Thursday, March 28, 2013

Theological Lyrics Thursday: Friel-Proof Christian Music

Hello Internet,

12 days after starting blogging, my post entitled The Wretched Podcast is the most popular, due largely to Elizabeth Prata's encouragement from a blog post on her website, In that post, I made mention of Todd Friel's radio program, and used it to springboard into a discussion of song-lyrics in Christian music and the danger of judging it by how it sounds rather than what it says. 

The idea hit me that I could present a few songs once a week, as a regular upload, to encourage any potential readers to check out songs that can offer them not just a good listen but also theologically meaty lyrics, to help us grow in our walk and remain 'heavenly minded.'

Since I can't limit myself to just one, here's what I'll do today--I'll make three categories:

1. Doctrinal Exposition -- this song emphasizes an important Biblical doctrine of some kind.
2. Good Idea -- this song delievers a message consistent with, or derived from, the Bible but isn't necessarily phrased in doctrinal language; less explicit, essentially.
3. Mostly Air -- this song may or may not have some redeeming qualities, but will be mostly fluff, with little or nothing to distinguish it as exclusively Christian music, and would be best avoided. However, in most cases you can get away with listening to it as long as it doesn't make up the vast bulk of your music library. 
Here comes the first batch:

Doctrinal Exposition: Children of God, by Third Day

+3 Brownie Points for having the singer look like the stereotypical 'Anglican' Jesus we see in paintings.

Here's what's good about the song: 

It emphasizes the doctrine of adoption -- the brief clip at the beginning emphasizes that point. The Bible says in Ephesians 1:5 that through Jesus Christ we (those who are saved) have been adopted as children of God into His family. Romans 8:14 says that "all who are led by the [Holy] Spirit are children of God." So the message is more than just sentimental, but an important Biblical truth to recognize. That's the great strength of Third Day's song. Extra credit is awarded for the manifold references to us being redeemed, the fact that we are "free from the judgment that we deserve," the implicit references to the Trinity through reference to the Father and the Son, and the correct identification of believers as Saints -- "we are the Saints, we are the Children, we've been redeemed, we've been forgiven," a bridge chorus that shows up later in the song.
In an age of deception and misinformation about who the Saints are, and who is a child of God, this song does a great service by emphasizing that both of these terms refer to believers in Jesus Christ, in contrast to Roman Catholic teaching that Saints are an elite, exclusive class of believers who have died and now answer prayers directed to them, and the false worldly misunderstanding that everyone on earth is a child of God, when in fact unbelievers are referred to as "children of wrath." (Ephesians 2:3)

Good Idea: Blessings, by Laura Story

Here's what's good about the song:

It questions the mentality that says that God will make life into a cake-walk for every believer. It directly challenges the 'every day a Friday' attitude that expects Christians to be happy all the time and everything hunky-dory for them. It repeatedly questions, in several clever ways, whether the seemingly bad things in life may in fact be "blessings in disguise," reminding us that "this is not our home," and suggesting in one verse that "we doubt your goodness, we doubt your love, as if every promise from your word is not enough." This challenges us to be careful to not lose faith when prayers are not immediately answered with the relief we seek. It points the listener away from their material circumstance and refocuses them on God's promises. This is not 'your best life now.' Our best life is a future life after death, promised to us by God, for those who persevere in faith through the trials of life. (James 1:3) (Hebrews 6:12)
Take-away verse:
What if my greatest disappointments, and the aching of this life, is a revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy?

Mostly Air: 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman (has redeeming qualities)

There are many songs out there that aren't terribly BAD, they're just not full of theology. In this case, I've chosen one of the better ones; I have this one in my library and I'm not worse off for it.

The main message of this song can be boiled down to a single verse: no matter what happens, praise the Lord continually without giving up. Hey, that's a great message. But if you remember my suggestion in the article The Wretched Podcast, if you remove the brief shout of "Jesus!" at the end of the song, then this song can be sung by Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Roman Catholics; and when even the monotheistic versions of Hinduism can appropriate it, it means that it's not a remarkable song--it isn't distinctively Christian.

Now don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean the song is taboo, or terrible. But if you were trying to casually witness to someone on Facebook, and were going to use a song out of these three that I've given today, to give to someone in one of the religions I mentioned above, then you would do well to choose the first one in the list. This one can be fine to listen to to worship God, but be wary of the cumulative effect that many such songs can have on your personal theology.

The most theologically distinctive the song gets is the single line, "
You're rich in love, and You're slow to anger." It implies, but doesn't exactly scream "Jesus," so be wary of getting watered down. 

As long as you're cautious, you can listen to music with watered-down lyrics, or shall I say, with a low doctrine-to-verse quotient? But when you're setting priorities, do your best to seek out songs with a more complete message than just "worship God."

Tune in next week for a second installment and three (or two, depending on how you're reading this) more songs!

~ Rak Chazak


  1. I'm glad to see you tackling worship music. Mr. Friel is quite opinionated on this subject isn't he? :-) It is interesting when I look back on my Christian walk and see the types of music I've enjoyed and listened to. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church in a very small rural town that sang nothing but old hymns. This wasn't my favorite music as you can imagine. As I grew into my teens, I started listening to Third Day, Michael W. Smith, DC Talk etc. I still like Third Day today. What I've learned though is as my knowledge grows and the further down the path of sanctification I go, the more I like the old hymns! I love any song that keeps the focus on Christ, His sacrifice on the cross, His glory, our sinfulness and need for Him. I have come full circle back to old hymns, but I must admit I like them with a bit of a modern contemporary style. A piano and organ are nice, but I still like the sound of a guitar, bass and drums when balanced correctly.

    Today, when I visit my old Southern Baptist church (my grandmother still attends that church), they are singing more contemporary music. My grandmother dislikes them because they are repetitive. She calls them 7-11 songs, because you sing the same 7 words 11 times! lol I used to disagree with her, now I don't! I'd much rather sing 'Amazing Grace', 'Jesus Paid it All', or 'Just As I Am' than 'I Will Give You All My Worship' any day.

    Great post.

    1. Ditto on the hymns! I like more musical accompaniment than just ye olde piano, but the lyrics on several are just phenomenal at presenting doctrine. I'll eventually post some modern versions of them, too.