Chris Tomlin's Worship Songs: We Have Got to Do Better

Since I have been complaining about loud music in church, I’ll stay in the groove and complain now about bad lyrics in church. And I have a particular songwriter in mind, probably the most popular one nowadays, to stand in for all the rest.

There’s no doubt that Chris Tomlin can write “hook-y” tunes. Many of them stay with you after church, even if you want them badly to go away.

And why would you want them to go away? Partly because some of them are musical clichés. Alas, I lack the technological ability to argue this case using musical samples via this blog. So I’ll have to settle for what I can talk about here: the frequently discomfiting lyrics.

I don’t know Chris Tomlin personally. I expect he’s a nice man and a devoted Christian. So please be clear that I’m not attacking his sincerity or his love of Jesus or anything else I can’t possibly judge.

What the evidence shows, however, is that he is a bad lyricist.

The man either doesn’t care about rhyming and settles for the merest assonance, or he lacks the skill or patience to actually craft rhymes. And rhyming is a pretty basic part of the pop genre in which he writes, not some exotic quality of songwriting I am unreasonably demanding of him. He also has no strong grasp of Scripture and particularly of the metaphors and allusions he uses.

My suspicion, in fact, is that these songs “come to him” and he then records them with little or no alteration. Surely he can’t be crafting them with the diligence of a serious poet. For if these are the best he can do after working and reworking them, he simply needs to get someone else to write the words. They’re just that bad.

Strong accusations? You bet. Proof? Let’s pick one of his more recent songs, “Praise the Father, Praise the Son”:

O sov’reign God, O matchless King–
the saints adore, the angels sing
and fall before the throne of grace
to you belongs the highest praise.

Note: “Grace” has a hard “s” while “praise” has a soft “s.” No big deal, you say? Okay, but how big a deal is it to find a rhyme for either “grace” or “praise”?

Let’s go on. Next stanza:

These sufferings, this passing tide
under Your wings I will abide,
and every enemy shall flee;
You are my hope and victory.

We have rhymes this time–hooray! But now we have a metaphor malfunction. If sufferings are passing over us like a tide, it’s not going to do us much good to be under Someone’s wings, is it? We’ll still drown. This is a common feature of Tomlin’s mix-n-match approach to imagery, a kaleidoscope of fragments that happen to occur to him and yet don’t make any sense once they’re set down together.

Then the refrain:

Praise the Father, Praise the Son.
Praise the Spirit, Three in One.
Clothed in power and in grace
the name above all other names.

Here we go again: still can’t think of a rhyme for “grace” and now we have “names” instead. [Shudder]

And what is “the name above all other names”? That name would be “Jesus,” wouldn’t it (Phil. 2), which doesn’t actually appear in the song so far? Or perhaps YHWH (Ps. 138), which also has yet to show up in the lyrics?

Next stanza:

To the valley, for my soul;
Thy great descent has made me whole!
Your word my heart has welcomed home;
now peace like water ever flows.

What’s with the “Thy”? Is that supposed to make the lyric more sacred because (slightly) archaic? Or what? It’s weird, that’s what it is, because the very next line has another second-person possessive, but now it’s just “Your.”

Next line: Who’s on first? Is the sentence saying, “Your word has welcomed home my heart”? Or is it saying, “My heart has welcomed home your word”? Who knows? Does it matter? Is Tomlin concerned to provide us with a clear thought here, or just vague evocations of blessedness?

And the last line offers this rhyme for “home”: “flows.” Say it with me, now: “Home, flows. Home, flows.” Nope, no rhyme there. Not by a mile.

I’ll stop now, because I can’t go on. This avoidance of simple lyrical craftsmanship shows up over and over and over again in Chris Tomlin’s songs.

So why am I pounding on him? Because he’s popular, very popular, and thus he’s setting the pace for others. Please, aspiring songwriters, aim much, much higher! It’s not that hard and your music will sound better. And who knows? Maybe having to reach for an actual rhyme will do for you what it does for other poets, namely, force you out of your comfort zone into new words and new ideas.

Why else take Brother Tomlin to task? Because those of us who want to praise God with our minds as well as our hearts, as our Lord taught us to do, cannot just ignore bad lyrics. None of us can just ignore repeated wrong notes sung or played by worship leaders, and these lousy lyrics go “twang” and “clunk.” They distract from the worship they are supposed to foster just as much as a lazy or untalented musician distracts us when his guitar isn’t tuned or he keeps playing the wrong chords on the piano. So don’t come back at me with “Well, just ignore it and praise the Lord anyway and appreciate his heart” and all that. Chris Tomlin is a professional songwriter. He’s not a sweet little kid doing his best in a Sunday School concert.

Let’s be clear, furthermore, that there’s lots of blame to go around here. Brother Tomlin’s music producers are happy to keep churning this stuff out. Worship leaders keep programming it. And we keep singing it without protest.

Well, enough’s enough. We are the most educated Christians in history, and yet our lyrics are considerably stupider than our much less educated Christian forebears–the people who sang lyrics by Fanny Crosby or Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts.

And please note that I didn’t say our lyrics are “simpler.” Simple can be good. Simple can be beautiful. I’m not arguing with simple.

But what Brother Tomlin seems happy to keep sending our way–and what the rest of us are happily receiving–isn’t simple, it’s just bad. Shame on him, shame on the worship leaders who aren’t finding anything else to set before us, and shame on us for not objecting.

This is serious business, friends, and I don’t apologize for ranting. For we spend the days after we’ve gone to church humming and recalling the words from the songs we’ve sung a lot more often than we recall the words of the Scripture that was read, the liturgy that was recited, or the sermon that was preached. Let’s do all we can, then, to make sure our heads and hearts are full of something good.

Nominations? Where do we go for better worship songs?


0 Responses to “Chris Tomlin's Worship Songs: We Have Got to Do Better”

  1. Jon

    Great thought provoking post! As a worship leader myself I have struggled with this issue, and yes I also deserve some of the rants that you posted here. I’m from Malaysia and our churches here depend alot on songs by Chris Tomlin, Hill Songs and alot of other western Christian songs. In fact we depend heavily on them so much so that there is no reflection of the lyrics being sung.

    Songs mainly get judged by the musical arrangement and not what it is conveying lyric wise. At the moment I don’t seem to find anyone having problems with the lyrics as long as words like praise, God, worship, Jesus, Spirit are conveyed, the song is accepted with open arms.

    For myself I have problems with youth bands lyric wise and as you have mentioned these bands becomes big influence on other aspiring worship leaders. Mainly in the area of song writing. Some are starting to write songs and these bands have laid the foundation on how songs are supposed to be written; while praying, felling GOd giving the words, and the music and the words just flow together and accompanied by goosebumps.

    I agree with alot of the things you are saying. If you are asking where do we go for better worship songs, i dont have an answer for that. But it is high time worship leaders wrote better songs for the mind and heart!

    !

  2. andrew

    i think your right, good thought provoking article. sometimes we’ll sing any old rubbish just because its a new song.
    we should pray for these people that the lyrics are holy spirit inspired.

  3. Dan Hamm

    I’m not a Christian but I am a musician.

    Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it bad. I assume he is a succesful artist so he must be doing something right. Maybe you are stuck in a musical rut that disallows you to try anything new. How many popular songs have you written Mr. Stackhouse?

  4. Jake Belder

    John, there’s some good points here. In my church we’ve altered a couple of the lyrics in a few of Tomlin’s songs, largely for theological reasons. I haven’t thought of this one yet, though. We started singing it in our church a few weeks ago, but I am the regular pianist for the worship team now and when I’m playing I often don’t pay attention to the lyrics. I need to be more conscious.

    The thing that people don’t realize is that the Church confesses what it sings. This is a huge point, and requires those selecting the songs for the service to be diligent and discerning in their choice of music. It’s not just about what is hip or popular.

    Here’s another idea for a post–how about those who constantly feel the need to jazz up the traditional hymns, or turn them into pop songs? And what makes that even worse, those who try to fit the lyrics into a more “modern” mold.

  5. David Guretzki

    Thanks, John. I’ve engaged in a fair share of critique of some of the popular Christian songs myself, though more often at the many ambiguous, or even heretical, theological assertions arising in so many songs. But I like your stylistic and poetic insight as well.

    As for those who challenge the validity of John’s critique by asking whether he has written a pop song, well, that question is irrelevant. I have a long list of criticisms of Windows Vista, having been temporarily forced to use it a few months ago. But my criticisms of that operating system are not null and void simply because I’ve never written an operating system myself.

  6. Nathan

    FWIW, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” also has a grace/praise rhyme. Bothers me every time I sing it.

  7. Matt K

    I have to say that I agree, Dr. Stackhouse. This is not to single out Chris Tomlin, there appears to be tons of insipid praise music out there, but I’d agree with your assessment of his song writing style. I attended a youth conference a few years back where he was leading music, and he did an afternoon workshop on worship leading. I walked away from the workshop a little upset that very little attention was given to theological reflection or biblical content of our music– the discussion was mostly “affective” (e.g.– I “felt” this about this song, that song really “touched” me).

    That said, I have found some of his music to be good. Like you said, sometimes “simple” is good. Some of Tomlin’s most simple choruses resonate with sounds of the psalms. Unfortunately, many others feel like generic pop love songs with far too little Biblical inspiration.

  8. Rob Harrison

    One big answer to your question, Doc, is Keith Getty — with Stuart Townend most often, with his wife Kristyn, and with others (Margaret Becker once that I know of). Songs like “In Christ Alone” and “Speak, O Lord” (and, for that matter, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” which Townend wrote alone) are well worth singing.

    “Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it bad. I assume he is a succesful artist so he must be doing something right.”

    That doesn’t logically follow. There have been many musicians and other artists who were successful in their day whom succeeding generations rightly recognized as mediocre (or worse).

    “Let me guess, you also think Bob Dylan can’t ‘sing’. Am I right?”

    I like Dylan’s songs a lot, and I think I remember that Dr. Stackhouse does too (though I could be confusing him with someone else there); but the fact of the matter is, “sing,” with scare quotes, is about as kind as you can be in describing what the man does with his vocal cords. He’s closer to George Burns than he is to a real singer.

  9. JTP

    I agree that Tomlin (and most contemporary praise music) warrants serious critique. It’s flat, hollow, simple, and often just plain bad. But I would locate the seat of my own criticism in a simplistic theology, not just construction. Escapism and therapeutic phrases try an end run around the gravity of evil and hardship in this life, or the imponderables of the faith. The message of Jesus is just not that simple–not as simple as contemporary praise fads want to make it.

    I can’t speak for every stream of the Christian tradition, but I know that one can open any Anglican hymnal and find songs that are timeless. Something that contemporary praise fads are certainly not. And when you consider them side to side it’s not hard to see why.

  10. smokey

    You asked for folks who are doing it right so here’s one. I’m not a calvinist, so I occasionally object to the theology behind his lyrics, but Aaron Tate wrote some pretty impressive stuff for Caedomon’s Call. I love how he’s not afraid to throw a biblical allusion into a song and expect the church to get it. I recognize the power and beauty of simplicity, but I really wish that we had more actual poetry to sing instead of what Randy Harris calls our 7/11 worship songs – 7 words repeated 11 times.

  11. Steve D.

    Poetry is an art. There is art that is classical and appeals to the trained ear, and there is art that is popular and appeals to the masses. Modern praise music falls into the latter category. It doesn’t make it inferior, only popular. Will it stand the test of time? Maybe. Our hymn books have both classical and popular pieces. Most songs will be forgotten. But let us not forget, Chris Tomlin has led the masses to fix their gaze upon Christ. That can’t be all bad, whether cliched or not.

  12. tired

    My current non-favorite?
    You are the Lord, the FAMOUS one, FAMOUS one…

    yeah, but the Beatles are more famous than God, right?

  13. davidpeck

    To start, I’m not a fan of Chris Tomlin.

    As a worship leader and songwriter, I pursue excellence. I want the words to be thoughtful and theologically sound and the music to be well played and interesting. That said, if the rhyming scheme of someone’s song isn’t to everyone’s liking, not such a big deal. If a loose rhyme scheme is all it takes to keep someone from worshiping God, the problem likely isn’t with the song. That doesn’t excuse songs that are really badly written, have no rhyming scheme or a completely boring melody, but I can’t fault Tomlin for occasionally matching a soft “s” with a hard “s.”

    I think the writing could have been better. I don’t know his writing process, and I won’t presuppose what he was thinking. I agree that he could have done a better job keeping his metaphors and references to God consistent. If you want to use old KJV language, fine, but be consistent.

    As a pastor, what is far more troubling than loose rhyming schemes are the theological issues or outright bad theology that exists in too much popular worship music. We should challenge worship writers to seek excellence in their craft and write songs that are solid musically and lyrically, but at the same time, we have challenge anyone who puts pen to paper as a songwriter, just as we do a preacher or teacher, to pay close attention to the theology they are professing. If the music is good and the rhyming scheme and metaphors are solid but the lyrics don’t line up with the Bible, it’s a bad song.

    My two cents, for what it’s worth. Worth $.0244 in Canada, I think.

  14. Scott Lenger

    I wish to confess
    this post was a mess,
    a significant waste of my time.
    a strong premise made weak
    by the thoughtless critique
    that “good” song lyrics end with a ryhme.

  15. Jon Coutts

    Amen and amen. I used to get worked up about worship music but gave up about a decade ago. Now I expect nothing and don’t care. I sing along when there seems like something worth saying and I try to look around at the people I am in community wiyh and enjoy being with them.

    Worship music today is big business, a sacred cow, and often times an idol. I’m sick of it. And I like music. I like hymns and I like new music styles. I could care less if the music is “pop” or if it rhymes exactly. In fact I think often we’d be better off with something more musically/lyrically creative than the obvious rhyme. Music doesn’t have to resolve perfectly every time, and when it does I think we are saying something untrue about life (Where are the laments?). So I’m not really with you on the whole rhyming critique (In fact, one might ask whether worship of any kind should really be holding itself up to standards of “popularity”?) . . . but should the lyrics be theologically worthwhile? Yes. Please!

    Thanks for speaking up. This is long overdue.

  16. John Stackhouse

    Thanks for these posts, friends. Just to be clear, I’m not criticizing Tomlin’s songs for not rhyming as if all songs or poems have to rhyme. Give me a break, people! I’m a published poet myself, and NONE of those poems rhymed: they were either blank verse or haiku.

    But in pop music (let’s keep our eye on the genre ball), it is customary to rhyme unless you have a good reason not to–and then it can be very cool not to. So is Chris Tomlin deliberately not rhyming? Is the result very cool? I would guess no and I would assert no. And we’re not talking only about hard and soft “esses,” are we? No, we’re not. We’re talking about words that barely share the same dominant vowel sound and phrases that trade in cliché.

    Of course theology matters. I’m a theologian and I agree that it matters. But for once I’m trying to get Christians to see that form matters, as well as substance–as some of you clearly agree, which is gratifying.

    And what’s especially heartening are the confessions of worship leaders who are humble enough to say that they’re implicated in this, also. And I feel for you, friends: I’ve played in lots of worship bands and only rarely, too rarely, spoken up in protest against this or that song. Mostly I just buried myself in the music and tried not to think about it: not impressive, eh? So I add my voice to your confessions: Kyrie eleison!

  17. Gordon Tisher

    My favourite bad worship song lyric is “The river of God is teeming with life.” I always get an image of tadpoles, minnows and algae.

  18. JakeT

    Slant rhyme anybody?

    I’ll be the first to say that I think Tomlin is a little bland, both musically and theologically, but like half the other commenters, I’ve got to agree: dogging on him for using slant rhyme is a poor way to prove it.

    Or for trying to prove anything theologically by implying that a ‘name above all names’ is anything but shorthand for Jesus’ name itself.

    Gotta agree w/ the above:

    a strong premise made weak
    by the thoughtless critique

    (although, while we’re on the subject of lyricism, I’d take the “a” and “the” out–then we get some iambic pentameter, heheh)

    I agree: let’s set the bar higher.

    But let’s not try to do so by eliminating well-accepted and widely used poetic/lyrical techniques.

  19. Jonathan Manafo

    My band and I were talking about something similar after our last Sunday morning set. There aren’t too many worship writers that write well for congregational singing. They’re using the ‘worship’ market to put out songs that are horrible songs for worship. Tomlin has written some good tunes for sure (i.e. How great is our God, Holy is the Lord, …), but his last album is bad. I tried listening to it again this week (before I read this blog) to find anything I could use and came up dry.
    My other beef is that he writes in a stupid range. His verses and choruses are so spread in range that most singers (on stage or in the crowd can sing the whole tune). Matt Redman (who has better lyrics) has done the same thing with his notation. Can somebody remind them the purpose of worship songs…they’re to help people sing songs ‘together’ in worship to God.

  20. Josh

    Stuart Townend has written many songs that have the depth so many others are lacking.

    I’m not British myself but it seems that many songwriters across the Atlantic are doing a much better job than their American counterparts.

    Can I just share one beef I have with our “good old classical hymns”? Has anyone noticed how 99% of them are almost exclusively talking about our vertical relationship (love for God, commitment, repentance etc.) but there is precious little written about our horizontal relationships beyond talking about evangelism and missions.

    It is a very one-dimensional presentation of the gospel and may very well be theologically sound in content but nevertheless lacking in social dimension and challenge to the church. And no, “Blest be the tie that binds” is not adequate or does make up for that lack!

  21. Ray Fowler

    I took a class in pop music songwriting when I was a student at Berklee College of Music (back in the 1980’s). Our professor made the point (accompanied by many examples from the pop music genre) that perfect rhymes are not always necessary in pop music. Assonance at the end of lines is far more important than rhyme, especially when the words are held out in singing for any period of time. In fact, he worked hard to break us of the mindset that words absolutely had to rhyme in pop music. He felt it was an unnecessarily limiting factor, and songwriters should be open to a greater choice of words that might better convey the meaning of the song than a perfect rhyme always would. Seeing that most of modern worship music is in the pop music genre, I don’t think he would have a problem with Tomlin’s use of assonance rather than rhyme.

  22. Chaser

    Seriously? Who cares if Tomlin’s ‘pop’ music doesn’t really conform to the ‘pop’ music mold. What the hell does that matter? Do people connect to God through what he does? Does he? Is his theology contrary to the core beliefs of our shared religion? Then cut him a break and go out and write your own music. You can’t control what people will connect with. If people are gathering in communion through his music then leave him alone. If you don’t like him, then don’t listen to him, or grow up and accept it when they play his tunes in church. Art is always in evolution and you can’t cram his ‘pop’ music into your paradigm of the past. This focus on the quality of worship music in comparison to secular music is what is wrong with church music today. Let it go man. You know, ‘pop’ music is generally played at high volume in a public setting, but I seem to recall you complaining about the music at church being too loud. So you want Tomlin to conform to one aspect of ‘pop’ music, but not to others? Listen to yourself man. You said that you are not 100 years old but you sure sound like it.

  23. John Stackhouse

    #21: Oh, please. Brother Tomlin isn’t using “slant rhyme,” he’s using assonance. And while assonance is a perfectly worthy poetic device, it is deployed for a good reason, as any device is. What’s Tomlin’s? Is there a powerful literary or theological reason why he writes as he does? Or is it more likely that he’s just bad at it, or doesn’t care?

    #24: I mostly don’t agree with your professor, since I think that sounds to me like a mere “anti-Establishment” justification for weak writing. But still, some pretty fine songwriters follow his advice, so I have to concede (!) that sometimes “sorta” rhymes work!

    Again, then, I would say, look at Tomlin’s work. Is there something creative and interesting in his non-rhymes that would justify them?

    #27: This tangle of assertions–lyrical craft doesn’t matter as long as someone somewhere is edified; I should somehow not listen when I’m in church if I don’t like the song; I should mature to the point where bad songwriting no longer bothers me; my blog is an attempt to control what people find edifying; I want Tomlin to write good music but not play it at a deafening volume, and that’s somehow contradictory–leaves me confused and unimproved, alas.

    Being told that I sound like I’m over 100 years old, though, that really hurts.

    #5: What the heck? Are you really trying to “out-cool” me by the reference to Dylan’s singing?! Let’s try to have a conversation, dude! Otherwise, I’ll have to dare you to come to Vancouver to jam and I’ll play you off the stage. And that would make me as crazy as the Apostle Paul bragging about his apostleship. Let’s just talk, brother!

  24. RonW

    May I, as a Roman Catholic, offer my solution?. Gregorian Chant. Latin Mass It’s stood the test of time. Probably not for everyone but you’ll never encounter any of these situations.

  25. Michael Krahn

    Oh, it’s like that, eh Steakhouse? You’re going to “play me off the stage”? I didn’t realize your ego was actually that inflated. 🙂

    OK, now seriously, among all the bad, popular worship music out there, why pick on Chris Tomlin?

    Maybe I’m taking it a little personal because I’m a bit of a music snob who has never liked much in the “worship genre” and I actually like Chris Tomlin. Maybe I should put that in the “guilty pleasure” category…

  26. Randy

    Why isn’t anyone critiquing the pap and dribble genre to begin with? Perhaps there is a more foundational problem here. The depth and craftsmanship we all want seems to be undercut by the cliche genre used to produce it. Sorry, but is the genre really acceptable?

  27. David Wilson

    So the standard is that every song a writer pens must meet all those “rules”? I guess Wesley, Crosby, Sankey etc. missed the memo. Perfection isn’t going to happen down here.

    Maybe Tomlin can do better.Maybe we all can.

    Wonder if anyone wrote Chris with these suggestions before taking him to task publicly. You know, like the Bible seems to suggest is the first step when disagreements occur among believers.

    Very disappointing.

  28. J

    Where do we go for better worship songs?

    Steve Bell is one of the best-yet-least-known Christian musicians out there. His recent album, Devotion, includes a number of songs written by another fabulous Canadian writer named Gord Johnson.

    I’d also recommend Glenn Kaiser (of REZ Band fame) who produced 2 albums of worship music used in the JPUSA community in Chicago.

  29. John Stackhouse

    I’m beginning to understand how Chris Tomlin can be so popular…

    Brother Wilson, what are you talking about? What is this big list of rules I’m supposed to be laying down? Rhyming? Progression of thought? Metaphors that make sense?

    It’s a bit scary to read comments that can’t distinguish between asking for competence and asking for perfection.

    And if we’re going to use the Bible on each other (!), let’s get it right. The Bible is talking about issues of sin against each other, or harboring grudges over perceived slights. The passages to which you refer are not talking about “disagreements” in general. Does Jesus always take his disagreements with individuals to them privately first? Does Paul? Well, no. So by all means, let us exhort each other from Scripture–but not from half-remembered and badly-interpreted Scripture.

    If you’re going to defend Chris Tomlin’s work as lyrically sound–and that is the point of the blog–then do it. Insults, exaggerations, and off-target reprovals get us nowhere.

  30. David Wilson

    Please forgive me for any perceived insults. I meant no offense,though I must admit being perturbed by the article. I’m a Tomlin fan, not a worshipper, but someone who appreciates his humility and willingness to serve.

    So my thoughts were along the line of how little praise for contemporary artists we read and how often many find fault. Perhaps I have read so much of that lately that yours was the tipping point and I fell. Onto my face.

    So while my application had more heat than light, my aim was to urge you to direct your questions to the only one who could answer them in the hope that your comments might serve to benefit the Body and not just stoke a chorus of “that’s right” which predictably occurred.

    Again, my apology for intruding. Never read anything by you before and came through a link off another blog.

  31. Angela

    Seriously? If you are going to pick on a comtemporary Christian artist, pick on Hillsongs United. At least Chris Tomlin finds his inspiration from Scripture. He’s released a great number of albums and if a great number of people are blessed because of his music and are led to worship through simple songs like How Great is Our God, then really? Who CARES. I was forwarded your blog entry by someone and I just wasted my time reading this senseless, mean-spirited drivel. You could have made your point without nit-picking through one single song. Sheesh.

  32. Simon

    I think the second part of your title sums it up – let’s go on and do better. My guess is that Tomlin aims to do what he does well, and hopefully he will continually aim to do it better. Fair enough. Some people might not feel that he does so successfully, but others buy his music, sing his songs and find them helpful in their worship and meeting with God. If his lyrics are so terrible, surely the most appropriate response is to provide some songs which are better rather than just ranting, ranting ranting.

    Anyway, none of his metaphors malfunction to the degree of “Over the mountains and the sea, your river runs with love for me”. I find it quite difficult to sing that without picturing a system of pumps to push the water over the mountains, and aqueducts to carry it over the sea, by which point I think it can be charitably classed as a canal rather than a river.

  33. Frank Emanuel

    I was lamenting recently at the lack of new music that excites me. Part of the problem is that I now really think about the lyrics I sing. We were given a CD recently and it was merely cliches strung together with ok music (punctuated with cheesy instrumentations woven into the songs???). I love singing. I love getting lost in worship song. I’m really quite oriented in that way. But I’ve had my trust violated too often by the hokiest of lyrics which I find myself embarrassed to have been suckered into singing.

    On the other side I have a young guy in our congregation who is writing a lot of music – so I enrolled him in a theology programme for worship leaders. It is already making a difference.

  34. elling

    Well, God has at least used Chris Tomlins song to a great amount in my life. That doesn’t make them lyrical masterpieces by any means, but it should, I guess, humble us to the fact that God can use whatever and whoever he wants.

    And of course that doesn’t make illegitimate to discuss quality or aim for quality, but there is something about the tone in the post that is slightly arrogant in terms of saying something like “I know the parameters of what’s good enough quality in pop worship songs, and we should starte to navigate out of that.” Well, to me it doesn’t seem like that’s the most helpful way to look at these things

  35. Lawrence

    Picking up on your concluding question, I would nominate the songs of John Bell and the Wild Goose Worship Group. For years he has been producing eminently singable worship material with a firm basis in orthodox Trinitarian theology.

  36. andrew

    Dr Stackhouse, I have never heard of you before but am disappointed at the way you are responding to many of people’s valid points of disagreement. You come across as argumentative and condesending when you are merely arguing you own opinion and preference, not Biblical truth and there is a great difference between the two.I will not list out the massive about of deep, theological, and singing songs that are being pumped out today since other’s have, but your expression that there just isn’t that much is, in my opinion (and that’s all it is) is a bit mypoic and a overstatement. And the whole thing about about him not rhyming is unbelievable to me. This is only YOUR opinion.

  37. Ray Fowler

    #24 and #29: Well, he was sort of an anti-establishment kind of guy, but I don’t think that was his motivation on this point nor was he trying to excuse weak writing. He had spent a lot of time “exegeting” pop music songlyrics and trying to discover the “rules” of what made it work. And one of the things he had discovered was that it was not always necessary to use a perfect rhyme in pop music. He also had some great ideas on using “thought clusters” in lyric writing.

  38. J

    Andrew:

    “This is only YOUR opinion”?

    From my count at least 13 people have agreed with Dr. Stackhouse, and you can add my name to the list, too. (A few more posters seem sympathetic, but they aren’t explicit in their agreement.) In other words, it seems that the good doctor has put into words what a significant number of other people are thinking and feeling as well.

    I haven’t listened to Christian radio or bought a Christian “worship” CD in more than 5 years. The tipping point for me was when I couldn’t get that Vineyard song that has has the lyrics “I can feel you flowing through me” out of my head. It gave me this picture of the Holy Spirit being a tapeworm…

  39. Nathan

    I have actually heard Stackhouse sing and play his OWN material and perhaps this will give me some special insight here.

    Let’s see: I remember he wore blue jeans while he played for and sang to our class. To my mind, the jeans were distractingly snug. So much so they dominate my memory to the extent I cannot reflect on theological content and iambic pentameter.

    All I see are gyrating Wrangler clad hips and a fanny pack…

    …and a swooning front row of female graduate students…

  40. John Stackhouse

    Thanks for the positive musical suggestions various commentors have offered. Let’s get some more: I’m sure they’re out there!

    As for Nathan (#46), we can always count on you, Pastor, to add that missing note of carnality to any conversation…! 😉

  41. John Stackhouse

    #37: Thanks, Brother Wilson, for this gentle response. For my part, I apologize for my tone of exasperation. I’m trying to help us worship better, not worse, by calling attention to (just) one area of concern. And I agree that we should focus on what we can do better, once we are convinced (as some readers clearly are not!) that we ought to do better. Hence my request for nominations of those songwriters whom worship leaders can enjoy discovering and putting to work in their churches.

  42. Doug

    I left a church a few years back because I didn’t dig the worship, and other things on a list as long as my arm.

    Hindsight now allows me to recognize that the log in my eye was much larger than any of the other specks I was plucking away at.

    My suggestion is to prepare for worship, listen for what God might be wanting to say to you, and the hard and soft “s” won’t be quite so big a deal.

  43. Barry Bridges

    You seriously need to find something important to whine about.

    Just apply equal critical eye to any of your great anthems and you can find a scab to pick at on each.

    Perhaps you miss what worship is – maybe Chris’ heart is simple in lyric and mixed in metaphor and perhaps God is pleased, as He was with David who wrote pop music for his day.

    From the comments you seem to have a devoted following, but I do not recall any of your worship contributions sticking in my head, and would not that be the criteria, resulting in speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?

  44. Micah Smith

    I would like to talk about Tomlin’s worship music.

    My impression of Tomlin’s work is twofold:

    1. Tomlin’s lyrics are triumphalist and escapist. The imagery of overcoming and of troubles no more are by far the dominant themes. There is very little (any?) depiction of the full depth of sin. Only brief references to ‘sin’ as something past. Except for “If the Devil Was a Man” which is really, really bad poetry, a really shallow interaction with sin and just plain silly.

    2. The metaphors, and imagery are often unconnected to each other, or to the theme of the song but loosely. When they seem connected, it is usually just repetition. And they seem to be in the popcorn style – not building upon each other, or going deeper into the mystery, or developing a thought more fully.

    I do not think that all Tomlin songs should be destroyed, and never sung. Some seem to hold together on their own, and may have value as a camp song. However, I find the over use of repetition of cliches too much for me. It feels like emotional manipulation – take me to that rose petal land.

    “Getting lost in worship songs” seems to be the aim of worship bands and worship music now. Volume helps that happen too. I, like Jon Coutts, look around at the others singing with me to feel in community. To remind me that its not just me and the band because that is all that I would know by my aural sense.

    Anyways, be critical of what you sing: they are after all prayers and offerings you are presenting to your Lord.

  45. E.G.

    One of the most agregious lyrical transgressions occurs in “Blessed by Your Name” by Matt Redman. Specifically, the use of air-quotes which a singer or listener only gets the gist of if the words are splashed up on the PPT screen:

    “Blessed be Your name when the sun’s shining down on me

    When the world’s ‘all as it should be’ — blessed be Your name.”

  46. Kellye

    Professor Stackhouse, I find it discouraging that you would criticize another Christian on your blog for all the world to see. I am not sure if you are making a point about honoring the Lord with excellent writing, or if you are just attacking Chris Tomlin because you personally don’t like his music. Though it appears by the tone of this post that you wrote it for no other reason than to put him down. In all due respect sir, this does not appear to be the way scripture commands us to treat one another.

  47. J.D. Walt

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    I nominate one who might be considered the “gold standard” of songwriting in the modern era, who regularly penned lyrics like these:

    O for a thousand tongues to sing
    my great redeemer’s praise
    the glories of my God and King
    the triumphs of his grace.

    You, of course, recognize these lyrics from the pen of Charles Wesley, easily one of the most influential hymn writers in the last 300 years if not more. Very few people can remember a sermon, essay, journal entry, book or treatise written by John Wesley, who likely wrote more than you or I combined. Millions the world over will readily remember a Charles Wesley hymn. He wrote some 6,000 hymns by conservative estimates. Only a few of them survive to the present day singing church. I suspect the same will be so of Chris Tomlin.

    Having worked closely with Chris over the past dozen years, I find your critique of his work fair in its content though debatable, and I appreciate that you have welcomed dialogue. Perhaps I can get to that in a subsequent comment.

    My intent with this comment is to challenge your approach to the conversation and what feels to me as your disrespectful treatment of Chris. I do not mean to judge but to challenge. The tone of your “rant,” in my assessment, mocks Chris. Your post, by your own admission, is accusatory. Your assessment of his (and apparently others like him) lyrical work as “stupid” feels scornful. You even seem to scoff at Chris, analogizing him to a “lazy or untalented musician.” Finally, you explicitly heap shame on Chris, anyone who would lead others to sing his songs and anyone who would disagree with your assessment. Noone minds a good “rant” every now and then, but your approach borders on ad hominem.

    I certainly do not intend such an attack on you with this comment. Again, constructive critique, of which your post contains a fair amount, is fair play. I would encourage you to do a bit more thorough lyrical analysis of his entire catalog of music before making such broad criticisms.

    My beef, Professor, is with your dialogical method. Dr. Stackhouse, you are a teacher of Israel. Your significant work is a great gift to the Church. However, the way you approach those you critique or disagree with implicitly gives your followers both warrant and license to do likewise. I humbly offer you the same reminder I issued to our faculty at our seminary just this week. It comes from James 3:1 and falls under the extra-biblical section title, “Taming the Tongue.”

    “Let not many of you become teachers, my brothers, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

    In the spirit of this text, I close with another of Charles Wesley’s lyrical gaffes. It’s Stanza 3 from A Charge to Keep I have.

    Arm me with jealous care,
    as in thy sight to live,
    and oh, thy servant, Lord,
    prepare a strict account to give!

    Respectfully,

    J.D. Walt
    Dean of Chapel
    Asbury Theological Seminary

  48. Marilyn

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written, and yet…

    I remember singing contemporary praise songs in church one Sunday morning while my husband lay in a hospital bed, fighting for his life. Those songs drew me out of myself and into worship. The combination of praise and lament in songs like Matt Redman’s Blessed Be The Name and Chris Tomlin’s Forever is very powerful. For me, those songs capture the heart of the Psalms in a way that most other Christian music does not.

    Since this thread is part of a general conversation about contemporary worship music, let me make a plug for my favorite Gospel singer, Minnesota’s Robert Robinson. If you like contemporary Christian music, you really should listen to Robert’s contemporary rendition of some of the old George Beverly Shea numbers – as well as some traditional hymns and spirituals – on his Praise From The Heart 2 cd.

  49. Tim

    Tomlin is a gift to our generation. His lyrics are thoughtful, theologically rich, informed by the broader worship of the church’s history, and – lest they be unused and therefore of no help – eminently singable.

    Are they oversung by some irresponsible worship leaders? No doubt. Overplayed by Christian radio? Ugh. Absolutely. This would have been a more valid criticism than loose rhyme schemes. No song, not even “Come Thou Fount” can withstand the force of repetition ad nauseam, but that’s no fault of Robert Robinson or Chris Tomlin.

    Criticism is easy; creativity is always a divine gift, labor, and risk. Tomlin has put his heart out in songs. Aim your sword elsewhere, for we can do far worse than Chris.

    He’s a gem.

  50. steve bateman

    I object! I agree that much worship music is shoddy and superficial. I very much agree with your point about mixing metaphors. I can’t believe, though, that you would insist on poetry which requires fully rhyming words every time! This insistence is a throwback to an older and thankfully outmoded approach to lyric. More subtle rhymes involing only the vowels actually serve to underline the importance of the words themselves. They lend a welcome unpredictability and nuance. They serve to more perfectly balance unity with variety. They are certainly not a distraction in most contemporary contexts.

  51. Kellye

    I agree with the comments of JD Walt(#58). Excellent thoughts!

  52. Bennett

    I tried to read all the comments, but it took too long. Is the message that Chris and his peers should try harder or that Christian culture should expect more? Because I don’t see how a few of the top artists cracking some commentaries and thesauruses will help if the Christian CONSUMER is satisfied with the current fare.

    Also, aren’t we holding up an impossible standard when we merge the world of consumer media with the art of musical worship? Didn’t Wesley and others write like thousands of songs? How many of them stood the test of time?

  53. Zach Nielsen

    Dr. Stackhouse,

    I appreciate your concerns surrounding the state of music in the contemporary church. I agree that we can do better than many of us in church musical leadership have done in the past. There is no argument from me on that. What I do have a concern with is the tone of your blog post directed at Chris Tomlin.

    One of the things that grieves me most is when I see the people of God, who cherish and draw their very life from the grace of God, fail to extend this same grace to others. I would like to humbly submit that you rewrite your blog post or edit it significantly to reflect to a greater degree a gracious and gentle spirit (2 Tim. 2:24,25).

    To be clear, I do not claim to be perfectly consistent when it comes to displaying to others the grace that I have received from God. I need to improve in this area. Can’t we agree that we should all be working much harder toward this end for the sake of love, unity and witness to the world? My contention is that the spirit of your post works against these Biblical ends.

    I could be wrong, but my contention is that statements like this only work against your cause:

    “My suspicion, in fact, is that these songs “come to him” and he then records them with little or no alteration. Surely he can’t be crafting them with the diligence of a serious poet. For if these are the best he can do after working and reworking them, he simply needs to get someone else to write the words. They’re just that bad.”

    “We have rhymes this time–hooray!” (Painful sarcasm)

    “But what Brother Tomlin seems happy to keep sending our way–and what the rest of us are happily receiving–isn’t simple, it’s just bad. Shame on him…”

    I am in no way saying that Chris Tomlin is beyond critique and I’m sure he would not say that either. I honestly share some of your same concerns, but as we all know, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. I would like to submit that the tone of your post (mainly from these quotes above) does not reflect a graciousness that is the mark of someone whose every breath relies upon the mercy of God. I could be wrong, but this seems to be a very problematic disconnect for a man who has given his life to the study and communication of God’s word which is mainly the story of God’s grace. Perhaps this is just subjective judgment on my part, but at least consider it and run it by a few folks in your life who you know love you and love the grace, mercy, and patience of God.

    One of the ways that you could do a heart check with this is to imagine if you were talking to Chris in person. Do you think you would feel comfortable reading your post out-loud to him if he was sitting in your office with you?

    I could be wrong, but I would guess that that situation might make you feel a bit uncomfortable and that you would probably edit some of your words if you knew that Chris was going to actually read your blog post. Critique from afar is very simple. Critique up close is more complex.

    Here is my offer to you Dr. Stackhouse: Through relationships that I have in the Christian music industry, I can say with a relative degree of confidence that I could get Chris to read your post (if he has not already). I could be wrong here, but my sense is that if you leave it as is, he will write you off as just another insensitive and angry blogger. If you really care about this issue and want to make a difference in the life of a younger believer who influences thousands of people, you should rewrite your post for the sake of greater impact through love, humility and respect. If you do that, I’ll do all I can to get it to him.

    Let me know if you want to take me up on the offer.

    Sincerely,

    Zach Nielsen
    Music Minister
    Desert Springs Church
    Albuquerque, NM 87113
    zachnielsen7@gmail.com

  54. amy

    You are being mean. And really sarcastic, and I don’t see how this tone or your words glorify God or lead anyone to a reconciliation with Christ, which is our purpose. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I have never thought about it with this much detail. But there perhaps could have been a different way to state your mind. That’s all. Oh and I agree wholeheartedly with Zach Nielsen on this matter.

  55. davesiverns

    Dr. Stockhouse,

    I appreciate many of the critiques that you bring to the table and firmly agree that those who write music to be used as congregational worship in the church today have a great responsibility. I think that your point about mixed metaphors is especial pertinent as often writers are simply excited to use any metaphor (or metaphors) without thinking about how they fit into a bigger picture.

    As has been said, I have difficulty accepting your comments about rhyming. I have taken courses in songwriting and studied pop music a fair amount and I would like to suggest that hard rhymes are (in current popular music) actually more out of style than soft rhymes. You’re right in saying that “grace” and “praise” are easy to find rhymes to, but we as the church have sung many of those lines many times and I personally find it helpful with writers strive to find fresh ways of engaging my heart and mind by using less predictable rhymes. Artistic style changes, and I believe that soft rhymes are now more widely acceptable than the harder rhymes of older pop music.

    I’m also slightly disappointed in how you seem to attack his work and his integrity as a songwriter. You wrote:

    “My suspicion, in fact, is that these songs “come to him” and he then records them with little or no alteration. Surely he can’t be crafting them with the diligence of a serious poet.”

    You have chosen one of his songs which I expect will not last due to some of the lesser artistic and theological content. Fair enough, but every artist has good songs and bad ones. To suggest that he does not edit his songs at all is mocking and offensive and I do not think it’s honorable to him as a brother in Christ. (as J.D. Walt has said much better than I can)

    I appreciate some of the thoughts in this article, but the tone of it makes it difficult for me to swallow as a whole.

  56. Peter

    So we write such a thing to edify the saints? Everyday my cynical spirit arises in me to cut others down and defend my own points of view – then cut off my own nose despite my face.

    Dear sir, I encourage you to hear the prophetic voices speaking to you in critique of your entry. You are not correct in your assessment at all because it is not a wisely written. It did not have to be said and the way it was said shows a lack of discernment on your part. Job’s friends may have been correct but they were not wise because they said it at the wrong time, therefore out of context. Watch your pride professor because your pride is teeming in this article, not your humility or “concern” and you are bring judgments to yourself from others, your “esteemed readers” that you will not enjoy.

  57. John Stackhouse

    This has been a discouraging exercise for me. Let me count the ways:

    1. Commentators fasten on the “grace/praise” issue and chide me for making a big deal about it. Fair enough. I conceded that it was a relatively small matter in the original post. But the mistake they then make is to wax lyrical (so to speak) about how wonderful it is not to be bound by strict rhymes on the creative edges of contemporary poetry. Fine. Groovy. Does anyone seriously think that’s what’s going on here? Imaginative, paradigm-stretching lyrics? You’re not defending W. B. Yeats, Emily Dickinson, or G. M. Hopkins here, folks. You’re defending a songwriter who gives us the egregious non-rhymes that no one yet has the stomach to defend: “grace/names,” home/flows.” Please. To defend these in the name of “creative assonance” seems to me to demean serious poetry.

    2. Some of you are upset because I am disagreeing with someone else’s work in public. Shall I conclude that you don’t agree with the genres of movie reviews, book reviews, music reviews, or any criticism at all?

    3. Others are concerned because I haven’t approached Brother Tomlin first. I have already replied to this mis-application of Scripture (#36). And I note that all of these people who criticize me for criticizing Brother Tomlin’s work in public before approaching him privately criticized me in public before approaching me privately. Precisely one person has approached me through my e-mail, and then only to duplicate his blog comment.

    4. Some of you have testified that you have been edified by his work. I don’t doubt it. He sounds Scriptural notes: why shouldn’t they edify someone, somewhere? I am not contending that his work is devoid of value. I am contending that it mostly isn’t good and mostly should be better–or we should be finding someone else’s that is better. That’s the crucial difference.

    5. I appreciate that some spirits won’t be edified by the tone of the column. I’m sorry about that–sincerely. I wish everyone liked everything I do.

    But let’s be clear: I did not attack Mr. Tomlin’s sincerity or Christian profession or motives or any of those important things that are invisible to me. I wonder about his motives, I confess. But I have no access to them. So I criticized his work, which he submits to the public and therefore to public scrutiny.

    Let’s also be clear that I am angry about this situation: angry that no one appears able to convince Brother Tomlin that his work is often shoddy; angry that worship leaders keep programming it; and angry that people will leap to his defense using these off-target or even ad hominem arguments instead of dealing with the main point that our worship is being compromised, if not in fact corrupted, by these confused and confusing lyrics–Tomlin’s and many others’.

    Chris Tomlin is not just starting out in the biz. He’s not a delicate little flower just beginning to bloom. And he’s happy even to give workshops as an expert songwriter. That’s a very bad situation and very strong language is called for.

    Is my tone too strong in places? Maybe. People of goodwill can disagree about that. Do I think that I am being spoken to “prophetically” by people who are certain that my tone is sinful? Not yet.

    Brother Walt (#58 ) and Brother Nielsen (#65) rebuke me–kindly, I am glad to say–for my tone. Brothers, I take that seriously and I appreciate what I sense to be a good spirit about that.

    But I am not yet prepared to concede that my remarks are abusive. They are meant to be pretty strong and I do think Chris Tomlin (#65) should take them straight up. The record would seem to show that both of you, who say you have worked with him for years or otherwise have access to him, have completely failed to persuade him of the matters I am discussing. (That’s one of the reasons why I selected a very recent song to use as an example: What I’m deriding is characteristic of a long pattern of his compositional style.) Will my way of discussing it do any better? Who knows? But, friends, your way hasn’t worked. And unless I’m sinning against him, and I don’t think I am, then pushing pretty hard might be edifying for him after all.

    So don’t show him my blog post if you think he can’t bear it. Tell him in your own way what he needs to hear. But why haven’t you told him before?

    Newcomers to this blog, look through any other half-dozen posts. There’s lots to choose from. See how I usually write. See how I treat people with whom I disagree. I don’t write this strongly as a rule and when I do, I take on only Big Boys and Girls who have chosen to work in the public eye.

    I am NOT going to let Chris Tomlin or our worship leaders off the hook on this one. Too much is at stake, and it has been disturbing to me how so many people want to slide off the main issue into secondary matters.

  58. Aaron Perry

    Brother Stackhouse, I think some of those who are writing are not as concerned with Chris and his feelings as they are with you. Most of them believe two things:
    1. You were mean;
    2. You had good points on mixed metaphors and ambiguous lyrics.

    So, I wonder, if your points could have generated as much discussion without the meanness. I would guess no. I expect you are thankful that so much has come of your original thoughts because you consider this a serious issue and, as your blog tagline suggests, this is meant to be about conversation. Perhaps, then, some of your readers are wanting you to become more adept at generating conversation that leads to conversion of thought and practice without the acridity. This, of course, is the postmodern in them. And if you’re serious about conversation, then you’ll have to become a little more postmodern in your conversation. Perhaps you could consider them not religious prophets, but cultural ones.

  59. elling

    Dr Stackhouse: Do you mean it is off-target to say that Chris Tomlin and his work has had a significant impact on my own, and I think many others peoples lives with God? And honestly, although soulsearching, I struggle to see that the impact has been bad.

    Because, you don’t seem to discuss Tomlins work out of your quality measures of poetry only, you also seem to discredit the value of his work in terms of wether it is coming out of a sincere wish to serve God, and used by many others out of a sincere wish to serve, worship and glorify God. And when the songs he write actually has a great effect out of that, I can’t see that being ad-hoc.

    I appreciate your concern to strive for quality, but struggle to cope with your tone and mixture of taking the man or the ball, and therefore find it hard to see that it is you who should feel discouraged by this.

  60. Aaron

    There seems to be an over concern with ‘niceness’. Seriously, critial thinking is good, there is no need to not be afraid of saying it how it is. That coupled with receiving truth back in the same way.

    That is not to make an argument either way, but too many responces seem to be over concerned with the tone of the John’s post and are missing the point.

  61. Kellye

    Mr. Stackhouse,

    You said in one of your comments, “Don’t show him my blog post if you don’t think he can bear it.” That is not the reason this post discouraged me. Your attitude towards a brother in Christ makes me wonder if studying scripture really makes a difference in a person. Your main point was overshadowed by your sarcasm and meanness.

  62. Keith

    Here are nine songs that get regular play on my ipod or at our church, each of which I find helpfully give voice to an aspect of worship:

    Steve Bell
    1. Almighty God
    2. God our Protector
    3. Praise the Father (Unlikely Icon version, preferably)

    Sojourn Music (http://www.sojournmusic.com/)
    4. We are Listening

    Graham Kendrick
    5. Creation’s King

    Keith Getty / Stuart Townend
    6. When Trials Come
    7. My Heart is Filled

    Geoff Bullock
    8. This Kingdom

    Charlie Hall
    9. Center

    Other suggestions for specific songs or songwriters would be helpful to many of us!

  63. jason

    John,

    You obviously seem to be a learned man. I can not help but think that you could have approached this post (as well as your follow up comments) with more (some) humility. And I say that in all humility.

  64. shawn smith

    John,

    To paraphrase the wise poster @70, ‘I question your motives, I confess.’

    I read your blog looking for some compelling reason why “we” ought to do better. Sure, you provide some rationale for why you are picking on Chris Tomlin (“he’s popular”), and you give the vague “praise God with our minds…” reason for why we should use the left hemisphere of our brains, but you fail to tell us why we ought to do better.

    So jump ahead and tell us what would happen actually if we, or Chris, did better. Perhaps you would say something like if we had all the theology just right, then God would be glorified and understood and then we would be ‘properly’ praising him or whatever.

    This is the weakness of your post – you never really get at what we are missing – or why we should do something ‘better.’

    So, here is what we could do better.

    We could concede that theological accuracy or proper performance, while very important, is not all that God cares about. We could concede that even if some of Chris’ songs are lyrically lacking but still have a formative or redemptive effect, they may have value. We might even concede that other forms of art – painting, acting, dancing, or ambiguous stories about lost coins or sons – do indeed have the ability to communicate the gospel message, that they may indeed be a means of grace.

    But we rarely can concede those things, really. And we know why.

    Because once us Pharisees are chided for missing the point, for convincing everyone that our invaluable intellect is needed to “really get it”, for publishing our obscure treatises on some obscure jots, for engaging in some graduate level temple yard discourse intended to bait each other into intellectual traps – well, you know what happens – we aren’t needed. We are shown for who we really are.

    Perhaps we are concerned that the world won’t define us by the intellectual accolades of our “about us” page. Perhaps, we think that if we affirm any work of Chris, then we discredit the means by which we have given our life – as the arbitrator of Enlightenment – whatever it takes. And the fact that we are writing books and teaching students is scary.

    Best,

    Shawn

  65. John Stackhouse

    It’s always fascinated me–horribly–how people will criticize authors for being insufficiently humble or kind or sweet and then viciously bash them for it. Shawn Smith gives us a case in point, heading inexorably, paragraph by paragraph, to a complete condemnation of my profession and my person. And then he somehow wishes me the “best” at the end. Sure. Thanks.

    So let’s call it quits here, friends. I’ve made the points I wanted to make, I appreciate sincerely those of you who have agreed with them, I appreciate sincerely the (few) critics who have chided me in a thoughtful and charitable way, and I’ll commend the rest of you to God.

    Chris Tomlin has helped lots of people enjoy praising God. That’s terrific and I bless him for that. Can he do better? I don’t know, but I hope he will continue to improve his craft. Should some of us be more discerning about the limitations we are placing on our worship by limiting ourselves to the very basic lyrics and melodies represented in this post? I expect so.

    So let’s move on. Lots else to talk about, and we seem to have run out of any more engagement with the substance of the post.

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