NOTE: On May 8, 2019, CCLI made a post regarding top 5 questions they receive. One of the most frequent questions they receive is, “Can we change the lyrics of a song to more accurately reflect our theology?” The answer was, “No.” Up untili May 8, 2019, I had received conflicting advice concerning this issue. Yet they made it very clear that you must get the author’s permission to change lyrics, otherwise you violate the composer’s copyright.
I humbly recant and apologize!!! To anyone who read my blog previously and decided to change the lyrics in “What a Beautiful Name,” or any other song, please do what I am going to do and change course. From now on when we sing this song, we will just change up the order and omit verse 2. We will probably sing it like this: Chorus 1, Verse 1, Chorus 2, Bridge, Chorus 3. It is legal, according to CCLI, to switch up the order of a worship song.
Again, I feel very foolish. I am so sorry!
It has been some time since I have posted a Worship Song Highlight blog. I plan to write about a couple other songs we have been singing at First Baptist Church of Farmersville, namely “His Mercy is More” and “Come Praise and Glorify.” Yet I feel it is important to write about “What a Beautiful Name,” because although this is a beloved new song for many, it has been criticized by others. We are going to start singing it this Sunday, so I hope to explain some of the theology behind the song before our church starts singing it regularly.
“What a Beautiful Name” is the latest hit by Hillsong, the worship song giants that also brought you “Shout to the Lord” back in the Zschech days and, more recently, “Stronger,” “Mighty to Save,” “Forever Reign,” and “Oceans.” The chorus is very easy to sing. The melody stays the same each time, but the words change slightly from chorus to chorus. The first chorus says, “What a beautiful name it is, What a beautiful name it is, The name of Jesus Christ, my King.” The second chorus says, “What a wonderful name it is,” and the third chorus says, “What a powerful name it is.”
The verses and bridge contain truths about Jesus and praise for who he is. The first verse is based on some ideas from John 1, Colossians 1, and Ephesians 1. It first states, “You were the Word at the beginning, One with God, the Lord most high.” You can certainly hear how this reflects John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The next two lines of the verse say, “Your hidden glory in creation, now revealed in You, our Christ.” This echoes Colossians 1:15-20 and makes the point that even though God’s glory was revealed in creation, Christ revealed the “fullness of God” (Col. 1:19) and the “mystery of his will” (Eph. 1:9).
The bridge contains statement after statement of Jesus’ victory through the cross, resurrection, and ascension:
“Death could not hold You
The veil tore before You
You silenced the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring the
Praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again
You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever God, You reign
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names”
So if all of this is good theology, why has the song been criticized? Well, the specific lyrics in question are in verse 2:
“You didn’t want heaven without us,
So Jesus, You brought heaven down.
My sin was great, Your love was greater,
What could separate us now?”
The well-respected and oft-wise John Piper wrote a blog about these lyrics, questioning if they imply that God was lonely in heaven without us. You can read that blog here: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/when-worship-lyrics-miss-the-mark
He helpfully points out how we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that God needs us and that it was out of a feeling of emptiness he sent Jesus to save and reconcile us to himself. While I agree with him that we should be careful about this false theology, I don’t believe it was the songwriters’ intent in the lyric. In fact, Ben Fielding, one of the co-authors of the song posted a blog about the scriptural basis for the song. You can read his comments here: https://hillsong.com/collected/blog/2017/05/scriptural-inspiration-behind-the-lyrics-of-what-a-beautiful-name/#.WcFnP62ZNBw
I didn’t get the same impression as John Piper did when I first heard this song, and I actually love what Ben Fielding has to say about the lyric. However, the last thing I want to do is confuse anyone in our church or have us sing something that is misleading. Therefore, we will probably not sing verse 2.
Honestly, I couldn’t throw out the entire song due to one line because I think the song is already meaningful to many of our people. We sang this song in French in Montreal on a mission trip on July 30th. That same morning back in Farmersville, one of our choir members, Amanda, sang this song as a solo. That same morning at church our Guatemala mission trip team was sharing about their trip. I later found out they sang this song together in Guatemala at a crucial time in the week. I believe God orchestrated all these things. For these reasons, this song already has a special place in my heart, even before we start to use it congregationally at FBC Farmersville.
Post-Script: Should we even sing Hillsong songs???
Many people have criticized Hillsong Worship in recent years for various reasons. Some evangelicals have argued we should not sing any of their music. Let me say these things in response:
1) Some say we shouldn’t sing their songs because some of their pastors have preached prosperity gospel type messages. I would say that although I do not agree with the message of the prosperity gospel, I have never picked up on any such theology in their worship music.
2) Some say we shouldn’t sing their songs because of their charismatic theology. I would say that we should not sing songs written by anybody which contain theology with which we disagree (ie. charismatic theology, prosperity gospel, etc.). Yet we should be able to sing songs that have great theology, even if we disagree with some of the author’s theology. (Case in point: “God of Grace and God of Glory” was written by the liberal pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick).
3) Some people don’t like Hillsong just because they are popular. I like what Greg Scheer once said: “Well, you don’t see anybody writing hate blogs about my music because apparently I’m not popular enough!” The same is true of me. I have yet to encounter anyone warning Christians not to sing my songs, haha!
4) I am always open to being corrected by the Word and by the Holy Spirit. Currently, however, I see no reason why a church should feel hesitant to sing a song just because it was produced by Hillsong Worship.