Did you know I can read minds? Yup, I really can. I can tell you what people are going to say before they even say it.
Of course my powers are very limited. In fact my mind reading ability is limited to only a specific type of person when asked a single specific question. But every time that question is asked of that person I know exactly what they’re going to say before they do. It usually goes something like this…
Worship Traditionalist: “Contemporary worship is simplistic and shallow, lacking the musical and theological depth of the traditional hymns.”
Interviewer: “Does that mean you don’t like any contemporary worship songs?”
Worship Traditionalist: “No, there are some recent songs that are very good.”
Interviewer: “Which ones?”
(This is the part where I know what they’re going to say before they say it.)
Worship Traditionalist: “In Christ Alone”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard such sentiments about contemporary worship from pastors, theologians, worship leaders, and lay persons. And each time they are asked what contemporary worship songs they feel represent theological depth, they all answer exactly the same way:
In Christ Alone
Now please don’t misunderstand me, I love the song “In Christ Alone,” written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. I use it regularly with my congregation, and I consider it a song that is very deep theologically. I even think it will outlast many of the other songs written in the last few decades. It has been a tremendous offering to the worship life of the church.
However, when traditionalists immediately jump to “In Christ Alone” as their example of an approved contemporary worship song, it tells me one very important thing:
They haven’t listened to very much Contemporary Worship Music.
In the early years of the modern worship movement most of the songs were simple and sentimental, compensating for what was viewed as a lack of emotion in traditional hymnody. And yes, much of the criticism of the lack of spiritual depth of these choruses was deserved. However, in the last two decades or so, there has been a major shift among songwriters with truly deep, theologically rich contemporary worship songs being written for and sung in the church.
So to help those who haven’t kept up with recent trends, I offer these 10 Theologically Deep Worship Songs That Are Not “In Christ Alone” (in no particular order).
1.) Grace So Glorious: Elevation Worship
I’ve mentioned this song in a couple of other posts, mostly because I think it is so well written. With lines like “Immortal day the veil was torn, when mercy donned a crown of thorns,” you won’t find a deeper, more poetic description of the atonement anywhere.
2.) Immortal Invisible: Laura Story
Taking the theme from the hymn “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” but completely rewriting the lyrics, Laura Story provides one of the richest meditations on the immutability and eternality of God, especially in light of the incarnation.
3.) Reign In Us: Starfield
One of the most underrated songs, from one of the most underrated Christian bands, “Reign In Us” is a heartfelt prayer of consecration in light of God’s sovereignty. And its acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit in the second verse is something many of the most beloved traditional hymns don’t even incorporate.
4.) 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord): Matt Redman
This is one of those rare worship songs that finds its home both on Christian radio and in the congregational church. Taking its emphasis of Psalm 103, the lyrics express the need for constant praise to God for all that He is, from our first breath to our last.
5.) Our Great God: Fernando Ortega and Mac Powell
Written by two of the best Christian songwriters of the past several decades, this hymn-like song covers the attributes of God better than any other worship song I know of. And it’s second verse praying for God’s protection against evil is truly unique.
6.) Christ is Risen: Matt Maher
This is another song I’ve mentioned in previous posts, and is especially appropriate as we approach the Easter season. I would argue this is the best song about the resurrection since “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today”. The way the bridge expresses Christ’s victory over Death and Hell could keep one meditating on this eternal truth for a lifetime.
7.) Behold the Lamb: Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend
Ok this one is kind of cheating because it’s by the same people who wrote “In Christ Alone,” but I’m adding it to this list to make one specific point. Townend and Getty have written other things! And like this beautiful reflection on communion, most of their songs are theologically deep and musically intricate. It’s worth exploring their other work.
8.) The Glory of the Cross: Bob Kauflin
Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Music have been putting out some of the deepest reflections of Reformed Theology in musical form for over 20 years. This line gets me every time: “…the wisdom of a sovereign God whose greatness will be shown when those who crucified your Son rejoice around your throne.”
9.) Humble: Audrey Assad
Many worship songs talk about God’s greatness, but very few have reflected on the humility and servant nature of Jesus in the incarnation. Assad (one of two Catholic songwriters on this list) uses Philippians 2 as a basis for her meditation on the incarnation, and the result is musically and theologically stunning.
10.) This I Believe (The Creed): Hillsong Worship
As the historic creeds and liturgies of the historic Church are making a comeback, it makes sense for worship bands to use them as an inspiration for new worship songs. Hillsong Worship provides a wonderful example in their setting of the Apostles Creed.
So there you have it. 10 theologically deep worship songs that represent the very best of Contemporary worship over the past 2 decades. The truth is I could have given 20 or even 30 songs of this theological caliber. And more are being written every day.
My encouragement for everyone, but especially those who see contemporary worship as shallow or trite, is to take more time to explore the songs that are being written today by the people of God for the people of God. You’ll find that things are much deeper than they appear on the surface, and these waters are worth swimming in, so to speak.
And then when someone asks you which contemporary worship songs are theologically rich, you might even be able to add one or two to “In Christ Alone”.