Worship in Song, A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, by Scott Aniol, Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2009. 281 pp. paper, $17.99.
Scott Aniol, who serves as the executive director of Religious Affections Ministries, writes this book for two reasons: first, to distinguish between secular music, that might be appropriate for everyday use, and sacred music, especially in the context of the church gathered; second, “Newer generations are increasingly rejecting conventional arguments for a conservative music philosophy.” Aniol believes it is time for another voice (p. viii).
This volume is divided into three sections, the first wisely devoted to laying the foundation. Here strong support for biblical sufficiency is given (see p. 1) and a definition of worship is sought. Anoil ultimately defines worship as “a spiritual response to God as a result of understanding biblical truth about God” (p. 30). The two responses that are essential are affection and action (p. 33). This leads to one of the most helpful insights in the book—the difference between passions and affections. Drawing heavily on the writings of Jonathan Edwards, Anoil sees passions as being surface level feelings that are merely physical or chemical responses to some sort of stimuli. Such passions are involuntary, immediate and fleeting. Affections, on the other hand, are deeper, more lasting, more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul—they are a volitional response to acknowledged truth (pp. 52-53, 197). Sacred music should not be used to arouse our passions but to deepen and express our affections. Aniol claims that part of our corporate worship in song today is due to the infiltration of the secular culture, via the Enlightenment, into the minds and lives of God’s people (pp. 68-72). Prior to the Enlightenment a strictly secular culture did not exist in the Western world, but now it is difficult to filter out its influence. This is especially true of worship music. If Christians spend all week listening to “bad” music, it is difficult to appreciate good music when used in worship (p. 57).
Section two is devoted to understanding the proper use of music. Aniol says that we praise what we love and value (pp. 104-105), therefore sacred music should be about the beauty of God (pp. 101-103). Here the reader is offered qualities for good music (pp. 132-133) and the means of evaluating good music (pp. 140-143).
The final section deals with music in assembled worship. Aniol defines congregational worship “as a unified chorus of spiritual responses toward God expressed publicly to God, as a result of understanding biblical truth about God” (p. 155). Congregational worship is distinguished from private worship simply because it is a corporate activity (p. 203). For this reason individualistic music is not appropriate nor is personal preface paramount. Sacred music should be one of the tools used by the church to help mature believers (p. 161). With this in mind Aniol believes that one of the primary purposes of sacred music is to mature the emotions of believers (pp. 163-171).
Chapters 12-15 makes a case for congregational worship music being: God-oriented, doctrine-oriented, affection-oriented, and congregation-oriented. The kinds of music that do and do not accomplish these purposes are found in these chapters as well as in the last two. It is at this point that some will choose to differ with Aniol. Even among those who agree on all the principles he develops some will perhaps disagree on the particulars. But Aniol presents a fair, biblical and thought-provoking case for a conservative approach to sacred music.
Of the books I have read on worship as related to music I believe Worship in Song to be the best. That does not mean I agree with everything presented (although I do with most), but Aniol gives an intellectual, scripturally-laced argument that is well worth serious study by those interested in congregational worship.