Can worship songs teach bad theology?
The short answer - absolutely. Much like any sermon or book, men and women are writing and interpreting theology for us as believers to listen to, learn from, and sing. When we as humans are doing the interpreting, there is definitely room for mistakes and bad theology to creep in.
It’s important to remember that our source of theology is Jesus and His Word, and while songs, sermons, books, blogs, and conversations can help us interpret and understand Truth, they are not our primary source of theology. Songs can be used for instruction, but that isn’t their primary purpose. They are first and foremost an art form used for us to express our worship, adoration, belief, and love to our God.
In my experience, most common worship songs that make it to our ears are normally pretty foundational concepts that span a broad range of theological beliefs within Christendom. Rarely do I stumble across a worship song that is outright bad theology. There are however three concerns that come up frequently :
1. Worship songs lack depth and theological specifics.
Yes, many times worship songs are very simple or repetitive. This is problematic at times, because not much is being said. However, I believe these songs can be helpful more as emotional declarations of belief in something. While emotions are not the foundation of faith, they are a vital part of who we are as followers of Christ. Declaring statements repeatedly and crying out to God can be a simple way to claim truths and pray to our Father. There are also many songs we sing that have lots of concepts and intellectual and theological depth. I believe both have value and can be very helpful in worship.
2. Worship songs are art and open to interpretation.
Songwriting is a form of poetry and intended to convey an emotion, experience, a belief, or truth; the meaning doesen't have to always be literal (see the Psalms, for example). Many times a specific line in a song may have several different interpretations, just like a line of poetry might. Some artists may have theology behind the words they wrote that I may or may not agree with, but the line is open to interpretation. This is common with a song like Reckless Love. Is God actually reckless? Not really. But a love that sends its Son to die so that we can have life is pretty reckless, at least in a sense. I do a simple thing in songs like that - I sing the lyrics meaning what I believe. An artist may mean something I disagree with, but it’s difficult for me to know exactly what is meant. So with my lips I sing the words, but in my heart and head I interpret those lyrics in a theological way that fits what I mean to say.
3. Worship songs are written by people whose actions don’t align with our theology.
This one is common. An artist does something we don’t approve of, or believes something we disagree with and we're tempted to question the songs they wrote, even if we don't have a problem with the songs themselves. However, throwing out songs because someone or a group of people does things we disagree with is traveling down a road that soon leaves us with nothing to sing. We all fall short, and all of us are wrong about something. If we discount the songs of people who make mistakes and are wrong at times, then we can’t sing anyone’s songs.
This is simply an unattainable standard. No one will ever live up to it, so I judge songs on the individual song lyrics, not on everything the artist does or says.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully this is a helpful look behind the scenes of our worship ministry at the Branch. Our heart is that worship would lead you to love Christ even more and draw you into a deeper relationship with Him.