Monday, September 14, 2009

Allowing Music to Inform Theology

I think this topic will be about as useful for many people as asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. The issue that has been on my mind is largely rooted in something I have very little exposure to, almost no knowledge of, and something I have very little influence over. The topic is music, in particular that which we sing in worship. The question at hand is "Which influences which, does our music influence our theology or does our theology influence our music?"

Here is why this is so important. I was thinking about this one day, and I began to ask where more people learn truth and the avenue through which it is retained. As a tone-deaf preacher, I want people to get the majority of their truth exposure from sermons. I put hours into exegeting the text and laboring to come up with an outline that conveys the message of the passage in a way that is both informative and real to life. That said, in my own personal experience and through conversation, I have come to the conclusion that song is a much easier medium for retention than narrative.

So then I ask, which is the influencer and which is influenced? Are we allowing the material we sing to come from Scripture and be grounded in the historic orthodoxy, or are we allowing our understand of truth to come from what we sing as our desire? The danger is that if we are not careful about protecting ourselves and what we convey through worship/singing, we run the risk of abandoning historic orthodoxy for fad Christianity.

We find ourselves increasingly surrounded by many different kinds of music from an infinite number of sources and artists. But not all of it, even that which labels itself as "Christian" is good, beneficial, or even true. I have found myself many times singing songs in church and at some point I have given Carrie that look of "Wait a second..." And then I have to ask myself whether or not to cut the power to the speakers or just sit and bear it. And then I lose focus because I wonder if others in the room are just as concerned as I am.

I am a fan of singing songs that are theologically rich, easy to sing as a congregation, and that teach both the head and the heart. To that end, I love ministries like Sovereign Grace, Indelible Grace, and contemporary musicians like Chris Tomlin, Townend/Getty, and others. I think pastors need to be actively involved in the selections of worship songs, to protect the theological integrity of the worship service and to guard the congregation's spiritual walk. We have great resources and we must take full advantage of them.

Worship leaders, read through the lyrics of the songs you lead congregations to sing. Make sure what they sing is true and biblical. You are preaching as you lead in worship, and the sermon is found in the pages of the hymnal (or on the screen if you're of that inclination). If you discover that a song does not teach truth, stop singing it and explain to the congregation why it is that you have made such a decision. The lyrics to the songs you teach and that people sing will resonate in their minds throughout the week in their devotions and in the quiet moments of the day. Personally, I find myself recalling song more often than I do the preaching I listen to. It is simply how God wired us. So why not fill their minds with songs that proclaim the truth of the Gospel?

Sermons through song are how we are able to teach truth in a way that moves the heart and stimulates the mind. Take full advantage of how God has necessarily and properly wired us as recipients of grace. Stir in them a passion for the Word, not a passion for a worship experience. What should raise our hands is not the tune but rather the statements of truth being expressed in the lyrics.

Seeking Him,
Scott Douglas


  1. I totally agree with you. There are times when I don't feel as though my heart is in the worship. I understand that it is totally my fault for that. I love to sing. Singing is something I am actually good at. Not great but good. God gave me a voice and I am going to praise Him with that. Example, this past Sunday we sang as a congregation He touched me. I can not sing that song with tearing up. My mom sang that song at my granddaddys funeral in 2002. It is such a powerful song. I can't help but to cry because of what Christ did and also that it was sang at his funeral. Thanks Scott for posting this. I have also wondered the same thing.
    -Brandi Adams

  2. I think their relationship can be circular, which makes the answer difficult. But I believe it starts with theology. Good theology leads to good music, which can then lead to more good theology. But hopefully it starts with good theology. I think an equally interesting question is this: does all worship music glorify God? If the lyrics are sound, but the music is awful, just bad, what are we to do with it? Or what if there isn't much to the lyrics ("24/7"- 7 words repeated 24 times and such, e.g. (BTW, I think there can be a time and a place for this, but every week does NOT fit that description))? How do we reconcile "bad" music and God's glory? (interesting side question- "good/bad" music, subjective or objective?) And at what point do we use such music in the church?