The Theology of Hymns Versus Modern Worship Songs

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Theology is those truths that are taught by God, truths that teach us of God, and truths that lead us to God. Our congregations sing that theology every week in a variety of languages, contexts, cultures, and styles.

So we should choose songs that helps us sing that theology by asking if they quicken the conscience through the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God, and devote the will to the purpose of God.[1]

Those deeper foundational questions, though,  often take a back seat to our first asking how those songs make us feel. When we base our selections on feelings alone, then our emotional connection to a favorite genre arbitrarily sets the standard for the theological value of all genres. Consequently, we then automatically label all those other genres beyond our favorite as theologically sub-standard.

Hymns or modern worship songs are not innately more theological just because we have an emotional attachment to one or the other. Modern worship songs are not more theological because they sound better with a band and multitracks. And hymns are not more theological because we can recall their texts and tunes or sing them in four-part harmony. Both hymns and modern songs can be and are theological as long as they reflect and respond to biblical text; connect the word of God to the people of God; help us sing the gospel; can be sung with doctrinal integrity; and encourage us to be doers and not just hearers.

It is indeed true that our hearts can often be stirred or softened individually through one favorite genre of worship songs over another. Those favorites can cause us to remember significant events or spiritual seasons. And those connections seem to help us better form and frame a deeper understanding of who God is.

But we must be careful never to assume that the musical and emotional connection that solidifies a deeper theological understanding for us is the only tenable musical and emotional option that can possibly solidify a deeper theological understanding for all.

The theology in our hymns or modern worship songs isn’t mutually exclusive. So instead of propping up one by maligning the other, we should be praying that the peace of Christ would keep them and us in tune as worship allies instead of adversaries. 

 

[1] Adapted from a quote by William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-44.

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