Christianity Today reported on a study from Southern Wesleyan University that revealed that over 60% of the 30 most popular hymns and the 30 most popular worship songs over the past five years referenced Jesus. In contrast, the Father is referenced 7% in worship songs and 16% in hymns, while the Spirit is referenced 5% in worship songs and 2% in hymns. This study poses the following question to many Christians: Where is the trinity in Christian hymns and worship music?
The trinity is a fundamental aspect of Christian belief as it encompasses the divinity of God into three components: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Christian produced music highlights the personal relationship with the Son but rarely refers to the Father and the Holy Spirit. This absence of trinitarian language may be problematic as it does not fully represent the trinity during service. Although some might contend that naming the Father, the Son or the Spirit is enough for the whole trinity because Christian doctrine claims the trinity is three in one.
Jen Edwards, head of the music and theatre department, referenced a study she conducted on Christian hymns and worship music, which concluded “an absence of trinitarian language, specifically in songs written in 2000 and beyond.” Edwards broke down the structure of hymns, claiming the first verse is about God the Father, the second verse is about Jesus the Son, the third verse is about the Spirit and the fourth verse about either the second coming or the church. However, not every hymn or worship song is structured that way.
“I would say that the modern, evangelical, nondenominational, kind of mega churches … they struggle with trinitarian balance,” Edwards said. She highlighted that certain churches or artists find a trinitarian balance in their song writing but heavily focused on Jesus.
“I think it definitely influences how we see God. If we sing songs all about Jesus, I think we tend to see God as a really accepting close friend, close companion, who wants a relationship with us, who is willing to die for us,” Edwards said. “But sometimes, we miss out on God the just, the sovereign, the all-powerful, the all-knowing and the one that demands reverence,” she continued.
Liesl Dromi, assistant professor of voice, affirmed “that the focus is maybe more individualistic” and she focuses on personal testimony when writing. The focus on personal, testimonial or Christ-centered songs derives from the familiarity and connection people feel when singing about God, Christ or Spirit. The issues, however, can chalk down to song writing itself.
“I think the lyrics follow the simplicity of the song melody and the melody has to be simple for the congregation to pick it up,” Dromi said. The limitations of song writing can stem from the timing to the rhythmic beats a writer wants to produce, which can create problems with lyrical motifs of a song. Additionally, the mysterious nature of the Spirit and Father boxes writers, which forces more creative ideas to refer to their presence in music.
Edwards continued to that say writing trinitarian songs is tough from a song writer’s perspective, particularly because of the struggle to maintain trinitarian balance. Edwards declared that song writers are taught to “keep it simple [and] write about one thing.”
To rectify this, Edwards proposed that Christian song writers should incorporate a checks and balance system when creating new pieces. Creating this system encourages writers to determine which aspect of the trinity or church deserves more coverage for its music.
Edwards said, “I would love for song writers to push into each verse to tell the story of the Godhead or we include more songs that have creeds built into them with the three parts of the trinity.”
Dromi encourages song writers to compose worship music that invokes thought and embodies the divinity of God. “I think these song writers have to do more with the lyrics and respect that their congregations are intelligent and thirsty for rich doctrinal knowledge,” Dromi said.
Therefore, let the faith we sing be in remembrance to the three-in-one divinity of God, who is gracious as a savior, friend and life-giver. “The faith that we sing is the faith that we remember,” Edwards said.
Graphic: Jeffrey Hernandez, The Threefold Advocate