Apologetics is the discipline of answering objections and providing reasons to believe.
As many people note, it is not the most helpful word in our Christian dictionary. It implies being apologetic or sorry for what we believe. Far from apologising, we are confidently defending our faith. For this reason, apologetics really helps inform the way we preach, debate and evangelise. But what about when we come together to sing songs of praise and worship? Is apologetics relevant to our worship songs?
Teaching in songs
The simple answer is that it must be. Paul tells us that when we come together and sing we are ‘teaching’ one another through those songs (Colossians 3.16). Our songs help us understand God better, shape the attitudes of heart and mind, and teach others about what we believe. We think carefully about the case we make when preaching. Should we not also think carefully about the case we make in our praise?
I don’t want to spend time identifying lyrics I don’t like! Nick Page, in his insightful book,And Now Let’s Move Into a Time of Nonsense (Authentic, 2004), helpfully surveys the pitfalls of Christian song writing. He expresses the frustration of many: ‘Why, when the tunes are often so good, are the lyrics frequently so bad? Why are we content to stand there in church and sing stuff that really doesn’t make any sense?’ (p.2). Here is a simple question to ask of any song we sing: is the content of what I am singing true?
‘Cheesiness’ is subjective
I think this question moves beyond simply dismissing some songs as ‘cheesy’ or just romantic love songs with the name of Jesus thrown in. Those dismissals may be true but ‘cheesiness’ is a very subjective judgment (this coming from someone who still loves listening to the Carpenters) and, while many songs alarmingly make Jesus sound like a boyfriend, there is at least biblical precedent for using romantic imagery to describe our love for God. But do take a look at the top songs you sing on a Sunday and ask what reasons they give you to praise.
Some songs even revel in the idea that what we are doing is bananas; ‘I feel like dancing / it’s foolishness I know’ — is that really going to persuade a skeptical member of our congregation to believe in Christ? When we read the story of David’s dancing before the Lord, we also hear him give a good reason for his desire to dance (2 Samuel 6.21-22). There is a world of difference between appearing foolish and being foolish. David may have appeared foolish to Michal, just as we will appear foolish to some skeptics, but we do have reasons for what we believe and do.
Of course, nothing in this article implies that our music should be old-fashioned, set to dull tunes or lack devotional warmth. We need music that can carry the emotions and engage our hearts. But it is a false dichotomy to suggest that we have to choose between making a rational case for our faith and being in touch with our feelings. We do not make that split when presenting a sermon, so there is no reason why we should have to when singing a song.
Chris Sinkinson is pastor of Alderholt Chapel. He also lectures in Apologetics at Moorlands College, Christchurch, Dorset.
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