The following is an interview with Jonathan Rodebaugh, a former praise team leader who became Lutheran. Read Jonathan’s other thought-provoking meditations on his evangelical past, here at his blog, In, With, and Under.
Peter: Hi Jonathan, thanks for doing this interview. I find your story to be quite powerful. You grew up in evangelical circles, even leading praise and worship teams, and now are an elder in a Lutheran congregation. You clearly have a love and appreciation for the Gospel as taught in the Lutheran Confessions. If you had to narrow down one main way in which the Lutheran teaching of the Gospel stood out for you and offered something special, what would that be?
Jonathan: What initially led me toward the Wittenberg Trail was Lutheran soteriology. After much study and contemplation I came to appreciate paradox and tension as found in the Lutheran confessions. By placing “reason” in a ministerial instead of a magisterial role, it took the pressure of trying “to figure it all out” away and gave me peace in understanding that I can simply rest in what has been revealed. I don’t have to connect dots that aren’t there. The text can speak and faith believes without knowing all the details. This led to me discovering the doctrine of vocation and the “extra nos.” These were the two most freeing doctrines that I had ever come across, and most importantly, are firmly grounded in scripture. Understanding that my assurance is found outside of me (extra nos) and is not dependent on my emotions or hunches continues to be the most comforting thing I have ever heard. I could finally stop naval gazing and simply look to the cross. This view then allows for us to serve others through our various vocations instead of feeling like our vocation, or servanthood, is something that we must do to maintain our position in Christ. Understanding the “extra nos” gave me the freedom to truly serve my neighbor without strings attached. This is ultimate freedom. Soteriology, extra nos and vocation ultimately boil down to justification. Luther could not have been more correct when he said the justification is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. When justification is properly understood as not simply a “one time event” but instead an ongoing, daily work of the Holy Spirit, it all really comes together nicely. All of the struggles that I had with obedience came from a complete misunderstanding of justification. I was constantly looking within to see how well I matched up to the law only to come away either self-righteous or self-loathing. It was only after I came to understand these doctrines, that I could truly find peace. I liken this to the Apostle Peter attempting to walk on water. When his eyes were fixed on Christ, he was actually walking on water. However, when his gaze broke and he saw the tumultuous sea and looked to himself, he then began to sink. How true is this in each of our lives? In dark and treacherous times, eyes firmly set on Christ will always find peace in the midst of the storm.
Peter: The criticism of Contemporary Christian Music has been its focus on Self, its high emotionalism, and its lack of substance. I’ve been especially alert to its seeming inability to name the Lord whom they’re praising or put him in any historical context. It seems to be a Lord abstracted from His historical, liturgical, or doctrinal context and fused with my invisible, personal friend who helps me get through the day. On the other hand, just today I heard a CCM song which really centered on Christ as the Lamb, seemed to be extracted straight from the “Worthy is the Lamb” song of Revelation 5, and boldly sang out the name Jesus. Do you think “good CCM” songs are appropriate in the context of liturgical worship? I guess what I’m getting at — and I’m appealing to your own experience as a rock n’ roll, songwriter and musician (with The Sanderlings) — is, do you think the worship of the Lord calls for specific forms of music and rejects other forms of music (like rock n’ roll)?
Jonathan: Great question. The answer is quite multifaceted. Let me first say that I personally struggle to support even the “good” CCM songs. I will try to reign this prejudice in and give as fair an answer as I can. I agree with Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller when he says that “contemporary” Christian music began in the late 17th century. That may sound astonishing, but I believe it to be accurate. The late 17th century birthed the age of enlightenment which led the charge towards individualism as it challenged traditional roles of authority. This paradigm shift can be found in all aspects of culture; public discourse, writing, art, music, etc. Thus composers began to write differently and break from from the traditional molds of music that had curtailed them for centuries. Things were becoming more relevant to the average peasant as individualism continued to become mainstream. This can be readily noticed today when singing hymns from our LSB on Sunday mornings. Next time you are in Divine Service, without looking at the date of the hymn, render a guess whether the hymn was written before or after 1675. After doing this for a couple weeks, the precision of your guess will increase exponentially. In a nutshell, I am saying that current, so-called “good” CCM songs are a product of the enlightenment. Even so, the LSB has songs written after 1675 and I am OK with that. Much of what was written post 17th century was easier to sing and that in and of itself is not a bad thing. Worship is a corporate act and therefore singing is something in which uniformity should be encouraged. The issue with many of the hymns post 1675 is that the theology put forth in the lyrics also began to suffer because the catchiness of the meter and rhyme began to take precedence over the substance of the song. As time progressed past the 17th century, the general substance of hymns continued to degenerate. There were still gems being written from time to time, but the majority of the hymns that survived in the church were not as solid as their seemingly archaic predecessors. Individualism ultimately gives birth to consumerism. I do not have a problem with this in the secular realm, however, this is a huge problem within the church. The modern CCM movement is one that is rooted in individualistic consumerism. It’s a strategic business model, not an honest worship methodology. Bands are motivated by finances and fame to pen the next great worship songs. Christian radio stations pine after up and coming artists with the next big worship songs in hand so that they can drive listenership and sell ad space. In turn, bands license their music through entities like CCLI Song Select who in turn charge churches annual fees to legally “perform” the songs in their church. Fuel is then added to fire as churches begin commissioning their praise and worship teams to “write songs” themselves as a solid source of income for the church. The whole system is built upon a bunch of individuals doing individual things to individually profit. Could you imagine Martin Luther writing songs for the sole purpose of fame and fortune? Could you imagine Isaac Watts charging other congregations to use “There is a fount”? Now, on to the question at hand. I COULD support use of a “good” CCM song if it is theologically accurate, corporate in nature, has sing-a-bility and well-constructed music, and not written by a heretic. However, this answer comes with several additional caveats. I do not think that sticking a band in front of the congregation to perform a “good” CCM song is acceptable no more than I think sticking a band in front of the congregation to perform a hymn is acceptable. I do not think that sticking a band in front of the congregation is ever acceptable. The Divine Service is one of reverence because of the One whom is present in word and flesh. This is why I struggle with contemporary adult pop rock as an acceptable style of music. If the Queen of England was coming to speak to a collection of people in Toledo, it would not be appropriate to introduce her with Maroon 5 or Carrie Underwood. There would probably be a symphony orchestra in a pit or off to the side. This is appropriate for a woman of her position and rank. How much more reverent should we be when in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? As much as possible. This is why I struggle with rock themed music in the liturgy. It distracts the worshiper by making a formal setting casual. It strips reverence and the authenticity of the incarnation from the service. For a more in depth understanding of my problems with contemporary worship as a whole, please go to HERE.
Peter: I have been getting the sense that a lot of evangelicals are questioning where evangelicalism has gone these past 2-3 decades — the mass consumerism, the lack of substance, the flirting with worldly methodologies, the power mongering among its leadership, the lurking universalism — and have concerns about the overreaction among movements like the Emergent Church movement. What would you say to an evangelical who is searching, who is feeling that something isn’t right, but doesn’t know where to go? Do you have recommendations for books, resources, or theologians whom you found to be helpful as you were drawn from evangelicalism into a more historic confession?
Jonathan: I would tell them their assurance is found in Christ alone and share the doctrine of vocation with them. I would also encourage them to study baptism and the Lords Supper and whether they are merely ordinances or actual means through with Christ comes to us. I would come alongside and encourage them to work out what they truly believe. Lastly, I would make a point to pray for them daily.
Here are some books I recommend…
– Broken: Seven Rules Every Christian Should Break as Often as Possible – Jonathan Fisk
– The Spirituality of the Cross – Gene Edward Veith
– The Hammer of God – Bo Giertz
– The Great Works of God – Valerius Herberger
– The Lutheran Confession Readers Edition
– The Proper Distinction of Law & Gospel – C.F.W. Walther
Here are some Podcasts…