A New Jersey megachurch's latest effort to better engage with culture by embracing some of pop culture's most popular songs reignites the debate over whether churches should utilize secular music to be relevant.
While Liquid Church is using songs like Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and Bruno Mars' "Grenade" as part of its "Pop God" sermon series this month, some point to the danger that lies in "using cultural mediums to transfer sacred messages."
Dr. John Hardin, a writer for 9Marks, a Washington, D.C. organization that helps "church leaders define success as faithfulness to God," cautioned in an email to The Christian Post that "the methods and the messages carry with them the DNA of the culture from which they were taken."
By embracing the methods of the world, pastors end up embracing the values and the meanings of the world. Hardin, a former college pastor, said that ultimately they may surrender the sacredness of their church, and "the sacred ceases to be that which is set apart, when it is framed in that which is perhaps all too near."
Liquid Church kicked off its "Pop God" series this past Sunday with the worship team leading the congregation in singing "Rolling in the Deep."
Rich Birch, spokesperson for Liquid, told CP this week that the Christian subculture is fairly disconnected to the broader world, so Liquid Church is trying "to redeem the culture through those four songs" (the other two are songs by the Foo-Fighters and Cee Lo Green).
Birch said that the idea behind "Pop God" stems from a "long Christian tradition of redeeming, rather than rejecting art, and finding ways to find a connection to our current culture." Jonathan Edwards did the same thing, he pointed out, by taking bar room drinking songs and putting religious lyrics to them.
Hardin, however, noted, "Jonathan Edwards did write of the 'lewd songs' sung in taverns there is little to demonstrate that he adapted such songs for churches."
John Wesley and Martin Luther may have indeed also provided sacred words for secular tunes, said Hardin, "but such practices are by no means a 'long Christian tradition.'"
Brett McCracken, author of Hipster Christianity: When Church & Cool Collide, believes initiatives like Liquid's stem from the fact that many churches feel pressure because young people are leaving in record numbers. Because of that they look for ways to "rebrand the church as more friendly to culture."
However, he cautioned, "when you attract people under these pretenses, and use gimmicky things," keeping them engaged becomes critical. If a church is selling something to get people in the door, there has to be something substantial in terms of discipleship to keep them.
"As Christian, we should focus on quality songs that are well crafted and honest in their lyrics, and theologically rich," McCracken said. He said much of that has been lost as we have moved away from hymns, many of which were "rich and theologically built into the narrative of the music."
His hope, he told CP, is that Christians "can recover the art of being excellent craftspeople and create music that is so good that Christians don't have to look to the secular world to get their worship experience."