To preface this post, I am not at all against modern worship music. In fact, there are many contemporary worship records that I keep in rotation on a regular basis such as Dustin Kensrue's The Water & the Blood, or Indelible Grace Music's Wake Thy Sleeping Children. The art and theology contained within both of these albums engage the mind and the heart. Truth and beauty are merged wonderfully in both of these works and are made up of songs we will be able to still sing years from now not only in congregational corporate worship, but also at hospital bedsides, weddings, and funerals. We've been singing songs such as Be Thou My Vision, Come Thou Fount, and Rock of Ages for decades upon decades in various settings because they contain poetic prose that speak to us lasting and gospel-centered truth. Those are the kind of songs that we need.
When I look at the modern evangelical church, I at times find myself disheartened and puzzled at the breadth and clarity that is lacking in not in all modern worship music, but unfortunately some. When I listen to some modern day contemporary worship music, it tends to always leave me yearning for biblical worship that is more God-centered instead of man-centered. A theology that encompasses man’s utter depravity and the need for a sovereign, just, and holy God to deliver us from our wretchedness and sin, then directs us to God's grace, mercy, and kindness to His people. The narrative of the redemptive story of the Bible is that Jesus slays the dragon (our sin) to rescue the bride (us). Its extremely important that we don't miss the Gospel within our songs. The Gospel, the redeeming work of Jesus, is the centerpiece to the entire story.
Having a Correct Lens
The great Reformed theologian and pastor James Montgomery Boice provides a provocative explanation of what biblical worship is:
"The old hymns expressed the theology of the church in profound and perceptive ways and with winsome, memorable language. They lifted the worshipper's thoughts to God and gave him striking words by which to remember God's attributes. Today's songs reflect our shallow or nonexistent theology and do almost nothing to elevate one's thoughts about God."
The point that I want to make is not that we should only be singing hymns in corporate worship, but that we must give thought about what we are singing. We must approach worship knowing that it is not for the sinner. It is for God. When we evaluate what we sing together, it encourages our right thinking about God. On the other side of the coin, we must be cautious with our theology. It is possible to have right thinking about God and have little to no true worship of God. Theology done correctly should and must lead to us to a true love of God, the Church, and the lost. Viewing God through the correct lens should make us marvel at how wondrous and grandiose the character of God is, which should in turn humble us.
There is a worship song by a particular group who has a song with the lyrics, “You hide, I want to find You. Go, and I will follow You.” Now the question you may ask yourself is, “What's the issue? There’s nothing that appears to be wrong or sinful about the lyrics, even if they aren't theologically and doctrinally deep.” If we look beyond the surface of lyrics contained in worship songs similar to the one being used in this example, there is more to the dilemma than meets the eye. Since Scripture should be our rule and guide to all things pertaining to worship and all things in life (Belgic Confession, Article 7), we should look to what John 2:42 says our attitude should be towards worshiping God: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” We must worship God truthfully, yet, by what means do we do so? By the means and instruction of God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16)
The Bottom Line
The song I referenced says, “You hide” but who exactly is hiding? Generally when you observe the lyrics and theology contained in a song designed for corporate worship, "You" in a capital y manner typically is speaking of God, which means the natural conclusion is that “You” must be synonymous with God. Scripture speaks nothing of God hiding from us, but it certainly speaks of how Adam attempted to hide himself and his sin from God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:9). God is hidden from us because we have utterly wicked hearts and sin has ultimately blinded us (Jeremiah 17:9). To say that God hides from us is not found within Scripture and takes away our accountability for our sin. As Christians, we should create music for corporate worship that engages beauty and truth. We can’t have a great doxology without sound biblical theology, just like we can’t just have great theology and unexpressive doxology; we’ll just end up with cold, dead orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is important, but it shouldn't neglect good art either.
The problem lies within us. We try to outgrow God’s Word. God’s Word isn’t the equivalent of perishing goods. It shouldn’t seem weaker and more frail to us over time. Just as Charles Spurgeon said of the Word, “The book widens and deepens with our years.” May we saturate our worship with the whole counsel of God and not with our own guessing.
FOR THE CITY PODCAST