Christian song lyrics

Some of you may know that Philippa and I are currently doing part of a theological course called the “Moore Course”, which involves meeting up every other Wednesday evening and going through the material. Anyway, during our last meeting we somehow managed to end up talking about lyrics Christian songs. Not so much the actual lyrics themselves but more the general trends.

What people seemed to be saying was, in the past (in a lot of old hymns, for example) the lyrics were primarily focused on God and what he has done for us, how he has had mercy on us, and in general expressing God’s side of the relationship. However, now a lot of ‘worship’ songs (as they now seem to be called, although as Joe has previously pointed out they shouldn’t really) seem to focus on our relationship with God. Our response to him, what we can do for God (actually I once heard these called “Jesus is my Boyfriend” style songs, which made me chuckle).

The problem with having songs which focus on us and on our relationship with God is that it seems to not take into account the inequality of relationship between us and God: in the words of the confession, “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table.”

In a nutshell, people seemed to think that the sense of awe has been lost in many Christian songs today. I’m not really sure about that… although I love some of the older hymns, I think it’s sometimes important to be able to express things of a more intimate nature to God, or “Abba” father. I think it might be more important to try and strike a balance rather than focus too much on one or the other!

Anyway, apologies for the random thoughts and rambling — I just wanted to know really if anyone had any thoughts on the lyrics in modern Christian songs as opposed to the older hymn-style lyrics!

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5 thoughts on “Christian song lyrics

  1. There are basically two components to a song, the words and the music. A good song will have words and music that will stand the test of time and win, such as many of the hymns we still use today, many decades after they were written.

    A hymn with excellent words but dated music may well find itself being put to a new tune, such as “Before the throne of God” or “The Lord’s my shepherd”. However, a song with a good tune but poor words is unlikely to last long because the words are harder to update. I’m sure there are many hymns that had fantastic tunes that have been lost due to poor lyrics. The same will happen I’m sure with many of the modern songs which are great to sing but don’t really say much.

    The issue about our songs being more focused on the relationship than grace is more the responsibility of the worship leader in choosing the right songs. If a service is filled with songs with nice tunes but no message then it’s the fault of the worship leader rather than the songs themselves – it’s not like we’re stuck for choice! There is a time and a place for everything, and there are times when more personal reflective songs are more appropriate, but if it’s a Biblically-based song with a strong message you’re after there are many old and modern hymns that will do nicely.

    Basically what I’m trying to say is that it’s not the song writers who dictate the direction or theme of worship, it’s the worship leaders.

  2. “Basically what I’m trying to say is that it’s not the song writers who dictate the direction or theme of worship, it’s the worship leaders.”

  3. Okay, so the second half of that thoughtful and interesting comment has disappeared…

    Summarised cos I can’t be bothered to write it again, I said:

    “Basically what I’m trying to say is that it’s not the song writers who dictate the direction or theme of worship, it’s the worship leaders.”

    Ouch.

  4. Isn’t it something of a self-fulfilling cycle, given that a lot of the top “worship leaders” or music group leaders as I think they should be called are also the ones who write the modern content-sparse songs … and they choose their peers songs. I agree that there’s a huge amount of power with the people who choose the songs, but because the likes of Matt Redman and Tim Hughes are also writing them, they can’t complain that there just aren’t the songs out there. It needs to be a joint effort, songwriters writing Biblically based content-rich songs with more of a corporate not individual focus and the music group leader choosing them.

    Personally I think that the music group leaders wield far too much power in choosing songs and that many choose them on the basis of what’s nice to sing and play rather than songs that have good words.

    And please, please, please can we stop using the term “worship leader” to mean singer or music group leader – it’s extremely unhelpful, thoroughly unbiblical and promotes the role of musicians so far beyond what it should be!

  5. Also, I think great old hymns (with the same tune) can be given a whole new lease of life if imaginatively and sensitively played by a modern band – a great discipline for music groups to learn. Too often people think a hymn has to be played as a slow miserable dirge and so people hate them and find them boring.

    All Christian guitarists in particular should spend sometime learning to play hymns well – great exercise for brushing up on your chord changes and such a valuable thing to do as you can then help give these great old hymns a bit of a drive and a bit of oomph …

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