On his web site, Brian McLaren gives some suggestions about songwriting. A follow-up is here, with some more technical suggestions for songwriters.
I appreciate both articles, but neither suggested something I have wondered for a while. What’s wrong with putting actual Bible verses or passages into the songs? I’m going to sound like an old geezer now, but [insert old man voice] I remember when I could recognize the scripture from where the authors drew their inspiration. If you were to look in my Bible, you would see little musical notes I’ve drawn in the margins, next to a passage I recognized in a song. Not many songs from the last several years have been noted, and it’s NOT that these songs aren’t biblical; it’s just that they aren’t Bible.
Perhaps one of the reasons behind this phenomenon is the Bibles that songwriters are using. There’s nothing wrong with the NIV or NLT for personal study or meditation, but there isn’t much there in the way of memorable prose that isn’t borrowed from the good old King James Version. I know, I know, it’s just my own opinion, but that’s what a blog is for, right? 🙂
The authors of the KJV, and its modern descendents like the NASB or (my preference) the ESV, spent a great deal of time and effort creating prose that was lyrical as well as meaningful. Today’s songwriters may do well to take a look at translations such as these when searching for just the right words. As an example, take a look at the NLT version of Is. 9:7, as compared to the ESV — especially the last sentence — and see what I mean. (Hey, I’m not just looking around for the worst example; this is one of the passages McLaren mentions in his article as a place where songwriters should go for inspiration.)
I know that McLaren discouraged the use of “King James English” in new songs, and I heartily agree that the days of Thee and Thou are over. However, am I the only one who would rather sing about “zeal” instead of “passionate commitment”? Let’s not throw away some of the meaningful expressions, phrases, and imagery we can find in the KJV family just because we want to be (post-)modern and contemporary. A little ancient to go with our future might not be a bad thing.
3 thoughts on “Back to the Bible”
I agree with most aspects of what McLaren, the response, and the skipper have to say. As a worship leader, I must say I find myself generally tired and bored with the bulk of today’s praise and worship music. I’m desperate for some fresh music, both musically and lyrically. I recently ran across such a song by the worship leader at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI, called Changed. Not the same old recycled lyrics, but using the Abraham covenant/Gen 12 as the basis. And, not the same old instrumentation, but more of a Ben Folds sound. Check it out at…
Regarding using scripture in song, I was introduced to music by Andy Piercy (yes, of The Clash from the 80s). Here’s a link to an mp3 of the Doxology put to music. He also has put the Phil 2:6-8 passage to music, which my wife sings beautifully, I might add.