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  • « Loving the Truth by Pastor John Samson | Main | 11/28/05 Around the Blogosphere »

    A Biblical Reflection on Music & Theology By Marco Gonzalez

    On August 20, 2000 It was a scorching summer day in San Jose California. The time was 9:20am. I stepped into a gymnasium, which would be accustomed for chapel. However, every day preceding Monday, Wednesday, and Friday it was a typical run of the mill gym. Nevertheless, as above-mentioned, at 9:20 am this unpretentious gym was revamped into the manifold wisdom of God: his church. Chapel usually commenced with various songs of praise. In view of this, the worship demeanor was unalike. Several would raise their hands, others would stand silently, and furthermore some refused to sing. However, almost all demonstrated tolerance in support of the songs, whether the words were theologically veracious or not.

    This likens to evangelicals; evangelicals have become increasingly permissive on the content of worship lyrics. In addition, Christianity is concerned with style subsequently to God-honoring lyrics. God’s attributes, mainly his love, are manifested as his chief end. Christ is displayed as my intimate love and BFF (Best Friend Forever).

    The sphere of spirituality in worship is more often than not dimwitted and infringes on the nature of God. God’s communicable attributes are emphasized in describing his very essence and nature. God’s incommunicable attributes: eternality, infinitude, holiness, wrath and immutability, ect. are apparently of inconsiderable significance. D.A Carson says:

    What is at stake is authenticity. . . . Sooner or later Christians tire of public meetings that are profoundly inauthentic, regardless of how well (or poorly) arranged, directed, performed. We long to meet, corporately, with the living and majestic God and to offer him the praise that is his due.

    Nevertheless, worship characteristically is acquainted with the congregation and their own selfish needs more than extolling the God they serve. Psychology and seeker sensitive ideologies are the primary justification for this outlook. The false notion of self-esteem and sensitivity to its reasoning has, as a consequence, created grossly unfaithful and decedent worship. The concept that a good sense of self-esteem is imperative to be healthy and therefore, is highly important, creates confusion in one’s understanding of man’s inferiority to God; accordingly sin is labeled a cognitive disorder.

    The priority of worship is thus cross-eyed, cooperate and individual worship are muddled and misunderstood. Theological veracity is subservient to stylistic worship. A meager conception of salvation and scripture is paraded amid this nature of worship. Moreover, reflective convictions commencing from the expressions of lyrics ought to dwell deep within believers, sparking reverence and awe for God. The word worship is a contraction of woerth-scripe, denoting the ascription of reverence to someone or something of superlative worth.

    Suitable worship is creating a correct response from believers. It is the obligation of the church to allow a proper response from regenerate Christians. Although the New Testament does not administer a construction for worship, it does, however, offer the idea of worship. An unambiguous picture of this is in John 4.

    First, it is a necessity of worship to be perfected in spirit and truth, in other words in the veracity of God’s provision for salvation. An individual cannot worship God without the faith of God’s word embraced in his inner being. The pnuema or spirit in Jn 4, is not an allusion to the “Holy spirit,” but the spirit contained by man. Worship is not an external conformity to religious rituals and places; accordingly it is the disposition of the heart.

    Secondly, προσκυνεω or “to prostate or give homage” is for the most part a common word used in the NT of worship. Ergo, worship is a response to God, giving homage to all of God’s communicable and incommunicable attributes. The Westminster Confession states Man’s Chief end: “To Glorify God and Fully enjoy him.” Worship is to enjoy making much of God.

    Thirdly, worship is a perpetual act of believers; it commences from a regenerated heart and is everlasting. Worship’s stepping-stone is an uncontaminated heart toward God and therefore dispenses honor to his name. For this reason one facet of worship lyrics ought to demonstrate the relentless iniquity of our hearts. John Calvin heeds believers:

    Let us remember therefore this lesson: That to worship our God sincerely we must evermore begin by hearkening to His voice, and by giving ear to what He commands us. For if every man goes after his own way, we shall wander. We may well run, but we shall never be a whit nearer to the right way, but rather farther away from it.

    To worship God is as George Bennard’s once said in his well-know hymn The Old Rugged Cross:
    On a hill far away stood an Old Rugged Cross,
    The emblem of suffering and shame;
    And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
    For a world of lost sinners was slain.
    So I’ll cherish the Old Rugged Cross,
    Till my trophies at last I lay down;
    I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross,
    And exchange it some day for a crown.
    Oh that Old Rugged Cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.
    In that Old Rugged Cross, stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see,
    For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
    To pardon and sanctify me.
    To the Old Rugged Cross I will ever be true;
    Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
    Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
    Where His glory forever I’ll share

    The lyrics in this beautiful hymn look at the subject of all genuine worship: Jesus. Worship lyrics must be Christ-centered, rich in doctrines of the gospel. Believers are assembling together corporately to give recognition to the God who saved them. Individually they confess their sin and repent of their wickedness. Worship is obligated to concentrate on our lowliness and the grace of God upon sinful individuals. Consequently, contemporary worship is less theological and more sensitive to believer’s self-esteem.

    The difficulty of contemporary worship is the imagery and conception of God. The imminence of God is displayed throughout worship lyrics and as a result God’s nature is misunderstood. People’s conception of God is distorted and his glory defamed. An example of this is a very praised song “I’m Trading My Sorrows”


    This is a model of contemporary worship, not only is it theologically erroneous it’s simple-minded and experience oriented. It creates an untrue conception of God and has no validity from scripture. Evangelicals have become exceedingly passive in their worship. Feebleminded lyrics and imaginary conceptions of God are plaguing the church. To sing praise unto God is to give him worth. However, the worth God deserves is how he has revealed himself in the scriptures. Evangelicals would be wise to reassess the current state of worship and the lack of a theological mindset. Incorrect thinking about God is damaging to the worship we give to God. To worship God is to respond to God, responding to God is glorifying him for all his perfections. Dense worship does not give praise to God. When we worship God we don’t just bestow him two-thirds of his glory but all of his glory. John Macarthur writes:

    Modern songwriters seriously need to take their task more seriously, churches should also do everything they can to cultivate musicians who are trained in handling scriptures and able to discern sound doctrine. Most important, pastors, and elders need to begin exercising closer and more careful oversight of the church music ministry, consciously setting a high standard for the doctrinal and biblical content that we sing.

    Worship is not simply playing to an audience; it is Christ’s church corporately gathered together to give honor and glory to his name. Words encompass significance. To dumb down lyrics is to abandon the doctrine our faith is built on. Moreover, the content of lyrics will give delivery to the imagery and conceptions we take in of God. John Wesley offers insight to the worship that should be given to God:

    O God, what offering shall I give to thee,
    The Lord of earth and skies?
    My spirit, soul, and flesh receive,
    A holy living sacrifice
    Small as it is, ‘tis all my store
    More shouldst thou have, if I had no more

    Posted by on November 28, 2005 02:01 AM


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    Hi, I read your comments to that contemporary worship song.
    I don't understand in what sense that song is "theologically erroneous, simple-minded and experience oriented", could you explain to me in what sense, why?
    Why does it "creates an untrue conception of God and has no validity from scripture"?


    This article was very well read. I appreciate the heart of the matter as much of today's music is geared toward evangelism rather than true worship.

    Yes I, along with Francesco, woud like a little more of your reasons for writing off "I'm trading my sorrows" so quickly. It is certainly not a favorite of mine, I would not pick it if I were the worship leader at my church, but as far as I can see in those lyrics, there is nothing "theologically erroneous" or "simple-minded". In fact, to even decipher this would require a pretty large familiarity with scripture to even take a guess at what the heck we're singing about when we sing that song (since each of those lines implies a referenced passage of scripture).

    Marco, I might be missing something in your point. Perhaps what you thought was clear is not clear to many of us, so please explain that point of questioning a little further.

    Thanks. God bless

    Jacob has expressed more precisely what I thought, thanks.

    Hi Marco,

    It was a good article, and I do quite agree with John MacArthur that today's songwriters need to take their craft a lot more seriously. Songs also tend to stick in people's memories quite easily... therefore, if you propogate an error in a song, it's likely to do more damage than an error in a sermon might do, in that it will likely be remembered longer. As far as contemporary songs, I do think Sovereign Grace Ministries puts out some very good material, and I'm sure there are some other exceptions too.

    As to "I'm Trading My Sorrows", I see it as a mix myself. The part of that song that I just couldn't get behind was "I'm trading my sickness..." etc. I was concerned it was being thrust upon me as a "Health, Wealth, and Prosperity" kind of thing, having previously been involved in such things myself. I don't believe that Christ's work automatically secures health for us who believe in Him, or else (if you look around a little) there's a lot of explaining to do. That's presumptuous. I'm not sure if the writer meant it in that sense, but it's unspecific enough to where it could easily be construed in that way. That, and God has not promised that we wouldn't experience sorrow or pain... I do believe we may have joy in the midst of those things, but to call it a trade, I believe, is inaccurate.

    Thanks for the article, brother. A lot to chew on.

    Grace and peace,

    My church tends to use a lot of short, repetitious "praise songs" during worship. I generally see nothing theologically unsound in these songs, as they really contain no theology. I can't say they're not biblical, as they're usually comprised of one Bible verse sung over and over and over and over and over...

    I certainly appreciate Marco's article, and I share some of his feelings. I like the old hymns myself, though there are some contemporary songs that I find to be also quite meaningful. Certainly the quality lies not in an organ-only musical style, nor in exclusive use of "thee" and "thou," but in content.

    I see the trend toward shallow, "happy-clappy" music as being consistent with the overall trend of our watered-down society. We expect everything to be ready to go "out of the box." We get our news in 60-second soundbites. Voters choose a candidate for president based on how funny he was when he appeared on Letterman or Leno. Is it any wonder that our church music is likewise short, simple, and reduced to its bare minimum?

    Marco, how would you recommend shifting back toward meaningful lyrics when so many congregations today may never have heard a traditional hymn since childhood? They might be quick to judge it "boring" or "old fashioned" and never give it a fair hearing.

    This is a very good article and I have to say I was nodding "yes, yes" to most of this. Where I hesitated a bit is that the examples given implied old songs = good, new songs =bad. I realize that was not really your key point; but some readers might conclude that this was a thinly veiled attack on any modern lyrics. To sharpen your point more I would add that if your base point is that we need to be careful that the lyrics we use for worship are true, then we would all nod "amen". If you meant to argue that beyond being true, that lyrics used to guide worship must by necessity be complex,then I would say that this is a much tougher point to make. With that said, I do believe that there has been a shift to "pablum" from "solid food" in Christian worship. This is conincident with the move to "seeker sensitive workship" in my way of thinking. But to me this is not a case of old=good and new=bad, but to one of your other commenter's points, a case of a dumbing-down of cultural communication in all forms...and the church does need to move beyond that. And one final point. I do feel that there are just too many "Jesus love songs" that sound like a typical love song to your girlfriend where the name "Jesus" has been plugged in. That is a shame to me. Surely we have more to say than "Jesus we love you, Jesus you love us....etc etc." Our world needs something more than this. What is love ? What is Jesus like ? What does he demand from us and dislike in us? Enough for now. I like the articles - keep them coming.

    I apologize for replying back so late. I appreciate all your comments.

    Let me say first that I never intened the aim of the article to be a fight over "hymns" and "contemp" music. That is, the style each presents. Style will come and go, what im concerned with is the message the words are presenting. When we think and say our words we immediatly have a connection with them (that connection is an image.) When it comes to musical lyrics, we should present them in such a way that honors Christ and Scripture. What we need are more people who lead worship to understand scripture and doctrine. Usually, those are writing our music today, the lyrics, fail to grasp the relevance of biblical doctrine.

    As for my analysis of "I'm Trading My Sorrows." I apologize for not giving details on why I disaproved of the song. I will explain now. The reason I disagree with the song is because it presents our sorrows, weakness, and trials in such a way that the NT never does. While, many of the lyrics can be traced back to scripture, they are not placed in light of the context of scripturer. Paul, in one of his most heartfelt epistles concerning his himself in the ministry of the gospel (2 Cor), does not imply any type of trading of his sorrows. In fact, he boasts in his weakness. Because Paul understands in light of his weakness the demostration of God's power is being shown. The song, "trading my sorrows", implies the complete opposite from Pauls understanding of sorrow. Paul never wanted to trade any of his afflictions, he actually boasted in them. That the power of God might be shown through them.

    2Cor 4:7-12 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
    8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
    9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
    10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
    11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
    12 So then death worketh in us, but life in you.

    I just wanted to thank you for this post. We need to be challenged about what we sing, for the songs that we sing really will teach theology. The easiest way to teach correct theology is the same way that incorrect theology is taught. And that is through what we sing. I'm not sure what it is, but there is something about a song which sticks in our minds.

    Anyway thanks and good work. Keep up the good posting, this site has quickly become one of my favorites.


    Just to let you know. I have received all of your emails and have responded to them. I am not sure why you are not getting them. You may want to ask your network administrator...


    Hey, this is an excellent post. I just wanted to let you know that I've linked it on my latest blog entry.

    Although I do agree that more Christians need to be aware of the words they sing, and truly feel the Lord and praise him through their words, I believe that the song "Trading in my sorrows" reflects the weakness of human beings in comparison to the awesomeness that is God, which IS in fact an underlying theme of the New Testament. Paul was boasting of his problems, but not blindly. He was saying that although he had these problems, his mind and heart were free because the Lord had a plan and would help him through. "Trading in my sorrows" speaks of giving up control over pain and accepting the Lord into your life; realizing that you have no control.

    "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."
    II Corinthians 4:18

    Wasn't Paul's point that while he boasts in his weaknesses, it is done for the glory of God. Paul didn't boast that he was weak or had struggles or that he was persecuted. He boasted so that God would receive the glory. I think in every sense then, "trading my sorrows" is a very good way of looking at this theology. I will gladly trade my sorrows for the joy of the Lord any day. I think Paul would agree.


    If "The Old Rugged Cross" is a good example for worship, why did it not make it into the Trinity Hymnal? An honest question; not trying to be polemical here...

    I don't even know if anyone is checking this anymore, but I just have a comment on the "Trading my Sorrows" song. I'm sure I don't have as much Biblical knowledge or experience as you guys, not because I'm a new Christian, but simply because I'm 17 :) And I know this might be a stretch, considering I don't know the original thoughts/inspiration behind the lyrics of whoever wrote it, but here goes:

    I was just thinking that maybe the lyrics meant that instead of wallowing in your sorrows, shame, sickness, and pain, you "lay them down" before God and submit them over to Him, and in return receive His joy despite your unfortunate maybe it's not necessarily "trading" all these things for joy and completely getting rid of them, because we all know that's not the case. We will still be sick and in shame and weak and sorrowful, but I think the song may be more of a self-commitment to giving God our entire life, including the ugly things, and letting Him use them as He wills.

    Just some I said, it may be a stretch and I don't know the original intentions behind the lyrics. But I did like the article. Very insightful and good to ponder :)

    Aside from the fact.. that I agree with the majority of the writers here.. that our worship is getting watered down.

    I was seeing the song through the same lens as Heather, even though she's only 17 :-)

    Not knowing the true intentions of the writer, it is hard to determine if this was intended for health/wealth theology. But to me, the underlying theme of trading sorrows in this song is the act of "taking your eyes off yourself/pain and/or sin-pride" and putting them on Christ/The Joy of the Lord. I think there's some good biblical precedence of putting off/putting on.. a discipline of grace.

    I also think we should be careful not to over correct and dive into the other ditch of just "singing correct theology." If we're not truly grateful, thankful and expressive through our worship.. these rich indoctrinated songs become lip service to God. Matthew 15:8 says that "THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME."

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