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A Critique of Modern Worship Music Criticism

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The church’s critique of modern worship music is not anything new. If you have been involved in worship ministry for any length of time, you are most likely familiar with the common arguments against most contemporary worship songs:

They are too simplistic.
They are too repetitive.
They are too personal.
They lack spiritual depth.

If we have a high view of God, then we will have a high view of corporate worship. This view of worship should cause us to take our choice of song seriously. It is not only appropriate, but incredibly important for us to be thoughtful and selective with the songs we sing as a local church. With that said, I have found myself reconsidering the fruitfulness of certain types of criticism towards modern worship music. Furthermore, I have been questioning if all these flavors of critique are even biblical? Let’s look at a few.

1. Is it wrong for a worship song to be simple?
The argument against simplicity usually refers to the lack of “thought” and “intellectual stimulation” that some worship songs have; however, I see nothing in scripture that says our songs need to be complicated. I do think we should take our writing of worship music seriously; however, that does not mean that simple lyrics were not approached with great care and thoughtfulness. In fact, if we look to the Psalms as a guide, Psalm 117 has only 5 simple lines and we know that this was meant to be sung.

2. Should worship songs refrain from repetition?
Well, if that is the case, then David didn’t write very good worship songs. Consider Psalm 136 which contains 26 verses and he repeats “his steadfast love endures forever” in every single verse. Sometimes there are truths about God that are worth repeating. Often times, when a writer repeats a lyric in a song, it is not because they are lazy, it is because they want the truth there to sink in and allow time for you to think about it before quickly moving on to something else.

3. Should we keep worship songs from becoming too personal?
I once heard that we too often sing things like “I will sing to you” and “I will worship”, making it seem like worship is all about us, when it should be about God. My response is usually Psalm 63 (along with Psalms 42, 34, 30, etc) that say things like “I will extol the Lord”, “I will sing praises to him”, “my soul thirsts for you”, and the like. These are very personal reflections of a worshipful heart towards God and it is ok to sing songs as a congregation that make these statements as well. If we think that our declaration of the love we wish to show for God takes attention away from him, then we are gravely mistaken. We are not diminishing his glory; we are making much of it by expressing that it is worthy of the personal expressions we are singing about. This does not mean we sing songs that are personal and emotional just for the sake of being personal and emotional. However, if the bible commands all believers to “bless the Lord with all that is within [us]”(Psalm 103), then I think it is appropriate to sing that “[We] will bless the Lord at all times”(Psalm 34).

4. Should all worship songs be spiritually deep?
Now, I want to be careful with this so I will rephrase the question: Should we expect a song to deliver a concise theological treatise? Personally, when I look through scriptures, I see commands to extol God with gratitude, to sing hymns in our hearts, to him and to each other; however, I don’t see any command for those songs to organize our theology. Read through the Psalms. Sometimes they are as simple as “Praise Him!” I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t make sure our songs are theologically sound; however, I am questioning the fruitfulness of expecting our songs to define our theology. Perhaps a song doesn’t necessarily need to do this. If we sing “God is good” or “Jesus saves”, we should not criticize the song because it doesn’t tell us how exactly God is good or how Jesus saves. We should already have that articulated so when we sing simple lyrics, the richness of what we already know motivates the worship in our hearts towards God. This is the function of good teaching, not good song-writing.

Again, I recognize that there are many songs with troubling lyrics that are completely inconsistent with the nature and revelation of God in scripture. These problems need to be addressed seriously; however, I think that is different than criticizing a worship song because it is too “simple” or “repetitive”. There are so many things we should be concerned with when it comes to our selection of worship songs; we shouldn’t be concerned with things that the Bible isn’t concerned about. Let us be mature worshipers that have a deep knowledge of who God is and are easily edified when we enter into corporate worship.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” –Psalm 150:6

An earlier version of this article was initially featured on Young and Devoted.

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