Common Misconceptions

Featuring Bob Kauflin Posted on April 8, 2010

As I've talked to musicians and worship leaders over the years, I've encountered some common perspectives that keep us from pursuing God withour minds.

Misconception #1: Studying This Stuff Shouldn't Be So Hard Studying doctrine and theology is hard. Becoming a good theologian is harderthan learning a new riff, and initially not as much fun.

Getting to know God is time-consuming. We live in the age of instant everything. We want a life-changing devotional in fifteen minutes max. And why shouldn't God fit into the slot we've allotted him? After all, he's God; he knows how packed our schedule is! We open our Bibles and get bored if nothing grips us after two paragraphs. We want everything abridged, dumbed down, and in today's lingo, so we don't have to think too much or examine our lives too closely.

Those attitudes are unacceptable if we want to display the glories of God through song each Sunday. Given our small minds, our absolute dependenceon revealed truth, and the immensity of God, how can we think there's an easy path to knowing the God we worship?

There are no shortcuts. Only a grace-motivated, steadfast, life long pursuitof the God who created and redeemed us for his glory.

Misconception #2: We Know God Better through Music than through Words

Like me, you've probably had profound encounters with God during musical worship. Just as King Saul was calmed as David played the lyre (1 Samuel16:23), we experience an unusual peace or sense God's nearness in an unexpected way. We can start assuming that words restrict and limit the Spirit's work, while music expands the soul and opens us to new ways ofpowerfully experiencing God.

But being moved emotionally is different from being changed spiritually. Music affects and helps us in many ways, but it doesn't replace truth about God. Music can never by itself help us understand the meaning of God's self-existence, the nature of the Incarnation, or Christ's substitutionary atonement. Nor can an instrumental solo tell us how music functions in worshiping God.For that, we need to read our Bibles. And to know what the Bible says, weneed theology. Good theology.

Good theology helps us keep music in its proper place. We learn that music isn't an end in itself but rather a means of expressing the worship already present in our hearts through the new life we've received in Jesus Christ.

Misconception #3: Theology and Doctrine Cause Problems

One worship leader told me he wasn't interested in theology because it onlycauses divisions. He said his theology was Jesus.

While I appreciate the simple devotion to Christ behind his comment, itraises a few questions. As we lead others in worship, how will we clarify who Jesus is? Is it a Jesus “meek and mild” who never speaks a harsh word? Or isit the holy Jesus who drove the money changers from the temple in righteousanger when he saw how they completely missed God's purpose for the temple? Do we worship Jesus as a champion of social justice, a divine mystic, a revolutionary religious radical, or the Savior of the world?

When we're dodgy about our theology, we're really saying we want our own Jesus. But our worship isn't based on people's personal opinions, ideas,or best guesses about Jesus. Nor should we base our understanding of him on anyone's individual experiences. He has a name, a particular history, and a specifically revealed body of teaching. God has theology; will we sharpen ourown biblical understanding to find out what it is? Will we worship the Son of God, the Redeemer, the second person of the Trinity, the Alpha and Omega, our High Priest, sanctifier, and intercessor and seek to understand what all this means?

You might respond, “But doesn't doctrine divide the church?”

Yes and no. Sure, Christians often disagree over doctrinal issues of secondary importance. Given the degree of sin that still remains with us andthe enemy's desire to separate us, that's no surprise. But divisions have alsoprotected the church. The New Testament warned us that false prophets and teachers would infiltrate the church's ranks (Acts 20:29–30; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Peter 2:1). Many of the most precious truths we live by were moreclearly defined as a response to heresy. The result has been clarity and agreement on foundational truths from God's Word that the church has cherished for centuries. Truth has often been tested and confirmed in the fires of controversy and conflict.

But don't doctrine and theology make life complicated?

It depends on what you mean by complicated. Sometimes we expect to beable to understand God like, say, the inside of our computer. But if we could grasp God completely, he wouldn't be much of a god. We should anticipate that our minds will be stretched to their limits as we seek to take in God's revelation of himself and his universe.

Theology and doctrine make life simpler. They protect us from reading verses out of context, restricting our diet to our favorite passages, and making decisions based on impulse rather than truth. They put meat on concepts we tend to use mindlessly like glory, gospel, salvation, and love. They help us understand what we're actually doing every Sunday. What complicates life is not doctrine but ignorance of doctrine.

But doesn't studying doctrine just make people proud?

It shouldn't. To begin with, our knowledge of God is limited to what he has revealed to us (1 Corinthians 2:11–12). When we understand a truth, it's because God's Spirit has opened our eyes and hearts (Ephesians 1:17–19).

And the more we study God, the more we should realize that what we know will always be dwarfed by what we don't know (Romans 11:33–36).

If we're arrogant because we use big theological terms or have memorized more verses than our friends, we've lost sight of the God we claim to know. As Paul reminds us, that kind of knowledge “puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:1–2). Good theologians are increasingly humbled and amazed by the God they study.

Instead of causing problems, doctrine and theology rightly applied will solve problems. They inform our minds to win our hearts, so we can love Godmore accurately and passionately.

Mind and heart belong together. Strong, passionate desires for God flow from and encourage the faithful, thoughtful study of God—his nature, character, and works.

We're deceived when we think we can have one without the other. God intends us to have both.

If our doctrine is accurate but our hearts are cold toward God himself, our corporate worship will be true but lifeless. Or if we express fervent love for God but present vague, inaccurate, or incomplete ideas of him to those we're leading, our worship will be emotional but misleading—and possibly idolatrous. Neither option brings God glory.

My prayer for myself and every worship leader is that we'll become as familiar with the Word of Truth as we are with our instruments. Hopefully even more so. If we do, there's a strong possibility people are going to walk away from our meetings more amazed by our God than by our music.

And that will be a very good thing.

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