An open letter to worship leaders

Dear Comrades in Pursuit of the Chief End of Man,

I have rarely (alright, never) been asked to give input regarding the weekly "worship set." However, having witnessed Christian worship in local churches, Christian camps, seminary chapels, and other venues over the past 43 years, I have come to the conclusion that you could use some help. 

I know you've heard complaints before about the excessive repetition, lack of depth, and over-realized eschatology that characterizes so many contemporary worship songs. I'm not writing to beat those old drums (though I could play them like Neil Peart). I want to address another topic.

Though I'm not an authority on this topic (no creature is), I do feel I am in a good position to say something about it. From my childhood I have been taught the Scriptures, which are able to make one wise on this topic. I engaged in formal graduate level study of this topic for eight years. And I have been teaching this topic to seminary students for the past thirteen years.

The topic is "Jesus." Now I realize you may feel like you have some expertise on this topic as well since you regularly lead us in singing about it. However, I've noticed something over the past few decades that is cause for concern. The "Jesus" of which you have us sing is regularly used as the subject of verbs which describe actions that were neither assigned to him by the Father in eternity past, nor realized by him on the stage of history through his incarnation, public ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the Father's right hand, nor are they actions that Jesus has promised to perform in the near or distant future. 

The problem, you see, is not that there aren't a lot of things to say about Jesus, what he has done, and what he will do. In fact, I have it on good authority that all the books in the world could not contain the things that might be said of Jesus. The problem is that the actions which contemporary worship songs commonly ascribe to Jesus are not actions that he has ever or will ever perform. And therefore we shouldn't be celebrating those actions in Christian worship.

Just to give you a few examples of what I'm talking about. 

Jesus has not, does not, and will not:

Help us find a way back to him

Kiss us with a sloppy wet kiss

Think of us above all

Spin us right 'round or turn us around or cause us to do-si-do

Use fire in such a way that would consume/melt/or generally cause us to cease possessing the faculties of a human being (e.g., mind, will, etc.)

I realize this might make you feel like there's nothing to say or sing about Jesus. But I have good news. There exists a really good, even authoritative, book filled with appropriate ascriptions of praise (and lament) regarding Jesus. Moreover, if you feel this book is too dated for contemporary audiences, there are plenty of other contemporary resources that would repay careful study.

And one more pro tip: if you're leading us in a song or songs that mixes more metaphors than a Kabbalistic apocalypse, then stop it.

Your friend,

Scott Swain


On YouTube

The Story of Scripture

Find Out More

Register for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology

Reformed Resources

2023 Annual Report