Theology of Worship Course

I’m eagerly preparing for an intensive winter course at RTS-Dallas called “Theology of Worship.”

I hope you’ll consider taking it for credit or as an auditor. All lectures will happen from January 21–24.

I’ve separated the material into traditional disciplines: Biblical Theology of Worship (1/21), Systematic Theology of Worship (1/22), Historical Theology of Worship (1/23), and Practical Theology of Worship (1/24). Obviously, there’s only so much I can say each day on a particular point. I trust, however, that my intended focus will be edifying for all. As you might expect, I’m tilting the applications in the direction of the Westminster Confession of Faith, but I think it will be useful to students from all denominations.

Check out the syllabus below and register here!

The Most Disobeyed Verse in the Bible?

An admission is in order: this post’s title has a fair amount of tongue in its cheek. Countless texts compete for the title’s reward. I mean for the title’s cheekiness to provoke examination—particularly among pastors.

“What Verse,” You Say?

The text I have in mind is Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Its twin is Ephesians 5:19, where Paul commands being filled in the Spirit, which means—in part—”addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

For this post, I’m leaving aside historical arguments that “hymns and spiritual songs” are also references to biblical psalms. I’m not urging exclusive psalmody, but I am arguing for inclusive psalmody. I am simply stating, on the basis of Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19, that God expects His churches to sing the psalms from His word. What do you think? Is that a fair declaration? I believe so.

Yet, how many evangelical churches today sing the Psalms?

The Lay of the Land

I recently saw a pastor of a massive and influential church say, “Let the Psalter the be the soundtrack of your life.” However, ne’er is a psalm sung in his church’s gathered worship.

The pastor’s declaration and his church’s reality reveal two things I see in evangelical churches today.

First, we have seen a genuine resurgence of devotion to the Psalms. Praise the Lord! I first began to notice this when, in 2008, Union University (a Baptist institution, mind you) hosted a conference on psalm-singing. A few years later, B&H (a Baptist press, mind you) published the addresses as Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship. As is often the case, developments in the academy take a few years to seep into ordinary churches. The much-voiced call for restoring lament in the church’s life (e.g., Rejoicing in Lament) is a consequence of the revived focus on the psalms. So too is Donald Whitney’s work Praying the Bible, which exhorts Christians, “when you pray, pray a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm.”

Second, precious few churches today sing the Psalms in corporate worship. I’m optimistic that more and more churches will start singing psalms. My experience and observation are that precious few churches are doing so at the moment.

I live in a bastion of the Bible-belt. “Evangelical” churches occupy many corners in my community. There are three mega-churches within five minutes of my home and another dozen smaller congregations. You’d never expect to sing a psalm at any of them on a Sunday.

Lest you think I’m only pointing the finger at other ecclesiastical traditions, let me turn it back on myself. The church I pastor is a member of the PCA. More than anything else, Redeemer’s identity in the presbytery and community is that of a traditional-liturgical church. Any person who knows anything about the history of Presbyterian worship knows that psalm-singing is among our most distinctive features. I attended Redeemer consistently for eight months before being called as senior minister. Although it had a history of sporadic psalm-singing in the past, we never sang a psalm over those eight months. I wonder many Presbyterian churches today likewise have forgotten our biblically-informed tradition.

One of the first adjustments I made to our worship at Redeemer was reintroducing the Psalms for singing. We now sing at least one psalm every week, and it is a delight to hear God’s people sing God’s word.

A Sad Irony

In our zeal against exclusive psalmody, perhaps we have inadvertently promoted exclusive hymnody—or as one brother I know put it, “exclusive chorusody.”

Too many of our churches today are ignoring God’s hymnbook, which has been at the heart of every major branch of Christianity’s worship tradition. Let us repent of loving to sing our words more than God’s words. Let us pray for the ample and regular singing of psalms—along with Scripturally-sound hymns—in our gathered worship services.

Resourcing Recovery and Reform

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.” John Chrysostom, that golden-mouthed preacher, asked,

Do you wish to be happy? Do you want to know how to spend the day truly blessed? I offer you a drink that is spiritual. This is not a drink for drunkenness that would cut off even meaningful speech. This does not cause us to babble. It does not disturb our vision. Here it is: Learn to sing Psalms! Then you will see pleasure indeed. Those who have learned to sing with the psalms are easily filled with the Holy Spirit.

Every gospel pastor longs for Christ’s word to dwell deeply in his church. Every pastor prays for Christ’s spirit to fill the church. Singing psalms is one of God’s ordained means for both blessings to grow in your congregation.

Here are some resources pastors can use for further study:1

Some shorter pieces encouraging the singing of Psalms in corporate worship:

  • Terry Johnson’s essay in honor of James Montgomery Boice, “Restoring Psalm Singing to Our Worship” in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship demonstrates that even the Presbyterians can have difficulty using the Psalter in worship. Johnson’s concern for Bible-saturated worship is commendable to the People of the Book.
  • Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham answers the question of his chapter titled “What Are We Doing Singing the Psalms?” in his book The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms. In a few short pages, he ranges over the Bible, church history, speech-act theory, and finally back to the Psalms themselves as he attempts to coax the Christian reader into a psalm-singing frame of mind.


  1. The comments on each resource are adapted from Ray Van Neste’s Read, Pray, Sing.

15 Principles for More Glorious Worship

Worship God

I’ve intended to read Ross’ work for several years. How I wish it didn’t take a doctoral seminar to make me finally do so! Recalling the Hope of Glory is a biblical/theological train running at full steam—and every Christian would do well to jump on. Pastors and “worship leaders” in particular need to read Ross’ study. It’s now replaced Cosper’s (still) excellent Rhythms of Grace on my list of “3 Books Every Pastor Should Read on Worship.

Essential Principles for Developing the Worship of God

416jwtqigol-_sx331_bo1204203200_Ross’ final chapter in the book is, “Basic Principles for More Glorious Worship.” He writes, “The church . . . must always be discovering more meaningful and more glorious ways to worship God, for worship is essential to the spiritual life” (503). Now, if you read that statement out of context, your worship can get whacky real fast. Ross doesn’t mean for us to discover new ways of worshiping God wherever we want. He means for us to labor ad fontes—to return to God’s word to uncover more glory for our worship. He models this practice by giving fifteen final applications. I pray it will whet your spiritual appetite to devour this book.

  1. The revelation of the exalted Lord God in glory inspires glorious worship and fills us with the hope of glory.
  2. The evidence of the Lord’s presence makes worship a holy convocation in a holy place that calls for holiness.
  3. Sacrifice is at the center of worship as the basis and expression of it.
  4. Sound biblical proclamation informs all worshipful acts.
  5. The ministry of the Word, an act of worship itself, is the key to coherent, corporate worship.
  6. Individual public praise and thanksgiving is the evidence of the spiritual life that is alive in the church.
  7. Singing, chanting, playing musical instruments, and dancing are done to the glory of God are a part of the praise of the people of God.
  8. Worship is the response of the people to the divine revelation.
  9. Worship prompts moral and ethical acts.
  10. Great festivals preserve the heritage of the faith, unite believers, and gather resources for greater worship and service.
  11. The household of faith preserves the purity and integrity of worship.
  12. Worship possesses a balance of form and spirit.
  13. Worship is eschatological.
  14. Prayer enables all the acts of worship to achieve what God intended.
  15. Worship transcends time and space.

Rethinking “Revelation & Response”

Gospel Liturgy

Most of my doctoral studies at The Institution focus on matters of biblical spirituality and historical theology. Any seminars I take outside of my major center on the topic of “Christian Worship.” Call it my Th.M. side project. I’m trying to reclaim liturgical theology as a matter for preachers. Pastors need not be versed in matters of musical theory, composition, or choral skill in order to oversee their congregation’s liturgy. They only need to know their Bible. Which, of course, is part of what makes a pastor a pastor.

Let me tease out for you something I’m working on related to how we should understand what happens in gathered worship. The more I research the common view on liturgical construction, the more I’m convinced something’s gone missing. And that “something” is actually what protects our liturgy as having a gospel flow.

The Tried and True Model

Perhaps the most typical liturgical rhythm recognized in recent literature is that of worship as a dialogue. Robert Rayburn, the founding president of Covenant Theological Seminary, was an early advocate for this model as he attempted to chart a way forward for churches integrating the best of the past with the best of contemporary contributions to worship and liturgy. A dialogical pattern suffuses his recommendations for liturgical in his seminal work O Come Let Us Worship.[1] Around the same time Ralph Martin, former Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, was making exciting discoveries in the field of worship. In his The Worship of God he celebrates, “One of the most exciting and important rediscoveries of our time has been the dialogue shape of Christian worship.”[2] Mark Karlberg scans church history and concludes the dialogical model is no recent innovation, “Whatever the precise form and shape of corporate worship over the span of the history of the Christian church, worship is . . . the dialogue between God and his covenant people.”[3] What exactly does this “dialogical shape” look like in practice? Martin answers, “The distinctive genius of corporate worship is the two-beat rhythm of revelation and response. God speaks; we answer. God acts; we accept and give.”[4] The model is powerful enough to convince Constance Cherry that our worship services should center on this dialogical principle. She writes,

In its most basic form, corporate worship is a real meeting between God and God’s people. Like any meeting, this one takes place through dialogue. God speaks and listens to the gathered community; we speak and listen to God. In the course of a guided conversation (the worship order), the encounter happens . . . If planners consider ordering worship according to a conversation, there is a far greater possibility for truly experiencing the reality of God’s presence than if another approach is used. Some approaches result in God as the topic of this conversation; dialogical worship planning results in God as the partner in this conversation.[5]

Furthermore, Ron Man, the director of Worship Resources International, says revelation and response in the “the paradigm of true worship.”[6]

The “revelation and response” model of worship not only has a history in Christianity, but it also in Scripture. Cherry notes four representative examples from God’s word: the burning bush encounter between God and Moses (Ex. 3:1-12), Isaiah’s vision of heaven (Isa. 6:1-13); Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), and the disciples on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-35). The examples lead Cherry to elucidate the following five-fold pattern for dialogical worship,

  • God approaches (initiating a conversation).
  • The person experiences discontinuity between the divine and the human.
  • God speaks.
  • The person responds.
  • God sends.[7]

The liturgical rhythm I’m advocating indeed sees revelation and response as integral elements of the worship movement. However, the proponents of this model routinely miss a third, integral part of the biblical rhythm: reception.

A Missing Ingredient in Dialogical Model

In A Better Way: Recovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship, Westminster Seminary California professor Michael Horton sees value in the revelation and response model. He rightly says, “Whenever we gather for public worship, it is because we have been summoned . . . But we also gather to receive God’s gifts. And this is where the emphasis falls—or should fall. Throughout Scripture, the service is seen chiefly as God’s action.”[8] Many modern liturgies undercut the central role God plays in the drama of worship by, however unintentionally, highlighting man’s grateful response to God’s revelation as the sum and substance of worship. This fact is seen in John Frame’s definition of worship as, “The work of acknowledging the greatness of our covenant Lord.”[9]

Against this somewhat one-sided view, Lutheran scholar Vilmos Vajta accents reception as the appropriate orientation for worship, “Faith will never reach that degree of maturity where it could live without receiving. A grateful reception of God’s gracious gifts will always remain the task of Christian worship, for it impossible to evolve a church service out of the spiritual assets of the believers.”[10] “We come as those who receive first and then, second, only in reciprocal exchange do we give back what is appropriate as grateful praise and adoration,” concludes Jeffrey Meyers (emphasis original).[11]

Why Reception is Vital for A Gospel Liturgy

So, yes, God reveals Himself, and then His people respond in worship. But we can only respond because we have received the gracious power of His Spirit that enables us to sing, prayer, read, hear, and eat. This is the full biblical sweep of the gospel.

See then the rhythm of revelation, reception, and response: the revelation of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness has gone out to the ends of the earth; the revelation of God’s love came at Calvary when Jesus took the sins of His people and satisfied God’s wrath; the revelation of Christ’s victory over sin, Satan and death broke through on Easter Sunday; the revelation of Christ as King came with His ascension and session at the Father’s right hand; God graciously grants faith to those He’s chosen and gives them the Holy Spirit; it is then—and only then­—that sinners can respond with faith, love, repentance, and praise.

Therefore, accenting the nature of worship as inclusive of “reception” protects the biblical gospel we want to shape our services. Horton explains,

This is why the method of grace’s delivery cannot be separated from its content. If it is by grace alone, salvation must be delivered by a medium in which the sinner is a receiver. That medium is preaching (as well as sacrament). A service in which the congregation is almost exclusively active (for instance, in singing, especially in singing about what they are doing and will do) abruptly interrupts this Pauline logic.[12]

If we, as pastors, get this vital connection we will ask a practical question: How then should this liturgical gospel rhythm of revelation, reception, and response inform our liturgy?

I hope to offer a proposal in a future post.


[1] Rayburn, O Come, Let Us Worship: Corporate Worship in the Evangelical Church, 162-175.

[2] Martin, The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Reflections, 6.

[3] Karlberg, Engaging Westminster Calvinism: The Composition of Redemption’s Song, 121.

[4] Martin, The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Reflections, 6.

[5] Cherry, The Worship Architect, 45. See also Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, 106.

[6] Man, Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship, 47–51. See also, Furr and Price, The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response.

[7] Cherry, The Worship Architect, 45.

[8] Horton, A Better Way: Recovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship, 24.

[9] Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth, 1.

[10] Vajta, Luther on Worship, 129.

[11] Meyers, The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship, 94

[12] Horton, A Better Way: Recovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship, 42.

A Gospel Worship Revolution

Gospel Worship

Last week Christianity Today virtually declared an end to the worship wars. According to the authors, “the waning of the worship wars” is part of a “decades-long trend in American religion away from an emphasis on belief and doctrine and toward an emphasis on experience, emotion, and the search for a least-common-denominator kind of worship in a time of ever-less salient denominationally specific liturgical and theological content.”

I think their conclusion is right. The worship wars are over. Now, in this post, I raise my theological glass to the hope of “worship revolution.”

A Waking Gospel Revolution

Since the turn of the century, the resurgence of gospel-centrality in the larger evangelical is well documented and undeniable. What we’ve seen is a re-centering of the gospel for the Christian life and some congregational life—particularly preaching. But new horizons of gospel centrality must be explored: How does the gospel shape church polity? How does the gospel change church staffing? How does the gospel transform the tone, not just the topic, of preaching? And, how does the gospel inform worship?

More specifically, “how should the gospel inform the design, implementation, and leadership of a gathered worship service?”

When Doctoral Studies Get Quite Practical

That was the question recently posed to me in a doctoral seminar on “Planning and Leading Christian Worship.” My research and subsequent writing revealed something of a gap in the conversation. It revealed an ordinary way most scholars (and thus many pastors) articulate the liturgical practices of the church that I fear can quickly go the way of obscuring the gospel.

Building on the work of James Smith on human beings as “liturgical animals,” I submit that we “a liturgical gospel rhythm” in our worship.

There are, to be sure, many books that have sought to answer how the gospel shapes worship (see here, here, and here). What’s missing, however, is a deeper reflection on the matter and manner of true gospel worship. In other words, what elements must be present for the liturgy to deserve the modifier of “gospel”? What tone must be present if it’s truly gospel-centered?


I’m still ruminating on all these things, but the paper below reflects my initial conclusions. After spending some time asking if the gospel actually should shape our worship gatherings I move on to propose (only points two and four are somewhat unique):

  1. Scripture is the rule of gathered worship.
  2. Revelation-Reception-Response is the rhythm of gathered worship.
  3. Covenant renewal is the form of gathered worship.
  4. Celebratory reverence is the tone of gathered worship.

Those four points represent what I’m calling a “liturgical gospel rhythm” for ordinary churches.

So, if you’re interested and have some time, download the paper below and let me know what you think.

Download “Revelation, Reception, & Response:
A Liturgical Gospel Rhythm.”

Experiencing Life in Worship


I long to lead a church alive to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. Thus, I must think biblically and carefully about the ways in which life comes to God’s people. If God’s word doesn’t guide the way I will be lost in the weeds of worldly wisdom. This is a ministry matter where pragmatism must be banished like the mosquitos currently haunting my front yard.

When pragmatism bites you just want to scratch it all the more.

What to Call Our Worship

We live in a time where many an evangelical church prefers to speak about their worship gathering as a worship “experience.” Now, I’m fine with the etymological import of “experience” in gathered worship. I do believe gathered worship should be “an event which has affected one” with the God who reigns over all. The great apostle himself speaks about longing to come to Corinth so the church would have a “second experience of grace” (2 Cor. 1:15). We must experience grace by being made alive to grace. If we pastors don’t pray with a Jacobian wrestling spirit for our congregations to have an experiential encounter with the Triune God each week . . . well, that sound you hear just may be Spirit calling you to repent, or calling for your pastoral credentials. Living churches are those consistently experiencing the power and pleasure of life in Christ.

Thus, I am all for experience! You hear what’s coming, right? The often-necessary conjunction must now make its appearance.

A Devilish Deception

But I must confess that something nags my soul about evangelicalism’s employment of “experience.” It’s not that many a church prefers the noun, but how many a church tries to bring it to fruition. In other words, the question for pastors is not, “Should I call my church’s gathered worship an experience, but, “How do I lead my church to experience the Risen Christ each week?” The more I read, watch, and participate in worship “experiences” the more I’m convinced that we are in danger of latching onto a fiendish lie, which says, “Experiencing the glory of God comes through performance and personality.”

I’m not saying most pastors or churches would say it with those words; that’s the fiendish nature of it all. Yet, actions reveal the heart. Walk into your average thriving church today and tell me you don’t see performance and personality saturating the service. Big bands, big sets, and big sounds provide the orchestral backdrop for the worship of God’s people. The preacher ascends to the sacred desk and what confronts the congregation is not first a man of reverential holiness, but one with the look of chic and the sound of cool. From his lips pours forth more language of this world than the Other World. Squeeze out the many churches’ philosophical pursuit of experience and what you get is performance and personality.

Now, I hear the accusation rising, “Stone, you are just making generalizations. You can do better.” Yes, I am and I could, but I still think it’s ok. As I’ve often heard Doug Wilson say, “Jesus was a generalizer.” He loved to lump all the Pharisees together in pronouncing woe upon their soul, yet not every Pharisee was a hypocrite. Some Pharisees repented and trusted in Christ. Generalizations then help further particular points.

And the point of great concern I have is that by pursuing (however consciously or unconsciously) performance and personality we’ve actually fallen into a pit. We’re trying to fuel Christian experience with little more than spiritual sriracha powder—we burn for a bit and then everything returns to normal. And what we don’t realize is that the burn leaves a callous and so we simply need more and more heat in order to ever feel the experience again.

Brothers, there must be a better way.

A Better—More Biblical?—Way

We thus come back to the initial concern, what does God’s word tell us should bring life to God’s people? Well, quite simply, “God’s word.” With undeniable clarity the Bible says the Bible gives life.

  • “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Ps. 119:25)
  • “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” (Ps. 119:37)
  • “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Ps. 119:50)
  • “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” (Ps. 119:93)
  • “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” (Ps. 119:107)
  • “Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!” (Ps. 119:154)
  • “Great is your mercy, O Lord; give me life according to your rules.” (Ps. 119:156)

So, life comes through God’s word. The written word is all about The Incarnate Word, who is—say it with me now, “The way, the truth, and the life.” This Lord of Life sent His Life-Giving Spirit to bring life through the written word, which communicates life. The same Word that created life from dead bones in Ezekiel 37 is still in the bone rattling business. May the bones of your congregation shake with life this weekend.

I trust I need not tarry longer here. And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

A Proposal

Here then is my proposal for a way out of the performance and personality pit: permeate your worship gathering with an experience of God through His word. Let your people be washed with the water of the word. Let visitors be amazed at how loudly and frequently God’s speaks in the service. Let the Spirit do His ordinary work of exalting the Extraordinary Christ through God’s word.

If you’re looking for an idea of what this might look like I offer up my church’s liturgy not as a perfect example, but an example nonetheless:

  • We begin with a “call to worship.” God gets the first word. He is the Alpha.
  • After the first song we have a confession of sin and prayer of praise. This prayer is usually little more than a stream of inspired verses or a psalm.
  • We sing two more songs, chosen in part for their very Scripturalness. Any time there is any sort of instrumental during a song God’s word will usually be on the screen. For example, this Saturday we hope to sing Boswell and Bleeker’s “In My Place.” During the intro, before we sing, “In my place He stood condemned / He who knew no sin,” 2 Corinthians 5:21 will be on the screen: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
  • After our third song a church member stands to read a passage of Scripture that complements the sermon text. This week we hope to read Hebrews 11:17-19 since we are studying Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 21.
  • I will lead in a 5-7 minute pastoral prayer. I spend time beforehand writing down any relevant Bible verses for each petition. We try to pray the word in addition to singing it and reading it.
  • We have another song while the offering (which we like to speak of as “supporting the word”) goes around.
  • Next comes the sermon and song of response after our study of God’s word.
  • We then take the Lord’s Supper, God’s visible word to us. I lead into the self-examination time by reading a particular passage of Scripture, usually one that stems from the text we just studied.
  • We end with a benediction from Scripture. God gets the last word. He is the Omega.

Quite literally, there are hundreds of different ways you can saturate your service with Scripture. However you do it, my plea is that of Nike, “Just do it.”

Related Reading: A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship by Michael Horton, Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to God’s People by Jonathan Leeman.

The Spirituality of Vineyard Music

I’ve long had a fascination with music in the church. The churches of my youth were ones where songs were sung with gusto and joy. I sung in the church choir during my middle school years, led songs for countless church services, and played guitar for countless more.

A Personal Journey

vineyFor almost two decades I’ve been attracted to conversations about and convictions on church music. God’s word has much to tell us about singing in the life of the church. Those who know me best probably weren’t surprised when we planted IDC with a desire to be “A Singing Church.” God creates and commands a singing people. And so we want to sing with loving obedience. Such a belief has great bearing on the songs we thus sing in response to God. Simply put: we are in a sad state when “that which is popular” has more power than “that which is biblically best” in deciding which songs our congregations sing.

I could continue, but I must really get off the soapbox and arrive at my point.

Over the last few years I’ve found myself increasingly interested in the history of corporate song, particularly in American evangelicalism. So it was with great delight that I wrote a research paper on the spirituality of The Vineyard movement’s top fifty songs for a recent PhD seminar on “20th Century Spirituality.”

Oh, how interesting and illuminating it was!

Understanding the Vineyard

If you don’t know anything about the Vineyard it was the most influential “Third Wave” movement from the mid-1980s to turn of the 21st century. Led by the rock-star-turned-charismatic-mega-church-practitioner John Wimber, the Vineyard emphasized a spirituality of “kingdom power.” Think “signs and wonders” revealed through power healing, power evangelism, and power warfare.

If evangelism, healing, and warfare were the primary means by which Vineyard churches demonstrated the power of Christ’s kingdom, then musical worship is the main vehicle by which they experienced the love of Christ’s kingdom. Kevin Springer, a key figure in the Vineyard during its peak Wimber years, said, “You don’t understand the Vineyard if you don’t understand the worship music.”

I took up Springer’s challenge and wrote a (long) paper in order to understand not just Vineyard music, but what that music emphasized about spirituality.

Spirituality in the Top 50 Vineyard Songs

I worked with CCLI to identify the fifty most-sung Vineyard songs during the John Wimber era. It seemed wise to limit the songs for analysis to the Wimber period for two reasons: 1) the changing landscape of worship music around the turn of the twentieth century makes it difficult to expect any fluidity should one analyze over thirty-five years of Vineyard Music, thus limiting the time period is advantageous, and 2) one cannot truly grasp the Vineyard’s spiritual heartbeat apart from Wimber’s influence, leadership, and teaching.

To give you an idea of what kind of songs we’re working with, here are the top ten:

  1. “Breathe” (Marie Barnett, © 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
  2. “Draw Me Close” (Kelly Carpenter, © 1994 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
  3. “Take My Life” (Scott Underwood, © 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
  4. “Change My Heart O God” (Eddie Espinosa, © 1982 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
  5. “In the Secret” (Andy Park, © 1995 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
  6. “Every Move I Make” (David Ruis, © 1996 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
  7. “Refiner’s Fire” (Brian Doerksen, © 1990 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
  8. “More Love More Power” (Jude Del Hierro, © 1987 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
  9. “Spirit Song” (John Wimber, © 1979 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)
  10. “Holy and Anointed One” (John Barnett, © 1988 Mercy / Vineyard Publishing)

My analysis revealed two core themes to Vineyard spirituality: 1) desperation for God’s presence, and 2) consecration unto holiness. Along the way I try to show what these songs teach us regarding the character of God and the work of His Son. Even the knowledgeable folk may find a few surprising things here.

While there are many things to affirm in the Vineyard’s popular catalogue (devotion to God’s word, using songs as prayers) the Vineyard exported a radical individualism in corporate song. Forty-four of the top fifty songs are written exclusively from the first person singular perspective. The songs are all about “I, me, my, and mine.” Hence why Tanya Luhrmann can say, “The [Vineyard’s] worship is intensely individual, even when everyone sings together” (emphasis added). This radical individualism leads me to the glaring flaw in the Vineyard’s most popular music: it prioritizes God’s immanence to the expense of His transcendence. It’s a spirituality of “lots of love with a little cross.”

I could say more, but you might want to read it for yourself.

Click here to read “Lots of Love with a Little Cross: The Spirituality of Vineyard Music.” Head down to page fourteen if you want to skip over a broad analysis of Vineyard’s history and confessional spirituality.

Songs to Sing

If you aren’t familiar with the work of Indelible Grace Music, then you, my friend, are missing out. Indelible Grace grew out of Reformed University Fellowship (RUF)—the PCA’s ministry to college students. As these students began to taste more of the depth of the gospel and the richness of the hymn tradition, many began to join the music of their culture with the words of our forefathers (and mothers!), and a movement was born.

Ever since Indelible Grace has churned out reworked hymns year after year. I confess that I’m not always keen on their musical arrangements, but the melodies offer a wonderful template on which to build. Case in point: “Go to Dark Gethsemane” and “For all the Saints.” The melodies are congregational and the words are wonderful. If you don’t like the musical accompaniment, have no fear, just put your creative skills to work as each song is quite malleable.

Listen below and see if you don’t agree.

Lyrics to “Go to Dark Gethsemane”

1. Go to dark Gethsemane,
ye that feel the tempter’s power;
your Redeemer’s conflict see,
watch with him one bitter hour.
Turn not from his griefs away;
learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

2. See him at the judgment hall,
beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall!
O the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss;
learn of Christ to bear the cross.

3. Calvary’s mournful mountain climb;
there, adoring at his feet,
mark that miracle of time,
God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear him cry;
learn of Jesus Christ to die.

4. Early hasten to the tomb
where they laid his breathless clay;
all is solitude and gloom.
Who has taken him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes;
Savior, teach us so to rise.

Lyrics to “For All the Saints”

1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

5. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Check out all the Indelible Grace music here on Bandcamp.

Sing of His Love

As David selected a few choice stones for battle, so pastors select a few choice songs each week he and his congregation can hurl against the kingdom of darkness. He needs songs sharp in truth and strong in melody. One valuable weapon-like melody is Samuel Trevor Francis’ “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” In three short verses Francis manages to visualize the immense love of Christ for His church—a love which bought His people and beat the Devil.

When Crossing the Thames

Francis was born on November 19, 1834, in a village north of London. Having a artist for a father meant Francis developed early on a love and gift in poetry. In time he came to love music and joined the church choir at the age of nine. Yet, just like so many throughout the ages, Francis proceeded to spiritually wander through his teenage years.

One day, as he later wrote, “I was on my way home from work and had to cross Hungerford Bridge to the south of the Thames. During the winter’s night of wind and rain and in the loneliness of that walk, I cried to God to have mercy on me. I stayed for a moment to look at the dark waters flowing under the bridge, and the temptation was whispered to me: ‘Make an end of all this misery.’ I drew back from the evil thought, and suddenly a message was borne into my very soul: ‘You do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?’ I at once answered, ‘I do believe,’ and I put my whole trust in Him as my Savior.”

Samuel Francis cultivated a deep, deep love for the Savior, joining a local body of believers, preaching the gospel at revivals, and leading worship. He later went on to write this powerful hymn, and he continued to fight the good fight, finishing well the race set before him—after ninety-two years.

A Moving Melody

“O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” Francis’ most famous hymn, is set to an appropriately rolling melody called “Ton-Y-Botel” (“Tune in a Bottle”) because of a legend that it was found in a bottle along the Welsh coast. It was actually composed by Thomas J. Williams and first appeared in a 1890 Welsh hymnal entitled Llawlyfn Moliant.

Here are three different recordings of the great hymn—one with the traditional melody, the other with a more contemplative arrangement by Bob Kauflin.


Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me
Underneath me, all around me
Is the current of Your love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Your glorious rest above

CHORUS (Kauflin arrangement)
Oh the deep, deep love
All I need and trust
Is the deep, deep love of Jesus

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Spread His praise from shore to shore
How He came to pay our ransom
Through the saving cross He bore
How He watches o’er His loved ones
Those He died to make His own
How for them He’s interceding
Pleading now before the throne

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Far surpassing all the rest
It’s an ocean full of blessing
In the midst of every test
Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus
Mighty Savior, precious Friend
You will bring us home to glory
Where Your love will never end

A Simple Encouragement

A Singing Church Slider

Pastoral ministry is one of maturing the members (cf. Col. 1:28). Christian maturity depends on teaching (Matt. 28:20), but we also know that much discipling work is more frequently caught than taught. One thing a faithful pastor should want his members to catch from his model is the joy of singing.

Needed: Singing People

Few threads of Christian experience are as woven through all of Scripture as the role of singing. It’s a consistent command (cf Ps. 96:1), the immediate response to redemption (Ex. 15), a mark of a Spirit-filled life (Eph. 5:19), and one of the glories of heaven (Rev. 4-5). Our God is a singing God (Zeph. 3:17) who commands and creates a singing people.

Our churches thus need pastors who visibly and audibly exemplify this singing life. Here are two simple ways you can do this.

They’re Watching and Listening

Sing passionately during your church’s gathered worship. This is quite simple for we one-service-only churches, and it’s a bit more tricky for multiple-service churches. Here’s why: if you have multiple services you might be tempted to join in the singing during only one service while skipping out on the others. For years I’ve seen pastors sit in “the green room” during the singing portion of corporate worship, only coming into the room to preach. I used to be on staff at a church where this was the usual practice. If you’re in the green room as much—or more—than you are out among the congregation during the church’s songs know that you’ve missed out on a sweet opportunity. Not just an opportunity to join in the joy of singing, but to model that joy before your people.

There is something powerful in a pastor sitting at the front of the room and singing with passion. It’s surely true that many church members take occasional, maybe even regular, glances at the pastor during worship to see what he’s doing. Oh, I pray when they look they don’t see a pastor fixated on his sermon notes. I pray they don’t see a pastor seemingly indifferent to the glory of song. I pray they don’t see a pastor talking with staff members or church members more than he sings. What does all that communicate to watching eyes? Singing is not of much value to the pastor. And if it’s not much value for him, why should it be for Mr. Church Member?

What’s better, much better, is for the congregation to see her pastor or pastors singing with passion. Passionate singing means praising God in spirit and truth with volume, expression, joy, and knowledge.

Sing often at other church gatherings. Don’t let the only time your church sings together be the weekend’s gathered worship service. Sing at men’s meeting, women’s meeting, members’ meeting, and prayer meetings. Encourage your small groups to sing one or two songs whenever they meet. I’ve recently been considering how to best incorporate singing into elders’ and deacons’ meetings. If we want to be a singing people we ought to be singing at every station of church life.

Preaching Pastors Should be Singing Pastors

My hope in this post is simple: to see more preaching pastors model the singing life before their people. Let us not relegate the joys of singing to those peculiarly gifted in voice or instrument. God’s given us a voice—however out of pitch it frequently may be—to sing praise to His name and model joy in song for out people.

Apply God’s word and grace wherever it’s needed on this issue. Then go sing with unusual heavenly joy before your people this weekend.