Search this site
My Book

Entries in gospel coalition (11)


A Worship Song Bless God's People and Make a Point

Several weeks ago, I offered a provocative post at The Gospel Coalition encouraging the minimizing of "surrender" language in our worship services. The gist of the post was that an overload of "I'm surrendering it all to You, Jesus" in our worship songs tends to put way too much spotlight on what we do for God rather than what Christ has done for us. 

Today, Liberate has published a follow-up post of mine that digs a little deeper into some of the reaction and interaction I received after that initial post. It's doing ground-level, very real theology. At the end, it offers a reorientation of the classic hymn / worship song, "I Surrender All." This hymn is still very popular, and it continues to make appearances on worship records (like Passion's latest, out just a few weeks ago).

My reorientation of "I Surrender All," which I call "Christ Surrendered All," is really a parody. It interacts with the original text in an ironic, table-turning way. But it's not a parody that's meant to be cheeky or comical (and, yes, I understand that inherent in the word "parody" is a measure of humor...I just can't find a better word). I really want churches to sing it. In fact, we sang it this past Sunday at Coral Ridge, to the original tune, with a bit of a pipe-rock flare, and it went over very, very well. Again, you can go read the full text over at my post at Liberate.

All of this made me think about the role of parody in worship songwriting. I think there is a place for it. Not a huge place--maybe a square foot. With a parody like "Christ Surrendered All," you end up being able to convey several layers of meaning with the text, beyond the text. As we were singing the song, not only were we actively engaging the lyrics, but we were also internalizing the message of what the lyrics were not, given their inspiriation piece. So, not only were we we singing "Christ, You surrendered all," we were aware that we were not singing "I surrender all." Not only were we singing,

Worldly pleasures I was seeking
Still, Lord, You were seeking me 

Many of us were aware that we were not singing:

Worldly pleasures all forsaken
Take me, Jesus, take me now

Therefore, in addition to the message of the song, which really is the raw Gospel, the parody itself functioned to reinforce and re-preach that same message: "It's not about what I do, Lord, but about what you have done for me." 

All of this made me think that it would be pretty sweet if some artist out there reworked a bunch of worship songs and hymns as a sort of parody, not to mock, but to delve into the richness of multi-layered meaning and communication that is a part of the makeup of parody. Again, this doesn't have a lot of mileage in Christian worship, I think. Too much of this kind of stuff can come across as arrogant or trying too hard to be clever with its theological one-upsmanship. Still, this whole exercise made me raise my eyebrow at the intriguing notion that there may be a formational place for "parody songs" in our worship, tastefully and pastorally done.



Why We Evangelicals Need a Break from "Surrendering"

The Gospel Coalition just put up a post of mine reflecting on "surrender" language in worship songs. The heartbeat of this post is to encourage a pastoral sensitivity to not only what we say and sing in our worship services but the way things are actually heard. I'm arguing that, though the idea of "surrender" could be biblical, it is prone to being heard and expressed in ways that actually undermine the gospel. I deal with topics that have lately been on my mind and heart--triumphalism and incurvatus in se

Here's an excerpt:

“Surrender” is one of those interesting English words that has a double-meaning, and contained in these two meanings are two very different understandings of how our relationship with God works. If I can put it this bluntly, one reading ultimately ends in death and the other in life.

And here's my ultimate conclusion:

In light of this, and in light of the fact that most of our worship songs pump the glories of active surrender, evangelicalism probably needs to be weaned off surrender language. I would discourage abundant use of the metaphor in our worship and only wise, selective, discriminant placement of such expression (if we must) well after strong, bold declarations of the finished work of Christ.

Go check out the post!


Album Roundup: Songs from the Book of Ephesians, The Journey Collective

I'm very, very excited about this collaborative project from the folks at The Journey Church in St. Louis.  First off, I'm excited to see more projects like this--whole albums centered around books of the Bible. We saw this with the Gospel Coalition's wonderful Luke album and with Sovereign Grace's killer Romans album. And now we've got some Ephesians-based material! Beauty!


The production on this album is polished and inspiring. To my ear, many of the songs are not only singable but recorded in singable keys (which is an admirable practice that I don't even adhere to!). Musically, what I love most is its diversity. Volume 1 is colored in a nice pop-rock style, and Volume 2 takes a different turn with some very swanky sounds (nice job, Russ Mohr and Taylor Webb!). "Wondrous Love" is the classic folk hymn "What Wondrous Love is This" is set in a spanky blues-gospel style. "A Son of God" is a kind of soulful gospel swing with some nice horn parts, and "Now in Christ" is a more straight up R&B tune. It's nice to hear a worship album that helps to stretch the sonic palate of evangelical worship music. I admire the artists' ability to traverse so many different styles with integrity and artistry. I should also mention that they embody the spirit of Ephesians' message by making it so collaborative a project. They illustrate what it means to be "the Church" (a major theme in Ephesians) by having so many different vocalists and musicians involved in the project. 

Theological Content

This album is off the charts when it comes to Grade-A theology. First, I must mention the intentional structure. Stephen Miller has talked about Gospel-shaped worship structure in his fabulous book, Worship Leaders: We Are Not Rock Stars (check out my very favorable review here), and it's encouraging to see worship leaders and songwriters take their thinking so seriously and to apply what they believe in in such tangible ways.  Check out the structure:


1. To Praise Your Glory - Call to Worship
2. The Love of God - Song of Adoration
3. Wars Within - Song of Confession
4. As Your Own - Song of Assurance
5. To Him Who is Able - Song of Mission


6. Wondrous Love - Call to Worship
7. A Son of God - Song of Adoration
8. Anchor Our Hearts - Song of Confession
9. In Our Place - Song of Assurance
10. Now in Christ - Song of Mission

 Wonderful, powerfully shaping gospel structure, through and through. ...And then there are the songs. One of my favorite songs, "To Praise Your Glory" is full of lofty yet tangible theology about God's glory. It sings:

Verse 1:
With grace and peace You've welcomed us
To bless Your name, O God of Love
And in Your will, predestined us
Before the world to praise Your glory 

Our highest praise cannot contain
The glory of Your holy name
With all we are we will proclaim
Jesus the name above all names 

I stand by previous statements when I say that fast, more energetic call-to-worship-type songs are the hardest to write. This is a great one. Another great song moves into the important territory of the theology of adoption, which is surprisingly hard to find in both old hymns and new music:

Verse 1:
I lie down and rest, 'cause I work no longer
I breathe in, refreshed no more soiled in disgrace
I look up at Him to whom I am kneeling
And I see delight there in my Father's face 

I'm a son of God, and love is my freedom
And can ask anything of my Father the King
I'm an heir, I'm adopted, and my Brother is Jesus
I'm a Son of God and my soul is at peace 

Wow! I've never heard a song quite like this. "Sonship" and "Daughtership" is an underserved facet of the gospel in worship music, and I'm glad The Journey Collective is pointing it out.

Really, all the songs on this album commend themselves to us as Christians and to the Church as meaningful additions to our sung vocabulary of praise.


You can go get the album here, and you can download a full PDF songbook here!


Worship as Amnesia's Preventative Medicine

The Old Testament's "Deuteronomy Glasses"

Most Old Testament scholars point to the book of Deuteronomy as one of the most significant books in that part of the canon.  It sums up the entire Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT), and it is the lens through which many of the other books--especially the historical books and the prophets--were written and heard by their original hearers.  In fact, some scholars are so convinced by Deuteronomy's influence that they call Joshua - 2 Kings the "Deuteronomistic History."  

Deuteronomy's prevailing mantra is, " not forget."  In English, "remember" is used 16 times in the book, overwhelmingly as a command for the people of God to not forget what God did when He redeemed them out of the bondage of Egypt (see esp. Deut 24).  The OT historical books and prophets are the painful recounting of Israel's checkered past of not remembering, re-remembering, then forgetting again.

One of the main reasons God set up the liturgical system He did (sacrifices, priestly duties, annual worship calendar) was to provide rituals that burned into the hearts, minds, and souls of the people of God His salvation-story, precisely because He knew that their forgetfulness would be their own doom. God's liturgy, rightly enacted and wholeheartedly engaged, was intended as preventative medicine against the amnesia of the people of God.  Put another way, God established the rhythms of worship to help us remember who we are.

Worship as Covenant Renewal

It seems that a lot of evangelicals are confused, mystified, or downright spooked by the notion of worship as "covenant renewal."  I was reminded of this in some of the comment-chains following a recent post I wrote on The Gospel Coalition's new worship site.  But worship as covenant renewal, in its most basic form, is nothing more than what has been articulated above--renewing and remembering God's covenant with us in Jesus Christ.

Christ's Church is no different than Israel of old.  We are stiff-necked, hard-hearted, forgetful people.  Between Sundays, we fight the entropy and devolution that lingering sin propels.  One of the best answers I've ever heard as to why Christians continue to sin is that we fall into sin when we forget who we are--dearly bought, highly esteemed, adopted children of the Most High, Triune God of all ages.  Good worship serves to jog our memories about our identity in Christ.

Three Applications

This immediately forces questions about both the content and the structure of our worship.  Many things follow.  I'll name three:

1. We realize that it's important to place so much more emphasis on God's character, promises, and work, and so much less emphasis on our feelings toward God.

Remembering who we are is based on who God declares we are in Christ.  This is an external action, spoken over and onto us from outside of us, and then planted in us by the "alien invader" known as the Holy Spirit.  Worship sets and songs which are dominated by how we feel about God do little, then, to help us remember who we are and avoid amnesia.  Singing and speaking our (even felt) response to God has its place, but it must not dominate worship's form and content.  When it does, our memory will slip away.

2. We realize that we need to be explicit about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The core of God's covenant with us is the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The more explicit we make this news, the better.  We can't be too heavy-handed in remembering Christ's righteous life and His sacrificial death.  We need the gospel to slap us in the face, punch us in the gut, kick us in the behind, knock us in the knees, and sweep us at the ankles.  We need a grace-assault that leaves no part of ourselves untouched.  We are stubborn and calloused.  Nothing short of a knockout in the first round will do.  We need to sing about it, pray it, read it, preach it, taste it, see it, hear it, and feel it.

3. We realize that ritualistic repetition is important and formative.

Suddenly, we realize that God's OT strategy of engaging in repetitive ritual wasn't just for our ancient brothers and sisters.  Fixed ritual (calls to worship, confessions of sin, assurances of God's pardon, etc.), especially the kind that causes our weary bones to stumble through the gospel story, begins to shape our subconscious, affecting the way relate to God the other six days of the week.  Soon, we see Gospel-patterns more easily emerge from our instincts in the way we engage God and others on Tuesday, when we've sinned and sought forgiveness.  That process is the very process of remembering.  Our amnesia has been thwarted.


Doxology & Theology Conference and Boswell's New Messenger Hymns Album

I'm looking forward to heading to Frisco, TX (outside of Dallas) tomorrow to spend some time with a bunch of worship leader buddies for the inaugural Doxology & Theology Conference, put on by Lifeway, Southern Seminary, Logos, and Veritas.  My friend Matt Boswell has been the mastermind behind this operation, and I can think of no one better to network young worship leaders from newly emerging and influential evangelical churches across the United States.  

How would I characterize what's unique about this conference?  The twist is that here we have a coalition of modern worship leaders, committed simultaneously to a rock ethos and thoughtful, intentional, gospel-centered, theologically-grounded worship services.  Many of these folks are affiliated with churches connected with the Acts 29 network and the Gospel Coalition.  Many of the congregations represented are emerging city-centered church plants having strong impacts in the major US metropolises.  So, in my estimation, this is a very unique gathering of individuals.

Why is Matt Boswell a stud?  Well, he released an album, Messenger Hymns: Volume 1, just last week.  All six songs on this EP are singable, drenched in the gospel, loaded with great soteriology, and brimming with explicit Trinitarianism--in other words, Boswell has written all the songs I wish I could write but don't have the chops for (which is why I often like to "hide" behind hymns ;)).  I have two favorite songs: "O Fount of Love," and "O Sing My Soul."  Here are the lyrics to the latter--a fresh telling of the Bible's story, and a fresh call to mission.  Praise God.

O sing my soul the ancient song
And lend your highest praise
To Him who is the King of old
And dwells in endless days
How resplendent His glory
How majestic His name
Now to the uncreated One
O let the anthem raise

O worship Him, our Father God
The Spirit, and the Word
Who fashioned all things from His joy
And saw that it was good
What perfection of friendship
What communion we shared
But chosing death, we fell from life
Aside the guilty pair

Now hear us all the gospel song
Attend the joyful news
For Christ has come, the perfect Son
His Father's will to choose
In our place He did suffer
In our place became sin
The death of death, the death of Christ
Who stands alive again

Now people of the risen Lord
O hear the call to go
Into the world we have been sent
As messengers of hope
Christ alone be our treasure
Christ alone our reward
Come bid the nations sing with us
The praises of the Lord

Words & Music: Matt Boswell & Matt Papa
© 2012 Dayspring Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)
Centricity Music Publishing/Love Your Enemies Publishing (Admin. by Amplified Administration LLC)

Open Our Eyes: A Worship Song Based on Luke 24

Emmaus Road (Stained Glass)The Story

Ever since my conversion to a more sacramental understanding of the Lord's Supper, and upon reading Henri Nouwen's, With Burning Hearts, I've been captivated by that odd encounter that Jesus had with two downcast sojourners on the Emmaus Road after Christ's crucifixion, recorded in Luke 24.  

Several things about that encounter keep fascinating me:

  • The sojourners "were kept from recognizing" Jesus for a long time (v 16)
  • Part of what began lifting their spirits was when Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (v 27); so Jesus "preached Himself" from the Old Testament!
  • While Jesus preached, their "hearts burned" (v 32)
  • God allowed them to recognize Jesus only after He broke the bread (vv 31-32)

Good exegetes who look for "authorial intent" would notice that Luke's description of this whole encounter is loaded with early Christian worship language.  Emmaus Road is an encounter of Word and sacrament, the two main pillars of Christian worship from the beginning (read Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Worship for more on this).

When I heard that the Gospel Coalition was summoning submissions for worship songs based on the book of Luke, I felt a nearly immediate summons to figure out how to capture chapter 24 in music.  I also knew that my good friend over at Cardiphonia, Bruce Benedict, would be the perfect songwriting partner, (1) because he shares my passion for this understanding of Luke 24, and (2) because many of his songwriting strengths shine where mine are weakest.  (Read his post on the song.)  Bruce emailed me, in short order, the anchor verses, and then I added a few more verses and a chorus and set those things to a simple tune.  Bruce tweaked the tune, tweaked my verses...then we went back and forth on some finer points of precision about theology and themes...and then Bruce passed on the words and music for the bridge, and voila, we had a song.

What I Love

Here's what I love about this song:

  • Musically, it's singable, fairly simple, and has a good dynamic and melodic contour
  • Textually, it's dense with both experience and Truth, and it's loaded with the doctrine of the sufficiency of Christ and the theological vision of the book of Hebrews
  • Experientially, it makes corporate the individuals' experiences in Luke 24--burning hearts, opening eyes
  • Theologically, it embodies the Greek concept of remembrance/anamnesis with a strong emphasis on the Trinitarian causality of that remembrance (the Trinity causes us to remember Himself in Word and sacrament)

The Song

In my opinion, this song works great alongside celebration of the Lord's Supper or as an Offertory or song of preparation leading into the preaching of the Word.  It works equally well at the top of a service as the call to worship or song of gathering.  It's quite flexible, I think.  

I recorded a simple demo with piano and guitars, and afterward Bruce and I received some great constructive feedback from our friend and gifted author, musician, worship leader, and songwriter, Greg Scheer.  The recording doesn't reflect some of the subtle melodic changes from Scheer's comments, but the below text reflects those minor revisions in the lyrics that post-date the demo.  Bruce and I hope you enjoy it and maybe even utilize it in your worship.

Listen to it

(Download/listen to the mp3


When we see the risen Savior
In the bread that He has blessed,
He becomes the living Servant, 
Heavenly food for holy rest.

Stay with us, for day is fading,
Feast with us, O secret King;
Show to us how Scripture's story
Speaks of You in everything.

Do not our hearts burn brightly now?
For You're here among us now. 

Jesus, show Yourself the author 
And perfecter of our faith;
In Your living and Your dying,
Consummation of God's grace.

From creation to the exile,
Incarnation to the grave,
Resurrection to ascension,
Come, Lord Jesus, come to save!

Do not our hearts burn brightly now?
For You're here among us now. 

Open our eyes to see You, Christ,
Risen, ascended, reigning high;
Open our eyes, open our eyes to You.

Feed us with living bread above;
Bind us in union with Your love;
Open our eyes, open our eyes to You. 

You're the Word that spoke creation;
You're the End of Moses' law;
You're the Goal of Abra'am's blessing;
You're the King whom David saw.

You're the Day the prophets longed for;
You're the covenant of grace;
You're the hero of the Scriptures;
Now we see You face to face.

(Pre-Chorus & Chorus)

You remember God the Father,
You remember God the Son,
You remember God the Spirit
In the hearts of those You've won. 

(Pre-Chorus & Chorus)

So Jesus, show Yourself the Prophet,
Jesus, show Yourself the King,
Jesus, show Yourself the Priest,
All in all, and everything. 

Words & Music: Bruce Benedict & Zac Hicks, 2012
(c) 2012 Cardiphonia Music & Unbudding Fig Music 

The Theology

A final set of thoughts, if you care to read on.  Here are the doctrines and theological ideas explored in this song. See if you can find them in the text (some of them I've already pointed out).

  • anamnesis / remembrance
  • Trinity
  • the three-fold office of Christ
  • union with Christ
  • covenant theology
  • typology
  • active and passive obedience of Christ
  • eschatology
  • sabbath
  • eucharist as festal celebration
  • soteriology - significance of not only the crucifixion, but the resurrection, ascension, and second coming
  • heavenly session of Christ at the Father's right hand

A Great New Online Resource Hub for Worship Leaders 

Since its inception, the Gospel Coalition has served as a “third space” for folks of various denominational ties to come together to celebrate what we hold in common—the gospel.  However, it’s more than just another attempt at common-ground ecumenism, which has often ended up in such a watered down unity that it barely tastes anything like historic, orthodox Christianity.  No, it’s not that the non-essentials are unimportant. It’s that the full, robust gospel is of great, preeminent importance, and it is therefore worth our best attempts at prizing it in all our conversations about life, faith, and ministry.

Click to read more ...


Worship Without the Gospel is Not True Worship

Any worship we participate in, without engaging the good news about Jesus Christ and what He has done, is false worship.  It is idolatry.  It is self-justification.  My friend and up-and-coming pastor, Nathan Hoag, brought back from the Gospel Coalition Conference the April 2011 edition of TableTalk, which contained a wonderful little article by Donald Whitney on “The Gospel & Worship.”1  Here are some choice quotes which work really well as stand-alone reflections on how the good news relates to corporate worship.  The third quote is my favorite:

There may be nothing in the realm of religion by which people vainly attempt to establish their acceptability to God more than by acts of public or private worship. As a result, worship can degrade into one of the most legalistic activities a person can pursue.  In the minds of many, you are right with God if you go to church…Though perhaps they do not expressly state it, they believe that because they discipline themselves to regularly attend an event where the gospel is proclaimed, they have sufficiently participated in the gospel.

The gospel takes the natural, worldly view that worship is a person justifying himself by reaching up to God and corrects it with the truth that worship is a person responding to the God who has reached down through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

People do not decide to become worshipers of God; rather the gospel produces worshipers.

God made our hearts, and He made them to find their greatest joy and satisfaction in Himself. So when, through the gospel, we “come to know God, or rather be known by God” (Gal. 4:9), our hearts turn to God and open in worship to Him like flowers turn and open to the sun. Thus it is that worship begins with an understanding of the gospel.

We also need the gospel during worship in part because of the sins we commit in worship. We may sing, speak, or pray thoughtlessly or hypocritically in various moments of worship. The application of the gospel to our minds and hearts in worship encourages us that our sins during worship are forgiven and that the Lord receives us even though our worship is imperfect.

Love of the gospel and love of worshiping the God of the gospel are inseparable. A true grasp of the former leads to devotion to the latter.


1Donald S. Whitney, “The Gospel & Worship,” in TableTalk, 35.4 (April 2011), 58-59.