Singing Bad Theology

Most worship music I’ve found to be ecumenically-friendly. Even when I’m out worshipping with other branches of Christianity, I don’t see too many problems with the lyrics of the songs we sing. But being trained in theology, including worship planning, I do tend to notice lyrics that don’t fit with my theological understanding.

Here are just a few examples:

In Christ Alone

In Christ Alone was my baptism song. I also have a very Jesus-centric faith, so singing about how my hope is in Christ alone makes a lot of sense. It also is a beautiful song in my opinion. But then there’s that line about God’s wrath being satisfied on the cross. You may have heard about a year ago, I think, that the Presbyterian Church USA requested to change this line to say “the love of God was magnified” but the song creators refused.

This line is a blatant statement of the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. God is angry and has to kill somebody in order to forgive, so comes as Jesus, satisfying his anger on his innocent son/self so that he can forgive us. This language is not in Scripture. Language of Jesus taking on our sin is. Language of Jesus being the final sacrifice is. Most songs just stick to that language. But In Christ Alone pushes that atonement theory by emphasizing how God was angry and needed to be satisfied.

So if I’m somewhere that sings that verse, I just sing what PCUSA suggested as alternate lyrics. We sang the song occasionally at The Meeting House West Hamilton but skipped that verse entirely (you can’t legally change the song without permission, but you can sing selections).

Blessed Be Your Name

I have a similar conflict with Blessed Be Your Name. When I was in New Orleans helping with cleanup from Hurricane Katrina, on our last night we sang this with many of the locals who had lost a lot (granted, that area was not the worst hit, but it would still suck). Most of us were crying at the end hearing them affirm that God’s name is blessed even through things like hurricanes. So again I have an emotional attachment.

But that bridge that used to be so powerful, “you give and take away,” which summarize the whole song really, shifted to really problematic for me when I thought about the lyrics. The song is not stating that we are acknowledging God as good even when times are tough. It is flat-out saying that God is responsible for evil as well as good.

The bridge comes from Job, who thinks of God in this way. At the end of the story God comes and points out that Job doesn’t know what he is talking about. It’s true; jump back to the beginning of the story and we’ll see that it was Satan who was putting Job through everything. The problem with the song is that we are taking Job’s words, which God corrected, and singing them, thereby attributing to God’s character something he explicitly told Job not to.

Praising the Bible

Then there are songs that are straight-up bibliolatry. Not long before leaving Kingston I was worshiping at a conservative church that students frequent. Can’t remember why – a friend visiting who used to go there and wanted to go back, maybe. In any case, the message was going through the fruits of the spirit and was on goodness. I understand that isn’t exactly an easy one to talk about for 45 minutes, but his solution was to talk about how amazing the Bible is. I can’t remember how it worked but it was some very circular logic about God being good, the Bible being good, and it (not God, but the Bible) making us good.

And then we sang a song about how amazing the Bible was. The song didn’t even directly reference God. It was actually addressed to the Bible. We sang to the Bible about how amazing the Bible is. If that isn’t the very definition of bibliolatry – worship of the book – then I don’t know what is. I sang about one verse not paying attention before I realised what I was saying.

We should be thankful to God for giving us the Bible. We should find the Bible useful in helping us relate to and follow Jesus. We should not worship the Bible. The Bible is not God.

How About You?

Any worship or CCM songs you can think of that are downright harmful theology?

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.