Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lyrics-Based Theology

Ok, I'll start with the positive and go downhill from there. Throughout time music has been an amazing and powerful instrument to assist in ushering humans into a spectacular awareness of God's presence. It is an incredible experience to worship God with others who have their attention focused in the same direction. It is incredible to feel the outpouring of God's love and power!

Music has risen in popularity and become easy to access. Just look at itunes, the near extinction of cds tapes and even records (ask your parents), and even the digitalization of the car radio. Intelligent lighting, moving background art in slides, the large sound board, wireless microphones, etc have replaced the amp, mic, and overhead projector (with transparencies) at our churches. The ability to create an engaging environment is more powerful than ever before and shows no sign of slowing down.

However, I see an issue arising. People are getting their theology (their belief of who God is) from the lyrics in the worship songs we sing. Sometimes this is fine and the lyrics are true to the Biblical text and portray the true God of the Bible, but more often than we realize, the lyrics are vague and not totally accurate (1 "Help me know you are near" why is God near? God's not near as if he were distant. God is here). They skew our view of God or really say nothing of value at all (2 "Won't you come, Won't you come and fill this place" this song really gets to me. I understand what it means...kind of...I just think the lyrics are so vague and speak as if God wouldn't show up even when God is already everywhere). Or what happens more often is our worship songs are about us (3 'Cause when we see You we find strength to face the day, And in Your presence all our fears are washed away, washed away). They are horizontal worship (us singing to each other ABOUT God) rather than vertical worship (us singing TO God). They are more along the lines of a narration of our life with God rather than a song of love praising God for His qualities (4 "Savior, He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save"). This song interestingly enough is all ABOUT God, but maybe is only focused to God if you change the words "He" to "You" as in "You are mighty to save". They are not bad songs and even I like them and sing them, we just need to be aware of what we are saying.

Next time you hear a worship song, take some time to think about what you are saying. Sometimes we are asking God to break us, to change us, that we'll go wherever, follow Him to the end, but do we truly deep down in our hearts mean what we are singing? Would we speak that to God? Sometimes yes, sometimes maybe not. Is what you are singing vertical or horizontal worship?

I hope people don't think I'm bashing the wonderful people who write these songs, I am simply asking us to be aware of what we are singing because too many people these days are going into worship haphazardly.

1 Draw Me Close. Lyrics by Kelly Carpenter. 1994 Mercy/Vineyard
2 Meet With Me. Lyrics by Lamont Hiebert. 1999 Maranatha Music
3 Hosanna (Praise is Rising). Lyrics by Brenton Brown, Paul Baloche. 2006 Thank You Music
4 Mighty to Save. Lyrics by Ben Fielding, Reuben Morgan. 2006 Hillsong Publishing

1 comment:

Steve Turnbull said...

One of my old pastoral mentors once said, "Good hymns have kept the church faithful through centuries of bad preaching." I think he's probably right.
And now, frightfully, you are right about much of what we sing. It can be very, very shallow. I was singing a traditional hymn a few months ago and was struck by the line: "Be of sin the double cure; cleanse me from its guilt and power." (Can you name the hymn without google?) And I remember marveling at the artful connection between these lyrics and whole volumes of Christian theology on the effect and power of sin and the nature of our salvation from it.
People hardly ever write worhip music with such depth and theological erudition anymore. When they do, it's AWESOME, but it happens too rarely.
To be fair, though, lest it sound like I'm bashing contemporary worship (which I am not!), we do have to remember that traditional hymns are kind of like a greatest hits of the last 500+ years. There's A LOT from which to choose only the very best.