Worship songs that have robust theology and explicit gospel references rejuvenate our weary souls. Current events bombard us with the reality of murder, poverty, injustice, and other evils. We bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters who have been sinned against. Our souls are weary because the world is broken and it contains more sin than we can comprehend. External factors make us weary, but we have internal burdens too.
Our hearts are wicked and we don’t understand it completely (Jeremiah 17.9). We live with the truth that nothing good dwells within us, besides the Spirit of God (Romans 7:18). We have a war going on within us because our flesh and spirit are constantly battling. We have a desire to do good, but our flesh desires evil. The struggle is tiring and at times discouraging because our spirits have lost too many battles. We are broken.
The reality of our sinfulness and the world’s wickedness is almost enough to lead us to despair. Therefore, worship songs without a strong theological foundation or explicit gospel references are inadequate. These songs are not weighty enough to lift our heavy souls to the Solid Rock, and they are not sufficient in anchoring us in the shifting sea of the present age.
Lay A Foundation
Good,Good Father is a song I hear quite often, which I consider lacking a strong theological foundation. It does emphasize the Fatherhood of God, His goodness, and His Love. However, those characteristics are distinguishable only in the chorus. The verses do not add to the worshipers understanding of any of those characteristics. We never get an explanation as to why these truths are worth singing. In addition, there are several pronouns that turn the worshiper’s attention on himself. In my opinion, this song leaves the worshiper with questions like:
1) Could this be a Father’s Day song?
2) If I was a nonbeliever could I determine God was a “Good, Good Father” from the verses provided?
3) Could a theist sing this song loudly and proudly?
4) Is it too focused on us and not on Him?
Every worship song needs a strong theological foundation to stand on in order to lift up weary saints. I believe artists have become fixated on simplicity and repetition. Simplicity and repetition are wonderful tools God has provided to worship Him. Although, if simplicity and repetition are given too much emphasis we are left with songs that proclaim truths with no explanation. These two tools become so much more once they rest on a strong theological foundation.
“He’s Good, He’s Good, He’s Good” I used to hear these words almost every Sunday. They were simple and they were repetitive. However, these words along with others were sung after the congregation sang Amazing Grace. Alone, the extra verse is ambiguous, but when it rest on the foundation of God’s grace, it makes perfect sense. He is Good because He saved sinners, He found what is lost, and gave sight to the blind. The proclamation of God’s goodness by the congregation was the result of thankfulness for God’s grace. A worshiper that listened to the whole song had no reason to ask why He is good, but to ask why don’t I join in. When simplicity and repetition are combined with a strong foundation, it is enough to lift our fatigued souls to the Solid Rock.
We Need Gospel Music
The gospel holds the power to save sinful men no matter who they are or where they come from (Romans 1:16). Our good news is worth proclaiming from every pulpit and it is worth sharing with everyone we meet because it has power. It is what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions, and I am convinced our songs should be saturated with it. Our songs should contain explicit gospel references so if a person hears it or sings it they would be confronted with its power.
J. Mack Stiles in his book Evangelism challenges the readers to sing the gospel in churches. He talked about God of this City which he described as a good song, but it has no gospel. If the songs have no gospel then a Muslim, Jew, or Mormon could sing them loudly and proudly. Should individuals of various faiths be able to sing our Christian songs without getting gospel references?
John Owen says this about worship and the gospel:
“The foundation of true holiness and true Christian worship is the doctrine of the gospel, what we are to believe. So when Christian doctrine is neglected, forsaken, or corrupted, true holiness and worship will also be neglected, forsaken, and corrupted.”
We should never divorce our worship from the gospel, in particular from our songs. Donald Whitney has contributed to the subject of worship and the gospel in his blog “The Gospel and Worship.” Whitney says:
“The gospel not only prepares us to worship, it guides our worship and sustains us in worship. In biblical worship, the gospel is proclaimed in Word and sacrament; in the worship of God, His gospel is read, preached, and sung.“
In other words, we need more gospel music.
My aim is not to offend, but to contribute to the conversation of worship. I do not approach this as a worship scholar but as someone who desires to hear more theologically sound, gospel-saturated songs. If we come to church with heavy hearts and burdened souls nothing less will do. No matter how many times you sing the lyrics it won’t matter. No matter how simple the song is it will be irrelevant. Although, if the song provides us with a Solid Rock to stand on or a Cornerstone to depend on then it is sufficient. If the song reminds me of the price that was paid for my sin, then I can leave church with the thought “He’s Good” because
“Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me on”