Songs That Answer Questions

In 1976, when Bill & Gloria Gaither wrote “Songs That Answer Questions,” their generation had specific questions that needed to be answered. Today, the song’s theme can be applied to a new generation: This generation needs songs that answer questions, period.

(But first, a brief aside relating more to the song above than the post below: There is merit to songs that are culturally relevant. But there’s also merit to not permitting our lyrical emphases and themes to be wholly driven by our culture. The central themes and focuses of the Bible need to be our central themes and focuses, too.)

In other genres of Christian music, songs posing unanswered questions are considered fashionable and relevant. In some songs, practically every line is an unanswered question.

The increasing trend of unanswered questions is fairly directly connected to the rise of postmodernism in Christian thought. This is rarely the intent of the songwriters; it’s more a side effect of being immersed in today’s culture. In postmodernism, where one of the core tenets is that all truth is relative, anyone who dares to make an open declaration of truth is ridiculed as an uppity elitist know-it-all. So Christians in this postmodern culture hesitate to speak truth definitively in their schools, workplaces, and even a few churches.

If Christians, then, are scared to speak truth definitively, how does truth get communicated at all? It has become the popular thing to formulate leading questions that hint at an answer, without ever being so divisive as to actually state it. That, it is argued, is how Christians are to reach out to the modern culture: Never directly speak truth, but be nice and gracious and non-confrontational, and suggest the truth through gentle questions that never make a sinner feel bad.

From Isaac Watts, the father of English-language hymnody, through the Christian writers of the 1980s, Christian music was viewed as a tool to proclaim truth. This even applied to much of early Jesus Music and CCM, and early praise/worship. To a small extent in the 1990s, and to a greater extent in the 2000s, though, some songwriters in Contemporary Christian Music and in praise & worship music have started to trend in the direction of the nice, gracious, non-confrontational unanswered question.

There are exceptions, especially in the modern hymn movement, where writers like Keith & Kristyn Getty follow the traditional method of Christian songwriting, direct proclamations of truth. Some other writers in this modern hymn movement, though, try to emulate the Gettys musically but don’t quite “get it” when it comes to standing against the cultural trends of postmodern lyrics. It takes more than skipping a chorus to make a song a modern hymn.

Yes, great Christian songs through the centuries—even going back to an occasional Psalm—leave questions unanswered. There’s a place for that once in a while, especially for something that’s a component of a larger body of work (e.g. other Psalms) where these unanswered questions are clearly answered elsewhere.

But we need to be mindful of the current cultural context in our country, where Christians are urged to never answer their questions. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what sort of culture we live in; in our sermons and in our songs, we need to never shirk our responsibility to clearly proclaim the Biblical answers to life’s questions.

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42 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Very interesting article, Daniel, and you bring up some very valid points.

    The “open-ended” questions in song are most often seen in secular music, where ambiguity is part of the listening experience. It’s very similar to movies who leave the viewer wondering, “What actually happened?” It invites the individual to take part in the medium, deciding for themselves what the final answer should be.

    This is indeed dangerous in Christian music. By leaving songs “open-ended,” or ambiguous, you are inviting the listener to draw their OWN conclusions, which (admittedly) when left to the human mind, could be any number of responses. Sure, they are a great way to grab a listener’s attention, but once you HAVE their attention, you need to take full advantage of it, not leaving them asking more questions than when they started. If I am going to ask questions when writing a song, I am going to do my best to make sure those questions are left definitively answered one way or another.

    On a side note, how would you categorize songs with questions like “How long has it been since you’ve heard an old convention song?”, which obviously contains to Biblical merit whatsoever….

    • Thanks! As to your question in the final paragraph: I classify a song like that as a novelty song. At best, it could serve a role analogous to a preacher telling a joke before a sermon. It might get an audience to chuckle a bit and warm up a bit and pay attention when you’re delivering the serious content (through song or sermon). But novelty songs by themselves surely aren’t enough to make the sacrifices of road life worth it!

  2. There’s one type of “open-ended” song that is good, and that is song of conviction. The Booth Brothers’ “What About Now” or the classic “How Long Has It Been” are good examples. Both make it clear what the proper answer SHOULD be, but it leaves it up to the listener to examine themselves.

    • Thinking of more good “question” songs…Vep Ellis “Do You Know My Jesus”…pretty sure Gold City did a song called “Have You Been Born Again”…how about Mrs. Dianne’s and the Kingdom Heirs’ “Do You Know What It Means”.

      Anyway, none of this is meant to detract from your excellent point in any way…just something I thought about while reading it.

      • Not all questions are open-ended, though; I believe that, by definition, a yes/no question (e.g. “Have you been born again?”) is not an open-ended question.

      • Good catch…a little sloppy with my words there. They’re question songs, but not open-ended question songs.

      • No problem!

    • Good point. Songs of conviction are in a different category than songs of speculation. Even so, I think they should only be presented as part of an entire CD or live program that has songs or preaching that contain the Gospel clearly proclaimed. 🙂

      • Sure…If you are “questioned” in a song, it is the messenger’s responsibility to make sure you know what your “answer” needs to be.

      • “What About Now?” has a role much like a challenge or invitation at the end of a sermon. The preacher has spent the whole sermon explaining truth; now, he asks, what is your response?

      • That was another point I planned on making….if the question requires the listener to reflect on THEMSELVES, then it can be a very valuable tool. However, if the song just leaves open-ended questions about God, Christianity, faith, etc., then it leaves room for error on the receiver’s end.

        I’m in the middle of a communications class right now, and rule number one is that getting the message across is the responsibility of the SENDER, not the responsibility of the RECEIVER to interpret it correctly. If you can’t make your message clear, then you are not communicating effectively.

      • And your point, in turn, is one I wish I’d thought of in time to incorporate into the original post!

  3. How about one of my favorite Randy Shelnut songs “I’ll Take Jesus”. Last line says “He or the world my child which one will you take”. Of course its not a new song but thought it would be a good selection for this post.

    • That’s a yes/no question, an either/or question – not an open-ended question. So it’s not problematic the way certain recent CCM & praise songs are – songs I’m not naming to keep the discussion from becoming all about the weaknesses of specific songs. 🙂

      • Why do you have to be so smart? Lol. Wish I had your brains and all the other folks intelligence on here. If a person will read this stuff all the way through and let it sink in they will learn a lot here. I try really hard.

      • Sorry! 🙂 And – as a past church pianist, back when I lived in OH – I sure wish I had your skill at the piano keys. So it’s mutual. 🙂

  4. Daniel i don’t know if this is on topic but i think the song you mentioned Songs that answer questions needs to be redone by GVB or another group i think that song is very poignant for today’s society

  5. Speaking of “songs that answer questions”…how about song that literally answer a question that the song itself asked? First one that comes to my mind is “Where Is God?” The verses are the questions, and the chorus is the answer.

    Perhaps the all-time greatest song like this is “Does Jesus Care?”

    • Good line of thought, and two excellent examples!

  6. I have found myself praying the words of this chorus in recent days. As a pastor, I have also shared them with our congregation and ministry leaders as well. We do live in a day where the western Church is constantly pressured to keep pace with the methods, styles, tools and programming of the mainstream in an attempt to be relevant. While I lead in what most would consider a more “contemporary” church, I am increasingly dissatisfied and restless with what we’ve embraced as far as approach to ministry. More and more, I am going back to the Scriptures and asking ourselves, “Why do we do what we do the way we do?”. I am tired (and I believe the world is too as they look on) of “arranging all the pictures on the wall” while the house is burning to the ground. Thanks Bill & Gloria for yet another profound and prophetic song. Thank you, Daniel for bringing this discussion to your readers.

  7. How Big is God always gets a good response and is a question song. I think the answer to the question is what causes such a big response. I don’t mind a question song as long as they give me the answer

    • That is a great song, indeed, and to say that it “always gets a good response” counts as the humble understatement of the week. 🙂

      It’s not the kind of song I was objecting to, though – it answers the question before the chorus is over. Now if all it did was ask “How big is God?” and not give any answer or hints to the answer, just leaving it up to the human imagination, then that would be more the sort of song I have an issue with! 🙂

  8. Daniel: I am a recent on-looker to your site and really enjoy the openness of the discussions. Having paid a substantial amount of money to Bill and Gloria to use the song on my soon to be famous album, and available for $7.95 out of the trunk of my car in LP/Cassette/Cd form, with a limited supply and when that runs out I have another limited supply, (whew!!! that was a long sentence, rivaled only by JFK’s inaugural speech) I think I can way in with a thought. I have been singing that song in the original Dixieland format for which I paid a lot with all the brass and stuff. I feel the song was written as a poke in the eye @ people who are forever campaigning on some obscure theological theme, i.e. tithing, baptism, spiritual gifts, etc, The theme in my opinion is; “To keep the main thing the main thing.” We are easily led down the bunny trail of things that are not the core message of the gospel and people who don’t know the Lord get lost in the in-fighting of the theologians. “May we not forget friends, the enemy’s out there!”

    • The main thing does need to be the main thing, but that, of course, doesn’t give us license to completely set aside discussion of the secondary issues. 🙂

      • Agreed. “Arranging all the pictures on the wall”……….JK, Never-the-less a very enjoyable site. I hit it 2-3x per day.

      • Well, yes, in a well-kept house, the pictures on the wall are arranged and dusted from time to time.

        Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

  9. I love this song. Unique and catchy, but somewhat forgotten sadly. The vocal band doesn’t sing it much anymore.

  10. This post has reminded me of the biblical account where John the baptist sent his disciples to ask of Jesus whether or not He was the One, and instead of saying yes, Jesus redirected their minds to His works, which clearly could not be done by any mortal in his own power. The blind received their sight, the deaf heard, e.t.c. Right before their eyes was proof that this being was no ordinary man, so by having them draw their own conclusion based on the visible evidence, their report would not be carried like ordinary info from Jesus. They could tell John, “He is the One,” with much more conviction after drawing their own conclusion about Jesus’ divinity.

    Now if a songwriter can create a lyric that asks a question with only one obvious answer, but leaves the task of answering it to a listener, the listener can have more conviction when he draws his own conclusion. If for example, lyrics where to be written as follows (not a real song):

    He raised the dead, and healed the sick.
    Lives were sustained, no longer weak
    Can man o’er death such power possess?
    Or by his breath make sickness cease?
    What Man is this? What Man is this?

    Obviously no human has power over death. If a song were to ask such a question and leave it unanswered, surely the listener wouldn’t be left to wonder long who or what manner of being has such power. Of course more words must be added for it to make more sense.

    The point I’m trying to make is that some questions can be left unanswered and a song still possess it’s strong message. Sometimes the evidence or clues can be, as it was in the encounter between Jesus and John’s disciples, answer enough. “Go Ask” is one song which, though doesn’t directly ask and leave unanswered its questions, creatively redirects the unasked questions to others. Bill and Gloria were creative on that one, as with all their songs.

    • That brings to my mind the Whisnants’ “Is Anything Too Hard for God?” The chorus is a series of questions, but they are rhetorical…no answer required because the answer is obvious. Just considering the question gives the listener the answer. An added bonus is that the question “Is anything too hard for God?” was a question God himself asked in Genesis.

  11. I think it can be easy to paint with a broad brush when speaking about styles that we don’t necessarily care for. However, looking at the Top 10 songs currently spinning on “CCM” radio – none of them are question songs. They may have elements that ask questions – but it is always resolved in the chorus. Take for instance what is probably the biggest song of the year so far and still sitting in the Top 5 – “Hello My Name Is” by Matthew West:

    “Hello, my name is regret
    I’m pretty sure we have met
    Every single day of your life
    I’m the whisper inside
    That won’t let you forget

    Hello, my name is defeat
    I know you recognize me
    Just when you think you can win
    I’ll drag you right back down again
    ‘Til you’ve lost all belief

    Oh, these are the voices. Oh, these are the lies
    And I have believed them for the very last time

    Hello, my name is child of the one true King
    I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, I have been set free
    “Amazing Grace” is the song I sing
    Hello, my name is child of the one true King”

    I don’t know about you – but that’s an amazing lyric and paints a great picture of where our answer lies past the questions.

  12. This morning I discovered a song done by The Old Paths, called “Everlasting Yes” (off of the album “Right Now”).
    Did He die a holy death?
    A Soverign God in mortal flesh
    Did He abandon Joseph’s tomb?
    The answer rose and said
    It’s an everlasting yes….
    Jesus is alive, He’s risen from the grave… a truly accurate answer.

    • That’s a song that answers questions, indeed.

  13. I just listened to the GVB song “Questions” and realized that I’ve got to start viewing the Blog more often on my laptop rather than my iPhone5. Songs don’t show up on the phone. Loved the song. Thank you Daniel for sharing it with us.

    • You’re welcome!

      That’s good to know. I thought the YouTube embeds were in an Apple-friendly format. Ah, well!

  14. Well put Daniel! “Whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) We need to be careful to claim Him and proclaim the truth of His word. We are his messengers to the world and he has commanded us to proclaim Him. Let’s not forget the privilege that it is to be His witnesses and, if it comes to that, to suffer for His sake. Thank you brother for this challenge!

  15. I haven’t been following this discussion as closely as many who are here do. But, as I recall, Daniel started this whole thing with a simile as a minister warming up the congregation with a joke. Holy fright people!! He’s exactly right it’s not meant as a doctrinal statement. It’s a poke in the arm that says, “Hey, people, “the enemy’s out there!” Are we over-thinking it just a little theologically speaking?

    • Not necessarily. It’s possible to over-think it theologically, but sometimes in our fear of over-thinking things theologically, we under-think them. In fact, dare I say, evangelical Christianity in the United States tends to under-think things theologically most of the time.

      I’d rather err on the side of over-thinking once in a while than err on the side of usually under-thinking them.

      • Agreed, Daniel, believe me, I am the music director and soloist in a nominally evangelical church (Disciples of Christ). They know what they believe, and know what it means to be saved but, the word never comes up. They are long on service and pretty short on evangelization in the manner of many of my more conservative brothers. I guess all that to say, that we can be easily led in either direction (So heavenly minded we’re no earthly good) and so earthly minded there is no need for emphasis on a sound theological foundation and teaching. I don’t know that there is an all fulfilling single song that “Answers all the Doctrinal Questions” of which many are unaware. Come on guys, it’s just a fun song. Of course I paid a lot for the privilege of recording it so, I would think that.

      • Oh, I wouldn’t ever say that any one song answers every question. Though, in this context, I can’t help but make a light-hearted reference to the Perrys’ song “Every Question Will Be Answered”! 🙂

      • Taken in the light-hearted manner it was proffered. Have a good evening, Daniel. This is a great site for new “Old Friends”. Speaking of Bill G. Wouldn’t you pay big money to see him direct the Hallelujah Chorus? Just imagine him trying to cue in 8 parts!!! The big event in Indy is for a local mission and the 1000 voice choir is going to sing the Chorus but, some guy named Dunn is directing. Sure wish Bill was.

      • Thanks! I would indeed enjoy seeing it, but I’m not sure on the big money part. If big money is defined as, say, more than the ~$35 cost of a Homecoming ticket, I’d be likely enough to save my ~$35 for a Homecoming ticket or for two tickets to other top-tier SG group. 🙂