So here we are, folks. Ringside to the first ever brawl between worship songs.
In one corner we have a popular, contemporary song written by a handsome young Texan…
And in the other, a 300-year-old, rigid contender from a dead Englishman.
Know this: Both these songs are favorites of mine.
In fact, the contemporary tune is by far my favorite of this generation.
However, it’s problematic.
How? It’s symbolic of the sensual-seeking, emotion-raising trend of current worship songs.
In other words…it’s shallow in theology. Soft on Scripture.
Why Are We Pitting Worship Songs Against Each Other?
I’m not against engaging the emotions. I’m a card-carrying Methodist. The founder of my denomination–John Wesley–emphasized emotions.
But neither did he ignore the mind.
Paul didn’t ignore the mind either. In fact, he insisted you MUST engage it. First Corinthians 14:15 says, “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”
This is now, (A)beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am (B)stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,2that you should (C)remember the words spoken beforehand by (D)the holy prophets and (E)the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.
This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,
that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.
From the very beginning, Christians asserted we understand our faith. Not just feel it. And Christians have always used hymns as mechanisms to carry forth the doctrines of their faith.
And finally, Tomlin’s song is problematic because, as Professor Stackhouse puts it:
We are the most educated Christians in history, and yet our lyrics are considerably stupider than our much less educated Christian forebears–the people who sang lyrics by Fanny Crosby or Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts.
In other words, we are amusing ourselves to death. Entertainment trumps intelligence. Repetition supersedes thoughtful rhyme. Emotions supplant reason.
Unmasking the Tunes
If you haven’t guessed yet, the modern song I’m referring to is Chris Tomlin’s “God of Wonders.”
I like the song. Love it, in fact. It’s catchy. Arousing. Stimulating. But so is “I Wanna Be Sedated“ by The Ramones.
You can’t get either song out of your head. But neither song engages the mind. Both lyrics manage to be fragmented thoughts and bad metaphors strung together.
Let me ask you a question: When we’re more likely to remember what we sing in church rather than the sermon, don’t you think it’s important that these songs bear meaningful, thought-provoking, Christ-exalting lyrics?
So, what song is it that I believe soundly trounces “God of Wonders”? I’ve pretty much given the answer away…
Got it? Yep, the song is none other than “O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” by Charles Wesley.
This is serious craft from a serious poet. Who’s bent on honoring Christ. Explaining doctrine. Putting content to our faith.
For example, Wesley explains the doctrine of atonement in stanza nine:
He breaks the power of canceled sin / He sets the prisoner free.
His blood can make the foulest clean / His blood availed for me.
I’d give an arm–maybe a leg–for songwriters to crank out concrete, functional lyrics rooted in Scripture like that.
What about you?
Did they make it happen?
I look forward to your thoughts.