Why Our Worship Songs Should Shape Our Theology

I often hear people complain that “too many people get their theology from worship songs,” and to an extent, I share that concern. I do have a problem with bad worship songs shaping our theology.

But I don’t have a problem with worship music shaping our theology, per se. To suggest worship music should not shape our theology raises questions about the value of having a book of 150 such songs in the canon, plus all the various songs scattered throughout the other books. And since I’m not about to write those out, we must accept God can and does teach through inspired song.

I do think worship music has a role in teaching.

It did in Scripture, and it likely should today. It is a shared experience of declaring strongly held beliefs. It is a way of corporately seeing doctrine in a new light and actively declaring we want to follow and be changed by the truth of which we are singing. Because it involves the whole body and the emotions, it has a power and ability to move us on am”deeper than purely rational” level.

But if individual Christians are spending their devotional times leafing through and meditating on liner notes rather than God’s Word, something’s gone wrong … and it’s not the fault of the worship leaders! The first step to rectify the problem is to get individual Christians reading the Bible and critically evaluating what they hear and sing by whether or not it lines up with God’s Word.

In the gathered church, I don’t consider worship songs to be the primary medium for teaching; that title goes to the 30- to 60-minute slot we generally call (displaying a complete disregard for the difference between nouns and verbs) “the preach.” I do, however, recognize the power of worship songs to instruct subliminally and, therefore, the crucial need to get them right.

But I would suggest there are whole hosts of things we do that instruct without us realizing. The way a worship time is introduced, the language used during notices, the explanation of the offering (the quality of the coffee?!) all convey value statements and sometimes implicitly communicate hints about doctrinal positions, preferences or priorities. That is to say, if we’re going to pick on worship leaders, we’ve got to be consistent and pick on everyone who makes Sundays tick!

It would be all too easy to write a post bemoaning the lack of theological depth of modern worship songs, picking out a few obvious examples and mocking them publicly.

To be sure, there are many viable candidates for such ridicule! There are plenty of songs I would not be happy to sing on a Sunday because of the warped theology they teach, but there are plenty of other songs I would not want to sing for other reasons.

When writing and choosing good worship songs, we need to be asking more than, “Is this good theology?”

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Liam Thatcher
Liam and his wife Helen are currently based in London where Liam works as assistant and researcher to David Stroud. As a Drama and Philosophy graduate with a passion for theology, he spends his free time studying commentaries, writing plays, cultivating a philosopher’s beard, and drinking good coffee.