Book Reviews

Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement

Dan Lucarini Webster, NY 2002-07-01

One of the most controversial and divisive elements in evangelical churches today is contemporary music. Lucarini, former rock music performer and composer and former leader of contemporary music in several churches, analyzes this problem that has confronted a countless number of churches in the last few decades in the States and around the world.

He discusses the fact that many “contemporaries,” as he calls advocates of contemporary church music, insist on changing the music style in order to reach the unsaved. But traditionalists feel that such a shift causes a congregation to miss out on the spiritual value of singing doctrinally solid hymns and gospel songs. Since these views toward church music differ so drastically, many congregations are split into two factions, and in many cases church members leave to try to find a church with a traditional worship style.

Some contemporaries, Lucarini points out, say that since music is amoral, any kind of music is acceptable in church. But he states repeatedly and firmly that hard rock music (and its musical cousins such as soft rock, pop/rock, country rock, and easy jazz) is “unavoidably associated” with immorality (p. 42, italics his) and closely imitates the world’s music system. “Changing the lyrics and substituting Christian musicians cannot remove that stigma” (p. 91).

Lucarini challenges several concepts advanced in favor of contemporary church music. For example “Martin Luther and the Wesleys used contemporary music in church.” Lucarini responds that they were very selective about the tunes they chose, so that this argument works against the contemporaries, not for them. “Contemporary music is easier to sing than the traditional hymns.” Lucarini answers, and rightly so, that much of the contemporary music is more difficult to sing than hymns. “The Bible does not say rock music is evil.” Lucarini points out that the Bible does not specify many elements in present-day culture, but that does not mean they are acceptable.

Contemporaries, Lucarini points out, have changed the meaning of the word “worship.” Instead of it meaning a God-centered focus, in which believers bow in reverence and humility before Him, worship has come to mean a people-centered entertainment that makes the participants feel good. Lucarini also distinguishes between “worship” and “praise,” terms many contemporaries use interchangeably.

The author urges churches to follow biblical principles that “teach us to avoid diligently any personal preference or style [of church music] that could be associated with evil, and [biblical principles that] also confirm there are limits to our freedom” (p. 80). He suggests four biblical principles (pp. 81–87): (1) Avoid any preference or style that can be associated with evil (1 Thess. 5:22). (2) Recognize that freedom in Christ has limits (1 Cor. 10:23). (3) Don’t let one’s preferences put obstacles in another believer’s path (1 Cor. 8:9, 12). (4) Be a builder, not part of a demolition crew (Rom. 14:9).

Many Christians will not agree with the premise of this book. Some contemporaries may reject it vigorously. But since a vast number of churches have moved from traditional to contemporary music, and since many are dissatisfied with this movement, and since this movement is splitting churches, this book needs to be read and Lucarini’s experiences and analyses need to be evaluated. 

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Roy B. Zuck, was senior professor emeritus of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary and editor of Bibliotheca Sacra.
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