Deep songs please, not junk food

[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]

One of the founding fathers of modern worship music, Brian Doerksen, says: “My deep concern is about some of what is going on in the modern worship explosion – the shallowness, the man-centredness, the banality. I want to do something that was about God and his core attributes. A song like “Holy God” is a God-song, not a song about our feelings toward God. It’s not our response to God. So this is my way of saying, ‘Think on these things’.” Interviewer Andree Farias comments: “While he’s enthusiastic about his Lord, Doerksen isn’t so excited about trends in the worship genre.” (Christianity Today website posted 16 July 2007)

Yes, our songs should be Deep … but not heavy and ponderous. Not complicated. Certainly not boring. By encouraging “Deep” songs, we say NO to banal songs, to hackneyed religious cliches, to mediocrity. We will sideline ‘Shallow’ songs. They don’t belong in a repertoire linked to our Most Excellent God!

Deep songs can be simple
‘Deep’ songs can be simple songs, but with profound meaning. A song can take a single theme and turn it over and over, exploring differing facets, as Jesus did in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), when He explores aspects of “Blessedness” (5:2-12), and ‘loving your enemies’ (5:43-48), and ‘avoiding anxiety’ (6:25-34) and ‘knowing people by their fruit’ (7:15-20). Matt Redman’s “Blessed be Your name in the land that is plentiful” uses various metaphors to teach a deep truth: “In good ‘plentiful lands’ and bad, ‘desert places’, whatever our circumstances, we should ‘bless the Lord’.” Our spiritual faith is not affected by circumstances. The combined impact of these contrasting metaphors enriches the praise which God deserves. That’s ‘deep’!

‘Deep’ songs can develop a theme in a linear progression from beginning to end. “Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer” translates the journey of the Israelites, as they travel through the wilderness to the Promised Land, into the story of the Christian Life, culminating in crossing the Jordan of Death to a safe landing on Canaan’s side.

‘Deep’ songs can explore a theme, mining meaning and application in ways that bring to the surface aspects we hadn’t thought about before. Townend’s “How deep the Father’s love for us” is profound: The Father gives his only Son “to make a wretch His treasure.” Then He turns His face away from his own Son’s wounds that bring many other sons to glory. As we sing, I feel the shame as “I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers”. Previously I thought the scoffers were the Jews and Romans – now I am one of them. Ouch! This is one of the deepest, most meaningful songs in the repertoire.

‘Deep’ songs are wholesome food, they nourish the Body of Christ. They meet Paul’s criterion that, in the worship service, “all must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Cor 14:26).

Shallow songs lack nourishment
Shallow’ songs are junk food. They are popular because they taste nice, but they have no nourishment in them. They do not strengthen the church. On such a diet, the church may swell and become large, but it will be the largeness of obesity: spiritually unhealthy.

Kevin Prosch’s “Lord of the dance” illustrates the “the shallowness, the man-centredness, the banality” which “deeply concern” Doerksen. It is shallow, lacking any substantive content. It is man-centred: “Yeah I want it, yeah I need it, I want your love more and more each day”. It is banal: “Well, everybody dance now, get in the Holy Ghost”.

Maybe you have noticed that most ‘deep’ songs in the Contemporary Worship Song genre tend to be themed on single topics, while the ‘deep’ songs ~ which explore a theme progressively, sing a story and teach substantial doctrine ~ these tend to be in the Hymn genre. Hymns lend themselves more easily to structured expression, to depth of meaning.

That is why a balanced diet of both Contemporary Worship Songs and Hymns is important to grow a well-nourished Christian experience, a strong and fit Church. Whatever the musical genre, make sure you don’t serve junk food.

2 Comments

  1. Sing scripture to God, like the old stuff from years past – that’s the only way then all the other junk won’t come into it.

  2. Hugh G Wetmore

    Well said, Helen! Most of the songs I write are based on Scripture, and referenced to Scripture. Good biblical theology should saturate our singing. (But not all ‘old stuff’ from the past was ‘deep’ in Scripture!)