Worship through song can be one of the most powerful, moving ways in which a Christian responds to God. But have you thought enough about the words you’re singing?
Some of these songs on this list are theologically questionable, others are merely uncomfortable — and some sound like thinly disguised teenage crush songs. But all of them are really popular. If you’re invited to sing these one Sunday soon, it might be better to improvise:
Problem lyric: “I want to touch you, I want to see your face, I want to know you more.”
It’s tough to sing lines like these when the song never mentions who you’re singing to, and this one never does. The vague lyrics could easily suggest a plan to sneak around and make out in the bushes or a desire to encounter Jesus.
It’s a safe bet to do away with any song that might make, say, that first-time church visitor (or your grandmother) squirm about relating to God.
Problem lyric: “Draw me close to you. Never let me go.”
This song also makes no mention of God or Jesus. Who do you want to draw you close? Could be the Lord. Could also be your middle school crush. It’s unclear. On top of that, this song is empty of any real substance.
I quite like what Chuck Colson wrote: “We’d been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called ‘Draw Me Close to You,’ which has zero theological content and could just as easily be sung in any nightclub. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed. ‘Let’s sing that again, shall we?’ he asked. ‘No!’ I shouted, loudly enough to send heads all around me spinning while my wife, Patty, cringed.”
Problem lyric: “Yahweh, Yahweh, we love to shout your name, oh Lord.”
Jewish people don’t write or say Yahweh to refer to God out of respect — instead writing the name without its vowels, YHWH, or using the alternate Adonai, meaning “Lord.” So, to sing a song that not only uses the name Yahweh, but emphasizes the shouting of it seems . . . odd.
The Vatican agrees — in 2008, it removed/replaced the name in all of its songs and prayers, and the Christian Reformed Church removed every occurrence of Yahweh and Jehovah from its Psalter Hymnal.
I understand songwriter Phil Wickman’s sentiments when he says, “We wanted to talk about the power of the name of God . . . . Now we see who Yahweh is in the person of Jesus.” But I tend to fall more in line with Carol Bechtel, Western Theological Seminary professor, who says, “[T]he most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God.”
Problem lyric: “ . . . from the cross to the grave from the grave to the sky . . . ”
First, this song essentially just repeats a short chorus over and over — meaning there’s little substance to work with in the first place. On top of that, what it does speak to is such a small fraction of the fullness of the gospel story. It leaves out the resurrection, Jesus’ teachings, the coming of the Kingdom — new heavens and new earth — just to name a few things.
And, come on, the idea of heaven being in “the sky” is just theologically incorrect.
5. “Above All”
Problem lyric: “Like a rose, trampled on the ground, you took the fall and thought of me above all.”
This song is rather beautiful, until its last line — which is utterly man-centered. Pastor John Piper took that line to task: “He thought of his glory above all on the cross . . . . God always thinks of himself above us. He is always more important than us.” While the Bible does say Jesus had his people in mind — i.e. Galatians 2:20, “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” — we were certainly not “above all.”
Worship should be God-exalting rather than self-exalting. In that vein, John McArthur’s Grace Community Church changes the last line to “were glorified above all.”
Problem lyric: “I’ll go anywhere, I’ll do anything, at any cost for you my King.”
This one is demonstrative of the many Christian worship songs that overpromise on what we undoubtedly under-deliver — essentially, a willingness to trust God with abandon. Addie Zierman writes about questioning hyperbole in worship songs. I side with her. Often I’ve caught myself singing along when suddenly I’m struck by a question: “Wait, would I?” Would I really go to the ends of the earth? And then I feel like I’m making false, outlandish statements to the God who knows my heart — my prideful, arrogant, selfish human heart.
Maybe a more accurate rendering of these (and similar) lyrics would be something to the effect of “I’ll try to go anywhere, I’ll try to do anything.” Because, really, that’s the best we can offer. (See a similar argument against singing the popular Hillsong United song “Oceans.”)
Problem lyric: “Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me.”
It’s not necessarily that there’s anything wrong with this song, but it provides so little in the way of theological depth. It’s not that every song should spell out the gospel in its entirety, but there’s something irksome about songs that seem intended to make us feel, to simply incite that euphoric worship experience, that spiritual high. It almost seems cheap . . . or fake.
Problem lyric: “ . . . And in his presence our problems disappear.”
It’s unfair (not to mention incorrect) to sing a song that suggests life as a Christian is easy, without problems, an all around good time. Yes, I understand that in the ultimate sense these things are true — that Jesus frees his people from death to a relationship with God. But as the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.”
And of course, he suffered greatly — being beaten, imprisoned, and finally killed for his faith.
Problem lyric: “Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name.”
Really, I’m just not fond of this type of song in general — the ones sung from God’s point of view. There’s something off to me, something that feels like we’re taking on God’s greatness and goodness and glory by singing as if we were God himself.
Rather, worship should be our response to those attributes of God, a corporate praising of him, to him — not us singing for him, on his behalf.
10. “How He Loves”
Problem lyric: “So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss . . . ”
This one lyric is so awkward that worship teams have been known to change the line to “like an unforeseen kiss.” Definitely less uncomfortable. I don’t have any real qualms with the rest of the song, but . . . sloppy wet kiss? Sounds like something dogs or teenagers with raging hormones do. Something my worship could do without. That’s not to say the whole song should go — just that one line.
But for a take on why he stands by that lyric, read this piece by the songwriter, John Mark McMillan.
Image courtesy of Han Lee.