By Emily Miller
Many Christians have opinions on contemporary Christian music (CCM). Some love it, and some hate it. CCM has faced many critiques, one of which being that it focuses more on ourselves and how we feel about God than it does on God, His character, and what He has done for us.
Vanguard’s chapel-goers encounter CCM on a weekly basis as it is planned and performed by SFD’s worship teams. Some students love the songs in chapel and are often seen gathering near the front of the stage in a concert-like fashion. Others notice that the lyrics of many of these songs are more self-centered than God-centered, and have thoughts to share on this issue. One Vanguard junior, Audrey Gall, calls these songs “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs due to the lyrics being barely distinguishable from non-Christian pop songs. She states that many of these songs “focus too much on what we do for God, when the focus should be more on who God is and what He has done for us.” Because some of the songs focus too much on ourselves and not enough on God, she says that “The worship songs in chapel make me not want to attend… I could sing the lyrics of these to my boyfriend, dog, or anyone else and they would still make sense.” Several other students were unavailable for a formal interview, but have also voiced agreement that many of the songs played in chapel focus too much on ourselves and too little on God.
Upon scanning the lyrics of many modern Christian worship songs, these critiques seem to have solid evidence backing them up. Songs such as “One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture, “How He Loves Us” by David Crowder Band, “Raise A Hallelujah” by Bethel Music, “Deep Cries Out” by Bethel Music, and many more, contain more references to ourselves and what we’re doing or feeling rather than references to God and who He is. None of these four songs call Jesus by name (except for “Deep Cries Out” for a whopping two times at the very end) despite the Bible’s emphasis on the power of speaking Jesus’s name. These are the lyrics from “One Thing Remains”:
The majority of references to God are made using second person singular pronouns, which could technically be addressed to anyone. The words “I,” “we,” and “me” outnumber the references made to God both in this song and in others, which places the focus of the song off of Jesus and onto ourselves. Is worship really worship if we’re singing more about ourselves than the One we’re supposed to be worshipping?
That is not to say that these songs are bad. While they are focused on ourselves, our feelings, and our actions, they are still about God and contain Christian content. The conclusion to be drawn from this may be that there needs to be a distinction drawn between songs that just contain Christian content, as opposed to songs that can be used to actually worship God in a congregational setting. Gall uses the example of “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe as a song that contains good Christian content, but should not be used for worship because it focuses more on us than on God: “In my opinion, songs like “I Can Only Imagine” should not be sung in chapel. Now, it is one of my favorite songs and I relate to it a lot, but it is not a worship song and therefore should not be sung in chapel. It is about God, but the focus is on us.” It is not wrong to listen to or sing these Christian songs, and they may be helpful in encouraging us in our walk of faith and relationship with God. However, using them for worship in Vanguard’s chapels may put us in danger of worshipping our own feelings more than Christ, the only rightful receiver of our worship.
To make a distinction between Christian worship songs and songs that are just Christian, SFD worship leaders should carefully read through the lyrics of potential chapel songs to make sure they are clearly talking about God. Gall has suggestions for songs that clearly focus on God and can be used for worship during chapel: “Traditional hymns like “Holy Holy Holy” and “And Can It Be?” are great examples of God-glorifying songs. For more modern examples of good, God-glorifying lyrics, I would recommend Sovereign Grace Music’s songs.”