Monday, March 9, 2009

Chris Tomlin’s Worship Songs

Dr. John Stackhouse of Regent College sounds off in his blog posting "Chris Tomlin’s Worship Songs: We Have Got to Do Better":

Why else take Brother Tomlin to task? Because those of us who want to praise God with our minds as well as our hearts, as our Lord taught us to do, cannot just ignore bad lyrics. None of us can just ignore repeated wrong notes sung or played by worship leaders, and these lousy lyrics go “twang” and “clunk.” They distract from the worship they are supposed to foster just as much as a lazy or untalented musician distracts us when his guitar isn’t tuned or he keeps playing the wrong chords on the piano. So don’t come back at me with “Well, just ignore it and praise the Lord anyway and appreciate his heart” and all that. Chris Tomlin is a professional songwriter. He’s not a sweet little kid doing his best in a Sunday School concert.

Let’s be clear, furthermore, that there’s lots of blame to go around here. Brother Tomlin’s music producers are happy to keep churning this stuff out. Worship leaders keep programming it. And we keep singing it without protest.

Well, that's enough. We are the most educated Christians in history, and yet our lyrics are considerably stupider than our much less educated Christian forebears–the people who sang lyrics by Fanny Crosby or Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts.

Read the rest here.


Graham said...


I'm not sure if you know this, but your blog comes up first when you google "worship songs AND bad theology." I looked this up because I too, disgusted at what's happening during worship time, wrote a blog called "9 ways the modern-day church has gone wrong with worship." I got some inspiration from your articles. you should check it out and give me some feedback.

Anonymous said...

You know if you actually considered "brother Tomlin" as your Christian brother, you would spend more time praising him for the thousands of lives his songs have touched, and less time being an over opinionated and critical cry baby. Whaaaaa look everybody Chris used two different names for God in the same song and they're not even from the same era Whaaaaaa. Give me a break man. We have a wannabe English Teacher picking apart one man's artistic expression and ripping on him because he didn't rhyme words properly in a song. Whaaaa Chris's metaphors are no good it really hindered my worship today whaaaaaaaaa. God looks at the heart of our praises, not whether or not we have all our commas in the right place. I suppose your next blog will be about how all the disjointed imagery in Ezekiel and Daniel makes for a lousy read of the Old Testament. Thanks for a laugh.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, your post was hilarious, I was cracking up! Not only did you provide an uplifting chuckle to me, reading your post was like watching the Karate Kid when Daniel triumphed against the martial art, bully snobs. Every "whaaa" was like a roundhouse or leg sweep to the pretension of this topic. My heart rose with every contact made by your pithy typing skills. Clickity, clickity "Hi-ya"!

Yes, we need to be creative and give God our best in our musical worship offerings but this kind of pseudo-intellectual, non-constructively critical, bee in your bonnet waste of bandwitdth is tiresome. Get over yourselves and stop caring more about things than God does.

Have a great day Anonymous, because you made mine. Keep the good fight and remember, Wax on, wax off. I'm with you. Amen.

Anonymous said...

The point is to evaluate EVERY song on it's theological merit. That means the hymns, too. It's too simplistic to simply say that "all the great hymns" are what we should be singing. First of all "which hymns". Did you know Fanny Crosby wrote over 2,000 hymns, yet most hymnals contain merely a few? Why? Because the church (at large) has had years to boil down the best for the repertoire of the church. Yet, still I remember singing "At the Cross" (Ralph Hudson) which ends with "now I am happy all the day". Really? "Happy all the day"!? I get that a Christian should be filled with joy, but this is more than a theological nuance, rather a framework for a prosperity gospel and dismissive of a theology of suffering with which scripture is replete.
So, modern praise songs have not yet had the luxury of weeding out the fluff. We need a little historical perspective. Let's be part of the pruning process and not blindly negate the Tomlin's or whoever grates you the wrong way. Are there some problems with some of what's written, today...sure? Just be well-rounded in assessing this. We all have our sacred cows.

Corner Creature said...

To anonymous (8/19/2010).

I agree "The point is to evaluate EVERY song on its theological merit. That means the hymns, too".

"And now I am happy all the day" does not express the truth of my existence. You've cited an excellent example.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. His song "our god" has just horrible lyrics. I enjoy worship and signing, but I can't see how anybody can sing a song like this without feeling slightly stupid. I know it is harsh and "unchristian", but its songs like this being sung by millions that almost make me ashamed of my faith.

Anonymous said...

Please note that this post was slightly edited.

My problem with most worship music is that it's sung with a kind of self-indulgent bathos. None of the singers that I have heard would know real passion if it hit them over the head. Instead the vocals are sung with a kind of overly-earnest breathiness. Does anyone know what I mean?

-- Stan84

Luke said...

I'm feeling it with the fellow-blogger who said that we need to take into account that there is a sifting mechanism in place and it just hasn't run its course with the new stuff. But personally, I too am one of the ones who has been very critical of Tomlin. However, I do think that there is a constructive way of doing this. The thing that has so often bothered me about him and others like him is that I get a real hunch that his stuff isn't being put through any process of refining before he releases it. It feels to me like he's going into his worship closet and a few hours later re-emerging and declaring..."I have a great, new, finished work"...and then no one around him is challenging him to refine this one song and get it better and thereby improve personally as a songwriter. It’s like the masses are not nearly as critical as they should be about what they accept as being a quality worship offering to put on their ipod or to learn and then sing on Sunday morning. Make sense? In all honesty, I feel like I could write a Chris Tomlin album in one day, submit it to his publisher, they could publish it, and then 98% of Tomlin’s fans would rave about it. And I’m not saying I’m a great song writer. I just don’t think most people realize that the biggest part of what they are subscribing to when they buy a Tomlin record is the name “Tomlin.” It’s a lot like buying a product because of the brand name on it.--R.T.Withersby

Corner Creature said...

Thanks for your comment.

The church has neglected to guard over the doctrine preached through the songs it uses. See
A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship By Michael Horton, p. 185.
Just as the minister was the "worship leader", the church was the patron and arbiter of church music.

My name is.... said...

I know of only one song we sing at our church, which has the following:

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

This makes no sense to me at all - can anybody explain these lyrics - if not, should we really be singing them in our churches as 'worship'?

BTW - I really have no concern who writes a worship song, Chris may well have written several good songs - I'm not bothered.


Anonymous said...

I'm comforted to know that I'm not the only person in today's church who cringes at some of the drivel that we are expected to sing in the name of "worship". I've always been of the opinion that nothing is good enough for God than the very best of which we are capable. I keep hoping that the kinds of lyrics cited above are not the best today's Christians are capable of producing! If they are, I believe I'll simply go away and cry, because there is an end of my joy in singing praise to God (with my mind as well as my heart and voice).


Anonymous said...

I'm totally agree with you!

I can't listen to his worship songs anymore, just give me the crinch. I have deleted his mp3 off my iPod.

Some of the song's lyrics are good but it's more of his voice that puts me off.

He has been added to my "never play this" on my itunes radio.


Anonymous said...

I think a solid rule is to look at the lyrics of a song, assess whether you can truly understand what they mean (which can be difficult with hymns, but practice helps as you get used to the language). If you don't know how the lyrics are actually glorifying to God or whether they make sense at all why would you sing them and call it worship? Taking worship so lightly is certainly not bringing God glory- so the theology of the music must be thoroughly checked. Honestly the majority of the music played on Christian radio is outrageous and full of analogies which nobody can make sense of, it seems like nobody producing the music cares whether it is biblical or God-honoring and that is a problem.

-N. H.