I don't have any particular animus against contemporary worship or the use of "praise" songs in the assembly of God's people. There is always a place for singing new songs to the Lord and for introducing aspects of native culture into the life of faith. Contemporary pop culture, however, poses a unique challenge to those who insist on making it more and more the language of faith and worship.
All forms of pop culture are like kudzu, the tenacious Southern vine which, unchecked, will overgrow and overwhelm everything it touches. It is not uncommon, in places in the American South, to see fences, telephone lines, stands of trees, even abandoned farm buildings completely overgrown by this fast-growing herb. While a kudzu-form is recognizable, the original substance has been buried. The result is that everything looks the same. Even though the forms of fence, lines, trees, and buildings are still recognizable, it's all kudzu, and, while there's a certain beauty to the phenomenon, it soon becomes tiresome.
Pop culture, including that which finds its way into the worship of God's people, can be like kudzu. It will overtake whatever it attaches to and transform it into itself, replacing what was a distinct substance with a pop form, and obscuring or completely eliminating the reality that lies beneath. I hope this won't be the fate of worship in the American Church. But if we continue clothing the substance of worship -- liturgy, music, preaching, and so on -- with pop forms, leaving behind the rich tradition and heritage of worship bequeathed by our forebears, ultimately, all we will be left with is a pop culture form of worship. All the rich substance of worship will be buried under the rhythm and beats, lights and multi-media props, skits and anecdotal sermonizing that is coming increasingly to characterize much contemporary worship.
But for those believers nurtured in this kudzu environment, do they even know what they're missing? Not likely. How many advocates of contemporary worship have even the slightest sense of worship's rich history and heritage? Take, for example, this portion of a litany, written for the personal use of pastors, and as a ground for their preaching and teaching, in 14th-century Ireland:
O Savior of the human race; O true physician of every disease, O heart-pitier and assister of all misery; O fount of true purity, and of true knowledge; O bestower of every treasure; by the heavenly Father, by the Holy Spirit, by Your own Divinity; by Your great compassion, by Your great affection to the human race from the beginning of the world to its end, grant me abstinence in place of gluttony, chastity in place of lust, compassion in place of greed, gentleness in place of wrath, spiritual joy in place of carnal sorrow, tranquility in place of anxiety, silence in place of loquacity; impart to me Your fear and love around my heart and in my thought, that I may despise every carnal pleasure, and all vain glory of the present life, that I may desire earnestly to meditate on You, to pray to You, and to praise You forever.
Let us hope and pray and study to ensure that such substantial gems of devotion are not lost and forgotten under the ever-growing kudzu of pop culture in worship.