Music and theology have always been closely entwined. Theology (in the broadest sense) encompasses what we understand to be true about God, His Word, and the world He has made. Music, as it comes alongside theology, helps the church say and celebrate in song what it believes and affirms to be true.
God’s people have been writing music for thousands of years. Beginning with the rich wellspring of the psalms, music has served the church to carry the voice of God’s people in praise, prayer, and proclamation. Within the many settings of psalms, and numerous hymns and spiritual songs is an opulent banquet of truth. For those who are willing to search, there are many savory delights to be found.
Unfortunately many churches miss out on this feast of song. Some shy away from doctrinally rich lyrics and prefer instead those that are lighter and more subjective. Some, despite Paul’s paradigm in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, exhorting the church to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, impose a more narrow interpretation: “only the psalms,” “only the old hymns that have stood the test of time,” or “only what is new, contemporary, and speaks to me today.” Some are content to sing a limited number of favorites. Others select music based on emotional appeal or a catchy melody, rather than theological soundness.
In this new series, Theology and Song, I hope to encourage pastors and musicians to think theologically about music in worship. Each post will focus on a specific theological topic and will feature a portion of my Theological Index of Church Music.
I began the Index 26 years ago (in 1993) as a project for one of my PhD seminars when I was at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The index listed 350 psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and arranged them according to the theological truths that they highlight. It proved especially valuable in ministry for planning worship and selecting music that would underscore the sermon. You can read more about the Index in an earlier article: “Selecting Music for Worship—Know Theology.”
As I post this series on my blog, I will be updating and expanding the Index so I can make it available on my website as a resource for worship leaders. My list of songs will certainly not be exhaustive. I’ll be asking for your suggestions and adding songs (as well as more topics) to the Index in the days ahead.
Here is list of some of the upcoming topics: [updated]
Songs and God’s Creation (Natural Revelation)
Songs and God’s Word (Special Revelation)
Songs and the Trinity (One God in Three Persons)
Songs and Knowing God (God’s knowability and Incomprehensibility)
Songs and God’s Presence (God’s Immanence and Transcendence)
Songs and God’s Sovereignty
Songs and God’s Decrees
Songs and God’s Will