David Peterson on Revelation and the Songs We Sing

engagingMy top recommended book on a biblical theology of worship is David Peterson’s Engaging with God. If you’re responsible for leading in your church, either as a pastor or a musician, I think you’ll serve people more faithfully and biblically if you read it. I go through it every year with my interns and never fail to come away from our discussion times with fresh understanding and inspiration for leading corporate worship.

Peterson focuses on worship as it’s understood in the Old Testament, the gospels, and various epistles. The chapters on Hebrews and Revelation by themselves are worth the price of the book.

This past Wednesday we were discussing the chapter on Revelation. Many Christians tend to avoid Revelation because they view it as a somewhat obscure and confusing book. Others think it’s simply a code-book for figuring out the significance of end time events.

Peterson makes a compelling case that one of the primary purposes of John’s letter was to “encourage Christians to maintain their faith in Christ and resist every temptation to idolatry and apostasy” (p. 277). We still need that kind of encouragement today. And the hymns scattered throughout Revelation (Rev. 1:5-6, 4:11, 5:9-10, 7:11-12, 11:17-18, 15:3-4, 19:6-8), with their focus on the sovereignty of God and the victory of the Lamb, do just that.

In summarizing his chapter on Revelation, Peterson makes application to the songs we sing today:

The hymnic material in the book of the Revelation…should alert us to the importance of singing God’s praise in a way that is truly honoring to him and helpful to his people. Do our hymns and songs concentrate on praising God for his character and his mighty acts in history on our behalf? Do they focus sufficiently on the great truths of the gospel? There is always a temptation to focus too much on the expression of our own immediate needs.

This is gold. Our songs should both honor God and help people. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. We don’t come together merely to sing about how passionate we are for God (although that’s a very good thing!) or to be emotionally affected. Our songs should help us concentrate and focus on God’s character and his mighty acts in history on our behalf, especially the gospel.

One aspect of praise we see in the Psalms involves acknowledging our needs, longings, and desires. But an awareness of our need is meant to drive us to the sufficiency and supply of the gospel – God has clothed himself in flesh! Jesus has perfectly fulfilled God’s law! Christ has suffered and died, becoming sin for us and enduring God’s wrath and judgment in our place! God has raised him from the dead! Jesus is reigning and will one day return to bring salvation to all those who have placed their faith in him! He will right every wrong, establish his unending rule, and be the eternal joy of those who know him! These are truths that are completely outside of us and will never change. Their implications for our lives are massive and eternal. Hope and comfort in trials doesn’t come from continually rehearsing our problems and needs but through remembering the compassionate, all-powerful Savior who cried out “It is finished!” for his people’s joy and his Father’s glory.

Peterson continues:

Is the language we use as powerful and as simple as in the material given to us by John? We need to avoid the extremes of being trite and trivial, and loading our hymns and choruses with so much imagery that only the well-instructed can appreciate them.

This is relevant to both worship leaders and song writers. Our songs ought to be powerful and simple at the same time. Powerful doesn’t equal verbally dense or complex. Simple doesn’t mean repetitive, boring, or trite. We need fresh images and phrases that communicate unchanging biblical truth in clear and compelling ways. “Jesus came my soul to save, then he rose up from the grave,” is gloriously true but perhaps not as informative or gripping as say, “And on the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied, for every sin on him was laid.” But both are simple.

Finally, Peterson says:

Do our hymns and acclamations help us to rejoice in God’s gracious and powerful rule, acknowledge its blessings and look forward to its consummation in the new creation? Do they challenge us to take a firm stand against every manifestation of Satan’s power and to bear faithful witness to the truth of the gospel in our society? It is not good enough to sing certain items merely because they make the congregation feel good! (p .278)

Peterson’s questions are challenging. They move us away from generalities and towards specifics in our songs. What is good about God’s rule? How do we rejoice in his gracious reign and his opposition to evil? What are the blessings of the consummation? How is Satan’s power manifested in our lives and our world? What are ways we can be faithful witnesses? What will that cost and require?

Of course, songs aren’t the only way we can proclaim these truths to one another. But the hymns of Revelation seem to indicate that they’re meant to be an important way we build up our faith in God’s sovereignty, faithfulness, compassion, and ultimate victory.

So, while Revelation Song may represent one aspect of what we can learn from John’s book, let’s not neglect all the other ways God wants John’s heavenly vision to inform our songs and our lives.


11 Responses to David Peterson on Revelation and the Songs We Sing

  1. Mark Snyder January 20, 2012 at 3:58 PM #

    Thanks for sharing this, Bob. There needs to be a way to talk about worship songwriting that encourages songwriters to think like this without coming across as judgmental. This kind of article cuts directly to the key points through its biblical focus.

  2. Miguel Medina January 20, 2012 at 3:59 PM #

    Reading through this article has helped me put down some great ideas for a song! Thanks Bob! Please pray for me as I try…

    • Bob Kauflin January 20, 2012 at 4:23 PM #

      Thanks for writing, Miguel! May God give you grace, clarity, and creativity.

  3. Matt Hoppe January 21, 2012 at 1:14 PM #

    Thanks for the book recommendation, Bob! I really appreciated your recommendation of D A Carson’s Worship by the Book at the Worship God conference. That first 60 pages especially packs in a lot of great stuff. I’m looking forward to seeing how Peterson’s matches up. Thanks!

  4. Aaron Leggett January 23, 2012 at 3:07 AM #

    Just last week I was going through your bibliography in Worship Matters to find a new book to read. You had Engaging With God marked with an asterisk, so I dove in and started reading it. I’ve been really challenged so far, and seeing what you wrote here makes me want to read it all the more.

    Just so you know, you talk about Engaging With God the way we talk about Worship Matters at our church… Thanks for being an example to many

  5. Phillip dick February 8, 2012 at 9:16 AM #

    Psalm 138:2 tells us that he esteems His word above his name. This is such an important revelation for us as leaders. The songs we sing and write should be a both/and. We should not just get carried away with the generalities of worship and miss the essence of communicate the Word through song which constantly brings us into new revelation. There is power in His Name but transformational regeneration in our mind and lives when we interact with His Word.

  6. Scott February 8, 2012 at 10:48 PM #


    I added this book to my reading list. An off topic question— any chances of you sharing details regarding your worship interns (books to be read, responsibilities, etc)?

    • Bob Kauflin February 8, 2012 at 10:55 PM #

      Scott, thanks for asking. I’ll answer this in a later post.

  7. Robin Rehrmann January 28, 2020 at 5:01 AM #

    After reading this article in 2012, I bought this book and read it (twice). It is very dense, but on second reading, I got a lot from it!

    My main takeaway from this book is: we sing together, to encourage each other. In encouraging each other, we give God praise as well as in giving God praise, we encourage each other.

    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this book and hope you’re encouraged to see how articles written eight years ago still have impact on peoples lifes! =)

    • Bob Kauflin January 29, 2020 at 8:06 AM #

      Robin, that is so encouraging! Thanks for letting me know!

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