Theology in Worship and Music

What happens when you put the lyrics of some of our best-known worship songs under the theological microscope?

Theology in Worship and Music

Some people think of theology as dry. However, theology is found in anything that expresses our ideas of God and all things in relation to God. Hence, theology is found not only in textbooks—it is also found in places like art and music.

With respect to worship and music specifically, it is important for us to be thoughtful about the theology that is conveyed in the songs that we sing in church (if worship leaders don’t feel equipped to do this, they might enlist the help of a pastor). People are more likely to remember the latest Chris Tomlin worship song that the church has been repeating for a few weeks than they are to remember the sermon from last Sunday (even if the three points in the sermon did all start with the letter “c”).

The songs that are sung in a church say a lot about the theology of the church, or at least the worship leader. Do they focus on feeling God? Do they focus on the love of God? The majesty of God? So, for example, it should come as no surprise that a church that emphasizes the “prosperity gospel” would sing a song that talks about expecting a “new season … of power and prosperity” (It’s a New Season, by Israel Houghton).

Some songs can be theologically problematic. While I deeply appreciate most of the lyrics in the song “Eagles Wings” (by Hillsong Church) the song asks God, “abide in me, I pray” and the chorus similarly requests, “come live in me, all my life take over.” However, Scripture makes clear that if you are a believer, then God already dwells within you by the Spirit (1 John 4:13)—even though the Spirit might come in a more intense manner. A little adjustment can easily fix the theologically problematic statement—“you live in me” rather than “come live in me.”

Besides ensuring that the songs we sing are theologically correct, we should also sing a variety of songs that communicate the key teachings of the Church. I don’t mean to imply that a song isn’t worthy of including in a worship service if it doesn’t significantly address a key theological topic—there is a place for some songs that express our feelings to God and songs that are prayers to God can also be very powerful. However, since songs can serve as a means of reinforcing good theology, then over time we should plan to sing songs about various foundational Christian beliefs as well.

It is easy to find hymns about various theologies since most hymnbooks list their songs by topic (check the index and table of contents). And many hymns are still “cool” when “cool” people sing them 🙂 (e.g., This is My Father’s World, as performed by Gungor).

Written by Andrew K. Gabriel, Ph.D.

Dr. Gabriel is a theology professor and the author of three books. You can follow him at ►www.andrewkgabriel.com◄ and get your FREE copy of "Four Simple Ways to Identify the Prosperity Gospel."

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