In a Word…Theology!
For many the word theology is an intimidating term. It conjures thoughts of highly trained professors (in suede jackets) pouring over Hebrew and Greek text, unearthing the mysteries of God’s word which lay hidden to the lay person’s reading. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2008) does not form such an intimidating picture when it defines theology as, “religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed” (Soanes & Stevenson, p. 1495). Theology is what we do. Essentially, every Christian is a theologian. The challenge is whether, as Bob Kauflin (2008) states, “am I a good theologian or a bad one?” (p. 28). Before theology – that which is practiced; is doctrine – that which is taught.
There are two widely practiced approaches to the study of Christian doctrine, systematic and biblical (Bryant, 1982, pp. 616–617). Simply, biblical theology commences its study of scripture objectively allowing scripture to reveal its themes. Systematic theology approaches Scripture subjectively extracting text in order to define a theme. It’s from these two principles that we might draw some insight into the differing approaches when selecting material (songs) for Sunday’s corporate gatherings. For some believers it’s a matter of the means needing to justifying the ends. I.e. the lyrical content (doctrine) should determine the manner in which we worship. For others the end point validates the means. I.e. the worship expression (theology) and experience form the foundation on which to structure the choice of songs; both lyric and melody.
Paul Zahl (2004) in his apologetic for Liturgical worship further defines the two different approaches in his thoughts on the construction of liturgy for corporate gatherings,
The Latin phrase that covers the philosophy of worship I am presenting here is this: lex credendi lex orandi. That means: What we believe determines how we pray. Quite a few liturgical scholars and theologians today want to reverse the order and write: lex orandi lex credendi, or how we pray (i.e. worship) determines what we believe [emphasis in original]. (p. 25)
Kauflin (2008) makes the statement, “Songs are de facto theology…‘We are what we sing’” (p. 92). Many would agree with Kauflin’s statement (Basden, 1999; Carson, 2002; Dawn, 1995; Peterson, 1992; Wiersbe, 2000). Warren Wiersbe in his book Real Worship: Playground, Battle ground or Holy ground? (2000) takes the thought a step further warning, “Naïve congregations can sing their way into heresy before they even realize what is going on” (p. 136). In observing the vast array of worship styles I find Wiersbe’s warning to be a sober reminder that what goes in generally comes out. At this point I must stress that this discussion does not centre on the prejudicial war waged between those who preference hymns over modern choruses or vice versa. It goes much deeper than an individual’s partiality to one musical style over another.
So how does this affect the garden variety Contemporary Worship Singer? The first question to be asked is do you think about the lyrics that you sing? Secondly have you considered that by virtue of your being on stage you inadvertently support the doctrine and resulting theology of what is being sung? Singers love to give voice to flowing melodies, but is a beautiful melody enough qualification for the use of a song in the corporate gathering? I agree with Marva Dawn (1995) when she writes “It is crucial, then, that leaders of the Church study carefully our underlying theology of worship and the specific worship practices that result, for they do, indeed, determine who we are” (p. 106). Here I reveal my own view. The means must justify the ends. Like Wiersbe (2000) “I am convinced that congregations learn more theology (good and bad) from the songs they sing than from the sermons they hear” (p. 136). However (and on this point I close), this does not mean that we can focus so heavily on the lyrical content that we forget to develop melodies and arrangements thereof that best deliver the doctrine. It must be sing-able! Sadly, too many ‘great lyrics’ have been set to ‘sub standard’ music – surely we can have both. I think that if we were to apply this rule to the repertoire list of most churches it would result in a significant cull of songs, but what would be left would be rich in doctrine and produce good, in a word – Theology!
Basden, P. (1999). The worship maze: Finding a style to fit your church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Bryant, T. A. (Ed.) (1982) Today’s dictionary of the bible. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.
Carson, D. A. (Ed.). (2002). Worship by the book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Dawn, M. J. (1995). Reaching out without dumbing down: A theology for worship for this urgent time. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Kauflin, B. (2008). Worship matters: Leading others to encounter the greatness of God. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.
Peterson, D. (1992). Engaging with God: A biblical theology of worship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2008) Concise oxford english dictionary (11th, Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Wiersbe, W. W. (2000). Real worship: Playground, battle ground, or holy ground? (2 ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Zahl, P. F. M. (2004). Formal-liturgical worship. In P. A. Basden (Ed.), Exploring the worship spectrum: 6 views (pp. 21–36). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Posted on March 25, 2010, in Lyrics, Religion, Singing, Songs, Worship, Worship - Definition, Worship Culture, Worship Wars and tagged Religion, Singers, Singing, Worship, Worship Singers. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.