Singing Theology So That We’ll Eventually Believe It

A friend pointed out an article to me today. It’s on the importance of our music and our worship being theologically sound and deep. The author points out that what we sing in worship informs what we believe about God. He gives the example of how our food affects our physical well-being. What we consume shapes us.

The author goes on to talk about how the content of our worship music really does make a difference in our growth as Christians:

Our song shapes our theology. Here’s a sad example. Think of the church whose songs are only happy all the time. This church celebrates, and celebrates, and celebrates. God is the consummate joy-giver. No sins are corporately confessed, and no lamentations are sung. It is only shiny, happy Jesus music. The flock, while being a joyful people, is persistently being shaped to view God in one way–as One who solves all their problems and only gives Christians good, happy, prosperous lives. Lex orandi, lex credendi. But then that day comes when Joe Churchgoer has a crisis–loss of job, cancer, death of a family member. Joe stops coming to church, becomes reclusive, starts doubting his faith, and eventually starts doubting whether God even exists. Why has this happened? Ultimately, it is because Joe’s church’s songs have so shaped his views of God that he has no categories for suffering. And when that happens, he starts to doubt that his other theological categories (God’s goodness, God’s power, God’s justice) are even true.

Having your theology shaped by song is a slow, steady process. Think of it like eating. If your body is out of shape, you don’t see any “re-formation” after your first healthy meal. It is only the faithful, perpetual consumption of healthy food that yields your body’s new shape. So it is with sung theology. We’re often eating of it long before we really believe it and are shaped by it. Chew, swallow. Chew, swallow.

Going back to my kids, right now we’re in the middle of slowly memorizing portions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism put to music by Cardiphonia. (I’m actually bribing them at $0.50 per song.) Now it would be foolish to expect that my seven-year-old son, who chants back that “God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all their creatures and all their actions,” actually knows (much less believes) what he’s singing. But, because I’m a believer in lex orandi, lex credendi, I’m very comfortable bribing him to shove big forkfulls of theological leafy dark greens down his throat because I really do believe that it will one day show up in the figure of his soul.

So it is with us, children of God. We sing in order that we may one day believe. I can sing Newton’s great line “He has hushed the law’s loud thunder / He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame,” but I know that there’s a part of me that doesn’t really believe the fullness of what that means. Nevertheless, I sing it. I shove that fork in my mouth, so that one day I might look at myself in the mirror and say, “Goodness, that looks more like Jesus than I remember from a year ago.”

I can testify to the truth of his thesis. So many times in my life, I have found myself going back to the hymns and songs that I’ve memorized, finding encouragement, hope, and rest for my weary soul. The RUF hymns from my college years are especially precious to me. It makes my heart proud to hear my children singing bits of hymns as they play through the day. They may not understand all of what they are singing about yet, but I pray that these words will sink deep in their souls and bear fruit as they grow in faith.

Indelible Grace: The Music of RUF

My first experience with RUF was the summer conference at Panama City Beach in 1994. I have very fond memories of that trip. That conference was also my first exposure to RUF music. I had been in youth groups, sung on praise teams, and listened to countless hours of contemporary Christian music, but RUF music was distinctly different. The melodies were easy to sing and beautiful to listen to, but the words were absolutely wonderful. The first two RUF hymns that I learned were Psalm 130 and Give to the Wind Thy Fears. Here is the first stanza of Psalm 130:

From the depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
If Thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before Thee?

And Give to the Wind Thy Fears:

Give to the winds thy fears,
Hope and be undismayed.
God hears thy sighs and counts thy tears,
God will lift up,
God will lift up
God will lift up thy head

These hymns were so moving. I was so impressed by the rich vocabulary. These were not typical praise songs. I couldn’t wait to learn more. What I discovered was that there was a move within RUF to bring old hymns, many almost forgotten, back into use, some with new music. Men such as Chris Miner, Darwin Jordan, and Brian Habig were instrumental in this new venture. Kevin Twit helped take the RUF hymns to a much wider audience. Continue reading