Friday, June 03, 2005

The Words We Sing Do Matter!

When Christians gather to worship God do the words matter?
(or is it all about the music? should we raise the poetic bar? does our music express the words we're singing?)

I. The Theololgy of our Songs
Matt Redman says
"I'd never write a song just to teach something, but I am waware when writing a song that it could end up teaching somebody" (p57, Ian Stackhouse, The Gospel Driven Church)

And yet, Colossians 3v16 says...
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." (ESV).

Which would seem to suggest that our singing has a key part to play in teaching each other the truth. And this would seem to make sense. Graham Kendrick once quipped:
"Show me your songs, I'll show you your theology"
And, that what we've sung is often better remembered than what is preached, sadly.

The sad truth is that some of our songs, even some of our favourites, are plain bad and wrong theology. I've long had a bug-bear about "Lord, let your glory fall". I was encouraged to see Ian Stackhouse agree with me that this song demonstrates a "peculiarly pre-Christian hermenutic" (if you know what that means!). Likewise, we don't need another pentecost (though I agree with the sentiment). And I honestly don't think its particularly helpful to view the cross as the place where Christ "...took the fall, and thought of me, above all." Actually, I think Christ's chief concern was the glory of God (though the cross does concern us too).

1. Songwriters ought to write lyrics before music. And those lyrics ought to express Biblical truth, whether the song is subjective or objective in focus.
2. Worship-leaders ought to check the theology of their song choices. Would we happily preach what we sing? If not then perhaps we ought not to sing that song. Worship leaders would also benefit from looking at which person the song is written in... is the song addressed to God or each other... And how does that affect how we sing it.
3. Sometimes at least (when the song is addressed to each other... hint: "He is..." is a good indication), we ought to sing with our eyes open and try to make eye contact with people in church. Let us sing to each other!

II. The Language of our Songs
Nick Page has written brilliantly about the art of songwriting in his book "And now for a time of Nonsense". His basic point being that much of what Christians sing is thoroughly imcomprehensible.

Sometimes our songs are incomprensible in the jargon we use. How many of our songs use images that we do not understand that fail to illustrate doctrines we don't understand. (Agricultural images abound in suburban churches).

Sometimes incomprehensible in the bad and trite poetry we use. Images that conflict and contradict... do rivers flow over seas? Does the Bible portray Jesus as a "rose trampled under foot"?

1. Let us think about the words we use. Let them express the gravity and glory of the subject they speak of.
2. Let us write good poetry (and as a songwriter, I must remember this too)
3. Let us use images that actually help us to understand the doctrines we're singing about. Page comments on the simple success of Amazing Grace in doing this, which stands behind its longevity.

Here's some I can actually imagine of elevation & excavation...
"A star, Lit up like a cigar, Strung out like a guitar...
A mole, Digging in a hole, Digging up my soul now"
(U2, Elevation)

Or these, on doing things properly...
"If you're gonna jump, then jump far, fly like a sky diver
If you're gonna be a singer, then u better be a rockstar
If you're gonna be a driver, then u better drive a race car"
(Natasha Bedingfield, If you're gonna)

The Word we Sing do matter. They matter because they should express a thankful heart. And we need good words to do that. Words that are true. Words we understand. Words that we can sing with joy and thankfulness. Words that will build up the church. Words that will tell of Jesus.

Songs that show that Jesus is worth more than all the money in the world.
That Jesus' love lasts longer than all the possessions I own.
That Jesus justice is in stark contrast to the injustices of this world.