Singing About Missio Dei, The Mission of God

5 comments Written on November 13th, 2009     
Filed under: General
Some months ago I was struck by an article, entitled “Worship Wars” in the Nov/Dec 2008 edition of Prism, a magazine published by Evangelicals for Social Action.  In the article Harold Trulear laments the narrow focus of both sides in the battle over contemporary versus traditional worship music.

“One side claims that contemporary worship meets the needs of hurting people, while the other argues that traditional worship roots us in historic Christian faith. Neither side rehearses the relationship between the gospel and social transformation: rather they focus on forms that heal and strengthen the individual, while ignoring the claims of Christ on our community, social, and civil life.”

Trulear maintains that contemporary style sermons consist of “practical instruction for daily living rooted in a problem solving framework that emphasizes what works in our lives.”  This is clearly an over-generalization, but not too much of one.  One wakeful night in a hotel I spent a good deal of time television channel surfing. I was amazed by how many Christian programs were being broadcast.  Most of the preachers seemed to be sort of para-psychotherapists, using the Scripture to explain how people could be happy, debt free, have a good marriage, etc… I didn’t hear any mention of God’s love and concern for the rest of the world including the poor and the marginalized.  I didn’t hear a word about injustice, war, God’s creation, the Kingdom, etc.

Trulear points out that traditionalists criticize the weak theology of contemporary worship saying it leads to a shallow Christian life and witness. Traditionalists call for the rehearsing of the great doctrinal themes of the church in preaching, music, and prayer.  However traditional worship also often misses the big picture of the Kingdom and focuses mainly on a personal relationship with Jesus, with little mention of the mission of God in the world.

I long to sing more worship songs with this kind of focus on God and his reconciling mission in the world. I believe that we should give more emphasis to worshipping God as the one who loves the whole world, including the poor, the suffering, the voiceless, and the marginalized. May we increasingly worship God as the one who inaugurated his creation-restoring, relationship-reconciling Kingdom through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  May we increasingly worship God longing for his Kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I am encouraged that these kinds of songs have been around for a long time and they are being sung in some corners of the Kingdom.

Mason North wrote the following hymn in 1903.
From tender childhood’s helplessness
From woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil,
From famished souls, from sorrow’s stress,
Your heart has never known recoil.
The cup of water given for You,
Still holds the freshness of your grace;
Yet long these multitudes to view,
The sweet compassion of Your face.

Another by Matt Redman –
You’ve put a new song in my mouth
It is a hymn of praise to You
Justice and mercy are it’s theme
And I will live it back to You

The kind of fast You’ve chosen, Lord It must reach out
To broken lives and to the poor So change me, Lord

I know You are the orphan’s hope
I know You are the widow’s song
O Lord, You’re showing me what’s on You’re heart

Lord, I won’t bring an empty song. It’s meaningless
Without compassion in my life And holiness

You’re Father where no father lives
And to the lonely You’re a friend
O Lord, You’re showing me what’s on You’re heart

I know You are the orphan’s hope
I know You are the widow’s song
You’re Father where no father lives
And to the lonely You’re a friend
O Lord, You’re showing me what’s on You’re heart

My hope and prayer is that mission minded folks who are gifted at composing will give us some new worship music.  I also hope and pray that those involved in leading worship will increasingly seek to focus on the reconciling mission of God in the world as they lead God’s people in worship.

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5 comments “Singing About Missio Dei, The Mission of God”

This is my prayer as well. I have students collect songs with the theme of missio Dei for one of my courses (God’s Global Vision) and it is revealing how difficult it is to find good ones! I will keep your post linked to my course in the future.

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Paul, thanks for your comment. It’s always good to know that people are reading the blog. Would it be possible for me to receive the collected songs?

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Good to know that someone heard my tree fall. I also give an assignment to my students to make lists of Christian songs and hymns with themes of creation, justice, holiness and love. They struggle with the first two. The North text above is one we reference as we explore their own denominational hymnals and find that they have such music available, but never use it.

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