Wednesday, 12 April 2023

Book Review: Michael A. Tapper, Canadian Pentecostals, the Trinity, and Contemporary Worship Music

Michael A. Tapper, Canadian Pentecostals, the Trinity, and Contemporary Worship Music: The Things We Sing, Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies 23 (Leiden: Brill, 2017)

One book which makes great use of Colin Gunton’s theology and may have flown under the radar for researchers (I only recall one fleeting mention of it in The T&T Clark Handbook of Colin Gunton, for example) is Michael Tapper’s Canadian Pentecostals, the Trinity, and Contemporary Worship Music. Tapper writes,

The overall objective of this book is to consider how, or if, a Christian worship practice of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (paoc) is informed by a trinitarian approach to God, personhood, and the created world. . . . While a sound trinitarian statement . . . is clearly embedded at the forefront of formal paoc documentation, an important question remains: Does the doctrine of the Trinity actually form the paoc in substantial and meaningful ways? (p. 293, emphasis original)

Tapper draws from Gunton’s writings to develop a framework in which to analyse the lyrical content of the most commonly sung hymns and worship songs in PAOC churches between 1 October 2007 and 30 September 2015. The framework asks:

Do the songs, explicitly and/or implicitly, name and identify all the persons of the Trinity?

Do the songs speak of the actions of the triune God with reference to salvation history as recorded in biblical scripture?

Do the songs acknowledge the perichoretic relationality that exists among the persons of the immanent Trinity?

Is human self-identification in the songs depicted as singular, plural, or neutral?

Do the actions of the worshipper in the songs acknowledge the horizontal-orientation of human relationality?

Do the songs reinforce the mediatorial worship of the worshipper as to, in, and through the different persons of the Trinity?

What is the perception of time in relation to the action of the worshipper in the songs?

Is there a balance between material and immaterial objects in the songs? (pp. 7–8, amended)

While the focus on PAOC churches is somewhat niche, most of the songs Tapper assesses (e.g., 10,000 Reasons; I Could Sing of Your Love Forever; In Christ Alone; Shout to the Lord) are globally known, thus making his findings (I won’t say what they are!) relevant to numerous denominations.

Canadian Pentecostals, the Trinity, and Contemporary Worship Music contains statistical analysis (mostly confined to the appendices) and commentary on lyrics, but the earlier chapters chart the development of the PAOC and its understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity before outlining and critiquing Gunton’s theology and its appropriateness for Tapper’s project. Even if one is not favourably disposed towards Gunton’s take on trinitarian doctrine, Tapper’s study at least demonstrates that Gunton’s desire to show how the doctrine makes a genuine difference in the life of the church is commendable and not misplaced; and although Tapper engages Gunton’s material to compose his eight questions, the questions themselves largely do not require Gunton’s content specifically to be acceptable.

I commend Canadian Pentecostals, the Trinity, and Contemporary Worship Music to people who are involved in musical worship and/or the PAOC, as well as to anyone interested in finding a helpful summary, critique, and (most importantly) application of Gunton’s theology to a prominent aspect of church life. The book is fairly expensive (Tapper himself sent me the copy I read for free on the understanding that I would take it to the library at King’s College London once I had finished with it) but is definitely worth tracking down.

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