7633781_sHave you sung “Above All” by Paul Baloche and Lenny LeBlanc in your worship service? Here is the first verse to refresh your memory:

Above all powers above all kings
Above all nature and all created things
Above all wisdom and all the ways of man
You were here before the world began

I enjoy singing this praise song. I like all the main verses. They paint a powerful picture of the majesty of the pre incarnate Christ. It’s the chorus I don’t like.

Crucified laid behind the stone
You lived to die rejected and alone
Like a Rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall and thought of me
Above all

I know that Jesus is sometimes called the Rose of Sharon but “Like a Rose trampled on the ground” doesn’t quite capture the mystery and grandeur of Jesus’s death on the cross. As I sing the song I find myself shifting suddenly from grand declarations of the pre-incarnate Christ to a romantic maudlin picture more at home in a romance novel. A “rose trampled on the ground” doesn’t add on to the robust truth of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29 NET).” If anything it trivialises it. But it is the next line that really makes me uneasy:

You took the fall and thought of me above all.

Thought of me above all? Am I the focus of worship or God? I share the sentiments of Cherith Fee Nordling when she writes:

We can overemphasize God’s transcendence such that the “Immortal, Invisible God” only wise, is considered unknowable and disengaged from the plight of our broken world. Or, in reverse, when immanence is overemphasized, we cannot see the Lord of heaven and earth behind “Jesus, my best friend.” Something particularly formative occurs when we sing “Jesus I am so in love with you,” or “you took the fall, and thought of me above all.” As we try to focus on Jesus, without missing a beat, we suddenly become the subject in worship. Our vision blurs, and rather than focusing on God, we’re looking at our experience of God. . . .The narcissistic anthem of the dominion of darkness sings to us, calling us to fashion ourselves into an image placed at the center of everything. It leads . . . to worship that is “turned in, self-referential and theologically vacuous.” (“Renewed in Knowledge in the Image of Our Creator” Through “Psalms, Hymns and Songs of the Spirit”, Life in the Spirit, eds., Jeffrey P. Greenman and George Kalantzis, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010, 203)

Is Fee Nordling too harsh?

One of the blessings of the charismatic renewal is the recovery of the fact that when we sing in worship, we don’t just sing about God, we sing to Him. When the church gathers for worship, we encounter the living God and we respond to Him in song. Nevertheless, we also sing songs that declare the reality and the nature of the living God — who He is, what He has done, what He continues to do, and what He will do. And when we declare these divine truths to each other we are engaged in mutual spiritual formation.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 NET)

N. T. Wright comments:

This ministry of teaching and admonishing is to be part of a life of thankfulness that overflows into song . . . Linking the two parts of the verse in this way suggests that the singing is not the sole or primary means of teaching, though Christian hymns and songs have often been a powerful means of implanting and clarifying Christian truth. (Colossians and Philemon, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986,144)

Obviously the teaching ministry of the church involves much more than our corporate singing. But it surely includes our singing as well. In many ways music is a much more subtle medium for shaping mind and heart than preaching for example. Most churches I know take their teaching and discipling ministries very seriously, as indeed they should. They pay careful attention to what is taught in the pulpit. They work hard to ensure that the church’s study curriculum is sound. But very often they do not invest the same care in ensuring that the songs they sing are biblically sound as well. This can have disastrous consequences. As Fee Nordling warns:

. . . I have come to believe that a good deal of our theological confusion, and lethargy, can be traced back not to a few bad sermons, or systematic classes; rather, they stem, at least in part, from countless repetitions of anemic hymns and heretical choruses. (“Renewed in Knowledge in the Image of Our Creator” Through “Psalms, Hymns and Songs of the Spirit”, 202)

I think it is long overdue that we take a long hard look at precisely what we are singing week in week out. We must check if our hymns and songs are indwelt richly by “the word of Christ.” This is not an issue of new vs old. After all Paul encourages us to sing with “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” We should use all sorts of good music to worship God and to edify one another. And there good and bad old worship songs just as there are good and bad new worship songs. The point is not whether a song is old or new. the point is, is it biblically sound?