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Articles by Brian Jackson

Emotionally Charged and Intellectually Empty

5 December 2007

I recently had the opportunity to eavesdrop a little bit on the local Christian high school's praise band and their choice of music for the weekly chapel service. While both the lyrics and music for this particular song were actually written by two of the students, they bore a passing resemblance to a lot of the songs performed by the praise band.

The song compared the experience of life as a Christian student to war, a fair comparison in some ways, and likened the students themselves to the child soldiers fighting in a war, presumably and albeit vaguely against evil and Satan. As I read down the page, the first thing I noticed was how powerfully necessary context becomes when reading lyrics to a song by a high school student.

I really don't want to knock the song. The student who wrote the lyrics has a talent for writing lyrics, and the student who composed the music is likewise talented. The question I have is this: would the song still make sense if all you did was replace "God" or "Jesus" with "Allah"? Would the song make just as much sense when sung by a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Hindu? If so, you have the same problem as a lot of the writers from popular Christian music groups.

Christian music is not a new concept - it's as old as the Church. Go back to the early centuries and you'll find hymns sung by persecuted Christians in jail for their beliefs. What you won't see is a believer in shackles singing "you're all I want, you're all I need," etcetera. These songs make perfect sense even when sung by a secular artist for a secular album about girlfriends and boyfriends and infatuation.

For a Christian song to mean anything at all, it has to be woven with the theology of Christianity. I'll give you an example: the following lines come from "A Mighty Fortress is Our God", a Lutheran hymn.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of Godís own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

In those two verses, it's possible to enumerate a large number of theological concepts central to Christianity:

  1. The "never failing" security of the believer in the character of God
  2. The presence and capabilities of Satan are greater than those of Man
  3. The constant presence of Earthly moral and physical harm (e.g. "flood of mortal ills")
  4. Hatred is one of the prime armaments of the devil against the believer
  5. The strength of Man is no defense against a spiritual enemy
  6. Christ's power and authority is sufficient against the devil
  7. Jesus Christ is the same "from age to age"
  8. Ultimately, the spiritual war will be won by Christ

To contain no more doctrine than the idea of "we're gonna win, we're warriors of God" when composing a song about spiritual warfare is akin to performing Shakespeare sans dialog. You cannot describe the Christian experience, much less the power of Christ, without an understanding of doctrine and theology.

But the problem of theology, or rather, absence of sound theology in popular Christian praise and worship music is symptomatic of a greater illness in the Church. Doctrine is being replaced by sentiment in messages and pulpits, and for that very reason, many intelligent people are not giving as much as a second thought to Jesus Christ. I cannot imagine what it would have taken to get myself to look at the Bible seriously if I had not had the benefit of a Christian upbringing. It's not that Christianity doesn't make sense, it's that the institution of a touchy-feely approach to ministry goes against the very nature of the people who are my colleagues and my classmates. The Berean believers who examined the scriptures carefully to see if the Apostles' words were true are described as noble, not as cynical.

"We can't possibly give them something controversial. We can't possibly give them something they can reject, or many will reject it." You cannot reject a feeling, so that is what is offered in the hopes that listeners will stay. The idea that to worship properly, a parishoner has to stow his frontal lobe in the overhead compartment is foolish and foreign to the type of Christian lifestyle advocated in the New Testament. Replacing a message about the reality of Heaven and Hell with one about seeking personal stability offers nothing of lasting value to reasonable people, and much less does replacing the careful examination of scripture with careful examination of the emotional state of the believer.

Feelings can never replace facts, and emotions cannot be accepted like ideas any more than they can be rejected.



A very sound point to make! Much worship music nowadays is missing in doctrine. However, worship IS supposed to be an outpouring of our heart towards our Father, and many times this is emotionally charged. Both have their place, and neither is sufficient on its own. Thanks for the discussion!


I wholeheartedly agree - emotion isn't meant to be absent from the Christian experience, but a lopsided emphasis confuses the means for the end in building a relationship with God. Thanks for the comment!


This is why I joined the Catholic church. It has a firm doctrine and tradition which holds it together, so that it doesn't wither into the sort of half-assed "Yay Jeezus" crap that a bunch (but not all) of Protestant churches seem to have become.


It's funny that you should say that, because I became a Protestant for a very similar reason. Tradition, I think, has a history of eroding purely Biblical doctrine. To replace faith in Jesus Christ with sacraments as a means of salvation is a reversal of the scriptures - I take part in communion and baptism not because I think that without them I my faith is insufficient, but because my faith in Christ dictates obedience to His words. I hope you really examine the Bible to see if what you're being told is true. I know I will. Thanks for posting.


rock on bro.


Ah, yes, I saw this in chapel. I believe this to be very true... and not only this, but the repetition is sometimes evident in certain songs. Not that reinforcing a theme is bad, but... Would "Shine, Jesus, Shine" be an example of a better, modern hymn? (I know this was written in the 80s, but still)


hmmm...interesting concept. I have felt similarly regarding the overemphasis on feelings in the church but never compared it to the musical lyrics. It is true that some Christian music does not specifically mention the one true God but it is dedicated to Him. I don't think that this praise is less pleasing to our Lord, because all our words of love and adoration are understood by Him. However, I also agree that there needs to be a larger focus on doctrine. How much more powerful would our music be if we referred to biblical events and all who sung the words understood the true beauty of what God has done. You point out a very alarming truth about the modern (especially American)church...many have forgotten the importance of studying scripture. The feelings are great, but a relationship with our Father goes much deeper than that. Just like personal relationships between humans, our relationship with God needs to be based on more than just feelings. If we do not project the absolute truth of the gospel, people will look at Christianity as "one of the many beautiful religious tradtions". We must not allow our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to be reduced to that.


One more thing...although it is important to challenge one another as Christians so that we can grow stronger in the faith, there is also a place for encouragement, so I would just like to say "way to go" to all those high schoolers who go to the service. I am hopeful that they will seek God more and more every day, and thankful that they are already displaying their love for him. Praise the Lord!


Yay Jesus


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