Join our mailing list

Music of the Church

A course syllabus for a class that provides an introduction to the history and theology of worship music.

Course Syllabus

Note to Professors: 

Music of the Church is an introduction to the history and theology of worship music. There are number of challenges in teaching this class. First, though it is a required part of the music ministry major at Northwestern College, most of the class is comprised of students who come from other disciplines and take the class as part of their general education requirements. This means there is a significant gulf between those students who are experienced and interested in worship, and those who aren’t. Further, worship is a subject in which the students have a good deal of experience (and baggage). I imagine that Biblical Studies and Political Science professors experience a similar dynamic—students already read the Bible, worship, and vote so they arrive with deeply held convictions and are often unable to become objective learners or are unwilling to even discuss concepts that fall outside of their existing framework. Finally, it is a large class. It is difficult to foster trust and communication in a class of 40. This context has shaped my approach as I have taught the class over the last five years.

Wilson-Dickson’s The Story of Christian Music, the textbook for the class, does a good job of presenting a wide view of worship. He includes the cultural and religious context that shapes each worship movement and he often covers music that is not typically included in worship histories. (For example, composer Mark Hijleh was a guest in the class and was pleasantly surprised that the class knew about Messiaen and Stravinsky.) However, Wilson-Dickson doesn’t provide adequate coverage of modern worship movements, mentioning only Graham Kendrick and John Rutter as examples, and his overall perspective is more musical than theological.

I supplement the Wilson-Dickson text in a number of ways. I’ve added a number of articles that address issues he doesn’t or approach them in ways that provoke discussion. (These are listed below in the course schedule.) The students answer questions on each assigned textbook or supplementary reading as a way to prepare for class. Class lectures include PowerPoint outline and visuals, numerous recorded and sung music examples, group projects and class discussions. Because the class is so large I also encourage discussion on a class email list. Some semesters this has encouraged an exchange of ideas that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, especially for introverted students.

Course Objective:

To introduce the student to the development of music and worship throughout the history of the Christian Church; to understand the spiritual movements from which they arose, evaluate their effect on the Church’s worship life, compare and contrast worship movements, and to apply historical ideas to current worship situations.

Required Text:

Wilson-Dickson, Andrew. The Story of Christian Music. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.


Questions or outlines will be assigned for every reading. They will be available on reserve in the library, on the class website and via email. They are due at the beginning of each class.

Paper #1: My Worship History

One page, double-spaced (350-400 words) about the churches you’ve attended, the styles of worship that you’ve experienced, and the things you find meaningful or disturbing when you worship. You may want to include a description of a “mountain top” worship experience.

Paper #2: Further Research

Two to four pages, double-spaced (700-1400 words, not including the works cited/consulted) of research into any person, worship movement, topic, instrument, etc mentioned in chapters 1-40 of The Story of Christian Music. The research topics will be chosen in consultation with me, and should be something that you would like to know more about–a topic that interests you enough to research and write about. While online sources and the class textbook may be consulted or cited, the paper must include at least three book or journal references.

Paper #3: A Contemporary Movement

Two to four pages, double-spaced (700-1400 words, not including the works cited/consulted) about a contemporary worship movement or music style. The paper might include a history of the movement, its theological underpinnings, and a description and evaluation of the musical/liturgical style. The paper will include an annotated bibliography (which should include at least five references–recordings and web references are acceptable). I will provide a list of possible choices, but you are also free to choose your own in consultation with me.

Course Schedule


  1. Introduction to Music 115 & What Is Worship?
  2. Overview of Church Music History

    Witvliet, John. “On Three Meanings of the Term Worship.” Reformed Worship 56 (June 2000): 46-47.

  3. Topic 1a: Worship in the Bible

     Wilson-Dickson: Introduction and Chapter 1

  4. Worship Scripture Projects

The Early Church

  1. Topic 1b: The Early Church

     Wilson-Dickson: Chapter 2

    Due: Paper #1-My Worship History

  2. Topic 1c: The Liturgical Year & Daily Offices

     Boers, Arthur Paul. “Learning the Ancient Rhythms of Prayer.” Christianity Today(January 8, 2001): 38-45. (Also found at,, and

    Hustad, Donald P. Jubilate II. Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Co, 1993. 172-173.

    Webber, Robert. The Book of Daily Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1993. 7-10; 47-48; 63-64; 145-146; 197-198; 209; 271-272

  3. Topic 2: Middle Ages, Formation of Christian Liturgy

     Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 3-5

  4. Topic 3: Middle Ages, The Development of the Liturgy

     Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 6-7

  5. Topic 4: Middle Ages, Polyphony

     Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 8-9

  6. EXAM: Foundations & The Early Church


  7. Introduction to Library Research

    Due: Further Research Topic Proposal (one typed paragraph)


  1. Topic 5: The Reformation

     Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 10-11 

    Weidler, Scott. “Did Martin Luther Really Use Tavern Tunes in Church?” Evangelical Church in America Home Page. 27 Aug. 2001. <>.

  2. Topic 6: The English Reformation and Counter Reformation

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 12-14

  3. Comparison of Reformation Movements

  4. EXAM: Reformation

Post-Reformation Europe

  1. Topic 7/8: Baroque/Bach

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 15-18

    Siemon-Netto, Uwe. “J. S. Bach in Japan.” First Things 104 (June/July 2000): 15-17. (Also found at <>)

  2. Topic 9: Anglican vs. Puritan

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 19-20

  3. Topic 10: Birth of the English Hymn

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapter 21

  4. Topic 10: Birth of the English Hymn

    Noll, Mark A. “We Are What We Sing.” Christianity Today 43.8 (12 July 1999): 37. (Also found at <>)

  5. Due: Further Research Outline and Bibliography
  6. Topic 11: Classical and Romantic Periods

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 22-23

  7. Topic 12: Oxford Movement and Revivals

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 25-27

  8. Due: Contemporary Movement Topic Proposal (one typed paragraph)
  9. EXAM: Post-Reformation Europe

Non-Western Worship

  1. Topic 13: Eastern Orthodoxy

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 28-30, 32

    Webber, Robert. Worship Leader:

    “Recovering Symbolic Worship.” Jan./Feb. 2001: 12.

    “The Resurrection of the Cross as Symbol.” Mar./Apr. 2001: 12.

    “Image or Idolatry?” Summer 2001: 8 (Readers’ responses).

    “The Use of Icons in Worship.” July/Aug. 2001: 12.

  2. Due: Paper #2-Further Research

  3. Topic 14a: Africa

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 31, 33-34

  4. Topic 14b: World Worship in Western Churches

    Hawn, C. Michael. “A Survey of Trends in Recent Protestant Hymnals: International Hymnody.” The Hymn Oct. 42.4 (1991): 24-32.

  5. Topic 14c: The Nairobi Statement

    Lutheran World Federation. “Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture.” 1996


  1. Topic 15: Early America

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapter 35

  2. Topic 16: Late (White) America

    Wilson-Dickson: pp 200-201; Chapter 39-40

  3. Due: Contemporary Movement Outline and Bibliography
  4. Topic 17: Early African American

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 36-37

    Cleveland, J. Jefferson and William B. McClain. “A Historical Account of the Negro Spiritual.” Songs of Zion. Ed. J. Jefferson Cleveland. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981. 73.

  5. Topic 18: Black Gospel

    Wilson-Dickson: pp 201(bottom)-206

    Cleveland, J. Jefferson and William B. McClain. “A Historical Account of the Black Gospel Song.” Songs of Zion. Ed. J. Jefferson Cleveland. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981. 172.

  6. EXAM: Non-Western Worship & America


  1. Topic 19 & 20: 20th Sacred Art Music & Vatican II

    Wilson-Dickson: Chapters 41-43

    Robinson, Scott. “Where Have All the Choirs Gone?” Sojourners. Sept/Oct. 1997: 48-54. “Musing Grace.” Nov/Dec. 1997: 59-64.

  2. Topic 21: Pentecostal, Charismatic, Praise & Worship, and Post-Modern

    Synan, Vinson. The Origins of the Pentecostal Movement. 9 Jan. 2002, <>

  3. Topic 21: Pentecostal, Charismatic, Praise & Worship, and Post-Modern

    Hamilton, Michael S. “The Triumph of Praise Songs.” Christianity Today 43.8 (12 July 1999): 28. (Also found at <>)

    Rabey, Steve. “The Profits of Praise.” Christianity Today 43.8 (12 July 1999): 32. (Also found at <>)

    Redman, Robb. “The Sound of Enthusiasm.” Worship Leader July/Aug. 2001: 27-29.

    Due: Paper #3-A Contemporary Movement