Modern Worship Songs

A thought struck me the other day: it seems that there are a lot more decent modern worship songs out there at the moment than there were around ten years ago. I’ve not always been a fan of modern Christian music, but it does seem that the game has been kicked up a notch of late. (Check out the We Are Worship website for some examples).

One reason I think different is because my opinion on worship songs has changed a bit: in the past I would have preferred hymns or songs which were theologically ‘rich’: “if it doesn’t go through a chapter of Grudem’s Systematic Theology I don’t want to know”! But one of the things I’ve realised over the past couple of years is that it’s OK for songs to be simple sometimes. If a congregation sung three or four EMU or Sovereign Grace style songs in a row, it would be exhausting!

This may be a tad controversial at my theological college (ahem), but I believe sometimes what is needed is something more emotionally-driven, something which allows an individual to express an honest feeling to God, as well as times to declare truths about God to each other. In short, I think I’d say the important thing is balance here – trying to sing songs which are theologically rich as well as lighter songs which allow people to express themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that it’s OK to sing dodgy theology! There are songs like that and it’s best to avoid them. But sometimes something which is theologically true but simple is appropriate.

One modern trend which I think blends these two elements (the intellectual and emotional, if you will) together well is updating hymns to have a bridge chorus. Some examples might be:

  • In Christ Alone (Passion 2013 version). I like the bridge they’ve added here (although they do miss a verse out, which I would include if doing this song in church).
  • Crown Him (Majesty) – I love the original hymn, and I think the bridge does work – although I might cut the length down a bit if doing it in church.
  • Jesus Paid it All – an old, forgotten hymn with an additional bridge – it suddenly has a whole new lease of life. We’ve done it a few times at college / church and I love it.

These songs all declare great theological truths about God, but also allow people to express something emotional on a more personal level. I think it’s good to have those two components in the music in a church service, bring truth down to individual / corporate level.

I think there are also a good number of new songs being written which aren’t hymns – for example, I quite like Defender of this Heart, One Thing Remains, and The Cross Stands to name a few.

So it seems to me that this is a good time for Christian worship songs 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Modern Worship Songs

  1. Phill, thank you for writing this. I appreciate that in your own context you are going out on a limb. But I would go much further. A song designed for people “to declare truths about God to each other” is NOT a worship song at all. It may have a part in a gathering of Christians. But it is not worship, but teaching – and quite frankly I think teaching should be primarily in a sermon. A proper song of worship is, rather, one “which allows an individual to express an honest feeling to God”, or at least an honest belief or conviction. The point is that it is expressed to God, not to others. And God doesn’t need us to teach him theology! Of course I entirely agree that worship songs should not express dodgy theology. But the best way to ensure that is for them not to express theology at all.

    • Hi Peter. Thanks for you thought-provoking comment!

      I don’t think I want to drive a wedge between theologically rich and emotional response kind of songs. Many theologically rich hymns are also very personal, like “In Christ Alone” or “And Can it Be”. I remember hearing that most people learn their theology from songs and hymns, I’m not sure how true that is but I think it’s believable!

      I also think there is a ‘one-another-ness’ in singing truths about God to each other in the vein of Colossians 3:16 “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

      But yes, I agree that teaching should be primarily through the sermon and that worship through the music should be about responding to that, not another sermon in and of itself.

      Thanks again for commenting. I don’t think I’ve got this all figured out and it’s good to hear different opinions on this 🙂

      • Thank you, Phill. I too don’t want to draw too clear a line, as I know people do tend to remember hymns better than sermons.

        As for Colossians 3:16, I was surprised by the punctuation although I think you are quoting NIV. I looked at the Greek, and at RSV (on the opposite page in my Greek NT), and, as punctuated by the Greek editors, “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” go with “sing” rather than “teach and admonish”. ESV (your college’s favourite?) seems to agree with RSV although it has a confusing extra comma after “songs”. I accept that the Greek, unpunctuated, is ambiguous. But it does seem to make more sense to have two thoughts here: 1. with all wisdom teach and admonish each other; 2. with psalms etc sing to God.

        • Hi Peter,

          Yes I was quoting the 2011 NIV – as you say the ESV is used a fair amount at Oak Hill, although strangely enough after beginning to study Greek I’ve gone back to the NIV (the ESV is a bit too klunky / over-literal for my liking).

          Thanks for your thoughts on Colossians 3:16; I see that the punctuation is a little ambiguous but I think I’m agreed with you that there are two separate thoughts here.

          Stlil, I do think there is a horizontal as well as a vertical dimension of worship which it’s important not to overlook.

          Thanks,
          Phill

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