Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson: Hillsong and God

Truth matters, especially when it comes to worship. That ought to be obvious; you can’t properly praise the Lord if you don’t know who He is. Christ Himself was unequivocal on that point—He said true worshippers “must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, emphasis added).

However, much of modern worship music seems to aim at taming the one true God. Some popular “worship songs” are nothing more than artificial praise offered to a different god altogether. In his book Worship, John MacArthur describes the fallout of the biblical illiteracy that permeates the church today.

“Worship” aims to be as casual and as relaxed as possible, reflecting an easy familiarity with God unbefitting His transcendent majesty. This type of “worship” seems to aim chiefly at making sinners comfortable with the idea of God—purging from our thoughts anything like fear, trembling, reverence, or profound biblical truth. . . .

The decline of true worship in evangelical churches is a troubling sign. It reflects a depreciation of God and a sinful apathy toward His truth among the people of God. Evangelicals have been playing a kind of pop-culture trivial pursuit for decades, and as a result, the evangelical movement has all but lost sight of the glory and grandeur of the One we worship. [1]

During our recent visits to Hillsong Los Angeles, we’ve seen that trend played out in vivid detail. Worse still, we’ve identified some unbiblical characteristics that Hillsong routinely attribute to God.

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Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson: Hillsong and Worship

This is no performance
Lord, I pray it’s worship
Empty words I can’t afford
I’m not chasing feelings
That’s not why I’m singing
You’re the reason for my song

And I only wanna sing
If I sing with everything
If I sing for you, my King

I can’t imagine why
I would do this all for hype
Cause it’s all to lift You high

At this point in the song—titled “Only Wanna Sing”—the music soars, the strobe lights fire up, and everyone on stage and in the crowd begins to dance with reckless abandon.

The irony is hard to miss.

That song—by the band Hillsong Young and Free—epitomizes many of the issues with much of Hillsong’s worship music: vague lyrical content, confused doctrinal perspectives, and an emphasis on style over substance.

Appeal Through Ambiguity

Hillsong’s philosophy fits well with the zeitgeist of our day. The social scientists now tell us that morality is subjective, gender is fluid, and truth is an illusion. Clearly, the precise theology espoused in ancient hymns won’t get the job done anymore.

Hillsong has probably done a better job than anyone else in filling the musical void that many modern churches have experienced. Their songs are catchy, their musicians are excellent, and their songwriters know how to “sound Christian” enough to salve the consciences of all in attendance. Consequently, their music permeates the Christian world, and their album sales are huge—even by secular standards.

Lest you anticipate some fundamentalist rant at this point, we need to be clear: This is not a screed against modern music infiltrating the church.

But we should be wary when our ancient and exclusive faith is overrun with modern songs featuring a fluid and indistinct message. In many instances, Hillsong lyrics are so vague they could be embraced by most religions.

At break of day, in hope we rise
We speak Your Name, we lift our eyes
Tune our hearts into Your beat
Where we walk, there You’ll be

With fire in our eyes, our lives a-light
Your love untamed, it’s blazing out
The streets will glow forever bright
Your glory’s breaking through the night

You will never fade away, Your love is here to stay
By my side, in my life, shining through me everyday

You wake within me, wake within me
You’re in my heart forever

Those lyrics come from “Wake,” a song with no distinctive Christian element. In fact, there’s little to distinguish it from the forlorn ramblings of a junior high love letter.

Hillsong pastors readily point out that all their songs are reviewed for theological accuracy. But when it comes to songs like “Wake” and “Only Wanna Sing,” what is there to review?

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Jeremiah Johnson: Together against Extrabiblical Methods

by Cameron Buettel & Jeremiah Johnson

Most diners and restaurants across the country can serve you fried chicken, but only KFC has the Colonel’s original recipe of eleven herbs and spices. The same goes for other brand names you recognize—Coca Cola and Krispy Kreme stand out from their competitors because of the uniqueness of their products.

In each case, the secret recipe is the key to their success. Through trial and error, each of them has developed a specific formula for its product that appeals to the widest-possible audience.

But what if you’re not selling chicken, soda, or doughnuts? What if, as prosperity preacher T.D. Jakes once said, “Jesus is the product”? Tragically, too many in the church today have adopted that mindset—they’ve developed their own formulas to make Christ and the gospel more appealing to the world.

The quest for Christianity’s secret recipe goes back to nineteenth century revivalist Charles Grandison Finney. Finney believed he could win souls through a variety of methods that would compel his listeners into making a decision for Christ. He argued that a revival “is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means.” [1]

Finney was a pragmatist driven solely by results. He held no strong allegiance to any theological framework. That’s why his preaching was such a mixed bag—he was only interested in refining his sales pitch. In his day, that meant crusades of fire and brimstone preaching, as he worked to scare sinners into the arms of the Savior.

Finney’s methods live on in the hellfire and damnation preachers we see on busy street corners today. Their promise of fire insurance against God’s impending wrath echoes the tone and topic of much of Finney’s teaching.

But Finney’s legacy extends beyond modern prophets of doom. The seeker-sensitive movement—while seemingly antithetical to fire and brimstone preaching—owes just as much to Finney’s influence, with its emphasis on emotion, pragmatism, and developing widespread appeal.

In fact, Finney’s fingerprints are all over modern seeker-sensitive strategies. Consider these words from Rick Warren, perhaps the world’s foremost purveyor of seeker-sensitive strategies: “It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart. . . . The most likely place to start is with the person’s felt needs.” [2]

Just like Finney, seeker-sensitive gurus are devoted to developing the latest and greatest formula for selling the gospel. Every aspect of the church experience, from the style of music and teaching to design aesthetics—even the kind of clothes the pastor wears—are carefully chosen to make the message as user-friendly and enticing as possible.

But marketing and manipulation don’t make the gospel any more plausible or potent. No scare tactics or sideshow techniques can secure salvation or transform the sinner’s heart. Even Finney acknowledged that the vast majority of his converts “would of course soon relapse into their former state.” [3]

The truth is that the gospel doesn’t need to be cleverly packaged—it simply needs to be preached.

The pure gospel message has never been a seductive sales pitch; on the contrary, it is foolishness to the unbeliever.

God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:21–24)

There’s no clever gimmick that makes Christ’s sacrificial death more believable. The truth of the gospel is inherently offensive to fleshly ears. Making it attractive to the world would require altering the message itself; and that’s what often happens in seeker-sensitive churches. Unappealing fundamental truths about sin, hell, repentance, faith, submission, and holiness are buried under layers of worldly entertainment, pop culture trends, and man-centered self-improvement.

The bottom line is simple—either God’s Word is sufficient to bring people to repentance and faith or it isn’t. And while many seeker-sensitive gurus wouldn’t openly question the sufficiency of Scripture, their dependence on extrabiblical methodologies and manipulation unmistakably indicate where their confidence truly lies.

In the end, the fatal flaw of seeker-sensitivity—and every other movement that carries on Finney’s legacy—is that they usurp a role that does not belong to them. Salvation is not up to us. No one—no matter how clever or cool—can coerce a sinner into God’s kingdom. God alone is responsible for rescuing sinners from hell, as He intervenes into lives and illuminates hearts to the truth of His Word.

As Jonah succinctly declared, “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9 ESV). Christ Himself confirmed that very point in John 6:44, explaining that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Only God can resurrect the dead and grant them new life in Him (Ephesians 2:4-5).

In God’s gracious plan, we do have a part to play in bringing the gospel to a lost and dying world (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 10:14). But we need to keep our role in proper perspective: We’re called to be messengers, not manipulators. With that in mind, we need to measure the success of our gospel preaching not by the number of professed converts, but by our faithfulness to the truth of Scripture.

Standing together for the gospel compels us to stand together against any movement that overestimates the importance of the messenger and his methods. It means we need to boldly oppose anyone who seeks to usurp God’s role in the work of salvation, and that we faithfully proclaim the sufficiency of God’s Word.

This article”Together against Extrabiblical Methods“originally appeared at Grace to You. Copyright 2016, Grace to You. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.