Why So Many Songs?

23 Mar

imagesIn general, I’m a very critical person. Thankfully, this quality is being refined in me as I grow in experience and wisdom (hopefully) so as not to reflect so much the more negative aspect of criticism as the constructive. Here I would like to write a bit about my history and thoughts regarding worship. I don’t mean to offer a theology of worship, but just some of the ways in which I have interacted with the subject, and with worship through song in particular.

The friend who first shared the gospel with me in high school, and who faithfully kept sharing with me for years thereafter (thanks, Joey!), shocked me on a visit a few years after my conversion. He said that he didn’t really like Christian music. Ok, there I agree with him. I don’t really like mainstream “Christian” music either, and for the same reasons he gave me. The quality of the songwriting is poor, as well as the production. But that wasn’t what shocked me. He proceeded to tell me that he didn’t even like singing in church, and that he arrived late, on purpose, in order to miss the “worship time.” I’m pretty sure we argued a bit after that.

Fast forward almost ten years to my time in France. I was watching a conversation on the subject of worship between Mike Cosper, Chip Stam, and Harold Best. At one point in the conversation, Harold Best said something along the lines of, “a mature Christian should be easily edified by worship songs.” I strongly disagreed. For many of the same reasons that my friend didn’t like “Christian” music, I didn’t like much contemporary worship music. The lyrics were shallow, formulaic, and I felt that they often aimed to bring the singer to an emotional experience rather than to a confrontation with a Holy God. They focused on the worshipper’s perspective and what the worshipper could offer to God, instead of focusing on what the all-merciful, gracious, holy, and just Lord of the universe did for us on the cross.

Soon after, I was watching a live-stream of the Passion conference and heard John Piper talk about what I felt was one of the more shallow worship songs that preceded his preaching. But, he didn’t tear it apart, he incorporated its lyrics into his message and made me worship God through it. That’s when I started to understand Harold Best’s statement.

God is so great, magnificent, holy, pure, perfect, etc…that no amount of songs, or no depth of lyric could ever contain or evoke all the worship that he deserves, or adequately reflect His worth.

That is why short songs, long songs, simple songs, deep songs–they all serve a purpose. And that is why we have so many songs and shouldn’t be discouraged or in despair about it. As John Frame points out in one of his books, contemporary songs tend to take one theme and cause the worshipper to meditate on that theme through repetition, whereas hymns are more multi-dimensional. But still, both forms are useful and necessary for proper worship. Why? Because God is far more worthy of worship than our songs describe. They are but attempts to describe the indescribable. We don’t sing because of tradition, or mandate, but because we feel compelled to sing. When I think about what God has done for me in Christ, I must sing. And all the worship songs in the world couldn’t describe all the dimensions of His being and goodness. That’s why we will never grow tired of His presence for all eternity…or of singing to Him about Him.

As one hymn puts it, “A thousand men could not compose a worthy song to bring, yet your love is a melody our hearts can’t help but sing!” 


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