Barry Liesch attempts to bring much-needed sanity and a difficult-to-maintain balance to the worship wars in his book, The New Worship: Straight Talk on Music and the Church.
Throughout the book, his approach is primarily integrationist. He constantly seeks to settle debates by embracing a both/and rather than either/or approach to worship. For example, both choruses and hymns should be incorporated into worship because both have strengths and weaknesses. Choruses often lack theological depth and intellectual reflection but they are easily memorized and communicate emotion and passion well. At the same time, hymns are lengthy and involve complex melodies, but the reward in learning and using them is spiritually enriching. To use only hymns or only choruses is to lose the benefit of both. Ultimately, Liesch argues for a breadth in music that is comparable to the breadth found in the Hebrew Psalter (40).
Liesch believes that all three major forms of worship - liturgical, thematic, and free-flowing praise - can be used with great benefit. He dubs the free-flowing praise the "new worship" and presents a passionate defense of it by using John Wimber's five-phase model as a paradigm. The five phases are helpful to consider - invitation, engagement, exaltation, adoration, and intimacy - and truly seem to represent a common sequential approach to God. I personally find the five-phase paradigm a little too manipulative. Should worship always proceed in this way and toward this end? Should the music always go from exciting and upbeat to slow and reflective? Finally, even though dubbed "free-flowing" it is obvious that there is more intentional structure than the title lets on.
Order, structure, and execution are important to corporate worship. Along with the free-flowing model Leisch gives other excellent patterns for structuring worship - the "Journey into the Holy of Holies" comes to mind.
Helpful practical points are strewn throughout the book. From the simple (but often neglected) importance of starting songs with a pitch that the congregation can sing together to the deep importance of keeping Christ central to all worship, Leisch provides great practical help to those involved in structuring and leading worship services.
Leisch ends the book by addressing tensions over musical style that have led to the contemporary worship wars. He believes that these tensions should be addressed with the principles that relate to Christian liberty over "disputable matters." No one style should be considered right or wrong. Instead, Christians should lovingly tolerate all styles that edify others, even if they are not personally edifying. All Christians should strive to be "strong" in regard to musical styles. "Maturity is the ability to appreciate great musical diversity... Musical narrowness is selfishness at its worst" (232).
As with most books on contemporary worship, Leisch completely ignores older/ancient categories. For Leisch, "traditional" music only extends back to revival hymns and "contemporary" only covers music that is already dated by twenty years. I agree with his desire to integrate all styles and forms of worship together to take advantage of all the strengths of each style and form. But it would be nice if the category "traditional" also included ancient practices such as chant, lectio divina, singing the psalms, speaking the creeds as well as incorporating candles, scents, and beauty into worship. We will never really take advantage of the fullness of worship possibilities until we include all the church has to offer over her long history of worshiping God.
© Richard J. Vincent, 2004