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Lemley provides a much-needed discussion of why, not how, we sing


Churches of Christ place a high value on the practice of congregational singing. Singing sits at the core of our identity — especially within our wing of the Stone-Campbell, or Restoration, Movement.

But it seems to me that we have spent far more time talking about how we sing as opposed to why we sing. There are simply not many on-the-shelf books about the importance of congregational singing and Christian spiritual formation, either for individuals or congregations.

David L. Lemley. Becoming What We Sing: Formation Through Contemporary Christian Music. Eerdmans, 2021. 272 Pages. $20.56.

David L. Lemley. Becoming What We Sing: Formation Through Contemporary Christian Music. Eerdmans, 2021. 272 Pages. $24.99.

In “Becoming What We Sing: Formation Through Contemporary Christian Music,” David Lemley offers helpful material to address this void. Lemley, professor of practical theology at Pepperdine University, grew up in the pews of
a cappella Churches of Christ.

Be forewarned: This book is not for the faint of heart. It is heavy. Nevertheless, those who want to learn more about the interrelation between congregational song, the history of pop music, contemporary Christian music and spiritual formation will find it to be a useful resource.

This is not the sort of book one would put on their shelf to use on a weekly basis as a worship planner might use a hymnal. “Becoming What We Sing” will serve as a useful historical and sociocultural resource.

Lemley sufficiently lays the groundwork for what a theology of worship music (music as spiritually formative) looks like in the broader historical context. He goes back to the early church, through the church fathers and then forward to today. He is particularly helpful in understanding the external influence of pop and secular music on church music over the past 40 to 50 years.

Perhaps most helpful are the intriguing “rabbit trails” I was led to investigate as I read and reread Lemley’s book. Hundreds of footnotes and an expanded bibliography sent me exploring many different directions.

With the realization that scholars are only now starting to record the history of contemporary worship music, these references proved particularly helpful for someone intent on placing the uniqueness of our Stone-Campbell Movement’s worship tradition in the broader context of Christian worship and congregational song.

I would place Lemley’s book alongside other books such as “Jesus Rocks the World: The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music” by Bob Gersztyn and “Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship” and “A History of Contemporary Praise and Worship,” both by Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth.

For anyone interested in the broad history of congregational song, how lyrics and music form and create disciples and how Christian worship is influenced by and influences the culture of popular music, Lemley’s book will prove an interesting and informative read.

D.J. BULLS is worship minister for the Glenwood Church of Christ in Tyler, Texas. He’s done doctoral work in church music, worship and hymnology, with extensive research in Stone-Campbell hymnody. He has served in ministry for nearly two decades and lives with his wife and daughter in Tyler.

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Filed under: a cappella worship Christian literature Christian music congregational singing David Lemley Features Reviews Spiritual formation Top Stories

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