Sources of Theology

Had a bit of a “oooh, that’s an interesting thought” moment this afternoon when I was discussing having an issue of a theological nature with a particular song being sung this morning in our church service. The chorus of the song (which I believe is by “Third Day”) is pretty much just repeating the line:

“You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song”

Now as much as I really do like the song (and I really do, I love the music to it, and I think there’s some serious quality in the lyrics of the verses, I found myself having a physical reaction to singing the chorus. I couldn’t do it. And this time it’s not the “God being beautiful” thing (explored here, feel free to leave an abusive comment πŸ™‚ ), but the fact that I can’t sing that line without hearing it being about how beautiful my song to Jesus is. Which just sounds like talking myself up for Jesus. Which I can’t fit into my theology at all. So I don’t like it.

But, although I’m very keen to engage on that point (and feel free to have a crack in the comments, that’s not my point.

The point for me is that I think a huge amount of the theology in our church, and I’m going to assume by extension that it’s the same in most churches, comes not from the message given from the pulpit, but from the lyrics of the songs that we sing. I’ve heard people use words from songs to back up why they believe a certain thing about God, and I wonder how much of that is healthy. I wonder what you could do about that if you were looking to change it, and I really really wonder (without wanting to make any statement that they aren’t doing this already), how much thought goes into reflecting on the impact of the theology of songs sung in churches.

That’s all, no attempts at answers today: I’ll leave that to you. I just have questions and ideas.

18 Replies to “Sources of Theology”

  1. Good point Geoff – the lyric sounds like the song is the object of worship rather than the one to whom it is directed. I agree with you that worship has a significant impact on theology – how we think about ourselves and our relationship to God. Unfortunately there is a lot about “me” – giving rise to the criticism of pop culture worship having a “Jesus is my boyfriend” theme. There is an Aussie Vineyard song that makes me cringe every time I hear it, even though I love the sound and feel of it”

    I will bow before you Jesus
    You will be my King
    I will bow before you Jesus
    This will be my thing.

    The line that really bothers me is “This will be my thing”. It is as though I am into bowing before Jesus like I am into blogging, surfing and a good curry with a great red. In my opinion there is also an echo of the post-modern mantra – if it works for you then go for it”… Maybe I am being too critical?

  2. Hey Geoffgeoff,

    I interpret the line “You are beautiful, my sweet sweet song” completely differently to how you have. I have always thought it was describing Jesus as our beautiful and sweet song. It’s a metaphor, Jesus being likened to a beautiful song. I don’t think this line of the song is intended to be read that the song we are singing is beautiful and sweet…. because singing something like that is really not worship at all, as you are saying. It would only be building ourselves up and not God.

    I’d love to know what other people think.

    Laura

  3. I understand, and I think that’s probably the songwriter’s intention, but even accepting that perspective, it’s still “my sweet sweet song”. I can’t break the connection in my mind with it being all about me. Because if it’s “my song” then there’s something I’ve done for it to be exist, the beauty of the song is somehow still attributed to me.

    And I must admit: I too had a big cringe the first time I heard “this will be my thing”, Christina. It just seems way too flippant for my liking. Thanks both for the comments, I’m having lots of fun finding out what people are thinking.

  4. Have a read of little Paulie’s comments which are linked above, but I’ll cross-post my reply:

    Paulie,

    Thanks for the link through and for having a crack at the discussion. I do understand that it’s an analogy, and that it’s not trying to convey a deep theological principle. Which is why (as I mentioned) I really do LIKE the song. I think it’s a great song. And in the context of being a song that a band sings, that’s fine.

    But when it’s taken out of the environment of being an artistically performed song, and into the environment of being a song that a congregation sings together, in worship of Jesus, it needs to hold up for that setting.

    Most people who were singing that song on Sunday morning don’t have an experience of writing a song, so even the words of the bridge become about the song that they’re singing, and how perfect it is. Which I’m not so cool with.

    And in regards to your cheap-shot at “How Great Thou Art” – this could be my closet-Anglicanism showing, but the real reason you don’t relate with wandering through forest glades is nothing to do with being an Australian. It’s more to do with being an accountant, who doesn’t see any point in attempting to use beautiful words when a perfectly ugly one will do the same job. πŸ™‚

  5. Yeah, I am not sure that “When through the scrub, and Aussie bush I wander, and hear the cockies, screeching in the trees” has quite the same ring about it! I am all for poetic language and imagery. It is interesting to think about how far we can go with metaphor though. Is Jesus like a song? If we can answer yes to that (and given the flexiblity of poetry we can probably can, at least in some ways) is Jesus (as captured by the image of song) then mine?…

  6. When through the hymns, and modern songs I wander, I read the words and need to scratch my head.

    So what if I need to scratch my head! God made with a thinker, so I might as well use it.

    I’m with Laura on the whole seeing it as a metaphor thing… and yeah the bridgy bit backs that up…

    But I also can’t deny feeling a bit wierd singing it.

    Since we all come from slightly different places in our heads, that means we have to understand context and choose to empathise (or not to) with the content of any given song. In big words, our worldview will determine our immediate connection, and our capacity to empathise will determine our secondary understanding.

    That is the universal truth of existentialism πŸ˜›

    That should confuse even the most hardened phillosopher. But in simple terms, if we mistakenly assume that everyone misunderstands things in the same way, we risk choosing to follow only one particular brand of metaphor, and in so doing, lose the kind of diversity that might hopefully mean everyone finds at least one song, or one verse perhaps, that they understand and connect with.

    So essentially our dislike of certain lyrical arrangements represents a kind of ‘my world view is best’ bigotry and selfishness. I see this attitude in everyone except myself, due entirely to my incredible ability to be perceptive, and certainly in no part to the internal bias of my own perspective.

    I feel dizzy.

  7. good corrective points there Tim! Just wondering though, whether there has to be a plumbline somewhere theologically to ensure that metaphors (however creative) point to truth about Jesus (a sound connecting point), and not a more picturesque romantic notion. Not so much about world view then, but something that reflects sound theology. Hmmm, as I write this I know that sound theology itself is a slippery concept.

  8. Like I said on my blog… in line with Tim’s comments above, it’s all about the language thing.

    Music, words, poems are all media through which we attempt to communicate any given thoughts, ideas, emotions and propositions.

    When it gets poetic, Tim is most certainly right in that it comes back to individual understanding. You filter the message as you hear it through the medium. To some extent, you’d hope that we each have a choice to make the most of what we hear. But how far does that “listener’s privilege” apply?

    It opens up a whole new kettle of fish. If you took the same “each to their own” concept away from song lyrics, what happens when you apply it to the Bible? That’s a communication medium just as much as a Third Day song is. Surely, while (most of the time) biblical authors indulge in poetic licence far less than Third Day, if we start saying that everybody is allowed to have a different personal flavour for understanding theological precepts when they approach a communication medium, what happens to the Word?

    When does interpretation start diluting the truth to the point where anything goes?

    How can you guide people to the truth when asserting your own view is bigotry and arrogance?

    I don’t know the answer. Hopefully I’m making some sort of sense in poking the hole though.

    P.S. Loved the cockies version of How Great Thou Art! πŸ˜›

  9. Perhaps another valuable question might be, why are we so paranoid?

    Clearly we were singing a christian song in a church that contained a metaphor about God. I remember when I was 6 my dad told me I could defeat any evil thing just by saying the words ‘jesus is lord’ and so I used to run around everywhere saying it under my breath like some kind of fearful mantra. That’s sooo not a God thing.

    If you don’t know who you are worshiping because you got lost in between the bridge and the chorus, you may want to consider booking in for a memory loss prevention program. Why are we christian goldfish?

    Of course I am as guilty as any.

  10. “If you don’t know who you are worshiping because you got lost in between the bridge and the chorus”

    …or because you already sang the chorus about 8 times before you get to the bridge? πŸ™‚

  11. I remember in a kid’s ministry conference, one of the speakers saying that there were two types of songs kids could sing – “I” songs, and songs about God. “I” songs were songs that said “I love you, I feel this way about you” and the other type said things about God – “God is great”. He recommended that generally , (especially in missional settings) younger kids should sing the songs about God, because it wasn’t fair to get them to sing words that they may not yet understand or believe.

    Church worship is a little different to this situation, but his point that different songs are appropriate in different worship situations seems to make sense to me. I think part of a good worship leader’s job is to think wisely about the song choices, and chose not only songs that are appropriate musically for the audience (no use asking 80 year olds to worship to rock) but that also have appropriate and MEANINGFUL words that the people who sing them can sing authentically.

  12. i know i’m a little late to the discussion, but i just came across this today while looking for the title of the song in question. anyway, just thought i’d throw this out here:

    Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Isaiah 12:2

    The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. Psalm 118:14

    So we can at least establish that the question of whether God is our song is a question of biblicat interpretation, and not just interpretation of a Third Day lyric.

    Personally I like the line, and when I sing it I don’t take it to be about me or the song I’m singing. As for the word “my”, there are many levels of meaning to that word, as C.S. Lewis points out, ranging from my God to my country, my brother, my dog, my boots etc., and they are or are not about “me” to varying degrees.

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