Robin Parry in his book, Worshipping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship, did a study of every song on 28 worship albums produced by Vineyard Music between 1999-2004. What he discovered was that only 1.4% of the songs were explicitly Trinitarian. Only 38.7% explicitly mentioned any member of the Trinity. The majority of the songs (51%) only referred to deity in a generic “you Lord” way (p. 133-143).
This should raise serious concern for all Christians, but particularly those of us in the Wesleyan stream who have been nurtured and nourished for centuries on theologically rich hymnody. The reason is because when the “chips were down” it has been our hymns which have saved us. Even when the church became lured into exchanging the gospel for the latest cultural mess of pottage, our hymns managed to keep us on track. The rich theological depth of our hymns helped us to re-remember the gospel and become better hearers of the Scriptures. I have sat in church services and listened to sermons which were way off the mark theologically and, sometimes, even alien to the gospel. Then, the congregation would rise on their feet and sing,
The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation, by water and the word.
From heaven He came and sought her to be his holy bride;
With his own blood He bought her, and for her life he died.
Yet she one earth hath union with God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell in Thee.
Suddenly, I felt the life of the church and the good news of the gospel returning to the oxygen starved parishioners and we were able to go on another week. I wonder, will contemporary worship songs serve us in this way in our current crisis? Don’t get me wrong. I love contemporary worship. The songs of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend are among the richest I’ve seen. But, as Parry found in his study, they are only a tiny fraction of the contemporary genre.
Let me repeat: There are some great choruses being written today. It is just that the chaff almost overwhelms the wheat. We need a more robust engagement with the content of the gospel and the character of God in the writing of new hymns and choruses. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we started to see Trinitarian choruses written for today’s church? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if songs were written so explicitly Christian that they couldn’t be sung by a Hindu to Krishna? It may be that such a commitment might end up being the very life-line which will pull us out of yet another miry pit. So, if you are theologically sensitive and musically trained, pick up your pen and start writing! We need you now more than ever.