so long as the church is doing it well- with the emphasis being primarily on the understanding of doctrinal lyrics together with other believers, and using God-honoring music that doesn’t distract from that with subtle manipulation.
Song leaders can even promote this kind of emphasis by drawing attention to the words, sometimes even stopping the music to read them.
There are both moral and practical reasons to avoid CCM. I’ve focused here primarily on practical reasons without touching on many Biblical ones (those live within the discussion of the doctrine of Separation).
Know the difference between being emotionally manipulated and being rationally/biblically instructed toward concession to truth. The former is a weakness, the latter is a strength.
Then, find a church where they sing old, doctrinally rich hymns. You’ll get Biblically smarter and you won’t feel like you’ve lost your “man card”.