In last week’s entry, we looked at worship as a way of initiating believers into theology. Now I want to look at some of the most well known songs of recent years as indicators of our theological condition.
The worship industry is skewing our theology.
The worship song “The Blessing” for many believers was a year-defining song in 2020. The song debuted in March 2020, just as covid-19 was becoming a global pandemic. “The Blessing” received a Dove Award for worship song of the year in 2020. There is nothing objectionable in the song itself; most of its lyrics are from Numbers 6. At its core, it is a simple reminder of God’s goodness, and yet I find the timing of its popularity to be perplexing.
I believe the worship industry is skewing our theology towards positivity, not by stating untruths about God, but by omitting truths that are crucial to biblical worship.
The Bible is filled with laments, but our worship is not.
It is interesting that as hundreds of thousands have died, rather than lamenting them or remembering the Son of God on the cross, Western churches have been repeating “He is for you” and “Amen” more than twenty times. This makes me very uncomfortable on a personal level. Is the song a timely reminder of God’s attributes, or does its popularity signal just how deeply we keep our heads in the sand when storms start blowing in?
Modern worship songs are obsessed with triumph; biblical worship means fellowship with the God on the cross.
A review of the most popular songs by Charismatic worship leaders indicates the extent of our theological imbalance. Even a cursory look at the most popular worship songs of 2020 and 2021 shows that triumphalism has become deeply ingrained into our worship. There is a definite tension between the man Jesus Christ going to the cross as a silent lamb, and the following lines from top ranked worship songs:
You win every battle.Phil Wickham, “Battle Belongs”
The God I serve knows only how to triumph.Elevation Worship, “See a Victory”
You can do all things but fail, / ’Cause You’ve never lost a battle. / No, You’ve never lost a battle / And I know, I know / You never will.Elevation Worship, “Never Lost”
You are my Champion. / Giants fall when You stand, / Undefeated, / Every battle You’ve won.Bethel Music, “Champion”
At the same time, in academic theology circles, Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God is considered one of a few books that has served to reorient New Testament theology around the suffering of the cross. Lucy Peppiatt stated in an interview that it was one of the best theology books of the twentieth century, and I agree. While suffering and Christ’s suffering are becoming a central issue for the lectern, the cross is being ignored more than ever on the worship stage.
The God of modern worship is a peppy, militarized caricature of the God of the Bible.
The military language belongs in our worship and is found on both Testaments—but it is a constant feature of our worship songs today, and is frequently found in churches that align themselves with pro-military political power. The clear conjunction of literal and figurative military language is unsettling. What’s likely worse is the attitude of triumphalism that is all resurrection with no cross.
I know next to nothing about the theology of Elevation Church. But the worship songs they produce are putting forth an image of a God whose core attributes are vague, triumphal, and optimistic. The more ethereal God is, the better the song sells. God never loses a battle, God raises the dead and brings new life, God blesses. It is the Facebook-algorithm-tailored version of worship. If this is all that we sing about, we are communicating that this is all that our children need to know about God.
Triumphalism is more characteristic of Islam than Christianity. In Islam prophets hardly sin and certainly never doubt, and the theological vision and political vision are one and the same. Whatever Jesus’ political vision was, it was certainly not triumphalist. The idea that God has never lost a battle may be true in some abstract sense (God successfully administrates all events in spite of the devil?), and worshippers may even sing it with that in mind; but it is precious little comfort to those who have prayed against covid-19 and watched multiple family members be carried away by the disease. The message of the cross is the distinctive message that we need to pass on to our children and to the watching world. God does not prevent all suffering by “winning battles”, but he does have victory over the devil in the humiliating death of Jesus.
We are being duped by bigger churches with more money and better music.
The theological ideas found in our worship music are, more than anything, a barometer of the kinds of thinking found in megachurches. What we need are fewer imitators and more prophets. We need worship leaders who both write their own songs and evaluate their selections for Christian meetings. Gatherings need to take worship seriously enough to spend equal time preparing worship and sermons—after all, they probably spend equal time teaching the congregation theology. In many churches, more of the service is taken up by music than the sermon itself. We often allow the undiscipled and undisciplined to take the microphone when we would never allow them in the pulpit. There needs to be a prophetic rebalancing, a deep repentance of our flippancy, and a new theology of worship must be developed to save the church from the poisonous reach of Mammon in our music.