The Songwriter as Theologian

Josh Buice

My children are in a Classical Conversations homeschool co-op.  When we first started CC, I remember the little jingles that my children were using to memorize facts about the Boston Tea Party and the Constitution of the United States.  Some of the jingles were quite humorous, but the fact remains – music is powerful and songs deliver messages.  It doesn’t matter if you’re learning American history or singing hymns in the church, songs have a way of delivering their message in a memorable way.

The theologians who are having the greatest impact upon the church in our present day don’t stand in pulpits to deliver their message.  In fact, they don’t write books to articulate their ideas.  Today’s church culture is being shaped by a group of theologians with guitars in their hands.  They deliver their message through the speakers of our cars and electronic devices.  We could call them the “Podcast Preachers” – but the fact remains – contemporary Christian musicians, singers, and singer-songwriters are shaping the church.

Contemporary Christian music has swept through the church from the 1960s to our present era.  The numbers are staggering.  The sales for the CCM industry total more than a half a billion dollars annually.  With more than 1,400 radio stations and 80 million listeners, they are highly successful marketers and their message is being heard loud and clear.

What percentage of the average evangelical church will read one substantial theological book in this calendar year?  Although I don’t have hard numbers before me, I would imagine the percentage is fairly low.  Consider the percentage of the average evangelical church that’s wired into the latest contemporary Christian radio station.  What about the average Christian’s podcast – what would you find if you examined their playlist?  Would it be audio books or sermons?  Most likely it would be contemporary Christian music, Christian hip hop, and perhaps other music genres that are outside of the mainstream Christian community.

As you evaluate these questions regarding the average church, consider the younger generation.  They are much more likely to be listening to Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, or TobyMac than Calvin, Luther, or C.S. Lewis.  Listeners to CCM age 12 and up spend an average of 9 hours per week connected to some form of CCM network or program.

As we had our minivan strapped down with kayaks and the sound of children laughing (and fighting) as we were driving to our Gammy’s home for Memorial Day festivities, a song about the Holy Spirit came on the radio.  I was listening to the lyrics and talking to my wife about the importance of this evaluation.  With just a tweak of such lyrics, you could be hearing modalism coming through the speakers rather than an Orthodox understanding of the Trinity.  This matters greatly because our children are learning theology as they ride down the highway in the minivan.

Consider the words of Dr. Albert Mohler regarding Hillsong.  He said:

“It’s a prosperity movement for the millennials, in which the polyester and middle-class associations of Oral Roberts have given way to ripped jeans and sophisticated rock music…What has made Hillsong distinctive is a minimization of the actual content of the Gospel, and a far more diffuse presentation of spirituality.”

We must not ignore the power and influence of music upon the church – especially the younger generation.  Today’s church is getting their theology from the songs they hear on the radio in a much more heavy dose than the sermons they hear once or twice per week from the pulpit.  Throughout church history, theologians and preachers once spent time writing hymns that would teach theology and be used to sing praise to the Lord.  Today, there seems to be an invisible boundary.  Preachers preach, theologians write, and professional musicians take care of the songs.

In Exodus 35-36, Moses identified two men (Bezalel and Oholiab) before the nation of Israel as being filled with skill and intelligence regarding craftsmanship.  They were given the lead role in constructing the tabernacle and the furniture used for worshipping God.  Sometimes the church refuses to see a need for the arts in the life of the church, and those with such giftedness become neglected.  Recognizing gifts and allowing them to be developed for God’s glory is a healthy thing.  It would be wise for song writing to remain under the leadership and guidance of elders in the church.  Musicians need to be immersed in the discipleship of the local church.  It’s the job of the church, not the professional music industry, to produce songs of praise to God.  If we expect songs to display the glory of Christ through sound biblical theology, they must not be disconnected from the local church.

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Author The Songwriter as Theologian

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.