From the Archives: Why Theology Matters to Musicians

DSC_6495This post is based on a message I gave at the Christian Musician Summit in 2008.

When Christian musicians get together, we tend to assume we all have our theology down and we can focus on honing our chops, discovering new gear, and improving our techniques and methodologies. Or maybe we think that theology isn’t that important. Whatever the reason, I wanted to make clear that even at the Christian Musician Summit, theology matters.

Theology is literally the “study of God,” particularly as he has revealed himself in Scripture. It includes not only studying the Bible, but understanding how the different parts of the Bible fit together. Christian musicians need to know theology. But before I explain why, here are four potential objections people might have.

1. People just argue about theology.
Yes. Partly because we’re sinful. But mostly because there are some truths that are worth defending and fighting for. Even dying for.

2. Theology just makes life complicated.
It depends on what you mean by complicated. If you think that knowing how to play your instrument makes it complicated, then yes, theology makes life complicated. Theology doesn’t make like complicated. It actually makes life simpler. It protects us from reading verses out of context or reading only our favorite passages. Theology tells us what words like glory, gospel, salvation, and love mean. Theology helps us understand what we’re actually doing every Sunday. What complicates life is not theology but ignorance of theology.

3. Studying theology makes people proud.
It shouldn’t. The better we know God, the humbler we should be. The more we should  realize that what we know will always be dwarfed by what we don’t know.

4. We’ll never know it all anyway.
Just because we can’t know everything about God, doesn’t mean we can’t know some things truly. God has revealed himself to us in his word and given us his Spirit so that we can know him.

Here are three reasons why theology should matter to Christian musicians.

1. You’re already a theologian.
Every Christian, musical or otherwise, is already a theologian. The question is, are you a good theologian or a bad one? We’re good theologians if what we say and think about God lines up with what Scripture says and affirms. We’re bad theologians if our view of God is vague, or if we think God doesn’t really mind sin, or is we see Jesus as a good example and not a Savior, or if we our god is too small to overcome evil or too big to care about us.

2. God reveals himself primarily through words, not music.
Because we’ve encountered God profoundly during times of musical worship, we can wrongly start assuming that words restrict the Spirit, while music enables us to experience God in fresh and powerful ways. If God had wanted us to know him primarily through music, the Bible would be a soundtrack, not a book. Music affects and helps us in many ways, but it doesn’t replace truth about God. By itself, music can never help us understand the meaning of God’s self-existence, the nature of the Incarnation, or Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Simply put, truth outlasts tunes.

3. Being good theologians makes us better musicians.

  • Theology teaches us what music is meant to do.
  • Theology teaches us that worship is more than music.
  • Theology teaches us that Jesus is better than music.

You can download a copy of my notes here.

[First posted on Nov. 18, 2008]



18 Responses to From the Archives: Why Theology Matters to Musicians

  1. Chris Marsh January 11, 2013 at 3:05 PM #

    YES! Thanks for this, Bob, I SO agree!
    It’s important to be reminded that we are theologians no matter our level of training, and that we all have a liturgical understanding. I’m very keen to see worshippers engage with this more through pursuing faith development and deeper understanding.
    In terms of further reading, I compiled a list of books on worship for people to check out (and yes, Worship Matters IS included!)

  2. Mark Brady January 11, 2013 at 3:12 PM #

    We also must understand the theology of our church\denomination. A lot of songs today are written with a bias towards one theological system or another. If the theology of the song doesn’t match the theology of your church you’re causing confusion within the body. Just because the song is popular, doesn’t mean you can sing it in your church.

  3. Jeffrey January 11, 2013 at 11:18 PM #

    Thanks for a great article. In the picture I noticed on the bookshelf a book entitled, The Glory of God, by Daniel Block. I can’t seem to find this book. Can you help?

    • Bob Kauflin January 12, 2013 at 12:07 AM #

      Jeff, it was a class Dr. Block taught at Southern a few years ago.

  4. Steven January 13, 2013 at 6:59 PM #

    Amen. So much worship music is lacking in explanation. Don’t just tell me God is great. Tell me why He is. He’s done so much for us, lets start sanctifying our congregation in some of those truths. Just an example.

  5. Cuan De Vries January 16, 2013 at 6:45 AM #

    This is fantastic. You are so right. Often we stand up and worship and sing as whole bunch of words but dont often understand why….thank you

  6. Josh Taylor January 27, 2013 at 1:16 AM #

    Yeah, pastors continually drill worship guys who might be more known for their tats and use of the word, “dude” than for theology. They have a great point though. But the point of theology isn’t to have more knowledge, but to have a revelation of who God is. That’s where names of God come in.

    That was cool showing a pic of your book collection. I’ve read The Sound of the Harvest, which has an interesting take. A couple others to check out would be “Exploring Worship” by Bob Sorge and “The Justice God is Seeking” by David Ruis.

  7. Jordan November 7, 2013 at 1:07 PM #

    Where is “The Word of God” in all of this? I don’t see it on the shelf, or in this blog anywhere. Are we worshipping ourselves here?

    • Bob Kauflin November 7, 2013 at 3:36 PM #

      Jordan, I’m not sure yours is a serious comment or not. These are summary points of a 25 minute message I gave at a conference. If you download my notes, you’ll see I referenced Scriptures. If you read the post again you’ll hopefully see that the standard for all I’m saying and the point of theology is to align our thoughts with God’s Word, not our own thoughts.


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