Back in May, while in Atlanta for business, we visited a large church in our denomination. One of the songs that was sung during the worship service was new to me. I later found out it was “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong. The song is now being sung in worship services around the world, has become a best-selling song on the iTunes charts, and recently received Dove Award nominations for song of the year and worship song of the year (Dove Awards are the Christian music industry equivalent of the Grammy Awards). It is a song that is memorable musically, and allows Christians to focus on the name of the Lord, but does it contain some questionable theology? And does the theology of the worship songs we sing matter, or are they just intended to impact our emotions?
After the worship service, both my wife and I commented on lyrics from the song that hit both of us the wrong way. Those lyrics from the second verse were:
You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now . . .
These lyrics seem to infer that Jesus (and by implication the Father and Holy Spirit), was somehow lonely and incomplete without mankind. Jesus didn’t want heaven without man so He brought heaven down? But that is not the case at all of course. The Trinity has been in perfect fellowship, love and unity since before the beginning of time. And the only time heaven will be brought down is when the new heaven and the new earth is revealed (Revelation 21).
Two pastors and theologians that I greatly admire also share concerns about the song. For example, John MacArthur states “The writer of “What a Beautiful Name” would have us believe that the reason for Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was because He “didn’t want heaven without us.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not remotely biblical. In fact, it’s doctrinal malpractice by people who should know better.”
And John Piper, in responding to a concerned listener on his “Ask Pastor John” podcast, states “It fits too easily into a theology of a God who created because he was lonely, and then saved people for the same reason. He just can’t be happy without us.”
Jesus taught the most basic principle for worship—“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Zeal of the heart is not sufficient to make our praise pleasing in God’s sight. Praise from the heart is not enough to please the Lord if we are not worshiping the true God, and so we must prize truth alongside ardor when we praise our Creator. We must emphasize both heartfelt praise of our Creator and worship that is structured according to His Word.” (From Glorifying God in Worship – Ligonier Ministries) We should thoughtfully participate in worship every Sunday, and be aware of the words that we are singing to God.
What other hymns or worship songs would you call out that have questionable theology? I’ll have a few more for you in Part II of “Think Before You Sing”. And while you’re waiting for those, mull over this question for me: What is the purpose of worship? Stay tuned for Part III !!!