A Good Beat . . . Bad Lyrics: Why Theology Matters in Music

Have you ever been riding down the road scanning through the radio and you happen upon a song that you have not heard in 10 or 15 years?  If you are anything like me, (or most people, I assume) the lyrics that you have not sung in over a decade somehow find their way, almost without error, to the tip of your tongue.  It is amazing how we can store that type of information in our minds for such a long period of time, when at other times it is hard to even bring to mind a single verse of scripture that we have been trying to memorize.  Recently I had the privilege of attending a conference in Douglasville, Georgia, called G3.  One of the preachers there, Dr. Steve Lawson, told a story where John and Charles Wesley were arguing over who would be the preacher and who would be the hymn writer of their movement.  After arguing back and forth for a while Charles finally relented and told his brother John that he could be the preacher, but said in 100 years more people would remember his hymns and be more shaped by his words than John’s preaching.  These words, I believe, most certainly came true.

Music matters to God.  If you are much of a student of God’s word it would not take you long to see this as true.  The longest book in the Bible (Psalms) is mostly dedicated to written songs about Him.  Many instruments are listed in scripture.  There is singing in heaven.  Music matters to God.   If this is true, I think it would be wise of us to try to be more discerning in the music that we sing.  Today, you can find literally any type of genre of music that has been “Christianized.”  We have Christian Hip-Hop, Rock, Country, and even Hard-core.  This blog in no way is trying to single out a genre of music, but to try to bring to mind what matters most to God in the music.  I have heard so many “good beats” in Christian music that is moving by themselves, but when you add the watered down (sometimes  heretical) lyrics to that song, it just make me shake my head in disbelief.

Music matters to God . . . and so does the theology in it.  If a song has bad theology, it does not matter how good the music is that goes along with it.  If the words do not accurately describe the Lord and His word, I believe it would be wise for us to stay away from singing these types of songs in corporate worship.

There are three reasons why I believe theology matters in music and why I believe we should have good discernment in the songs that we sing in our corporate services (or even at home for that matter).

Music is for the Lord

                God ordained music to be played and sung for His glory.  “Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious” (Ps. 66:2). “Sing aloud to God our strength” (Ps. 81:1). “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation” (Ps. 95:1).  He gave many different people, from kings, to shepherds, to priests the ability to sing, play musical instruments, and write songs of worship and praise to Him.  The distinguishing factor in almost every song recorded in scripture is that it focuses on the Lord, rather than man.  God is the hero worthy of praise and worship.  Godly music is to focus on Him, and not us.   This is why good theology is so important in songs.  If it is not about Him, it is not worth singing in church.

Music is for the Church

                The primary reason for music is to glorify God (as is every aspect of life, actually), but he also gives it as a gift to the church as a way to express our praise, thanksgiving, and adoration to Him.  The first thing the Israelites did when they came out from the Red Sea was to sing a song of praise to the Lord (Exodus 15).  Paul instructs us to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in Ephesians 5:19.  It seems that godly music should be a part of our daily life.  The early church, when they gathered, would almost always sing to the Lord.  The church has been worshiping and praising the Lord for thousands of years.  It is a gift, but it is also a command.  If we are commanded to do so, I believe it is imperative that we do so “in Spirit and in Truth.”  That means that our heart needs to be right before the Lord to be singing to Him; but it also means that our words need to be accurately portraying who He is, and what He has done.  Taking your focus off of him and putting it on you (or us) is dangerous, and not honoring.

Music Teaches Us

                One of the reasons the church has written songs throughout the years is to help teach biblical truths.  When something is put to music or rhyme it is often easier to remember.  The truth is, a lot of people get their theology from the music that they sing.  When a song gets stuck in your head, the words can easily come up at any moment.  If you get your theology from a county song you might believe that when you die you will become an angel or that when you die everyone goes to heaven (even if they lived a life full of sin like drunkenness and continual one-night stands).  These types of songs may be entertaining to some, but the reality is that many buy into their theology without ever looking into the truth of the Word.  Music teaches us because it is an easy way to remember large amounts of words in a coherent consecutive way.  Knowing this to be true, would it not be wise to make sure that the songs we are singing line up completely with scripture?  This is why, again, theology matters in music.

Music is a wonderful gift from God.  It moves us, shapes us, and teaches us about life.  So, if you are preparing music for your service next Sunday, or in your home for family worship, or just scanning the radio in your car, be sure to think about the words that are being sung.  Are they glorifying to God?  Are they making much of God?  Are they putting Him at the forefront of the story…or someone else?  There is certainly a place for love songs, and simply just fun songs about life, but when we gather to worship the Lord . . . we need to make sure we are truly worshiping in Spirit and IN TRUTH.  This is why theology in music matters.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Student Minister Adam B. Burrell

2 thoughts on “A Good Beat . . . Bad Lyrics: Why Theology Matters in Music

  1. I was just recently discussing with my co workers how we are designed for music and/or music designed for us. God clearly desires worship through song. (Even the universe can be described as existing from vibrating strings.). On the flip side I think Satan specifically targets music to corrupt our minds-knowing we are particularly vulnerable in this area. I agree the music you listen to (especially the lyrics) has a huge impact on our minds. Good read.

    1. Thanks for reading Lamar. I particularly think it is important in the “church” context. I really like what Piper says about worship (which music is a part of worship) in his book “Let The Nations be Glad.” He writes “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.”

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