"God Sings!" by Douglas Bond. A Review
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Most Protestants no longer realize that one of the major rallying points of the Reformation was the return of worship, especially congregational singing, to the parishioners. For centuries only the professionals (priests, monks and cantors) sang and chanted the divine service, up front, close to the altar. The congregants rarely knew the music or the songs, and thus, seldom sang. Then came the Reformation with the Reformers reading not only sacred Scripture, but also the early church pastors and theologians. To their surprise they found it was standard fair for the congregants to sing and engage in the liturgy. And so, the Reformation included congregational singing and involvement in worship. But slowly, especially over the last several decades, the descendants of the Reformation are returning to the up-in-front professionalization in worship. Therefore, I was interested to receive the 270-page paperback “God Sings! (And Ways We Think He Ought To),” penned by Douglas Bond, accomplished author, adjunct instructor of Church History at Western Reformed Seminary in Tacoma, WA, and an advisory member to the Presbyterian Church in America’s Reformed University Fellowship Permanent Committee in Atlanta, GA. The author is concerned to “explore how God sings, and how he wants his people to sing back to him in corporate worship” (12) in this volume. It is a book full of strong assertions and stern inquiries, stimulating readers to make some clear-headed assessments.
Bond examines the idea that God sings in the introduction and first chapter as he draws from Zephaniah 3:17, as well as Psalm 29. After that, he spends the remaining chapters looking at why we sing, how we sing, and what we sing. The author’s working premise throughout the volume is that music is not neutral, and therefore, not “all music is capable of bearing the weight of the majesty of the God into whose presence we are entering to adore” (204). And that music “in worship is first and last about the voice of the congregation singing to and with one another the word of Christ” (53). From this position he challenges and prods his audience to examine exactly what they are singing, how it is presented, and why it is staged the way it is. Bond’s perspective is that hymns, congregational songs new and old, should be Christ-centered, glorifying God, first and foremost. Then they are to codify Christian doctrine. Lastly, they should unify God’s people, not segregate them based on preferences or generational penchants (53-54). In the words of the admired Presbyterian and Reformed scholar, Yoda, “The RPW is strong with this one.”
One of the biggest concerns the author has is the way entertainment is conquering our singing and worship. This apprehension runs through the manuscript, coursing amid the veins, capillaries and arteries of nearly every chapter. Rightly, the question needs to be asked: do our songs and liturgy “reflect the ethos of worship” or “the ethos of entertainment” (52). To answer this question, it would be worth the time to look around one’s congregation in worship. Observe who is singing, how many, and where is the emphasis of the music visually and acoustically. If it is almost everyone singing, wonderful. But if it is mostly women, young adults or nearly no one, then it is probably time to reassess what is happening with the music. In my estimation, Bond has done a good job in giving readers the ability to examine their church’s worship and make sound assessments.
In numerous ways I was onboard with the author. My own apprehensions and assessments are voiced on page after page. Nevertheless, I found the volume anemic in one regard, and not so helpful in another. I say it is anemic because none of the material is annotated, except for Scripture. He quotes John Calvin, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, John Cooper of Skillet, Keith Getty, and many others. But there are no footnotes or endnotes to point readers to the sources, and several of the quotations are important. Only rarely does he mention in which book the statement can be found. Yet, if you’re not looking for the work to be academic or scholastic, you’ll be okay.
And I found it unhelpful in places. There are gloomy cause-and-effect assertions that arise here and there that were a bit hard for me to swallow. I get the writer’s concerns and cares. I have the exact same ones, as a matter of fact. Yet at times it was a bit much. Nevertheless, if a reader will stick to the volume, work through the pages and chapters, listen and ponder, I think the author’s challenges, questions, and solutions are highly worthwhile.
“God Sings!” was easily readable and moved along quickly. Pastors, Elders and worship leaders will find it a book that encounters them in tender places and will bring them to reassess the why-what-and-how of their worship. Also, for aspiring worship-song and hymn writers, there is plenty between these covers to give you food for thought. But I also am certain parishioners will gain a wealth of value from the book as well. All things considered; I happily recommend the book.
I am very grateful to Douglas Bond for sending the copy I used for this evaluation. I saw it publicized on LinkedIn, asked him for a copy to review, and he gladly sent it. No stipulations were imposed on me, so this analysis is my own, freely made and freely given.
You can purchase the book here: God Sings!
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