Christian Life

“Christian” Songs

I keep promising myself that I won’t write anything more about ‘worship’ music as some people take great exception to my musings on the subject. But, here I go again!

I’ve put the word “Christian” in inverted commas, because I’m not convinced that a lot of music used in Churches is actually Christian in an objective sense. What is it that sets Christianity apart from other religions? In the end, it is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (one could also add the Trinity). Other things which could be considered distinctively Christian, such as the atonement, are derived from the death and resurrection of Christ. Warm, fuzzy feelings derived from religious experience are not distinctively Christian – other religions get those too (listen again to George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, if you don’t believe me).

So, to be distinctively Christian, a song should at some point mention the incarnation, the crucifixion or the ressurection – or at least alude to them in some form. The problem is that an increasing number of worship songs ignore the essentials of the Christian faith and instead concentrate on how a relationship with God makes us feel good. Sunday by Sunday I find myself singing songs which have meaning to a Christian, but which could equally be sung by a devout Hindu, Muslim or Zoroastrian!

Despite this, I decided that I wouldn’t write anything more about worship music; until I read this article, that is! I’ve only recently discovered Jeremy Myers blog, but it is excellent; incredibly thought provoking and challenging.  His comments on Christian song writing are powerful and trenchant, I just had to include a few lines from him. Here is one of the points he wants to make to songwriters:

Third, more pain please. I know, I know. Church songs are supposed to be uplifting and encouraging. But do you want to know what is really uplifting and encouraging? People who deal with reality.

Most of the people in the pews are facing intense amounts of pain, loneliness, despair, hurt, fear, depression, heartache, loss, anger, frustration, bitterness, resentment, and _________ (fill in the blank for the next two pages).

When we write songs about being “happy, happy, happy all the time” it makes people just feel worse. They think, “Am I really supposed to be happy all the time? I’m not. What is wrong with me?” And then their pain, loneliness, despair, hurt, fear, depression, heartache, loss, anger, frustration, bitterness, resentment, etc., etc., only gets worse.

If you songwriters are not experiencing this kind of pain, then you should stop writing songs. Can there be happy, joyful songs? Yes, but only in the midst of the pain.

Read the whole article and sign up to Jeremy’s RSS feed.


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12 replies on ““Christian” Songs”

So we can’t use the Psalms, except for clearly Messianic ones, in Christian worship? No more adaptations of Psalm 23, as they don’t “mention the incarnation, the crucifixion or the resurrection”?

Surely a song used in Christian worship is a Christian song, unless there is something clearly heretical or anti-Christian in it. Long ago someone asked “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” We can also ask “Why should the devil have all the best words?” There is probably a biblical basis for taking worship words from other religions: some of the Psalms use words and imagery, perhaps even adapted whole texts, from Canaanite Baal worship texts. So, if words, whoever wrote them, are appropriate for Christian worship, why not use them?

I wouldn’t disagree with you Peter. It is a question of balance.

However, I don’t think a diet of nothing but Psalms is healthy for the Church, much less a diet songs that don’t reflect the essential nature of the Christian message. It is a question of balance and I’m not advocating throwing the baby out with the bath water.

However as Stuart Townend says (I think Wesley said something similar) ‘more people learn their theology from songs than from sermons’. If our songs are devoid of distinctive Christian content, then where is our theology going?

I agree we need balance. But I don’t agree that songs are the place for teaching. When Christians gather together there should be time set aside for praise and worship in song, separate from the time for teaching. If people are not learning from sermons, then it is the sermons that need to be fixed, not something else broken to compensate.

I don’t think songs are ‘the’ place for teaching, but I do think that the things we sing shape our theology. You are attributing black and white positions where I see shades of grey.

What the church seems to lack in the West is an adequate theology of suffering. We have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters in developing countries about clinging to God in our suffering. God doesn’t generally make our pain disappear, but he feels it with us.

More Pain, please. I think that is the reason that “Blessed be your name” by Matt Redman is such a great song. It includes that element of pain and suffering that then makes the chorus all the more joyful and victorious:

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say…
I know we sing it A LOT in Mali but then perhaps we are much more on that road marked with suffering than your ordinary Christians in the west.

I’ve often felt that I can’t really sing certain songs a lot of the time, because I’d be lying as I sang them, because they express emotions that, at the time, I just don’t feel. I’ve probably had a tendency to prefer more truth-based (as opposed to emotional) songs as a result.

However I don’t actually want to draw the line between truth-based and emotional songs (like I’ve just done in the above paragraph) because I don’t think there should be one. But emotional doesn’t mean fluffy, or devoid of reality. Emotion could mean sadness or grief. Truth, rightly understood, is profoundly emotional/affective.

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about the suffering and pain in so many of the Psalms, and bemoaning a lack of modern music that expresses the same thing. As a result of all of these thoughts I’m currently writing a modern version of Psalm 88 (somewhat musically inspired by the Chris Wood song you posted recently, Eddie!) in an attempt to fill the gap. We’ll see how it turns out…

I know what you mean, I feel the same and often end up just opening and closing my mouth like a fish, rather than singing.

I hope you post a link to your song, I’d love to hear it.

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