16 January 2014

A few Brief Thoughts on Theology and Worship Music

I want to tread carefully in this post because I am sure to offend some people, which is not my intention.  I have been thinking about writing a post on worship music for a long time and never really could settle on how to proceed.  This morning as I was listening to Kristin Getty sing The Power of the Cross, I thought maybe today would be a good day.  Before I proceed, let me offer a disclaimer.

First, I like modern praise and worship music. I attend a church that sings primarily recent praise songs and I belt them out at the top of my lungs.  I was even a worship leader at our church for quite a while and at my previous church.  I am not someone who scoffs at the music we sing because frankly, I love it and it allows me to worship God in song.  In fact, I am not going to single out any specific worship songs that I dislike because that is not the point. 

However...many modern songs lack theological depth.  Many praise songs that are now written are emotionally engaging, but cognitively weak.  I believe that we are to love God not only with our hearts, but also with our minds.  I also believe that our song choices should be influenced by not just what makes us feel warm and tingly, but which takes our view of God to greater heights. 

The Young Blimeycow gets it about right in this post on "How to Write a Worship Song"

So, what are examples of songs that are theologically rich and engage both the mind and the heart?  Certainly, In Christ Alone by the Getty's is a classic example. Almost no one believes it was written just 12 years ago because it sounds like an old hymn.

How about the song I mentioned above--the Power of the Cross?

What are some songs, old or new, that you think express deep theological depth?


josh said...

Feel free not to approve this if you don’t feel that it adds any value to your discussion.

Some of my favorite songs that I think have depth (in general and in no particular order):
Before the Throne of God Above (especially the live SONICFLOOd version)
Like Incense (w/Sometimes by Step) (Hillsong)
This is Amazing Grace (Bethel/Phil Wickham)
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
Glory in the Highest (Tomlin)
Solution (Hillsong United)
Messiah/You’re Beautiful (ever since I heard it at Amy’s wedding) (Wickham)
Desperate People (Hillsong United)
None but Jesus (United)
You Lifted Me Out (Tomlin)
Aftermath (United)
Your Love is Strong (Jon Foreman)

I think all songs serve different purposes. Just as, when I pray, there are times that I feel overwhelmed with emotion and can hardly focus on anything but what I’m feeling, there are songs that don’t necessarily display a lot of intellectual complexity but are just a way to tell God what’s in my heart. I think that’s what a lot of David’s songs were like, but he clearly also had the capacity for theology. I also don’t think that depth has to be measured in the complexity or eloquence of the language songs are written in. “Oh For a Thousand Tongues” is a beautifully poetic, theologically rich song, but that’s only a good thing if people can sing it without getting tangled in the words, or distracted by them rather than focusing on the message of the song and, more to the point, focusing on conveying that message to God genuinely and personally. “You Lifted Me Out” is a loud, exciting, fairly simple song, but I think it’s got theological depth in the simplicity of the message – Jesus lifted me out of darkness and now I’m free.

It’s easy to have an overemphasis on singer-centric songs, and forget that worship is exclusively for God, not us. But I think it’s also easy to have an overemphasis on non-singer-centric songs, and forget that music is a tool of expression to God. It’s good to feel things during worship and be affected by the music and the words as long as our focus is in the right direction. Worship should be for God, not us, and the benefits we get from it should be incidental, not the goal.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I think I should stop because I’m getting distracted and I’m going to start ranting soon, and no one wants that.

J Kanz said...

Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have posted my original thoughts. I like your idea that songs serve different purposes and that is important to keep in mind. I think Jeff does a good job of offering variety. Perhaps you have hit on the right point--our worship is to be God centered, not centered on what makes me feel happy.

josh said...

I also don't mean for my comments to come across as though I'm good at those things. I have a really hard time with these issues, and I'm surprised that God still lets me be involved in worship. I have to fight a lot of days to keep my focus right, and I don't feel like I get it most of the time. It's easy to talk about it, but most Sundays I constantly find myself focusing on the wrong thing or just trying to get through a song I don't like.

J Kanz said...

I often write about things that I don't have down and that I am struggling through. This is one example.

josh said...

Also - yes, I think Jeff does a great job being thoughtful in picking out a mix of songs. Also in singing them brilliantly, and reading lots of scripture.