In Part I while thinking about worship lyrics and theology, we discussed “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong – you can read Part I here. I’m reminded of a song popularized years ago by Michael W. Smith, “Above All”. I recall Contemporary Christian artist and now pastor, Steve Camp, commenting about the poor theology in the song, which contained the chorus:
Laid behind the stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
The song does affirm the substitutionary atonement of Christ. But it tells us that when Christ was on the cross, he thought of us (man) above all. Is that correct? No, Jesus went to the cross out of obedience to his Father, pleading in the Garden of Gethsemane “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). The Son entered into a sacred agreement (the covenant of redemption) with the Father in eternity past. He submitted Himself to the obligations of that covenantal agreement. An obligation was likewise assumed by the Father — to give His Son a reward for doing the work of redemption. Christ became the heir of His Father’s promises and we are joint heirs with Christ.
We have to be careful when singing contemporary and traditional worship songs containing bad theology. Even the great hymn by Charles Wesley “And Can It Be” has lines that are questionable, indicating that Christ “emptied himself of all but love”. This is called kenotic Christology and says the Son of God set aside certain divine attributes when He became incarnate. Such is impossible, for then He would not be fully God and could not save us. John Calvin comments, “Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.”
What about Charles Wesley writing that God himself actually died on the cross?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Verse 2: ’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
Here’s a good article that addresses this error: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/it-accurate-say-god-died-cross/
OK, can I just add an addendum…there’s bad theology in lyrics, and then there’s just bad lyrics. Take for example “Knowing You” by Graham Kendrick:
Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You’re my all, you’re the best
You’re the best? Really? Doesn’t it sound like a beer commercial? Our worship leader changed those words to “you’re my rest” which is a lot better.
So, yes, the theology in our hymns does matter. Words Matter. Fortunately, I’ve not had to worry about that at the church that I attend. One faithful servant has picked out the music to correspond with the text being preached for many years now. She chooses the best of the old and the best of the new, and often chooses songs written by Keith Getty, who desires to revive congregational singing. Check out his new book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church.
I’d like to encourage all of us (myself included) to learn to sing out of the hymnbook that God has already provided for us. No, not the Trinity Hymnal. The Book of Psalms!! You can’t go wrong with these lyrics. Crown and Covenant has put out Singable Psalms in pocket size. You can go to their website, crownandcovenant.com and also psalter.org and find companion resources such as a familiar hymn tune list & library, harmony helps, text search tool, phone apps and recordings.
So in Part III we’ll discuss the question… What is the purpose of worship?
Let me hear your answers!