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.