It’s embarrassing to admit, but some of us are thinking right now, “If spiritual songwriting is not about deep, personal intimacy with God, what else is there?” Let me offer a list of Biblical themes I think we would do well to explore in our lyrics:
1. Eschatology - the Biblical vision of God’s future which is pulling us toward itself….in the Biblical poetry of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Revelation, poetry which, when it enters us, plants in us a vision of a world very much different from and better than ours. And when this hope grows and takes root in us, we become agents of it.
2. Mission - Jesus came not to be served, but to serve … and as he was sent, so he sent us into the world…. We are the people who have been blessed (as was Abraham) to be a blessing, blessed so that we may convey blessing to the world, blessed not to the exclusion of others but for the blessing and benefit of all.
3. History - Every era in history has rich resources to offer…When we look at the repetitive and formulaic lyrics that millions of Christians are singing these days (because that’s what we’re writing, folks), the missed opportunity is heartbreaking.
4. God - God as God, God’s character, God’s glory, God’s beauty, God’s wonder and mystery, not just congratulating God for the great job God is doing at making me feel good. And similarly, we need songs that celebrate what God does for the world – the whole world – not just for me, or us….Read the Psalms, because they love to celebrate what the Lord does for the whole earth, not just the people of Israel.
5. Lament - The Bible is full of songs that wail, the blues but even bluer, songs that feel the agonizing distance between what we hope for and what we have, what we could be and what we are, what we believe and what we see and feel.
6. Jesus’ gospel - As we go back to the Scriptures and grapple with deeper, wider, and more integral understandings of the gospel, we need songwriters to dare to celebrate new understandings in song. How can we sing about the cross in its full range of earth-shaking New Testament meaning? How can we sing about Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension outside the confines of a reduced gospel? How can we rediscover the gospel – not as a new way to appease a hostile God, but as a new understanding of God as gracious, not needing appeasement, who calls us into a new way of life characterized by reconciliation, inclusion, service, and peacemaking?
7. Occasional – for important occasions in community life. We need more great eucharistic songs (keeping #6 in mind), more great gathering and departing songs, more songs that support “entering God’s gates with thanksgiving” and more songs that support intercessory prayer. We need great songs for baptisms, great songs for benedictions, great songs for funerals, great songs for births.