None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. Romans 3:10-11
This is a favorite scripture of Calvinists, and is used almost exclusively to defend their “Total Depravity” doctrine. Using this as a proof-text, Calvinists say, “See! There is no one who has the ability to seek after God! There is no one who will, of himself, turn to God or believe in him!” What they fail to take into consideration is the fact that this is quoted from a psalm – Psalm 14. Now for those who may not know it, the Psalms are poems not instructional lectures. That is, they use creative phrases, word pictures and all sorts of rhetorical devices to present their information in an interesting way. Let me provide an example from another famous Psalm that should not be taken literally, but understood as using rhetoric to make a theological point.
The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Psalm 110:1
This is a Messianic Psalm, speaking of Christ’s reign with the Father “at the Father’s right hand.” This became a favorite phrase for New Testament writers, as it illustrated the extent of the exaltation of Christ. He couldn’t go any higher!
Many assume this verse presents a literal reality – that Christ is seated upon a throne in heaven that is placed to the right of the throne of God, something like this picture to the right. (I feel kinda bad for the Holy Spirit in this picture – He apparently doesn’t get a throne, and He apparently is a bird).
But isn’t God a Spirit (John 4:24), and isn’t He omnipresent (Jeremiah 23:24)? So how far did Jesus have to travel before He got to the “right hand” of God? Furthermore, are we to take the second part of the verse literally? Are we to assume that Jesus is actually up in heaven with his feet propped up on the backs of his enemies? We all understand intuitively that this verse is representing a theological reality in poetic terms. So what is the theological message? That Jesus Christ is highly exalted and utterly victorious! Amen!
Let’s look at a couple of Jesus’ own statements that use rhetorical devices.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away… Matthew 5:29
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26
In all of these verses Jesus is using a very common figure of speech – hyperbole. Hyperbole is exaggeration in order to emphasize a point. We use hyperbole all the time in our daily lives: “It’s raining cats and dogs out there!” “You scared me to death!” “I’m starving!”
Now if exaggeration/hyperbole is a normal part of everyday speech for us, isn’t it reasonable to assume it was also a common form of speech for people in the first century? Obviously from these, and other statements by Jesus (and others in the Bible), we can easily see that it was. Jesus didn’t not want people to pluck out their eyes. Jesus wasn’t saying that rich people could never be saved (cf. Barnabas). Jesus was not telling us to literally hate our parents and siblings. All of these statements are exaggerations to make a point. “Pluck out your eye,” was a way of saying “Personal holiness ought to be worth any sacrifice.” The statement “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” was a way of saying that those who trust in their riches will have a difficult time transferring that trust to God. And “hating father and mother” was a way of saying that Jesus needs to be the supreme love in our lives, far above even our familial love.
So what’s my point in all of this? The verse above, quoted from Psalm 14 was hyperbole. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Are we really supposed to believe that there is literally not a single righteous person on the earth? Are we to believe in all of human history there has never been a person who sought after God or desired Him? The Calvinist insists we must, otherwise their theology falls flat. I would say that reason and scripture together prove this notion – that no one has ever sought God – is patently false. Countless Jews under the Old Testament sought and loved God. “Yeah, but they were the elect!” the Calvinist will say. Well, there were also many Gentiles, known widely as “God-fearers” and “God-worshipers” who chose to leave their false religions and gods to worship the one true God. Such were the Ethiopian eunuch whom Philip found reading scripture in his chariot and the Roman Centurion to whom Peter was sent by a vision. These were Gentiles, non-elect individuals, who sought God.
So what is Psalm 14, and consequently Romans 3, trying to say? That sin is rampant and wide-spread, and that everyone needs God. In fact, if we will be honest with the context of Romans 3, we will find that Paul’s ultimate argument is that Jews and Gentiles are equally in need of God’s salvation. In fact, the verse immediately preceding Paul’s quotation of Psalm 14 is this:
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin… Romans 3:9
Sorry Calvinists, Romans 3 and Psalm 14 are using hyperbole to illustrate that every person needs salvation because every person is sinful, not that man is unable to seek God or to respond to the Gospel message. Once again, taking the simple, obvious meaning of the text thwarts your doctrine.
I just heard this term today on the radio. It refers to a scandal in the scientific community regarding the science behind climate change. Now, before I go too far, I feel it only fair to state my position. I have always been skeptical about the scientific claims of Global Warming/Climate Change (though never dismissive). As odd as it may sound, my objections have always been more philosophical than scientific (since I am far closer to being a philosopher than a scientist). I have always had a difficult time with the idea that we humans, in the space of a few decades, have succeeded in causing cataclysmic damage to the global climate. In essence, the message is, “Oops, we broke the earth.” It simply seems ludicrous to me, and what scientific explanations I have heard have been insufficient in convincing me.
Back to the point. On 11/19, hacked emails were leaked from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit in the U.K. which indicated that research findings were falsified “in order to exaggerate the possible threat of man-made global warming.” Of course, extreme views on either side abound. On the one hand, this is being considered “the scandal of the century,” and on the other the whole thing is dismissed as utterly irrelevant to the debate. Both extremes are unnecessary.
That being said, it is disturbing to find that data was modified in order to present a more favorable outcome. Without question, falsification of graphical/statistical data is something we are familiar with. Graphs and statistics are always met with an air of skepticism due to their malleable nature. But we’re talking about scientists here! These are not businessmen trying to soften the blow of a down profit quarter. These are men of science, men of truth, men whom public opinion holds in high regard due to the perceived sacredness of their mission. Scientists are the priests of Secular Religion – they are the new purveyors of absolute truth. Thus, the falsification of research findings is (or ought to be) for the world of Science as transgressive as the recent moral scandals among Catholic priests! Furthermore, due to the grave and serious claims of Climate Change proponents and the drastic measures which their science necessarily dictates, shouldn’t they be held to an even higher scrutiny?
I don’t think these findings destroy all of the research behind climate change, nor should they. But it has called into question the motives behind the science. Why would someone falsify data? What benefit are they gaining by doing so? It seems (surprise, surprise) that the whole thing has become a political animal, rather than a scientific one, and herein lies my frustration. Anyone with me??
Though I am definitely not the first to attempt to answer this question, I am one of the few (at least as far as google is concerned). The truth is, every one of us church-attenders has had the experience of hearing a new song in church and hating it. Come on people, you know it’s true. You’re thinking of that awful song right now!
Without question simple preference comes into it sometimes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I want to do, is analyze the various elements of a ‘good’ worship song. I’m looking to establish some empirical, observable, rational, objective rules and guidelines for determining what constitutes a ‘good’ worship song. This of course may be impossible. But I’m gonna’ try anyway.
Before we even get into it, let’s talk about why we even have to talk about this at all. We need to talk about it because there are some really awful worship songs out there! I mean bad!! And many of them we sing in church on a near weekly basis. Part of the difficulty has come due to a shift in the focus of congregational music in general over the past 30 or so years. Congregational music has gone from being primarily instructional to being primarily personal. That is, it is no longer the intent of most congregational worship songs to teach some Biblical principle, but rather to move us, to inspire the feelings of praise, adoration, love, etc. I actually think this is a good thing, though often poorly executed. After all, the Psalms are intensely personal! However, this shift has given way to a lax attitude toward the theological necessity of worship music. I find that many of the ‘bad’ worship songs out there fall into one of two categories – either they have poor theology or they have no theology. A song I like to pick on is the following – you’ve probably heard it in your church.
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel I’m moving to the rhythm of your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
So what’s my issue with this song? First of all, and forgive me for being crude, but this song sounds like foreplay. Use of words like ‘extravagant,’ ‘intimate,’ ‘moving to the rhythm,’ ‘fragrance,’ ‘intoxicating,’ and ‘secret place’ (basically, every word in the verse), lends itself to this unfortunate association. I actually have a hunch that it was written with this very thing in mind. What’s worse, originally the line, ‘Your friendship, it is intimate,’ was ‘Your friendship, mm-mm intimate.’ I’m not even kidding. Groaning was written into the song. When Casting Crowns remade the song, they changed the ‘lyrics’ to what it is now.
Frankly, I’m not sure whether this song has bad theology or no theology. It’s hard to determine. I certainly am unable to figure out what truth is being alluded to, other than possibly that the writer finds Jesus sexy (forgive me, Lord). I get that it is an expression of love to Jesus, but honestly, I never saw anywhere in the Bible where a person expressed their worship to God or Jesus in this way. What’s worse, I don’t know anyone who talks this way today, whether to God or anyone else?! The ONLY – and I mean ONLY – time I can ever see this kind of language being used, is in the bedroom – and even then it’s creepy.
The more I think about it, I think this song is more non-theological than un-theological. It really doesn’t have a message. It doesn’t really say anything. It’s like telling a story with no point. It’s just plain annoying. I remember once in high school, I had slept over at a friend’s house, and we had, of course, stayed up till around 2 or 3am. At somewhere around 6:30 that morning, my friend’s little sister barged into the room, woke us both up and said to my friend, “Hey Rob, do you remember that time that Erin (an ex-girlfriend) came over and we had pizza and she cut it up into little pieces for me and I ate it?” The near unconscious response came from across the room, “Yeah, I remember.” She says, “Oh.” And promptly closes the door and walks away……Yeah, I get the same feeling from this song. I frankly don’t even know what the heck the song is trying to say. It’s a lot of flowery language with little to no content. It’s like eating cotton candy. This brings me to my first point:
1) A GOOD WORSHIP SONG HAS GOOD THEOLOGY
Having ‘good’ theology implies that it must actually have some theological content. There’s a whole host of worship songs out there that are actually about worshiping God. Maybe you missed the subtlety there. These songs are not about God or His greatness, they are actually about the activity of worship. Such as “Come, now is the time to worship; come, now is the time to give your heart; come, just as you are to worship; come, just as you are before your God.” To be fair, there is a line in that song which is a near quote of “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” But this song isn’t about the reality of Jesus’ Lordship over all creation, it’s about worshiping. I’m glad there is some theology in this song, but the theology is more of a side-note than the focus. The overal message of the song is, “Hey, let’s worship!” These ‘response,’ songs emphasize the activity of worship, without ever really giving us a reason to worship.
Theology is essential to inspire worship. Even if the theological principle is something simple like, “God is good.” If a song effectively communicates to me the goodness of God, if I become convinced again of the goodness of God while I sing, I will naturally fall into a state of worship based on the truth I am singing about in the song. If the theology is bad, then I may come to believe something that is untrue about God. And if the theology is non-existent, then I might not be moved to true worship at all.
2) A GOOD WORSHIP SONG HAS A CLEAR MESSAGE
When I’m singing a song in church, I want to know exactly what I’m singing about from start to finish. This would seem obvious, but many songs fail to meet this simple criterion. As much as I love Hillsong, this is their great weakness. Their songs have good theology, but they are usually a long string of statements about God that have little affiliation with each other. Take the song, “All Things Are Possible”:
Almighty God, my Redeemer; My hiding place, my safe refuge
No other name like Jesus; no power can stand against You
My feet are planted on this Rock; And I will not be shaken
My hope it comes from You alone; My Lord and my Salvation
Though each line says something good about God, each line is a brand new thought, and does not follow the line before it. Though perhaps there is something beneficial about worshiping God through these various truths, you also necessarily get to the end of this song not really knowing what you just sang about. The chorus of this song simply repeats, “All things are possible.” That’s a great message! But again, it is a thought independent from the rest of the song. Though I like this song, and though what it does say is worth saying, it doesn’t really have a clear message.
3) A GOOD WORSHIP SONG HAS MUSIC THAT MATCHES THE MESSAGE
I remember a song I used to sing back in my Methodist days: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It was a two-chord song: E minor, and A minor, and had a haunting, sad melody. Something tells me that a song about unity and love should probably be upbeat. Another great example is “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.” The bridge says, “O I feel like dancing,” and then later says, “…like we’re dancing now.” I have never seen anyone dance to this song, and I don’t actually think it would be possible due to the slow tempo. The message of the song has to make sense with the music.
4) A GOOD WORSHIP SONG IS EASY TO SING
If you are an aspiring worship leader, and you’ve written a song that sounds like R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” you might want to consider a new profession. I refer back to Hillsong, who have an unfortunate tendency of simply putting too many words in their songs. It is very hard to memorize most Hillsong songs, and so it is near impossible to just close your eyes and sing along. Chris Tomlin also has a wonderful habit: writing songs several keys higher than most anyone can sing (except maybe Whitney Houston). If a song is being written for congregational worship, people should be able to sing it.
5) A GOOD WORSHIP SONG IS FUN TO SING
I know. This one isn’t very spiritual. But let’s just be real. We’ve all had experiences where we were hanging out with friends, and some song comes on the radio, and we all spontaneously begin to sing along at the top of our lungs. Why? Because it was fun to sing! Songs like, ‘Hey Jude,’ by the Beatles or ‘How Could I Live?’ by LeeAnn Rimes, Santana’s ‘Smooth,’ or pretty much anything by the Beach Boys, are songs we’ve all sung at the top of our lungs, even if only in the shower or in the car (though I officially deny ever singing along to ‘How Do I Live?’). There are some good church songs like this, (many of them kid’s songs). But there are some worship songs out there that are just fun to sing. One of the reasons Amazing Grace is so famous, is because it’s got a great, singable melody. I looked up “top worship songs,” and the list I got turned up these results: 1) How Great is Our God; 2) Mighty to Save; 3) Blessed be Your Name; 4) Here I Am to Worship; 5) Everlasting God. I’m betting you know all of these and can sing them by heart. Ignoring everything else, these songs are fun to sing. They’ve got great melodies. A good worship song should stick with you
On a positive note, I recently learned a new song by Fee called Beautiful the Blood. It’s not the best song I’ve ever heard, but it is what I would consider a good worship song. The message is clear. Jesus blood heals, forgives and sets free. It uses a very clear and consistent poetic device in the verses, i.e. contrasting the simultaneous horror and beauty of the crucifixion. And last, it makes a declaration, consistent with scripture, based on the reality of the cross: “Victorious are we now!” I believe this song does everything a good worship song should.
Any other examples of great worship songs out there? Bad ones?
This is part of Fred McKinnon’s Sunday Setlist Series.
My name is Jeff. I am one of two electric/lead guitarists on our team. We tend to have a very modern/rock feel to our worship (hence two electric guitars), which I absolutely love! We do lots of Hillsong United, Desperation Band, etc.
For the past couple of weeks, our youth have decided to come up to the front to worship, and since many of them are very exuberant worshippers, it has been great for our church!
Here’s the set…
Revolution – Hillsong United
This song is big. And fast. And I love it. It’s a great, high-energy song to kick things off.
Break Free – Hillsong United
Always good. The team was doing this before I came on board, and so I’m still sort of figuring out what to do, I think I’m almost there.
I Am Free – Newsboys
This song is almost an anthem at our church and it is always a hit with the congregation. Our freedom in Christ is basically our Pastor’s main message week after week.
You Never Let Go – Matt Redman
This is another that is quickly become anthemic (did I just make up a word?). The faithfulness of God is another theme that runs through just about every message our pastor preaches.
Deeper – Hillsong United
This one is a lot of fun to play. However, it took us a long time to get to where we are. I’ve only enjoyed it the past couple of times we’ve played it.
To the Ends of the Earth – Hillsong United
We tried a slightly new arrangement on this one, and even though I suggested it, I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Shine – Matt Redman
This is part of Fred McKinnon’s Sunday Setlist series. I play electric guitar on our team, and sing a little.
This Sunday was absolutely awesome! We’ve recently made a change to our Sunday morning rehearsal in which we spend the first 20-30 minutes just worshiping as a team, usually with just one person on acoustaic guitar or keys, and everyone else singing. It has made a real difference. As it has been said, “You can’t lead people to a place you’ve never been.” Going into the presence of God ahead of the congregation (so to speak) makes it that much easier to lead them there when the service starts.
The Time Has Come – Hillsong United
Dancing Generation – Matt Redman
At the beginning of the service, a bunch of the youth came to the front to worship/dance, and it totally electrified the atmosphere, and when we started this song, the church just flew off the handle! It was great. I’ve NEVER seen that many people dancing in our church! In fact, it startled me a little. For the first few measures I was focusing on the guitar part and so didn’t look up, but then when I did, the whole church was bouncing up and down. It was awesome to see the church cutting loose!
Salvation is Here – Hillsong United
Greatest Gift – Matt Redman
Here in Your Presence – New Life Worship
This is the second Sunday we played this song. Last time, we didn’t really play it well, I don’t think, but this Sunday we nailed it. And what was even better, the congregation really entered in. I mean REALLY! It was truly a breakthrough Sunday, and it was awesome to be a part of it. Without question, this will become a favorite.
You Never Let Go – Matt Redman
Revolution – Hillsong United
Fast, fast, fast. But tons of fun to play!