Does anyone consider songwriters to be theologians?

Apropos of a recent discussion over Joel Hemphill’s theology, CVH asks:

Really, with the possible exception of Michael Card, does anyone consider songwriters to be theologians? Most are nothing more than conveyors of truth as they understand it.

So do we consider songwriters theologians?

More important, should we? Do we have an adequate understanding of how much our theology is impacted by our favorite songs?


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21 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. No, I do not consider songwriters to be Theologians. They are conveying a message and putting that message to music.

  2. Most are not theologians, but some really need to check their sorce – the Bible. In gospel songs that are giving a modern day story, it is what it is – a story about what happened. However, when you’re writing a Biblical story in a song, you need to make sure you read and re-read all accounts in order to be correct.

    Some times a writer will get the rhyme he wants and the story goes according to what he has always heard. Then, when he reads the Bible, they see the story is different from what he has always heard or assumed. It can even mess up the rhyme. You will either be forced to trash the song all together, or think harder as to how to make the song work.

    Here is an example: Everybody believes that David pursued Goliath with ONLY a slingshot and five smooth stones. But Goliath said, “Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves?” I Sam 17:43. Staves are sticks, and David was a shephard boy who carried a rod and a staff.

    I always read the stories that I will write about in order to get my story straight, and also it can produce even more divine thoughts to write about.

  3. Daniel wrote “Most are nothing more than conveyors of truth as they understand it.”
    So that means “we are the receivers of the truth, aka doctrine, that we perceive is correct based on our heritage, surroundings and studying the Word.
    Like anything else in life, it all depends where you are coming from in life.
    Let’s not take anything away from the gospel music songwriters, not just southern gospel, because everything is not doctrinal correct for our cup of tea.
    Songwriters who studied the Word and meditate on His Word make the best Christian songwriters.
    Read some of the stories behind the song and listen to a Christian songwriter say some words about a song.
    You will be able to discern the truth about the Truth which fits your doctrinal cup of tea.

  4. I speak often – and have no seminary training. I almost always run my talks by my pastor for “theological soundness.” It is just a good practice.

    No – most songwriters are not theologians. Never have been, and I don’t think it ever will be. However, songs should be theologically sound. Some writers often work together and I suspect some of their time is spent making sure the words are correct – theologically.

    Many SG songwriters seem to gather their thoughts and ideas from the Bible. Almost everything Rodney Griffin writes sounds like it came from his own Bible study. And I think that is a great thing. It is almost like he reads a story – and puts it to music. But hey – that is what songwriting has always been about.

    JEB

  5. Most songwriters are not but should ensure that they are theologically sound according to their beliefs.
    Historically songwriters have been theologians. John and Charles Wesley teamed up as John would preach it and teach it Charles would write it in a song and therefore they tought millions “Methodist Theology”.

  6. Most songwriters are not but should ensure that they are theologically sound according to their beliefs.
    Historically songwriters have been theologians. John and Charles Wesley teamed up as John would preach it and teach it Charles would write it in a song and therefore they tought millions “Methodist Theology”. Most people have heard more about John Wesley, but can’t quote him near as well as they can Charles, because of the lyrical impact of songs. ex… “And Can it Be”

  7. Just to clarify, GospelMusicFan, Daniel did not write, “Most are nothing more than conveyors of truth as they understand it.” If I read correctly, those are the words of poster ” CVH” on a post at averyfineline.com
    As for a response on the matter, I agree with the statement above from JEB, and I also appreciate the writings of Rodney Griffin because he seems to often paint a “fresh” picture of the scriptures with his songs.

  8. How many SG song are out there that talk about our “mansion in paradise”? When the KJV was written, the word mansion meant both simply a dwelling place as well as a manor house of a nobleman, but the latter meaning seemed to be a secondary use of the word, as well as it was in the original Greek. Now the NIV phrases John 14:2 as “In my Father’s house are many rooms…”

    Which is more theologically correct? I believe it is the latter. But I don’t blame SG singers for this, as most of us have been taught the former meaning (mansion = big house) from the pulpit.

  9. The question shouldn’t be do we consider them theologians, or even should we. The fact is, most are not. Most writers, along with the rest of us, have no degree in theology of any kind. I, however, do feel that Christians should put a lot of pressure on radio stations to quit playing songs that are poor theology. The truth is, it’s just as bad in SG as it is in the Contemporary Music. If Amy Grant sings it, it gets air time. If Chris Tomlin writes it, you’ll hear it. Same can be said about Gaither or the Dove Brothers. We should be much more careful and concerned, in my personal opinion, about doctrine in our songs.

  10. No, I would say they are simply storytellers.

  11. Songwriters do not have to be theologians, but they must have a grip on the doctrine that Gospel music conveys. They don’t have to have a Ph.D, but the song MUST line up to God’s Word. If it doesn’t, what are we doing out there???

  12. Thank you, DJPhil , for the clarification in reply #7 to my reply #7.

  13. the last #7 should be #3.

  14. A few individuals mentioned Rodney Griffin. Even Rodney uses poetic license to convey a message in song. Greater Vision’s most popular song “My Name Is Lazarus” took poetic license when it mentioned the four men carrying the bed of the cripple man. There is no biblical account of who those four men actually were (especially one of them being Lazarus). Should radio stations not play that song because it is not doctrinally sound. No, it is a great song and if I remember correctly it even won Song of the Year.

    Songwriters are story tellers.

  15. Well, if you listen to Rodney’s lyric on “My Name Is Lazarus,” when he’s describing the men who carried the bed of the crippled man, he says “suppose” that first man, second man, etc. This, to me, means he’s saying, “What if these other men carrying this lame man happened to be people Jesus had healed at one time or another…” He’s not claiming it for Biblical fact. The word “suppose” offers it out there as a suggestion for you to think about “what if it happened this way…”

    A Biblically correct lyric is the most important ingredient to a southern gospel song. I cringe, like Andrew in Post #9, when songs are sung or played on the radio that are not of sound Biblical theology. Songs like “His Tomb Wasn’t Empty (It Was Full Of My Sin)” or “Mama’s Teaching Angels How To Sing.” Those songs take a whole lot of poetic freedom–I doubt anyone could find chapter and verse for the basis for those songs. But, perhaps because of who performed them or who wrote them, they continue to get played.

  16. If we were nit picky enough we could find an issue with just about any song. I don’t mind a bit of poetic license as long as the message in the song doesn’t contradict or is totally out of line with scripture.

  17. While agree that there should be some liberty and freedom in storytelling, there should be limits on that. I mean, if we aren’t going to write songs that are strong in doctrine, or accurate in telling the event as Scripture does, why write it? Better yet, why should I listen to it? There are cults that have great music. One, in fact, has a world famous Choir that sings hymns, at least some hymns, that you and I grew up on. I can assure you, they have as good of a chance being invited to our church as any Southern Gospel group or artist that sings songs that are not based on good, solid doctrine. For me, the answer to the original question is, again, no. I don’t consider songwriters theologians. But, I do consider the theology of the song(s) when it comes to who I listen to, or who we invite to sing.

  18. Here’s an interesting clip about lyrical content….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bd8M6f6X224

  19. Hmm… that’s a very different question for me than for some of you. I’m Arminian in doctrine, and a majority (probably) of SG artists are Baptist/Calvinistic. So I’m used to putting up with doctrine that I don’t exactly agree with. 🙂 (I’m not Pentecostal either, so there goes the other 40%!)

    I don’t have any problem with songs like “Mama’s Teaching Angels…” It’s a pleasant imagination … and who knows? 😀 What about “Serenaded by Angels”? No chapter and verse for that one, either. And the line in the Kingsmen/Ronnie Hinson song about “The angels spread their wings and stood prepared …” They’re figures used to convey our thoughts and feelings – especially feelings, because music is art and therefore communicates through the emotions.

    I don’t believe that songs should contradict the Scripture. I’m glad that Rodney specified in “The Fourth Man” that he was only “creating an illustration.” A lot of people now-a-days aren’t very well grounded in Biblical stories and doctrines, and they sure don’t need to be confused further by their music. I’ve heard the Booth Brothers say that Mosie Lister (as I understood it) runs his songs by people in the ministry before letting them go.

    Doctrines that are subversive of the Christian faith absolutely do not belong in our music. I would include such things as denying the divinity of Christ, perhaps advocating praying to the saints, or any such thing.

    On the whole, I’m willing to take a song in the context of the rest of the author’s work. BF&A sing “The Father looked beyond the failures I had made; He didn’t notice all the times that I had not obeyed.” L5 sings “When He sees I can’t pay, He forgets the cost.” Not theologically true at all, but I understand what they mean, and I’d never assume that they were denying the necessity of the Atonement. They were making a specific point in those songs, and L5 also sings “Unless a Lamb was led to the slaughter, and up on the altar the Sacrifice laid; unless He saved the sons and the daughters with blood that flowed from His own veins.”

    Sorry to make such a long comment!

  20. Amy: The lyrics to the last L5 song you mentioned are: ““Unless a Lamb was led to the slaughter, and up on the altar the Sacrifice laid; unless He saved the sons and the daughters with blood that flowed from Him that day.”

  21. Oops … that was from memory. Thanks!

    Evidently I sometimes do like my dad and just make up something totally new that rhymes. I wasn’t sure that was right.