On Musicians and Reading Books

I think I’ve interacted with enough Christian musicians over the past couple decades to make a general observation: Christian musicians rarely read theology books.

Now, I know that’s a broad statement. There are non-musician Christians who don’t like to study theology, too, and some Christians musicians who actually love theology. You’re the ones who took offense at my earlier comment. “What’s he talking about? I’m ALWAYS reading theology books!” If so, you’re to be commended. But you’re the exception.

When I’ve asked musicians what they’re reading, the response is often secular business bestsellers, novels, music magazines, or books focused on a particular interest, like history, biography or sports. Sometimes classics by A.W. Tozer and C.S. Lewis will make the cut. Rarely does anyone mention books like Engaging with God by David Peterson, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, or Knowing God by J.I. Packer. “Only for scholars.” “Too deep.” “Not enough time.”

I’ve had worship leaders tell me they’re not that interested in theology because it only causes divisions. They just want to help people worship Jesus. But how can we help others worship Jesus without a clear, compelling picture of who He is and what He’s done? How can we worship a God we don’t know? And how can we know Him without learning about Him? That’s theology!

Theology is simply the study of God. That’s why every Christian, musician or otherwise, is a theologian. The question is whether we’re a good theologian or a bad one. We’re a good theologian if what we say and think about God lines up with the whole of Scripture. We’re a bad theologian if our view of God is vague, unbiblical, distorted, or simply reflects our own opinions.

Some musicians claim that music speaks to them more clearly about God than words do. That’s why they spend more time working on their music than reading the Bible or books that help them understand the Bible. They insist that words restrict, box in, and limit, while music expands the mind, softens the heart, and opens us up to new ways of powerfully experiencing God.

We can appreciate the impulse to have a “living faith,” but that conclusion is terribly misguided. While music affects us in many ways, it can never communicate by itself the meaning of God’s self-existence, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, or the nature of the Trinity. Nor can music explain what role music is supposed to play in worshipping God. For that, we need to read our Bibles. And to know what the Bible says, we need theology. Good theology.

By God’s grace, I think there are an increasing number of musicians who are seeing their need, and are seeking to change. But theological ignorance among Christian musicians is still rampant. Tomorrow, I’ll suggest some reasons why.

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9 Responses to On Musicians and Reading Books

  1. Evan May January 11, 2006 at 12:14 AM #

    Having led worship in the past, I know that those who lead Christ’s church before the thrown of grace need to be impacted by theology (especially doctrines such as the self-sufficiency of God or the sovereignty of grace) *most*. My church has benefited greatly from the fact that our Worship Pastor has “done his homework” in this area.

  2. Paul Helms January 11, 2006 at 8:53 AM #


    I’m a student worship leader at a college ministry at Indiana University, and I have to say that I agree with you :) Sometimes, though, I have trouble figuring out whether or not my deep interest in theology means that I should pursue pastoral ministry instead of worship ministry. I guess that’s where trusting the Lord comes in :) For now, I really enjoy leading our worship team and *being led* by the Holy Spirit into a deeper faith and deeper love for Christ through song and Scripture. Keep up the good posts!

  3. MVB January 11, 2006 at 9:23 AM #

    Good post! It’s scary that Christian musicians and leaders are no longer interested in theology!!!

    Looking forward to your next post.

  4. Patrick Donohue January 11, 2006 at 11:03 AM #

    This comment is timely for me. I am a musician and I love theology. Like another commenter, I have struggled with whether I am called to teach, lead worship/music, both or even neither. One of my Seminary classes his quarter is on the Theology of Worship, we’re using Peterson’s book as a primary text and the prof. is finishing his DMin. on Worship Theology. He shared that his residence time (at a reputable seminary) was with less than 1/2 dozen others who shared his intereset in Worship Theology, where other programs were packed to the gills. I imagine that this change could take a while, but from what your post tells me, as well as the Word, it’s got to be worth it!

  5. Brian Bosse January 11, 2006 at 11:06 AM #

    Hello Bob!

    Thank you for your comments. I remember last year in one of your workshops at the Sovereign Grace Leadership meeting you said that the worship leader needed to be a better theologian than a musician. This really struck me, and I have begun implementing it in our church. In fact, I am meeting with three of my worship leaders this morning, and we are covering chapters 7 and 8 in Peterson’s “Engaging with God.”


    Brian Bosse
    Music Director of Faith Community Church in Tucson, AZ.

  6. Danny McDonald January 11, 2006 at 11:50 AM #

    Thank you Bob for your post; I look forward to your other posts concerning this issue. Your posts lately have been timely. May the Lord be with you.


  7. Dan Hames January 12, 2006 at 11:42 AM #

    “I am a musician and I love theology. Like another commenter, I have struggled with whether I am called to teach, lead worship/music, both or even neither.”

    That could have been me speaking! Thanks for your post Bob; your observations are spot-on, and it’s clearly a concern to some of us. I guess there needs to be people in church music who care about theology and doctrine, but are willing to stay in music so that our songs, meetings and corporate times of worship are truly honouring to God

  8. Josh Otte January 17, 2006 at 2:08 PM #

    Just as a word of encouragement for some of you who have the blessed opportunity of leading times of gathered worship: what you are doing is pastoral. Definitely pursue the wisdom of your church leadership to see how you should continue to become equipped for ministry.

    A “worship leader”‘s responsibility is ultimately pastoral. We short-change ourselves and our congregations when we use that title to refer only to the leading of music.

    By God’s grace, I was brought on staff at my church as the assistant pastor, and I oversee corporate worship and mission. Our church is only about 150 people, but they saw the need to have pastoral oversight in the planning and leading of corporate worship and the integrating of our gathered times of worship with mission, local and global.

    Bob, thanks for your steadfastness. Your songs and writings have had a huge impact in my own life and ministry.

    Serving King Jesus,
    Josh O.

  9. Mark Moore November 9, 2006 at 3:41 PM #


    Your comments are right on! My seminary education focused more on the skills of being a musician than it did on the theology of worship.

    Since attending WorshipGod06, I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on (from your reading list). One immediate impact is that we, as a staff, have been focusing more on the Gospel than style.

    I feel like a kid at Christmas! Thanks for modeling that for all of us.

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