Theological Worship (songs, hymns)

church choir

Last month I was at our denominations District Conference; among many issues brought up, one caught my attention. Our VP was there representing the National Office, and he was a stud. The way he handled some delicate issues was a testament to his years of wisdom and patience. Then he surprised the heck out of us by jumping on the piano and punching out a couple old hymns. But he said two things as he was playing that struck chords in me.

1. He said that our churches learn most of their theology through the singing of songs. Now I can agree wholeheartedly with that statement. In fact every time I lead worship, I make sure I bring something theological to light from the song. Some call it teaching, others devotion, whatever – to me it’s part of leading people in worship. So I agree with that statement and would go so far as to say that if a worship leader doesn’t do some sort of application then he or she is missing out on a huge opportunity to bring people into a greater understanding of who God is and who they are, and what worship is really all about. By the way, here’s my favorite definition of the word “Theology”: The study of the nature of God and religious Truth.

2. Then he said that the theological richness of the hymns have been all but lost in today’s praise & worship songs. And that we need to encourage our worship leaders and song writers to write more theologically correct worship songs, or hymns as he said. Now I know there is the classic argument between hymns & modern worship – I don’t buy that, and that’s not what this post is about. What I disagree with is the statement that modern songs teach less theology than hymns, that they are any less rich in their presentation of who God is.

After making these declarations, this elder ripped into “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, and every person in the room over 40 belted out these words at the top of their lungs:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Now, honestly, friends, what makes these verses so theological? [today’s culture would have a hard time describing just what a “bulwark” is]. What makes them deeper than the lyrics from many of our modern worship songs written over the past few years? Bear with me as we explore a popular song sung in churches today. [again, not my favorite, just most popular].

“How Great is Our God” by Chris Tomlin
The splendor of a King, clothed in majesty
Let all the earth rejoice, all the earth rejoice
He wraps himself in light, and darkness tries to hide
And trembles at his voice, and trembles at his voice

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, How great is our God

Age to age he stands, and time is in His Hands
Beginning and the End, beginning and the End
The Godhead, Three in one, Father, Spirit, Son
The Lion and the Lamb, the Lion and the Lamb

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, How great Is our God

Name above all names
You are Worthy of all praise
and My heart will sing how great is our God

I’m not trying to argue, I’m just saying I think maybe people make statements without really knowing the gravity of what they are saying. And I lied, we’re not going to explore anything – it’s all there easily understood. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Theological Worship (songs, hymns)

  1. Billy Chia

    If you say “all modern worship songs are theological trite and all hymns are theologically rich” then you would be wrong.

    You could perhaps argue that old hymns tend towards theology and that modern choruses tend toward being trite, but it’s not even close to being all inclusive.
    There are certainly examples of trite hymns and very theologically deep modern worship choruses.

    It’s the wrong statement to make.
    It’s not old vs new
    It’s not hymns vs praise
    Both have good and bad theology. So make your statement what it’s really about.

    The right statement would perhaps be
    “It is important to included theologically rich songs in worship.”

    Although I still think it’s ok to be trite sometimes too. God wants all of your heart, soul and strength and not just your mind.

  2. James McLean

    hmnnn, i agree somewhat. most worship songs today don’t have very rich theological content, but then again many churches don’t really prize that as an essential quality. from my observances in traveling across the country and seeing and participating in various worship services i would say that your VP is right for the most part.
    but there is hope…thats why we need to write worship for our people!

  3. Amie

    What I miss are songs that are sung TO GOD, not ABOUT God. Worship and Praise, for me is at it’s most fulfilling when I am singing directly to him. Often I change the words, for example…How Great Are YOU, God… Songs that talk about God have there place, but worship that is personal and direct is best…I think.

    Amies last blog post..Better than Shoes

  4. alex

    Billy, I agree that there is an old vs. new argument and that is the wrong argument. I want to believe that even in modern worship, theology IS strong and that we can teach future generations about who God is through music.

    James, I do agree that we should write our own songs more, unless they’re awkward & hard to grasp which I’d say about 85% of them are. Which is why songs written by gifted songwriters and worship leaders are so popular. I don’t necessarily agree that modern worship songs are mostly un-theological. Just this weekend we looked at death and Charlie Hall’s “Marvelous Light” is about as theologically sound as any song could be on the are of victory over death, the sacrificial payment for sin and new life.

    Amie, I agree that songs TO God are can create a more intimate personal worship experience. I still want to believe that using music to teach theological truths about God is an ancient tradition that we shouldn’t lose touch with. Corporate worship should be about a personal worship experience AND ascribing God worthship as we sing of his characteristics and deeds.

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