Theology in Worship and Music: Please Think About What We Sing

stp artistic engagementSome people think of theology as dry. However, theology is found in anything that expresses our ideas of God and all things in relation to God. Hence, theology is found not only in textbooks—it is also found in places like art and music.

With respect to worship and music specifically, it is important for us to be thoughtful about the theology that is conveyed in the songs that we sing in church (if worship leaders don’t feel equipped to do this, they might enlist the help of a pastor). People are more likely to remember the latest Chris Tomlin worship song that the church has been repeating for a few weeks, than they are to remember the sermon from last Sunday (even if the three points in the sermon did all start with the letter “c”).

The songs that are sung in a church say a lot about the theology of the church, or at least the worship leader. Do they focus on feeling God? Do they focus on the love of God? The majesty of God? So, for example, it should come as no surprise that a church that emphasizes the “prosperity gospel” would sing a song that talks about expecting a “new season … of power and prosperity” (It’s a New Season, by Israel Houghton).

Some songs can be theologically problematic. While I deeply appreciate most of the lyrics in the song “Eagles Wings” (by Hillsong Church) the song asks God, “abide in me, I pray” and the chorus similarly requests, “come live in me, all my life take over.” However, Scripture makes clear that if you are a believer, then God already dwells within you by the Spirit (1 John 4:13)—even though the Spirit might come in a more intense manner (see here). A little adjustment can easily fix the theologically problematic statement—“you live in me” rather than “come live in me.”

Besides ensuring that the songs we sing are theologically correct, we should also sing a variety of songs that communicate the key teachings of the Church. I don’t mean to imply that a song isn’t worthy of including in a worship service if it doesn’t significantly address a key theological topic—there is a place for some songs that express our feelings to God and songs that are prayers to God can also be very powerful. However, since songs can serve as a means of reinforcing good theology, then over time we should plan to sing songs about various foundational Christian beliefs as well.

Singing a song with a catchy tune and that rhymes “fire” with “desire” isn’t always good enough. (Keep reading below after this hilarious video…comments regarding lyrics begin at the 1:12 mark) 

As I said, we should plan to sing songs about various theologies to help reinforce the key teaching of the Christian faith. It is easy to find hymns about various theologies since most hymnbooks list their songs by topic (check the index and table of contents). And many hymns are still “cool” when “cool” people sing them 🙂 (e.g., This is My Father’s World, as performed by Gungor).

There are many helpful web pages (like here and here) that can help you find contemporary worship songs by topic (although the songs listed are sometimes only tangentially related to the theme that the songs are listed under).

Below I will include a list of example songs that clearly address a key theological topic (each with a link to the lyrics in the title).

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REVELATION

Cannons,” by Phil Wickham 

TRINITY

“Praise the Father, Praise the Son,” by Chris Tomlin 

GOD’S ATTRIBUTES (this is an easy category to fill up, so I’ll just offer a couple examples)

Holy is the Lord,” by Chris Tomlin  

10,000 Reasons,” by Matt Redman, especially verse 2  

HOLY SPIRIT (historically, most songs on this topic are prayers for the Spirit to come)

Holy Spirit Breath of God,” by Keith and Kristyn Getty

*Note: This song also contains the problematic statement “come abide within.” Otherwise, it is quite rich.  

JESUS CHRIST

We Lift You Up,” by Brenton Brown  

CREATION

Glory to God,” by Steve Fee  

DIVINE PROVIDENCE

Every Good Gift”, by Clayton Brooks, especially in verse 2 and the chorus.  

HUMANITY

Hmmm…I can’t think of any songs that deal with theological anthropology. I’d welcome suggestions! I suppose it is natural that we usually aren’t singing about us when we worship. 🙂

SIN

Lord, I Need You,” by Matt Maher  

SALVATION (another category that easily fills up quickly)

This is Amazing Grace, by Phil Wickham  

CHURCH

I can’t think of any songs about ecclesiology, but, again, it is natural that in worship we would not be singing about ourselves, but rather focusing on God and the works of God. Nevertheless, I’d welcome suggestions!

ESCHATOLOGY

Sing to the King,” by Billy Foote  

 

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