Putting the Art Back in “How Great Thou Art”
Biblical truth must be proclaimed beautifully because truth is beautiful. This principle has been hammered home on Kingdom People many times and rightfully so. But we must not just stop at crafting beautiful sermons and mind-blowing books. Our praise must be beautiful too, for the One we worship is the source of beauty and truth.
God loves music. He created it. The problem is that sometimes us Christians act like we hate the art of song. That must be the case, for how else could we justify the mass production of what attempts to pass for “Christian” radio these days?
Much like of our books, a large portion of our music is not beautiful. That is a problem, for it does not properly represent the One we adore.
In contrast, the Bible is full of beautiful songs. Here are four things they have that many of our songs today do not:
Most imagery used in Christian music today is either bland, cliché, or nonexistent. Not every song needs to be densely populated with metaphors and similes, but just take a look at the Psalms—they are full of word pictures. These pictures are important because pictures give flesh to truth.
Many biblical concepts can be somewhat abstract (grace, glory, majesty). Consequently, the truths don’t hit us with as much weight as they should because we cannot fully grasp them. But if we are able to show the truth, then that is something people can take hold of. Word made flesh.
Consider this: It took John Newton five verses to fully describe how amazing grace truly is.
The most common complaint I hear regarding Christian music is that it doesn’t truly reflect the depth of Christian experience—no sin, no struggle, no despair, no doubt, no cross. What is portrayed is a sanitized Christianity where no trials occur.
Instead, Christian music should cover both the joy and grief of the Christian life. In Psalm 79, Asaph cries out to God in suffering and yet is able to praise Him at the same time.
God is not just on the mountaintops but in the valleys too.
3. A God-Centered Focus
Much Christian music focuses on giving everyone a positive self-image or pumping teenagers up to pursue their dreams. It’s a subtle theological shift that reflects the direction many pulpits have also taken.
To magnify the Lord is to display how great He truly is. Can we do that while we are trying to convince the world we are great too?
There is currently one popular song that preaches in the chorus, “You’re someone worth dying for.” I understand what it’s trying to accomplish, but the whole point of the gospel is that we are not worth dying for—that’s why it’s so amazing Jesus still chose to die.
Because He died and we didn’t, all eyes should be on Him, not us.
I believe that many times when we create poorly, it’s because we aren’t fully captivated by the Person and work of Christ. If we were, we’d understand the necessity to find compelling words and ways to declare His glory.
The world has their muses: ambition, passion, money, and sex. Those things drive the world’s art, and they pursue it obsessively.
But Christians actually have the greatest inspiration of all—the Source of beauty, wonder, and majesty. We are part of the most wonderful story ever conceived; we should tell it well. But in order to do so, we must first be gripped by it.
We need to be more discerning about the music we listen to. No need to be a snob or a jerk. But let’s not settle for the music dished out on the radio or iTunes.
Musicians: Tell your story well. Raise the bar for everyone else.
To be clear, I am not concerned about Christians being seen as “legitimate” artists by the world. In fact, I think to some degree that cannot possibly be the norm, for the message we preach is offensive.
Our goal is not to be popular. Instead, what we need is Christian art that enthralls the soul and stirs the heart to greater worship of the Creator.