Modern worship simultaneously diminished the soundscape of worship when it limited the biblical breadth of theology expressed lyrically. This fact is as true in 19th century bouncy revival hymns as it is with much of the industry of modern praise songs.
One argument for modern worship music contends that there exists greater opportunity for emotional expression in those songs. Ironically, because modern worship music utilizes such a limited harmonic and sonic palate, it actually limits emotional expression. There are whole ranges of timbre, dissonance, and resolution that are neglected by most song writers primarily because those musical tools do not fit the upbeat nature of the text. In addition to depriving the Church of the opportunity to put words to biblical notions of sorrow, pain, or contrition, we often deny the Church the opportunity to put voice to it as well.
I am reminded of this every Good Friday as we sing contemplative songs, music of sorrow, and melodies of distress and confession that explore a realm of thought, sound, and harmonies absent from many church’s repertoire. The tension that appropriate dissonance produces resonates in the very being of the congregation with a palpable sense of sorrow or sin or confession. Musically and theologically, the movement to consonance that comes after pent up tension aurally conveys the beauty of the Gospel and the victorious work of Christ. Incidentally, the building of tension and release takes time—not something that easily happens in a three minute song.
The nuance and propositional arguments and movement and confession of the Psalter and other similar texts should not only sung, but also set to music that skillfully explores the corresponding sounds of the theological content.