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Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns, How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  176 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Dr. Gordon looks at changes in worship from the fresh viewpoint of a Media Ecology perspective. Changes in music have changed the way we think, and the way we worship - or are even able to worship. The musical culture we are immersed in has altered our ability to understand other genres of music - so much so that we find them strangely unhelpful. This means that worship ha ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published May 27th 2012 by Presbyterian and Reformed (first published June 1st 2010)
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OH MY GOSH! It's too bad this guy has NO musical background to base his arguments on. I made it to page 67 and I want to throw the book through the window. The statement that pop music didn't exist before now did it for me. Really? We had no popular music before 1950? Wow. Just wow.

I'm so sick of his pompous, high-brow, intellectual attitude. Everything with him is all or nothing. Black and white. Very left-brained and judgmental. People with very little musical background should not try to teac
Jason Montgomery
Best book I have read on worship in a long time. Challenging. Should be read along with Why Johnny Can't Preach. Much food for thought.
Oh, goodness. Where to begin.

I'll start by saying that Dr. Gordon says many things I agree with. It's his approach that bothers me. His argument would have been far better suited to a series of blog posts or a chapter in an anthology than an entire book. His work is extremely repetitive and he seems to get more smug with each passing chapter.

Dr. Gordon's main thesis seems to be that modern churchgoers physically, literally cannot sing traditional hymns because pop culture and pop music are so, w
Doing this from my phone so it'll be brief. I am one with a strong dislike of contemporary worship style, so there was much in this book that I strongly agreed with or helped me view the 'worship wars' in a different light. That said, some parts I couldn't help but think there's just a strong personal bias going on. Couldn't understand why the author spends nearly an entire chapter knocking on using a guitar in worship, but only spends one paragraph at the end of the book mentioning overhead pro ...more
John Gardner
It's no secret that, in most of today's churches, hymns have given way to "praise choruses" as the predominant form of music used in corporate worship services. Why is this? Is this a conscious choice to not sing hymns, or is it — as the title suggests — that the average Christian today can't sing hymns?

These are the type of questions asked in Gordon's book, a sequel of sorts to his previous book Why Johnny Can't Preach . Both books take their title from a 1955 book by Rudolf Flesch called Why
Alex Stroshine
I first heard about T. David Gordon’s book “Why Can’t Johnny Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote The Hymnal” on Albert Mohler Jr.’s radio program “Thinking In Public”. I was very intrigued as I listened to Dr. Mohler interview the author and decided to pick up the book myself to read. In the book, Gordon lays out his arguments against contemporary worship and advocates that churches return back to traditional hymns.

I would like to think that I am very sympathetic to Gordon’s proposals. I myself
Mark Ward
Like most of us, T. David Gordon is a professional media ecologist and a former conservative Presbyterian pastor.

Okay, perhaps that combination is not so common… And that's just why Gordon needs to be listened to. His unique background leads him to insights that are equally atypical. Few but media ecologists would think to say, "The tools we employ bothreflectour priorities and values and reciprocallyshapeour priorities and values (10). Few but pastors concerned about careful, respectful church
Longtime readers probably know of my aversion to modern "worship music" used in many churches today. And so, Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal was like preaching to the choir, so to speak.

David Gordon makes many points in this book that intrigued me:

"It is well known that the character of its song, almost equal with the character of its preaching, controls the theology of a church." Many of the songs used in churches currently are pretty lite theologically. What me
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It's written by a college professor, and so reads that way. That is a good thing because so often the traditional/contemporary music debate is more of an argument or quarrel, with much name-calling and shallow emotion. With the academic tone, the reader is able to assess the evidence he presents about how culture has changed the whole way we view music.

T. David Gordon is a preacher in a traditional Protestant denomination. Therefore, his approach to the corporate
Greg Wilson

A professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College, T. David Gordon previously taught New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for thirteen years and for nine years was the pastor of a Presbyterian church. Though an ordained Presbyterian minister, he currently attends an Anglican Church. He holds at least three advanced theological degrees (MAR, ThM, PhD).

“It is not merely the case that Johnny doesn’t sing hymns. It is truer to say that Johnny cannot sing hymns. Johnny has been
T. David's follow-up is more serious and passionately argued than his last volume on preaching. Dr. Gordon's serious reflection on worship (peppered with his characteristic wit and smirking jabs) was refreshing and challenging. Rachel and I are still struggling to find a good church in Syracuse, and this book helped us consider worship from a larger perspective--we have a clearer idea now of what we want. I rated this a star lower than the last book because: 1) the publisher added obnoxious ques ...more
Pieter Stok
There as there is much that I agree with in this book such as: the dearth of great hymns in public worship, our poor knowledge of hymnody and etc. There is also much I disagree with. It is nearly as though the Holy Spirit has stopped inspiring people in the last few decades. Gordon's tarring of all modem choruses with the same brush is disappointing. The thoughtful works of Rich Mullins, Michael Card, Keith Green and John Michael Talbot are implicitly brushed aside - heaven help them if they use ...more
One thing I liked: the differentiation between music specifically for corporate worship and music for personal enjoyment. One thing I didn't like: the dependence on catholic (and yes, I used the little c on purpose) tradition for one of the reasons churches should use hymns instead of other forms of music. At one point it seemed the author would consider the church I attend a cult because we do not hold to the concept of the universal church catholic.

This book makes very important points that A
Oct 31, 2010 Edie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Edie by: David Charles
Shelves: christianity
Didn't agree with everything the author had to say - but I probably agree with 80%. Too many churches are ignoring the history of and the theology contained in hymns. Church music is "entertainment" rather than an expression of God's greatness and holiness.
I found this one very thought-provoking and stimulating to read. I would highly recommend it. I find that I want to read every book that made it into the footnotes, too.
Clear and thought provoking. In the midst of a chorus of books on worship these days, Gordon strikes a thoughtful note.
Read first in April 2012, Re-Read August 2013.

Excellent! Longer review later…

Andrew Canavan
Like T. David Gordon's earlier book on preaching, Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns draws on his experience as a pastor, professor, media ecologist, and worshipper. Gordon aims to prompt Christians to think about why it's so important to the majority of the American church for worship music to sound contemporary and new. He argues that other criteria are just as (if not more) important than newness, and that newness is probably not the unmixed virtue we often make it out to be.

Gordon is at his stronge
Brian Collins
In this slim book Gordon challenges the idea that worship music styles are merely a matter of preference or taste. It astounds him that an aspect of the worship of God can be dismissed as insignificant or unimportant—something not likely to be said about the way the Lord's Supper is observed. Gordon is as much concerned about the lack of thoughtful, theological discussion about the wide-ranging changes in Christian worship as he is about the changes themselves.

At the core of Gordon's argument is
Ruth E. R.
Dec 31, 2014 Ruth E. R. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ruth by: Jonathan James via Heather
Shelves: fine-arts
Very valuable and succinct discussion of the intellect and aesthetic depth lacking in much of evangelical worship, centered around the "contemporary praise chorus". Abandoning the folk traditions and valuable contributions of our church fathers (and mothers) reflects rather than challenges a culture that has trivialized what was intended to be sacred. He mentions that time-honored ceremonies, such as weddings or graduations, are typically accompanied by respectful surroundings and beautiful, upl ...more
Nathanael Gentilhomme
This was very good book. I appreciated his attention to the fact that one of the contributors to the overall triviality of worship in churches today stems from ignoring the past. Here was one of my favorite parts toward the end of the book:

"Why do we erect one criterion only--that a human sound contemporary…--and in the process exclude all the other criteria that have been proposed and adopted by the church for centuries? And further, why do we (unlike the Reformers) do so without demonstrating
Joel Arnold
This book was interesting, and Gordon did make some interesting points. But I was also quite disappointed by the quality of the argument. Part of that is because I'm not crazy about media ecology and I didn't like Why Johnny Can't Preach. While I agree with some of the conclusions Gordon draws, quite a few of the connecting arguments were broken, and I doubt whether the book would actually convince anyone who has a progressive view on music. In short, interesting read and probably worth your tim ...more
the author sees the advent of contemporary worship services as doom, especially since guitars are involved. what? he keeps on saying he's not a musician and proves it.
Wow! Gordon does an outstanding job at looking at the way popular culture has caused us to be casual with our worship affecting our hymnody (amongst other things). I've seen the decline of biblical lyrics and appropriate musicality in the local assembly, and this work rightly describes the trend and current state. It's up to overseers to begin applying a corrective.
Geoff Chapman
Gordon offers an insightful analysis of the development of music styles in churches. However, the tone is often condescending, making the book very unlikely to win anyone over. Moreover, his bias is palpable and while diagnosing problems he doesn't offer any solutions. He also misses the big picture: that our worship must be glorifying to God, edifying to the Church and comprehensible to the outsider. Music style is not a gospel distinctive.

This is Daily Mail book writing, written to reinforce
Mark A Powell
After previously addressing preaching, Gordon turns his attention to hymns. Specifically, Gordon laments the exclusion and rejection of tradition-tested hymns in favor of newer-sounding but often theologically-lacking music. He argues that this must be corrected. While I agree with most of his points (and must concede to his expertise concerning all things musical), his overall approach conveys a subtle snobbery that—while perhaps rightly grounded in a blend of confidence and conviction—remains ...more
I. loved. this. book.
This book is to worship services what "Amusing Ourselves To Death" is to culture as a whole.
The premise is that most modern praise and worship music is totally inappropriate for Sunday morning worship services. Instead what we should be singing is traditional hymns sung in a traditional manner.
Even if you disagree (I don't) you should still read the book because it will help you think through what (if any) criteria there should be for music on Sunday mornings.
Jonathon Omahen
There is too much I need to say about this. I'll have take some thought into it.
Interesting observations here. I agree with many of Dr. Gordon's opinions. That said, I'm not sure he "proves" his case. His desire seems to be to approach the church music topic from a relatively unbiased media ecologist-observation perspective, but he often just comes off sounding like a grumpy uncle. I'd go with 3.5 if I could award half stars, but not quite prepared to go up to 4.
Longer review to come I think. But some really great points here, and some really bad points too. Lots of preference in this book, clouding the real issues of gathered corporate church worship. But, it's one of those things where I like Gordon's way of addressing some of these issues, as opposed to many folks not addressing them at all. Hence 3 stars instead of 2.
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Dr. T. David Gordon is professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
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