Kyle Hatfield is a pastor at Ekklesia Eugene in Eugene, Oregon, and blogs at Endangered Minds.

Biblical truth must be proclaimed beautifully because truth is beautiful. This principle has been hammered home on Kingdom People many times and rightfully so. But we must not just stop at crafting beautiful sermons and mind-blowing books. Our praise must be beautiful too, for the One we worship is the source of beauty and truth.

God loves music. He created it. The problem is that sometimes us Christians act like we hate the art of song. That must be the case, for how else could we justify the mass production of what attempts to pass for “Christian” radio these days?

Much like of our books, a large portion of our music is not beautiful. That is a problem, for it does not properly represent the One we adore.

In contrast, the Bible is full of beautiful songs. Here are four things they have that many of our songs today do not:

1. Imagery

Most imagery used in Christian music today is either bland, cliché, or nonexistent. Not every song needs to be densely populated with metaphors and similes, but just take a look at the Psalms—they are full of word pictures. These pictures are important because pictures give flesh to truth.

Many biblical concepts can be somewhat abstract (grace, glory, majesty). Consequently, the truths don’t hit us with as much weight as they should because we cannot fully grasp them. But if we are able to show the truth, then that is something people can take hold of. Word made flesh.

Consider this: It took John Newton five verses to fully describe how amazing grace truly is.

2. Depth

The most common complaint I hear regarding Christian music is that it doesn’t truly reflect the depth of Christian experience—no sin, no struggle, no despair, no doubt, no cross. What is portrayed is a sanitized Christianity where no trials occur.

Instead, Christian music should cover both the joy and grief of the Christian life. In Psalm 79, Asaph cries out to God in suffering and yet is able to praise Him at the same time.

God is not just on the mountaintops but in the valleys too.

3. A God-Centered Focus

Much Christian music focuses on giving everyone a positive self-image or pumping teenagers up to pursue their dreams. It’s a subtle theological shift that reflects the direction many pulpits have also taken.

To magnify the Lord is to display how great He truly is. Can we do that while we are trying to convince the world we are great too?

There is currently one popular song that preaches in the chorus, “You’re someone worth dying for.” I understand what it’s trying to accomplish, but the whole point of the gospel is that we are not worth dying for—that’s why it’s so amazing Jesus still chose to die.

Because He died and we didn’t, all eyes should be on Him, not us.

4. Awe

I believe that many times when we create poorly, it’s because we aren’t fully captivated by the Person and work of Christ. If we were, we’d understand the necessity to find compelling words and ways to declare His glory.

The world has their muses: ambition, passion, money, and sex. Those things drive the world’s art, and they pursue it obsessively.

But Christians actually have the greatest inspiration of all—the Source of beauty, wonder, and majesty. We are part of the most wonderful story ever conceived; we should tell it well. But in order to do so, we must first be gripped by it.

CODA

We need to be more discerning about the music we listen to. No need to be a snob or a jerk. But let’s not settle for the music dished out on the radio or iTunes.

Reward those who are working diligently to reflect God’s beauty (some examples are Josh GarrelsThe FollowersAll Sons and DaughtersLecrae, and Mars Hill Music).

Musicians: Tell your story well. Raise the bar for everyone else.

To be clear, I am not concerned about Christians being seen as “legitimate” artists by the world. In fact, I think to some degree that cannot possibly be the norm, for the message we preach is offensive.

Our goal is not to be popular. Instead, what we need is Christian art that enthralls the soul and stirs the heart to greater worship of the Creator.

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11 thoughts on “Putting the Art Back in “How Great Thou Art””

  1. Inchristus says:

    Could not agree more.
    Well said.
    Not it’s time to take this seriously.

  2. Allison says:

    Yes! I certainly agree. And there are many, many thoughtful songwriters these days, you just don’t often hear about them on the radio or iTunes. I would recommend all the folks over at The Rabbit Room who are making great art and music to the glory of God– creative, passionate, thoughtful musicians and storytellers and artists, folks like Eric Peters and Andrew Osenga and the proprietor himself, Andrew Peterson: http://www.rabbitroom.com/

  3. Barchetta says:

    Most people don’t really know but Stevie Ray Vaughan was a born again Christian. His mother wrote wonderfully about his conversion. While he still stuck close to his roots in the blues and rock there’s a theme that runs through his lyrics that is quite wonderful if you listen closely. Doyle Bramhall wrote but SRV recorded Life by the drop. SRV’s journey from life to death to life again. It’s a song I heavily identify with. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7ZPMScX9-k

    And also his Tightrope http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNuXO60G33w
    Afraid of my own shadow in the face of grace, heart full of darkness spotlight on my face. Lookin’ back in front of me in the mirror’s a grin, through eyes of love I see I’m really lookin’ at a friend.

  4. Mary Smith says:

    I totally disagree wit you about humans not being worth dying for! It is not the worth of our bodies or our condition, but our worth comes from being created in God’s image. making every human worth redeeming. God separates the sinner from the sin to make him worthy; a basic principle in our learning to love the unlovely. That is the exact principle on which God CAN love us; He cannot love the sin, but He forever loves the sinner. If we had no worth, there would be nothing to save. Because there IS something to redeem, Jesus was willing to make the sacrifice for that redemption. That is what redemption is all about; if we are 100% rotten there is nothing to redeem. The blood of Jesus washes off the filth of the world, leaving the redeemable human washed clean. The music God loves is music that comes from the heart, that glorifies and exalts Him and helps others accept Him and also worship Him.

  5. Rich Tuttle says:

    @ Kyle – Yes and Amen!

    @ Mary – I’d argue that if we are 100% rotten then everything (100% if it) needs to be redeemed. Which gives God more glory: Redeeming everything, or redeeming 90%?

  6. KC McGinnis says:

    I’m surprised no one has commented on just how clever the title of this post is! Kudos to you for that alone :)

    If I could add a #5, it would be an understanding of art as a good thing in and of itself. I think American Christian art, especially music, has had a utilitarian bent for at least a couple centuries. Meaning, art is seen as valuable only if it is a means to an end, likely a spiritual one, giving some sort of spiritual truth, etc. (I just posted a quote from Flannery O’Connor in which she expresses her frustration with this).

    But because we are made in the image of the Creator, beautiful human creation displays the glory of God. So before any (verbal) truth is presented, before there is any emotional response, our art is valuable in and of itself. I think this has to be the starting point for people writing worship music.

    I was just listening to Songs of Water; really beautiful music, entirely instrumental until the last song on the album, where they sing, “Alleluia… Look what He’s done.” Was this last song the only “worship” song on the album? I think not. All of it was worship, because it was creation to the glory of God. And it’s really beautiful.

    1. Haha, thanks @KC McGinnis! I’ve got to give my wife the credit for the title :)

  7. Andrew Jones says:

    Thanks Kyle! Loved you point of view, I tend to blog on similar feelings. That being said, I think we have to acknowledge that much of the problem isn’t that there aren’t a plethora of Christians who are fantastic artists, rather that we have made “Christian” art an industry.

    Industries tend to play it safe. Industries work to please their (generally secular) parent companies. Parent companies work to please share holders…and so on.

    There are tons of incredible artists out there. Some like you have mentioned have large “Christian” followings and are known. Many artists that are true, are less known as “Chrisitan artists” but are consistantly putting out amazing work, but aren’t known that way. Artists like Derek Webb, mewithoutYou, Luke Dowler, Gungor, Dusitn Kensrue/Thrice are writing incredible, beautiful, true, music. But that is not what will get played on “safe and fun” christian radio very often.

  8. Mary Smith says:

    There are always tons of really, refreshing musicians that never get played on the radio. The thing is, whoever said the radio was the only place to be heard? and the next question is, if your music ministers to people then there are all kinds of exposure and opportunities to be seen and heard. One of the local Christian stations frequently features local artists, has Christian talent shows coinciding with the county fair, they sponsor a big Christian music concert out doors at the community college, where about 3,000 people come. They are having trials right now as I speak for someone to be right on the main stage along with Jeremy Camp, Kutless (who happen to be from here, Britt Nichole. etc. That radio station even features local singers right in their studio. SO, where have you been?? We are musicians and have incredible experiences we wouldn’t trade for the world. There is plenty of exposure and ministry all around you! We always have more to do than we can get done, and we don’t have all the expenses and hassle the professionals have. So, get out where people can hear and see this beautiful music you are talking about.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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