Songwriting and Theology Week 4 Trinity

(Image via The Resurgence)

In week four we examined the hymn texts of Charles Wesley and how he spoke of the Trinity.

This topic is a particular passion of Dr. Ruth’s.  Some years ago he published an article examining and lamenting the general absence of the Trinity in CCLI’s top 25 song lists from 1989-2004.  In his research he found that there were only 3 songs that made explicit reference to all three persons of the Trinity, only a few that explicity referenced the Father and the Spirit, and the largest number referencing Jesus or ‘God’ abstractly –  One of the conclusions he drew from his observations is that evangelical theology couldn’t be said to be Trinitarian if you evaluated this from its music alone…and it certainly isn’t forming its people in an orthodox Trinitarian way through its worship music!    Yikes!!

You can read his article here – Don’t Lose the Trinity!  A Plea to Songwriters or here How Great is our God: The Trinity in Contemporary Worship Music 

It’s also published in a more exhaustive form in the recently published “The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise and Worship” by Brian D Walrath, Ed.

Dr. Ruth says,

In a variety of ways these songs (CCLI lists) rarely contribute to the development of a Trinitarian faith.  Take the issue of naming the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for example.  None of the songs refer to the Trinity or the Triune nature of God.  And only three songs refer to all three Persons of the Trinity:  “Glorify Thy Name,” “Father I Adore You,” and “Shine Jesus Shine.”  This lack of naming is most obvious in the absence of references to God the Father and the Holy Spirit.[2]  Only four songs speak of God as Father and only six refer to the Spirit, none of which use the name “Holy Spirit.”  I counted another seven instances where lyrics refer to God the Father without using “Father.” An example is “Because He Lives,” which notes “God sent His Son / They called him Jesus.”

Here are five questions that Lester Ruth uses to evaluate the Trinitarian nature of worship song:

1. Do the songs name the Trinity or all three Persons of the Trinity?
2. Do the songs direct our worship toward the Trinity as a whole or toward one of the Persons of the Trinity?
3. Do the songs remember the activity of the Divine Persons among Themselves?
4. Do the songs see Christian worship as participation of believers in inter-Trinitarian dynamics or activity?
5. Do the songs use the character of inter-Trinitarian relationships to explore a desired character for relationship among Christians, for example, unity, love, sacrifice, or humility?

In Wesley we looked at various models he uses to discuss the Trinity.  Hymns that follow the structure of the Trinity where each stanza is given a person (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). ‘Sinners turn, why will you die‘; hymns that explore the interaction between Father and Son ‘Arise, my soul, arise‘.

This Weeks Assignment:Write one stanza of an explicitly Trinitarian song using one or the other of the approaches seen in the examples provided from Wesley:  either 1)  conceptualizing a song in which the different stanzas feature each Person in sequence and writing out one of those stanzas in entirety (e.g., write out the God the Father stanza in a 3-stanza song or 2) writing out one stanza in which two (or all three) Persons of the Trinity are interacting with each other for our redemption.

The Father speaks the universe
from void into creation
The Son redeems the fallen race
from death to consummation
The Spirit seals the working blood
and writes the journal of their love
The Trinity will sing above
the Holy God-head Three

(c) 2011 Bruce Benedict



Cardiphonia’s List of Trinitarian Songs

Worshipping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship by Robin Parry

Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace by James B. Torrance


6 thoughts on “Songwriting and Theology Week 4 Trinity

Add yours

  1. I like the idea of this assignment a lot. I think it’s terrible that Trinitarian references are laregly absent from most of American Christian songs in the last 40 years.

    In terms of your own example, how do you walk the tension of the Father being the one who created the world (in one sense, Hebrews 1:2c) and the Son being the one who created (in another sense, Hebrews 1:10, referencing v8 as the antecedent)? This is why I’ve always found Trinitarian language so challenging to write because I myself have trouble avoiding either too sharp a distinction, or a confounding of the persons and their respective roles in the Godhead.

    1. Dave, you are so right. Not confounding the Trinity is really, really hard in verse…in fact I found that i am really gifted at it too! But seriously…one of the things we touched on in class is that we lack a rich theology of the Trinity, we lack a life of worship experience hearing the Trinity proclaimed in relationship to one another. This leads us to really struggle to grasp the mystery of the Trinity in verse. Which is sad because hymns are often our greatest source of explication of the mysteries of the Gospel. Keep at it. I would love to see anything you have written. We can sharpen one another in this regard.

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