The trend which is forming is a student populous who knows Bible concepts without knowing they are derived from the Bible. For example, recently I quoted 1 Thessalonians 5:5, calling Christians “children of the light.” I did not give the scripture reference nor make mention that the concept was scripture derived, and one student, a godly young man, was excited because he thought I was quoting Lecrae. Likewise a while ago a student quoted Chris Tomlin on their facebook, “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us. And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?” The comment that went along with the lyrics lauded Tomlin’s lyrics and the impact they had on the student. I couldn’t help but respond with the fact that the lyrics certainly were impactful, but that I was impacted the most when the Holy Spirit spoke them through Paul in Romans 8:31. The student was unaware of the scriptural basis of the song.
And before I judge without first judging myself, look at Psalm 73:25-26, I have this passage memorized…sort of…because the version I have memorized is the version by Shai Linne when he says, “Whom have I in Heaven but you? The earth has none I desire but you. My flesh and my heart may fail, however, the Lord is my portion forever.” Beautiful, right? But it’s not an exact quote of the Psalm and leaves out and changes several things. It gets the point across perfectly, but someone could very easily miss the fact that this concept is not unique to Shai Linne, but is derived from the scriptures.
And this is not limited to godly concepts, for example, Tomlin has one of the worst songs in Christendom with “God of this City” which is a quote of 2 Corinthians 4:4 and is a title of the Devil, and the song mingles more than one demonic concept with the True and Living God. But a biblical illiteracy combined with a popular culture medium leads to students and adults who swallow every bit of teaching in these songs.
And this leads me to a scriptural admonition, which I don’t believe any artists have put into song, because doing so would confront them with one of the most terrifying verses in scripture (which I’ll post in a moment). Let me quote a different passage first, this from the New International Version of the Bible, which here is not a perfect translation, but does catch something which most translations miss,
Teach through songs; the KJV says it similarly that the church should be teaching in songs. If our song writers and singers are teachers, then this leads to that oh-so-terrifying verse,
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit…
- Colossians 3:16
This passage goes on to say that the teacher leads the whole direction of the body of the church, like a tongue in a mouth or a rudder on a ship. I have long been telling students that when they open their mouth and speak anything pertaining to God, they become a prophet, not in the futurist sense, but in the “Thus saith the Lord...” sense; the words which proceed will determine whether we are true or false prophets. The Israelites in the Babylonian exile went so far as praying that their tongues would fail them in their mouths if they spoke apart from God’s kingdom (Psalm 137:6).
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
– James 3:1
To rein this thought back to my original point, isn’t it amazing that these teachers are presenting deep scriptural truths to students in memorable ways? Indeed it is, every student who went to Summer Camp this year knows, through the teaching of Chris Tomlin and Christy Nockels, that "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Corinthians 3:17). But I have this great fear that these teachers are failing their students in a major point: they are failing to point them at the Word of God. These neat scriptural truths apart from knowing they are scripture are breeding a generation of students who look for revelation about God apart from the scriptures. This is exacerbated by a growing Gnostic trend in Christianity to hear from God apart from his Word.
Correcting these problems are more difficult than just pointing them out. Through a proliferation of bad songs on every manner of Christian radio, the next generation will be raised on scriptural snippets without knowing the greater context or even that there is a greater context. At the risk of offending many, it is to this effect that Todd Friel warns of the “Satan for the Whole Family” music which permeates the entire FM-dial. On any given station you can be privy to the perfect theology of Stuart Townsend one minute, and then be led into Sabellian heresy in Philips, Craig, and Dean the next, and then returned to gorgeous lyrics from the health-wealth-and-prosperity culture of Hillsong United.
It was to this effect that I installed iPod compatible MP3 players in our shuttles so that teachers have control of the teachers teaching their flock. But even this is not enough, and it has come more and more to my attention that music must be exegeted itself in order to ensure students know why the lyrics are good and what their source is.
For example, look at Lecrae’s “Children of the Light”, in there he gives one of the coolest summaries of scripture I’ve ever heard, he states, “I’m…qualified to light up a world of darkness.” Certainly an amazing truth of God’s people, but is it just because Lecrae says so that we know it, or does it come from somewhere else? Teachers should take a moment to examine favorite songs and then explain the truths behind them, or if necessary, to refute them. In Lecrae’s case we see that we are children of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5), we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), we are called to “Awake o sleeper! And arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14), and there is a definite call to the Christian to bring that light throughout the world where the darkness will flee (Isaiah 60:1-3, John 1:5, John 3:19-20).
All of this to say, we must spend more time teaching the Bible, in context, and not just snippets of theology in song. Our teaching should be done, in part but not in whole, in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, ensuring that the audience is pointed towards the absolute truth of God’s Word, and the Christ revealed in those words. Aberrant theology in song will be judged with great strictness, and many musicians ought to flee from the teaching position which they are utterly unqualified to hold. Pastors and teachers must be sure that music is edifying and understandable, and that students are not merely following a trend or theology because it is on Christian radio.