Tag Archives: Worship

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Are You Obeying the Third Commandment?

Even if you've forgotten which number of the Ten Commandments it is, I'm sure you know that one of them says, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." (It's the third, by the way, found in Exod. 20:7.) When is the last time you've meditated on the meaning of this command? When is the last time you've given some introspection to your obedience/disobedience to this command?

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_079What does it mean to take God's name in vain? Vain has to do with what is "empty, frivolous, or insincere," according to J. I. Packer. As we all know, this definition applies to using God's name (or any of his names) as profanity, as an expletive for disgust or surprise, such as "God damn." It's difficult to write that phrase; I hope that it's difficult to read it. It's a doubly blasphemous phrase since it makes light of God's name and his just damnation—maybe even triply blasphemous when such holy words and realities are stolen to express personal disgust or unrighteous anger.

I'm not expecting Christians to police this wicked world, rebuking every overheard blasphemy. We shouldn't be surprised when unbelievers speak like it. But as for us, God's covenant people, may it never be that we use God's names in such overtly blasphemous ways.

More Than Just Profanity

If taking God's name in vain means using it frivolously or insincerely, then the third commandment speaks to more than just overt profanity. It also applies to the more common, more culturally acceptable phrases like "Oh God!" or "Oh my God!" I sense that some of us have let down our guard. I suspect that some of us have let the world's saturated use of these phrases shape us.

Granted, it is possible to speak the words "Oh God" or "Oh my God" and not sin. These words may begin a prayer at a moment of shocking tragedy. Imagine a mother finding her son with a near-fatal injury. She may look upward and cry "Oh my God!" as a pregnant prayer that implies a need for divine help. But surely that tragic scenario is a world away from today's thoughtless, needless uses. These phrases litter the speech we hear. Surely "OMG!" are three of the most frequently typed letters on social media and in texts. These are useless, thoughtless fillers used for anything and everything that is barely amusing or surprising.

Let's be clear, Christian: these common phrases are using God's name emptily, frivolously, insincerely. It's no surprise when the world steals from God's honor, but as for us, these things ought not to be. We must not rationalize and say, "It's just one word; God knows my heart; he knows I don't mean anything blasphemous." The third commandment is in fact about a word, a name. More than that, it is about God's honor. God's name isn't empty, frivolous, or insincere; indeed, God isn't empty, frivolous, or insincere. We must not treat him as such, whether in our hearts or in our speech.

This is not a point that good Christians can and do disagree on, like the use of alcohol, or celebrating Halloween, or using off-color words like crap. This one is more black and white than whether you should designate that receipt as a tax deduction or not. God reveals his holy names in the Bible, and we cannot borrow them for frivolous, useless speech.

Applied positively, the third commandment calls us to speak of and sing to God accurately, thoughtfully, descriptively, reverently, and worshipfully. Space won't permit exploring those applications of the third commandment, but the mere mention of them should add weight to this whole discussion. They hopefully add depth and dimension to God's own resolve: "I will be jealous for my holy name" (Ezek. 39:25). And praise God that the preceding words in that verse contain another divine resolve: "I will . . have mercy." What hope for broken sinners: God rests his promise of mercy to us on his very name—his jealous, holy name.

Why We Lament When We're Not Lamenting

A few months ago our church sung a song of lament for two consecutive weeks. Such songs aren't foreign to our church's song selection, but since they showed up in consecutive weeks, they stuck out to a few people. In one conversation someone asked me, "But what if I'm not sad? Why would I lament if I'm not sad about anything?"

The question, as far as I could tell, came from two sources. First, it came from a misunderstanding of why Christians would sing a lament song when there didn't seem to be any particular occasion worth lamenting. Aren't Christians supposed to be joyful?

JeremiahRembrandt-300x394Second, this man came from a church background that never sang songs of lament. Their services were meant to give members a boost for the week. A lament song would seem out of place, maybe even inappropriate. Sundays were for lifting us out of the mire, not putting us back in.

This man was not the first to scratch his head at our lamenting, and he likely will not be the last, because his church experience is shared by many, if not most, evangelicals in the West. It's quite possible that most readers of this article do not regularly lament in their congregations on Sundays and might taken aback just as this man was if they experienced it.

But the Bible gives us several good reasons why lamenting should be a part of our normal Christian worship, even if we are not lamenting our own circumstances. In no particular order of importance, here are four such reasons.

1. We sing songs of lament even when we are not lamenting in order to weep with those who are weeping. 

Although you may not be weeping or lamenting, it's likely someone in the congregation is going through something deeply mournful: a wife who has just found out her husband has been having an affair; a couple returning from the hospital after having a miscarriage; a single woman who has lost her mother and now fears the loneliness ahead without her last close relative. On any given Sunday, many people are going through lamentable seasons of suffering, pain, and loss.

Paul calls us to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). But we are often ill-equipped to do so. Our individualistic culture has taught us to care for ourselves, not others. We know how to give high fives with our friends, but we don't know how to weep with them. Singing lament songs together as a congregation not only allows us to fulfill that command to weep with the weeping, but also teaches us how for when we will need to do it in a living room or across a table.

2. We sing songs of lament even when we are not lamenting so that when seasons of mourning come, we know what songs to sing and what prayers to pray.

Few of us understand how unprepared we are for suffering and trials until they come. Only then do we sense just how empty of resources we are. This is especially true of younger Christians, because we are inexperienced in suffering or out of practice.

But on Sundays, when Christians gather to hear the Word taught and sung and prayed, we have an opportunity to practice lamenting. Does that sound strange? Let me illustrate what I mean.

If a Broadway actress comes to her performance with few rehearsals under her belt, she will be stiff, second-guessing cues, lacking confidence in her lines, and so on. But if she's rehearsed over and over, hundreds of times, she comes to her performance with a kind of freedom and spontaneity that can turn a good performance into a great one.

In a similar way, Christians gather on Sunday to rehearse the things we hope for and sing about the things we have confidence in. We regularly lament because we know that seasons of lament are coming. That's part of living in a world where lamentable things happen to everyone. Lament even when you're not lamenting so that when those dark clouds come, you will be spiritually nimble and know what songs to sing and what prayers to pray.

3. We sing songs of lament even when we are not lamenting because the New Testament calls us to.

Paul tells the Ephesians to "be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart" (Eph. 5:18-19). If we're addressing each other in psalms, we're going to lament. In fact, so many of the psalms include lament that an easy case could be made that lament should be part of the steady meditative diet of the people of God.

4. We sing songs of lament even when we are not lamenting because maybe you should be lamenting more than you are. 

A wise reader will soon discover that he doesn't merely come to the psalms to be comforted, but also to be afflicted. As we read, we learn that we don't often feel what we ought to be feeling. But God's Word teaches how we ought to feel. When we feel comfortable, the Bible regularly calls us to reconsider what's giving us comfort.

The apostle James addressed a congregation full of spiritual pride that didn't recognize the need to lament their sin. And he told them, "Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom" (James 4:9). Their sin, James claimed, was making them enemies with God (James 4:5), yet they were laughing and joyful. Remember, these were Christians!

Laments poke us in the chest and force us to wonder whether we are making light of our own sin or making light of the suffering in our own congregation and community.

Make room in your singing and in your public prayers for lamenting. Pastors, prepare your congregation for seasons of mourning so they won't be surprised when it comes. Christians, be acquainted with grief, even if you are not grieving, so you can sympathize and mourn with those who are. That's what our Savior taught us to do by his example. He left the joys of heaven to be acquainted with our grief, and now he stands as a sympathetic high priest.

Why Do We Sing?

It was a warm summer evening, and the crowd was ready to sing. The sun was setting over the Iroquois Amphitheater, and a man in a white suit was working his way through the rows of seats, one hand in the air, his shoulders stooped and his voice graveled by age. He sang and beckoned us to sing along, directing haphazardly with the movements of his hands, the crowd breathing in unison as we sang along.

It's a dying art in America, a vestige of long-gone days. There was a time when such a gathering was fairly commonplace, when a community would gather and sing, when there was a body of shared, well-known songs. But today such outings are rare. The man in the white suit knows it too, and for much of the last 20 years he has self-consciously played up the fact that he and his traveling road show are a bit of a cultural dinosaur.

Bifrost_Conference_620x400It wasn't a church gathering, and it wasn't a revival. It wasn't even gospel music; it was A Prairie Home Companion, National Public Radio's old-timey radio variety show.

Garrison Keillor, the show's host and star, had taken a long break from the show's sketches and musical performances to meander through the crowd and invite them to sing. He sang a hodgepodge of songs. A verse of Paul McCartney might segue into "It Is Well" or "Home on the Range," hoping that the audience might know one well enough to jump in and sing along.

Creational Power

Keillor had tapped into the creational power of singing. We're embodied creatures, and there are deep connections between our bodies and souls. Practices like singing stir our hearts to joy and affection, and Keillor was basking in it.

It fascinated me as a worship leader to watch this master entertainer at work. He kept remarking about how "people don't do this anymore," and in many ways he's right. A community "sing" is a bygone relic. Frankly, in many ways, so is the blockbuster hit song. Lennon and McCartney's tunes took over the airwaves in an era when there were few avenues for getting music out to the consumer. Today, music is much more niche, and mobile technology puts the listener in control of what they hear to a much greater degree. For a hit to become a ubiquitous singalong is much, much more difficult.

This kind of stylistic niche marketing has shown up in the church too, and a local church's music tends to be stylistically narrow. Contemporary music is part of an outreach strategy, a way of connecting with people who don't identify with the typical sounds and styles of congregational music. In this way, music primarily expresses culture, driven by attitudes and ideas about beauty, creativity, and context.

There's much debate about this approach of course, with some crying for more concern for content and others claiming that the stylistic choices have either gone too far or not far enough.

Missing the Point

I can't help but wonder, though, if we haven't—at least partially—missed the point. While style and content both matter, I wonder if we shouldn't devote a little more time to something even more fundamental—the creational power of singing.

When we talk "worship" we are almost always talking about redemption and its effects, and that's for good reasons. But when we talk about singing, we're also in the territory of creation, of being "fearfully and wonderfully made." Singing itself is creational gift with formational effects.

When people sing together, they literally unite their breath. They unite their words. In certain situations, they'll unite their physical gestures too—clapping and raising hands.

Music also has physiological effects, which are intensified when you participate in making the music (by, for instance, singing along). Music with ascending melodies, up tempos, and major keys tends to lift the mood and elevate the pulse. Music with descending melodies, minor keys and down tempos (unsurprisingly) does the opposite.

As embodied creatures, congregational singing takes advantage of our bodies—our breathing and singing and the effects of music upon the body—to unite us and take us on a journey together. It's just such a uniting, physical, and emotional effect that Garrison Keillor seeks as he sings "Yesterday" and "I've Got Rhythm" and "How Great Thou Art" with his audience. Their bodies and their hearts embark on a journey together.

One might object, "Isn't that manipulative? Worship leaders shouldn't use music to manipulate emotions!"

Ah, but here's the problem: try to use music in a way that doesn't affect us emotionally. Music comes to us through our bodies, and our bodies and souls can't be disconnected from one another. The Bible calls us to sing and make music together, and when we do that, we will inevitably invoke the physical effects of music on our bodies; we are created with that wiring already in place. The body is either a problem to be solved or part of the reason we're called to sing.

Truth, Beauty, Action

At its best, congregational music is a marriage of truth, beauty, and action. Songs that are clear and comprehensible to a congregation, loaded with biblical truth, are set to music that "paints" that text emotionally. By singing with the church, I'm putting truth and beauty into action within me. I'm confessing the truth as I experience its effects. I am "speaking the truth in love" with the church, which as David Peterson points out, is not a reference to interpersonal confrontation, but communal confession. We speak the truth in love when we join our voice with the church, singing together of who God is and what he's done.

In singing, the whole person is engaged. In congregational singing, the whole person is engaged and united with the community around us. This practice takes on its greatest meaning in the church, where that unity shapes and reorients a covenant community to the story of the gospel. When the church sings a lament together, the words and music share the sense of sorrow and anguish of those who are suffering. When they sing a celebratory anthem, the music helps them emotionally taste hope and victory.

It is dangerous to pursue the emotional effect of music without rooting it in the content of God's Word. But it's also dangerous to pretend that music's emotional effects are unimportant or dangerous in themselves. To be stirred by singing is to be human, and it's a means of grace to God's church that such a gift is so easily accessible. You don't even need rock band, or a pipe organ, or a guy with a faux hawk and an acoustic guitar. You just need a song and a reason to sing.

Luke Album Named 'Best of Best'

TGC LukeThe Gospel Coalition is excited to announce that Worship Leader magazine awarded our Songs for the Book of Luke album their 2013 Editor's Pick award as the Best of the Best selection in the Indie category. This is an annual selection by their editorial team of the top album that influenced worship services in the past calendar year.

Thank you to everyone who has listened to the album and even led these songs in your churches! You can listen the entire album for free here. On this site you can also download free chord charts and sheet music, and watch video instructions on how to play the songs. These are all original songs inspired by the book of Luke and aimed at being sung congregationally.

Announcing TGC's Live Worship Album featuring Keith and Kristyn Getty

This past spring, some 5,000 people from 49 states and 41 countries streamed to Orlando for our 2013 National Conference. Through plenary talks and workshops, focus gatherings and auxiliary events, we enjoyed five days of contemplating and celebrating God's stunning grace toward us in Jesus.

The corporate response in music, led by world-renowned artists Keith and Kristyn Getty, was recorded live and is now available as a 17-song album. From upbeat sounds of praise and adoration, to moments of contemplation and anthems of dedication, Keith & Kristyn Getty: Modern and Traditional Hymns (Live at The Gospel Coalition) is not only a reflection of the conference but a tool for believers and churches everywhere. The album includes such modern hymns as "In Christ Alone" and "Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed" as well as the extraordinary sound of the entire conference singing the beloved traditional hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!"

"The 2013 National Conference blended the spoken Word and the sung Word in an unforgettable way," TGC co-founder Tim Keller reflected. "Substantive expositions of the biblical text were interwoven with the Gettys' theologically rich worship hymns. Together they truly did 'tune our hearts to sing his grace.'"

Thanks to our friends at Getty Music, this historic worship album is now available for purchase. As you listen, may you be freshly amazed by the love—relentless, covenantal, bloody love—of our great Savior and King.

Derek Webb Was Wrong, He's Sorry, and He Loves You

Derek Webb first appeared in the Christian music scene with the Texan folk-rock band Caedmon's Call. On their 1996 self-titled record, Caedmon's Call (their first national release), he was the angst-ridden voice, expressing doubts and agony that weren't common threads in CCM. Some instantly identified—people who'd always felt a bit out of place in the church, for whom doubts and struggles were constant. For other listeners, Webb was like the outspoken skeptic in your small group, the one who seemed suspicious of sentiments that were a little too warm and smiles that were a little too plastic. In nearly 20 years since, he's maintained that posture, agitating and provoking the very world his music inhabits.

Webb left Caedmon's Call in 2001 (though he's continued to collaborate on projects), launching his solo career with the record She Must and Shall Go Free (2003). On that record, Webb ran into trouble with Christian bookstores over language in the song "Wedding Dress," where he says: "'cause I'm a whore, I do confess / I put you on like a wedding dress." The controversy galvanized his fans even as the album was pulled from some shelves.

Controversy spread in other directions in the years that followed. On Mockingbird (2005) he criticized Christian justifications for war and mocked the idea that Jesus was a "white, middle-class Republican." Stockholm Syndrome (2009) caused a stir over his use of profanity. Shortly afterward, conflict emerged when he refused to make a public, doctrinal statement about homosexuality. (This controversy followed Jennifer Knapp, another CCM artist and Derek's friend, coming out as a lesbian.)

Scores of pieces have been written about these episodes, and I won't retrace them all here. Suffice it to say that Webb has a way of sustaining a place in the blogosphere. Some chalk it up to loose orthodoxy, but, I must admit, part of me sees something more calculated about it all. On the one hand, the church needs internal critics, voices that skate along boundaries and borders that make us uncomfortable. Much of the tension around him (including the kerfuffle over homosexuality) is rooted in presumptions (on both sides) about what level of responsibility artists have to be doctrinarian, and how public their doctrine needs to be.

On the other hand, Webb has proven himself a smart businessman. He co-founded Noisetrade, a digital music distribution website, and has insightfully written about the music industry and the work of being a "blue-collar musician." I wonder if there isn't just a bit of P. T. Barnum-inspired showmanship and calculation in the way these scandals erupt. "I don't care what you say about me," Barnum once remarked, "just spell my name right." Webb enjoys being a provocateur and an agitator, and I'd guess it's good for business too.

Church and Culture

All of this makes for a fascinating backdrop to Webb's newest record, I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry, and I Love You (2013). The album results from reflections on 10 years that have passed since he released She Must and Shall Go Free. He says of that first solo record, "Even after 10 years spent in churches and church culture . . . I still wondered if I had a particular role in the 'church' and if the 'church' had a necessary role in culture. Those questions not only led me to make my first album, but they also put me on a path as an artist that I am still navigating today."

I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry, and I Love You is, Webb explains, what She Must and Shall Go Free "would have looked like if I were writing it today, exploring the relationships between the church, the culture, and myself." To Webb, it feels like "an encouraging start to what I hope to be 10 more years of 'afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted,' starting, as always, with myself."

Much of the content of his previous albums has a cynical edge, skewering Christian culture and its plastic veneer. (See, for instance, the song "Heaven" or "A King and a Kingdom.") On this album, however, Webb sets his sights on another target: himself. On the title track, he sings:

I welcome everyone but give 'em nothing when they arrive

or else build a house with no way to come inside

I've learned to hide my tears, learned to hold them deep inside and then sell my fears just to pick your pockets dry

I was wrong, I'm sorry, and I love you.

While Webb has always been known for his self-deprecating quality, this album lays his guilt bare. In "Eye of the Hurricane," he sings:

I loved every circle that I ran around my father's house

even prodigals have a good time till the money runs out

oh I always had a choice, I always knew where I was from

but there's a time to stop running and I'm pretty sure that time has come

'cause now i need a home-cooked meal and a bed I need a place to lay my head

I am the man from which I am running so even if I wanted to, I can't escape

this is the man that I am becoming running in the eye of the hurricane

Webb makes these confessions against the poppy backdrop of a production style that has become his signature. He plays almost all of the instruments on the record, blending elements that evoke Brian Wilson's style, Wilco's Summer Teeth, a Detroit-influenced rhythm section (Webb's bass lines are always a highlight), and the folk sounds that have always been his home base. It's a cheerful singalong, even as he wrestles with inner demons.

Critics Disappointed

But Webb's critics who hope for a mea culpa about his controversies will be disappointed. The closest he gets is in "Closer Than You Think," where he says:

What do you think you know about me something you read or overheard why your fists up, you wanna fight me you haven't even heard a single word

from my mouth, yet you doubt what I'm saying now

that we're closer, closer, closer closer than you think

Here he may be referencing the homosexuality controversy where he remained silent in public and insisted that if someone genuinely wanted to know what he believed, he would need to sit down with him and have a conversation. As recently as July 31, when challenged about the issue on Twitter by Southern Seminary professor Jim Hamilton, he replied, "no more interested in having this discussion on twitter now than I was then" (referring to three years ago), and later said, "happy to discuss this with you in person, but not interested in a twitter discussion."

Then again, his words may also apply to critics who want him to take a public stance in support of pro-gay reforms in the church. Or his lyrics may be the voice of God speaking, and the object of criticism in the song is Webb himself (the third verse reads this way).

Webb probably won't tell us. He enjoys preserving his song's ambiguity, and as Patrick Schreiner recently wrote, ambiguity serves an important role in the arts.

Gospel Haunts

What Webb does make clear is this: the gospel still haunts him, drives him, and brings him back to both Jesus and his church. He reveals himself to be haunted by the beauty of God on "I Measure the Days," a song written in the style of a simplified Anglican chant, and he sings Charlotte Elliot's 1834 gospel tune "Thy Will Be Done" with evocative sincerity.

The standout on the record, at least to me, is "A Place At Your Table," a song that seems to offer a bridge and an olive branch to all of his listeners, celebrating the way Jesus invites us to his table from all diverse corners of his church:

In conflict and dissent we divide

but you defend and keep your bride in purity and peace

so there will always be

a place at your table for me

It also seems to reflect on Webb's own journey: the guy who struggled to walk center aisle, who has voiced so much contemporary lament, still struggles with his faith and is still drawn back:

So I lost my voice calling out your name

but your ear was deaf as my soul was sprained

and, though my heart is dark I am still compelled

to where your body broke, to where your blood was spilled

it's more than all the debt I owe and where else can a sick man go so help my unbelief

that there will always be

a place at your table for me

I doubt I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry, and I Love You will quiet all of Webb's critics, and perhaps it shouldn't.

But if there's any spirit of generosity among his listeners, I think they'll find that Webb has offered a record with more than a little common ground. When Webb aims his pen at himself, he invites us to do the same, and most of us can identify with the sentiments of "I Was Wrong" and "The Eye of the Hurricane." We can also echo the hope of "Everything Will Change," a song that anticipates the day when all sin, sorrow, and suffering will end. The pop cheerfulness of the album's self-abasement makes sense in that song's light, a grinning knowledge that while the sin within us and the debates online may rage on, one day, they'll all end.

This hope rings throughout the record. This isn't a new Derek Webb, or a return to the old Derek Webb (as some have hoped), but a more winsome Webb, one whose skills as a songwriter and producer are continually growing, and who continues to point to Jesus for hope as he critiques and agitates—even when the object of his criticism is himself.

Truth We Believe and Songs We Sing

Sound theology should shape everything we do in corporate worship. But what does that mean for music in particular? Don Carson recently sat down with worship leaders Keith Getty and Matt Boswell to discuss the relationship between the truth we believe and the songs we sing.

"The revival in theology many TGC leaders have seen in our generation has happened because they discovered and learned from leaders of previous generations," Getty observes. Losing our musical heritage, he warns, is a danger for our generation.

And though excellent worship songs aren't less than declarations of orthodoxy, they are considerably more. As Carson remarks, "It's easy to churn out orthodox theology; it's not easy to say old things in new and creative ways."

Boswell, editor of the new TGC Worship blog and contributor (along with Carson) to TGC's Songs for the Book of Luke album, explains his desire to approach texts—whether Scriptures or songs—like a pastor. "I want to feed my congregation out of my own soul," he says, "and to feed my soul by reading books of substance, depth, and richness." Along similar lines, Getty adds, "There are lots of young guys trying to write songs, but it's the responsibility of every pastor to feed his congregation a balanced diet and to oversee what is being sung."

Watch the full 10-minute video to hear why great melodies are like great restaurants, how J. I. Packer's Knowing God helps Getty write songs, and more. And look in September for the release of music from our 2013 National Conference in the new album Keith & Kristyn Getty Live at The Gospel Coalition.

Theology and Music from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Follow Our New Blog: TGC Worship

TGC Worship, a new blog from The Gospel Coalition, seeks to promote gospel-centered worship throughout the church by training and equipping leaders in the Word-shaped ministry of singing, songwriting, and service planning.

As described in TGC's Theological Vision for Ministry, we believed gospel-centered ministry is characterized by empowered corporate worship. 

The gospel changes our relationship with God from one of hostility or slavish compliance to one of intimacy and joy. The core dynamic of gospel-centered ministry is therefore worship and fervent prayer. In corporate worship God's people receive a special life-transforming sight of the worth and beauty of God, and then give back to God suitable expressions of his worth. At the heart of corporate worship is the ministry of the Word. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ-centered (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach but to lead the hearers to worship, individual and corporate, that strengthens their inner being to do the will of God.

While this statement focuses on preaching, the implications of robust gospel centrality surely do not end there. In the same way that preaching should be expository and Christ-centered, so should the rest of the congregational gathering. Christian worship is built upon, shaped by, and saturated with the Word of God. Our songs, prayers, and liturgies tell the world what we hold to be true. In all matters of faith, life, and practices (both liturgical and otherwise), we pray to be formed and informed by the perfect Word of God.

In Scripture we find examples that teach us about the rhythms of theocentric worship (Isaiah 6, Deuteronomy 5, 2 Chronicles 5-7, John 4, Romans 11-15, Revelation 4-21). Through the lens of the gospel, we learn to see congregational worship (preaching, singing, confession, prayer, Scripture reading, communion, baptism) not simply as a ritual, but as a regular opportunity to lift our eyes and see anew the glorious gospel of grace. This gospel enables true worship of God.

Role of the Worship Leader

But many churches don't operate from a theological practice of worship because they are led by Christians who haven't developed a theological conviction of worship. Many of our worship practices are influenced far greater by the voice of culture than by the Word of God. This is a critical time for the worship of the church to be biblical, theological, and pastoral.

The purpose of this effort is clearly stated in the new book Doxology and Theology:

One of the greatest needs of the modern church is theologically driven worship leaders. The church is starving for worship leaders who will teach them to sing about the great gospel of Christ in all its richness. This need for theologically driven worship leaders exists in large part because many believe that worship leadership and theological aptitude are mutually exclusive. Theology, they believe, is the occupation of pastors and professors, while worship is the business of church musicians and songwriters. So pastors and professors teach the truth and the worship leaders lead the singing. And because of this, our churches are limping along with people who do not understand that the greatest truths of the gospel have always been designed to cause the greatest praise.

In the midst of this confusion is a generation of worship leaders who are hungry to deepen their biblical understanding so that the people of God can recover gospel-saturated worship. They desire to think theologically, not just pragmatically. They want to know and understand the fullness of the role of the worship leader, not just how to lead three verses and a chorus. Furthermore, pastors and churches alike increasingly express a desire to be led by thoughtful worship leaders who understand the life-changing marriage between doxology and theology.

New TGC Worship Blog

To help further the conversation of gospel-centered worship, we are pleased to announce the launch of the TGC Worship blog. As church leaders and preaching pastors have found The Gospel Coalition to be a wealth of resources both theological and practical, the new TGC Worship blog seeks to equip all those entrusted with oversight of congregational worship. Ranging from topics of theology and philosophy to practical insights and songwriting, the goal of this blog is to equip and encourage leaders of worship to remain faithful to Scripture while engaging the culture with art to the glory of God.

Regular contributors to this new blog include:

  • Mike Cosper (Sojourn Community Church, Louisville, Kentucky)
  • Matt Papa (Summit Church, Raleigh, North Carolina)
  • Michael Bleecker (The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas)
  • Aaron Ivey (Austin Stone, Austin, Texas)
  • Stephen Miller (The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri)
  • Andi Rozier (Harvest Bible Chapel, Rolling Meadows, Illinois)
  • Bob Kauflin (Sovereign Grace Music, Louisville, Kentucky)
  • Joe Crider (Southern Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky)
  • Ron Man (Worship Resources International, Memphis, Tennessee)
  • Kevin Twit (Indelible Grace Music, Nashville, Tennessee)

I will serve as editor of this multi-author blog that will also include many other voices in the worship conversation.

We pray that this blog glorifies God and serves local churches as together we continue in all humility and faithfulness to herald the good news of the gospel in both sermon and song. As this conversation of gospel-centered worship continues, we must realize it is truly only beginning. For those passionate about adding to the conversation, come and join in.

Lyrical Theology and Fal$e Teacher$: Shai Linne on Hip-Hop Polemics

For years Shai Linne has spoken of his music in terms of "lyrical theology." This month, the motto became an album. The first in a new trilogy of projects from the Washington, D.C.-based hip-hop artist, Lyrical Theology Part 1: Theology is a 16-song fusion of complex rhymes, rugged beats, and biblical truth. Kind of like a soundtrack for your theological journey.

You can stream one of the tracks, "Theology Q & A (feat. Stephen the Levite)," below. (Lyrics are available here.)

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I corresponded with Shai [Twitter | Blog | Lamp Mode Recordings] about the new album, how it compares with his previous projects, the controversial "Fal$e Teacher$" song, and more.

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Lyrical Theology Part 1: Theology is the first installment in a trilogy, with two other albums (Lyrical Theology Part 2: Doxology and Lyrical Theology Part 3: Sociology) forthcoming. Why did you decide to launch this three-part project? 

Theology, doxology, and sociology are categories I've been thinking about for a while now. Another way to put it would be that the knowledge of God (theology) leads to the worship of God (doxology) and to living for God (sociology). In one sense, then, each is incomplete without the others. So as I thought about making an album that would best represent what lyrical theology means to me, a trilogy made the most sense.

This has been described as a "throwback album." How does it differ thematically and sonically from your previous ones as well as others in contemporary Christian hip-hop?

It's a throwback album sonically in that it utilizes "underground" production that was more common in the '90s. Most of the more popular hip-hop artists, Christian or otherwise, use a different style of production these days. The style of Lyrical Theology Part 1: Theology would also differ from my last album, The Attributes of God. On that one, we were going for a more epic, cinematic kind of sound.

The Lamp Mode website casts this project as "a return to the roots of what inspired Shai to enter the Christian hip-hop arena in the first place." What was your original inspiration, why a detour, and why a return?

I was originally inspired by the uniqueness of hip-hop as a medium in its ability to pack a large amount of  truth into a small amount of musical space. Hip-hop also has an immediacy about it that makes it a powerful rhetorical device when engaging in polemics. I hadn't really done that since "Mission Accomplished" on The Atonement (2008). Because theology is concerned with proclaiming the truth about God, one of its corresponding functions is to correct error about him. This was more common when I first began doing Christian hip-hop, and I wanted to return to some of that with this project.

The most startling part of the album has to be the song "Fal$e Teacher$," in which you call out a number of contemporary heretics—by name. Why did you choose to get so explicit and personal here?

For "Fal$e Teacher$," I wanted to take advantage of one of the things hip-hop is really useful for—communicating a message with urgency in a provocative manner that forces the listener to engage. It's similar to what Propaganda did last year with "Precious Puritans," but obviously to a different crowd for different ends. In studying the teachings of all the people I named, it was clear they fit the biblical category of false teacher—and have for many years. Once people began to ask, "Why did you name this or that person?" that would provide an opportunity to point people to helpful resources as well as address things myself in a medium more suited to in-depth argumentation and explanation, as with the open letter I wrote to Paula White Ministries after they responded to the song. I was specific because, had I only named the teaching rather than the teachers, people would have assumed that some on the list didn't fit the description. The American church has no excuse for putting up with this stuff. We have an abundance of biblical resources here. But for saints around the world who may lack those same resources, I wanted to sound the alarm so that they might re-examine in the light of Scripture what's being exported to them.

In 2008 you gave us a song about definite atonement; here, we find tracks about election, regeneration, even amillenialism. Are you concerned that such theological depth might limit the album's evangelistic potential?

The album is for the encouragement and building up of the church, so I mostly deal with in-house issues. Still, I'm careful to clearly reference and proclaim the gospel throughout, so that those whom God has given an ear to hear might believe and be saved.

I've never heard a song like "Take Up and Read," in which you, Through HymnOmri, and Ant manage to commend an author or book in virtually every phrase. Any idea how many recommendations are packed into those four minutes?

There are about 50 references in the verses and over 60 total, including the spoken part before the final verse. One of the things guiding my approach to music is the attempt to write in such a way that gives the songs a chance to outlive me. Hip-hop can be great at pointing beyond itself. In this case, I wanted to direct listeners to resources that have stood the test of time so that those who hear the song 60 years from now might still be helped by it.

What books influenced this project?

Outside of Scripture, I'd say Holiness by J. C. Ryle, More than Conquerors by William Hendriksen, Health, Wealth, and Happiness by David Jones and Russell Woodbridge, and Spiritual Warfare in a Believer's Life by Charles Spurgeon, just to name a few.

Songs for the Book of Luke: Music By the Church, for the Church

This year, in conjunction with our National Conference, The Gospel Coalition has released Songs for the Book of Luke, a collection of songs written and recorded by church musicians from across the country.

What's held out as the "Gold Standard" of contemporary worship is often far from theologically sound. At its best, it's emotional, contemporary, and relevant; at its worst, it's divorced from both Scripture and also the heritage of hymn-singing and psalm-singing that has shaped Christian worship for a couple of millennia.

Fortunately, that's not the whole story in Christian music these days. Many gifted songwriters, pastors, and artists serve local congregations with an eye toward both beauty and truth. They care about congregational singing. They care about content that can strengthen the weak and comfort the suffering. They care about creativity, embodying the psalmists' call to "sing a new song."

We want to highlight and encourage that work. After a nation-wide call for entries, more than 200 songs were submitted. Those were narrowed down to this collection of 13 songs, all rooted in the scriptures, all written for local congregations. The album was recorded last fall by Mike Cosper (of Sojourn Music) and a band assembled with church musicians from Florida, New England, Seattle, and many places in between. These artists have played with national touring acts and jazz legends, but more importantly, they are musicians who regularly get up in while it's still dark on Sunday mornings to serve local congregations. It's truly music by the church, for the church.

In just a couple of weeks, we'll be gathering at our National Conference, spending these days together meditating on the Book of Luke. On Tuesday night, April 9, we'll have a special concert to release this record. Part of the reason that TGC exists is to seek out and highlight the good work being done at local churches. I think this record accomplishes that purpose beautifully, and I think you'll agree.

Check out the record hereYou can preorder it now and receive the full record as a digital download immediately at our bandcamp page.

The album will be available nationwide (and pre-orders will ship) on Tuesday, April 9—the same day as our concert at the National Conference.