Do the Psalms Pass the ‘Gospel-Centered’ Test?

If our theological grid for selecting songs doesn’t allow us to sing the Psalms, we might need to rethink it.

Is the song centered on Christ and the gospel? Is it focused on God or focused on the self? Does it celebrate and magnify the Triune God as revealed in Scripture? Is it vague, or specific and clear? Is it light on sin? These questions, and many others, are of upmost importance.

 

I recently saw a list of considerations someone posted online as a kind of guide for whether or not to use a worship song on a Sunday. You may have seen something similar—a concise theological corrective to the some of the weaknesses that tend to show up in modern worship music. These guides have been helpful for me as a young worship leader. With the amount of worship songs we have available to us (both good and bad), careful consideration and evaluation is essential. The songs a church sings Sunday after Sunday have a formative effect on how that church views God. The selection of a “set list” for Sunday should be anything but arbitrary.

Is the song centered on Christ and the gospel? Is it focused on God or focused on the self? Does it celebrate and magnify the Triune God as revealed in Scripture? Is it vague, or specific and clear? Is it light on sin? These questions, and many others, are of upmost importance.

I would argue, however, that these questions are most aptly applied to a canon of worship songs and their use in the context of a particular worship service, and not the right questions to ask of songs individually. Put more pointedly: If our theological grid for selecting songs doesn’t allow us to sing the Psalms, we might need to rethink it.

Have We Overcorrected?

I’ve tried my hand at writing a few worship songs, and I gravitate heavily toward a hymn-like format in my composition. In the attempts I’ve made, the songs (hopefully) lay out a clear and explicit overview of God’s redemptive work; they highlight Christ’s atonement for sin, reconciliation with God, and the future glory that awaits believers. More recently, though, I began trying to adapt a psalm to music. After I had made some progress, the alarms went off in my head when I looked at what I had written. Is this too vague? Is it focused on me rather than God? Is it driven more by emotion than by truth?

I wonder if our correctives to unhealthy trends in worship music have gone so far that we have become more fear-driven than gospel-driven in our song selection.

Take a look at Psalm 63:1–4:

[1] O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
[2] So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
[3] Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
[4] So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

Read More