Following up on the problem of prejudice, I want to take a pot-shot at my generation of Christians. If there is one thing young Christians are prejudiced against, its gotta be Southern Gospel Music.
For many of the contemporary Praise & Worship crowd, Southern Gospel is just too old to be relevant. Its the music of your parents and grandparents. Its the music that you play at Billy Graham crusades, not for people who talk theology at Starbucks.
For many conservative Reformed thinkers, Southern Gospel is too akin to the revivalistic Pentecostalism and the Arminian worldview from which it sprang. It is too performance-driven and performer-centered to be spiritually edifying. Or perhaps, it's just too southern to be taken seriously.
There is, perhaps, some merit to each of these suggestions. One has to consider whether a song about the birth of Christ is best celebrated by mass foot stomping and clapping. Furthermore, Southern Gospel can easily fall into a similar trap as most modern praise & worship music as being primarily taste-driven with watershed theological depth.
However, in spite of the potential for abuses of the genre, I have to believe that much of the modern distaste for Southern Gospel comes from an a priori, fundamental prejudice against music that is associated with the traditional South. Both the Contemporary Praise & Worship movement and the Reformed tradition typically have more success in the climate of intellectualism than for the backwoods of Tennessee.
Southern Gospel Music is recorded in Nashville (a city which still suffers from the hick-town stigma despite its current metropolitan status) and appreciated by people in small towns. That doesn't mean that every church will have special music with untalented people trying to sound like Gospel singers (though it happens). Neither does it mean everybody who likes Southern Gospel has big hair, excessive jewelry, and bad suits.
Some Southern Gospel songs bring a tear to my eye for the piercing nature of the truth it teaches, other songs make me cringe on account of the shallowness of the doctrine (or lack-thereof). But there are at least two good examples that I want to showcase that should resonate on some level with most believers in Christ.
The first is a fairly recent song by Steve & Annie Chapman entitled, "Don't Unpack Your Bags." It is, essentially, a story about a young preacher coming to a new church and dutifully trying to introduce himself to every town-member he could before beginning his pastorate. One woman, having been a former member of his church, warned him against the power-hungry, back-stabbing nature of that very congregation notorious for demolishing the spirit of their pastors. Her recommendation for the pastor is laced with a bittered, sarcastic truth:
"Touch a feather to their ear
Tell them what they want to hear
Give ’em milk, don’t give ’em meat
Make it short, make it sweet
If you wanna stay around
That’s what you’ll have to do
But don’t unpack your bags, young man
If you plan to preach the truth”
The second song, "Excuses" is by the Kingsmen Quartet (I absolutely love men's quartets!). It lampoons the motives of everyone who thinks of ways to criticize their church and spend their Sundays at home:
"Well, the preacher he's too young. And, maybe he's too old.
The sermons they're not hard enough. And, maybe they're too bold.
His voice is much too quiet-like. Sometimes he gets too loud.
He needs to have more dignity. Or, else he's way too proud.
Well, the sermons they're too long. And, maybe they're too short.
He ought to preach the word with dignity instead of 'stomp and snort.'
Well, that preacher we've got must be 'the world's most stuck up man.'
Well, one of the lady's told me the other day, 'Well, he didn't even shake my hand!'"
My point is: many Southern Gospel songs have excellent content presented in a harmoniously balanced musical style. Yes, it is Southern. Yes, it is primarily listened to by people in their 50s and up. Yes, it is not respected by mainstream intellectuals. But is it worth listening to? I answer that question with a hearty, "Amen!"