Why Theology Matters to Christian Musicians

This past weekend I spoke at the Christian Musician Summit on Why Theology Matters to Christian musicians. When Christian musicians get together, our tendency is to assume we all have our theology down and we can focus on honing our chops, discovering new gear, and improving our techniques and methodologies. Or maybe we think that theology isn’t that important. Whatever the reason, I wanted to make clear that even at the Christian Musicians Summit, theology matters.

I started by saying that theology is literally the “study of God,” particularly as he has revealed himself in Scripture. It includes not only studying the Bible, but understanding how the different parts of the Bible fit together. Christian musicians need to know theology. But before I explained why, I shared four potential objections people might have.

1. People just argue about theology.
Yes. Partly because we’re sinful. But mostly because there are some truths that are worth defending and fighting for. Even dying for.

2. Theology just makes life complicated.
It depends on what you mean by complicated. If you think that knowing how to play your instrument makes it complicated, then yes, theology makes life complicated. Theology doesn’t make like complicated. It actually makes life simpler. It protects us from reading verses out of context or reading only our favorite passages. Theology tells us what words like glory, gospel, salvation, and love mean. Theology helps us understand what we’re actually doing every Sunday. What complicates life is not theology but ignorance of theology.

3. Studying theology makes people proud.
It shouldn’t. The better we know God, the humbler we should be. The more we should  realize that what we know will always be dwarfed by what we don’t know.

4. We’ll never know it all anyway.
Just because we can’t know everything about God, doesn’t mean we can’t know some things truly. God has revealed himself to us in his word and given us his Spirit so that we can know him.

I then went on to give three reasons why theology should matter to Christian musicians.

1. You’re already a theologian.
Every Christian, musical or otherwise, is already a theologian. The question is, are you a good theologian or a bad one? We’re good theologians if what we say and think about God lines up with what Scripture says and affirms. We’re bad theologians if our view of God is vague, or if we think God doesn’t really mind sin, or is we see Jesus as a good example and not a Savior, or if we our god is too small to overcome evil or too big to care about us.

2. God reveals himself primarily through words, not music.
Because we’ve encountered God profoundly during times of musical worship, we can wrongly start assuming that words restrict the Spirit, while music enables us to experience God in fresh and powerful ways. If God had wanted us to know him primarily through music, the Bible would be a soundtrack, not a book. Music affects and helps us in many ways, but it doesn’t replace truth about God. By itself, music can never help us understand the meaning of God’s self-existence, the nature of the Incarnation, or Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Simply put, truth outlasts tunes.

3. Being good theologians makes us better musicians.

  • Theology teaches us what music is meant to do.
  • Theology teaches us that worship is more than music.
  • Theology teaches us that Jesus is better than music.

You can download a copy of my notes here.

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10 Responses to Why Theology Matters to Christian Musicians

  1. Ed Bales November 18, 2008 at 3:48 PM #

    Bob,
    Very insightful. I enjoyed reading it very much. “Truth outlasts tunes” was a very impactful statement. I used to say that music should never reach our feet before our heart. Thanks for the blog. I am sure you don’t remember me from The Chapel but I am Brian Bales dad! God Bless you!
    Ed

  2. West Breedlove November 18, 2008 at 10:51 PM #

    Thanks for always keeping the main thing the main thing Bob. Jeremy Begbie provides some very interesting and helpful books on theology through the arts (http://www.theolarts.org/) that apply directly to this subject. He is a profound thinker and musician….and he has a head like C.J. (which may be reason enough for some WM readers to check him out). :-)

    Blessings,
    West

  3. Boaly November 19, 2008 at 11:07 AM #

    Yeh, thanks for posting this, just going to email some friends who lead worship at their churches a link to it.
    Great!

  4. Troy November 19, 2008 at 11:38 AM #

    Thank you, thank you! This went right into the folder of vision-casting articles I keep to share with our group.

    When you were speaking the “Truth outlasts tunes” bit during the conference, I was reminded of the GLAD album ROMANS…and I was thinking “If only these kids knew how well Bob knows the truth of THAT statment.” That album is still one of my favorites, from the several hundred I own. Then you read the verse that From Him Through Him was based on. Just was a cool little moment for me. Thanks.

    And, yeah, thanks for keeping focused, and helping us all keep focused on the right stuff.

  5. Michael Schutz November 19, 2008 at 6:49 PM #

    Amen, Bob. Thanks for your thoughts. As a full-time Minister of Worship, I often wrestle with this. I’m very theologically-minded, and I often hear in people the (assumed) tension between worship music and theology, as if they can somehow be separated. As one who wants to ensure good theology as well as good music, I walk a very delicate line. :)

    So it’s good to know that I’m not alone in this struggle.

    People hear “theology” in the context of worship music, and they think “dry, boring hymns with words I don’t understand”. Nothing could be further from the truth, IMO. I’m glad to see a resurgence of interest in the theological basis of worship music, because I think it’s so very important. If it’s true that music has more power to teach than the spoken word (because of repetition, getting songs stuck in your head all the time, and the general power of music to wed melody and lyric in a memorable way :) ), then we as church musicians need to take that very seriously.

    If I might be so bold, might I add a 5th objection that I hear? “It’s less about what you sing than if your heart’s in the right place. Singing isn’t the place for ‘theology’ – that’s what the sermon is for” (and to be honest, fewer and fewer people are concerned about theology in the sermon, preferring that they are “relevant” and “practical”, but that’s a rabbit trail for another time. :) ). You can guess what I think the answer to that should be. :)

    Anyway, lots more to say, but thanks again for your words, and for teaching this to Christian musicians. It’s something we all constantly need to be reminded of.

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