Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns

I recently finished T. David’s Gordon’s new book Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal.  For the mature Christian reader, pastor, or minister of music I would highly recommend this resource even though their is much in the book I do not particularly agree with.  With that  said the book offers some fresh insights on an important topic.   Gordon’s thoughtful quotes sprinkled throughout the book make this resource a worthy investment of both time and money. 

Here are a few of the many thought-provoking quotes found in this book: 

“In such communions, worship had previously been understood as a meeting between God and His visible people.  Worship was a dialogue, if you will: God speaking through Word and sacrament, and His people responding in prayer, praise, and confession.  The decisions that governed such worship revolved around this dialogical conception of worship as a meeting between God and His people.”

In addressing the ‘seeker-friendly meetings’ issue the author writes.

“The failure to make such a distinction creates an unintended irony: that those who are genuinely seeking for God are often repulsed by the so-called seeker-friendly services, which seem to be more about fun than answering life’s most serious question.”

“Young people who attend church see a group of fifty-year-olds playing their guitars in front of the church in order to reach the young will perhaps politely appreciate the gesture, but they frankly regard the music as being fairly lame.”

“Biblically, the goal of youth is to leave it as rapidly as possible.  The goal of the young, biblically, is to be mature…1 Cor 13:11.”   “Extended adolescence is part of what our youth need to be delivered from.”

“The most common argument for employing contemporary worship music is the strategic argument: to reach a culture captivated by pop music, the church must employ such music.  But this argument, as we have just seen, is far from cogent.”

“When the church approaches an individual as a consumer to be pleased, rather than as a recalcitrant sinner to be rescued, the church is no longer doing what it is called to do.”

“The question of what constitutes a suitable or appropriate prayer or song for Christian worship is as old as the apostolic church. Paul addressed the Corinthians on the matter, for instance (1 Cor 14:14-17).”

“We don’t disagree with the past; we just don’t pay attention to it.”

“Johnny hasn’t been persuaded that hymn-singing is wrong; Johnny simply cannot relate to anything that doesn’t sound contemporary.  He cannot shed his cultural skin, the skin of contemporaneity, of triviality, of paedocentrism.  He thinks he prefers contemporary worship music forms to other forms, but in reality he prefers contemporaneity as a trout prefers water; it is the only environment he knows.”

“Johnny is monogenerational outside the church; so he is monogenerational inside the church.”

The most helpful worship resource I have come across are lectures from the Shepherd’s Conference presented by Professor Andrew Snider.  I have also greatly benefited from Paul Jones’ book Singing and Making Music as well as Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters.  I have yet to read Brian Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship or Timothy M. Pierce’s Enthroned On Our Praise: An O.T. Theology of Worship.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by James Sizemore on July 19, 2010 at 9:52 am

    From reading this post it seems the author has done well at identifying the problem, but i would like to know if he offers any genuine solutions.

  2. One may not agree with all of his solutions but yes the author does.

  3. Posted by localman on July 21, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    here’s a link to Andrew Snider’s lectures:

  4. Posted by Jesse on July 23, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Have you read “Why Johny Can’t Preach”? If so, is it worth the read? I’m thinking about taking it with me on a flight this weekend. Thx Caleb

  5. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on July 23, 2010 at 7:50 am


    I have not read “Why Johny Can’t Preach” but i would imagine that the author’s slightly different approach to writing would make it a worth while book. He takes into account sociological factors more than your typical author. You might not agree with all of his conclusions yet the nuggets of gold you uncover will likely make it a worth while investment of time . If you do read his book this trip let me know what you think.


  6. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on July 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Jesse: I thought it was excellent; definitely worth reading.

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