Living Hymns

Doxology turns out to be much more than a moment in a worship service. Christians glorify God in all that they do not simply as living letters (2 Cor 3:3), but as living hymns.

—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom, 140

Revelation and Response (8)

Haven’t I led in meetings when, after every celebration song, my mind gets out the “clap-o-meter” to check if we’re on course? (After all, if people clap at the end of each up-tempo song, that means we’re in for a good night, doesn’t it?!) Don’t I sometimes find myself subconsciously scanning the congregational horizon for any sign of life? Some outstretched hands, perhaps? (That definitely means “it’s working”!) Next, as we move into intimate reverence don’t I sometimes squint through my half-closed eyes to see what other responses are happening—hoping to see at least one person on their knees?

Of course I’m exaggerating in all of these examples, but I hope my point is clear. Too often when I lead worship I´m driven by getting a good response out of the people. I want to see results. Now, all of these things are potentially good things—dancing, lifting up holy hands, clapping, and kneeling. But rather than being so desperate to see these things happen (or, God forbid, even trying to make them happen) I should be far more interested with what lies behind these responses (or the lack of them.) It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one for the mindset of any lead worshipper.

And that takes us right back to the “revelation” side of things. Before we get consumed with how people are responding, it’s good to be mindful of what they’re responding to. As worship leaders and songwriters, we need to pay more attention to the reasons for God´s worth in our writing and leading. What aspects of His wonders and splendour are we presenting for people to get their hearts into? How are we reminding hearts, minds and souls of the merciful acts that have been done for them, and the amazing grace that has been won for them? Now, of course, this isn’t just our responsibility—everyone involved in the service plays a part. But we must take our part of the role seriously. Instead of ever trying to work people up (however subtly) to some sort of response, let’s take a different approach. Let us bring songs so full of our glorious Jesus that they ignite a fresh fire and a heart-filled response from those who sing them. If we can somehow help usher people into a fresh revelation of Jesus during our worship times, I’m convinced the response will take care of itself. We will not be able to stand in the way of a passionate room of dancing, shouting, bowing, adoring lovers of God.

William Temple once wrote,
“Worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God,
To feed the mind with the truth of God,
To purge the imagination by the beauty of God,
To devote the will to the purpose of God.”

Notice how much of his definition of worship is centred around “revelation”. Here’s a man that knew that if we could somehow get people involved in the holiness, truth and beauty of God, it would result in the devotion of the will to the purpose of God. Our whole lives poured out in worship. And that, in the end, is the ultimate response of any true worshipper.

—Matt Redman, “Revelation and Response” in The Heart of Worship Files

Revelation and Response (7)

The main point here is the priority given, in Christian worship, to the Bible. The Bible is not simply read aloud in order to convey information, to teach doctrine or ethics or whatever, though of course it does that too. It is read aloud as the effective sign that all that we do is done as a response to God’s living and active word, the word which, as Isaiah says, accomplishes God’s purpose in the world, abiding for ever while all flesh withers like the grass. The place of scripture in Christian worship means that both in structure and content God’s initiative remains primary and all that we do remains a matter of response.

—N. T. Wright, “Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Recovering Biblical Worship,” Studia Liturgica 2002, 32, 186

Revelation and Response (5)

Worship . . . is the response of the creature to the Eternal.  (Evelyn Underhill)

Worship is man’s response to God’s revelation.  (Andrew W. Blackwood)

Worship is a conversation between the God of revelation and people in need of redemption.  (C. Welton Gaddy)

Liturgy [the “work of the people” in worship] is an intentionally gathered community in mutual dialogue with God’s self-communication.  (Don Saliers)

Christian worship is grounded in the reality of the action of God toward the human soul in Jesus Christ and in man’s responsive action through Jesus Christ.  (Paul Waitman Hoon)

—all cited in Gary A. Furr & Milburn Price, The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response, 1

Revelation and Response (1)

David Platt once said “worship is a rhythm of revelation and response.” [Actually it seems that Ralph Martin said it first.] I would wholeheartedly agree. We see God and we respond. That is why the use of God’s Word in worship is not an option. You will not (cannot) respond to something or Someone you have not seen, and you cannot see the Triune God apart from His Word. The Bible is the revelation of who God is, and worship sets must be saturated with Scripture or they are worthless. The Bible is also the revelation of what God has done….i.e. The Story of God….i.e. The Gospel. When we worship we are remembering the mighty deeds of God, His faithfulness, and most of all His faithfulness in sending His Son to die for us and be raised for our sins. So when someone stands up to lead the Church in worship, their two PRIMARY roles are teacher and story-teller. Through Scripture, the worship leader is teaching people WHO God is, and telling people WHAT God has done.  (See Isaiah 6:1-8 and Col 3:16.)

—Matt Papa (The Summit Church)


Why study the theology of worship? Why is a biblical understanding and foundation of worship important?

1. God’s Word tells us who God is.

God is the subject of our worship.
Worship is about Him.
We must worship Him as He really is.

2. God’s Word tells us what God wants.

GOD is the object of our worship.
Worship is for Him, for His pleasure.
We must worship Him as He wants to be worshiped.

3. God’s Word is our guide in every area of life

So certainly it is in this important area of worship.

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

4. God’s Word tells us that all of life is to be worship.

“. . . present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1)

So a biblical understanding of worship has ramifications for our entire lives.

5. God’s Word is our only unchanging standard.

“Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven.”
(Psalm 119:89)

Times change, people change, tastes change; only God’s Word does not.

6. Only God’s Word can give us a unified understanding of worship.

What are the essentials of worship, that do not change from denomination to denomination, place to place, age to age?

—Ron Man, teaching notes


We too often have no theological expectations of our musicians.

Musicians fear that if they become theological, they will lose their passion for God.

“Theology isn’t the water we put on the fire; it’s the oil.” (Ruth)

—points made by John D. Witvliet & Lester Ruth in a panel discussion at Biblical Worship Section of Evangelical Theological Society, November 2012

No Theology without Doxology! (7)

Sallie McFague, writing in 1976, argued that the formational task of theological education sets it “within the context of church and the faith. The sine qua non of such formation is a worshipping community…. The context for our intellectual work must be that of worship, or we deny our basic loyalty.

—E. Byron Anderson, “Worship and Theological Education,” Theological Education, Vol. 39, Number 1 (2003):120

No Theology without Doxology! (6)


But worship must be added to study to complete the renewal of our mind through a willing absorption in the radiant person who is worthy of all praise. Study without worship is also dangerous, and the people of Jesus constantly suffer from its effects, especially in academic settings. To handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them.

—Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 362-63