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David Peterson on Revelation and the Songs We Sing - Worship Matters
My top recommended book on a biblical theology of worship is David Peterson’s Engaging with God. If you’re responsible for leading in your church, either as a pastor or a musician, I think you’ll serve people more faithfully and biblically if you read it. I go through it every year with my interns and never fail to come away from our discussion times with fresh understanding and inspiration for leading corporate worship. Peterson focuses on worship as it’s understood in the Old Testament, the gospels, and various epistles. The chapters on Hebrews and Revelation by themselves are worth the price of the book. This past Wednesday we were discussing the chapter on Revelation. Many Christians tend to avoid Revelation because they view it as a somewhat obscure and confusing book. Others think it’s simply a code-book for figuring out the significance of end time events. Peterson makes a compelling case that one of the primary purposes of John’s letter was to “encourage Christians to maintain their faith in Christ and resist every temptation to idolatry and apostasy” (p. 277). We still need that kind of encouragement today. And the hymns scattered throughout Revelation (Rev. 1:5-6, 4:11, 5:9-10, 7:11-12, 11:17-18, 15:3-4, 19:6-8), with their focus on the sovereignty of God and the victory of the Lamb, do just that. In summarizing his chapter on Revelation, Peterson makes application to the songs we sing today: The hymnic material in the book of the Revelation…should alert us to the importance of singing God’s praise in a way that is truly honoring to him and helpful to his people. Do our hymns and songs concentrate on praising God for his character and his mighty acts in history on our behalf? Do they focus sufficiently on the great truths of the gospel? There is always a temptation to focus too much on the expression of our own immediate needs. This is gold. Our songs should both honor God and help people. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. We don’t come together merely to sing about how passionate we are for God (although that’s a very good thing!) or to be emotionally affected. Our songs should help us concentrate and focus on God’s character and his mighty acts in history on our behalf, especially the gospel. One aspect of praise we see in the Psalms involves acknowledging our needs, longings, and desires. But an awareness of our need is meant to drive us to the sufficiency and supply of the gospel – God has clothed himself in flesh! Jesus has perfectly fulfilled God’s law! Christ has suffered and died, becoming sin for us and enduring God’s wrath and judgment in our place! God has raised him from the dead! Jesus is reigning and will one day return to bring salvation to all those who have placed their faith in him! He will right every wrong, establish his unending rule, and be the eternal joy of those who know him! These are truths that are completely outside of us and will never change. Their implications for our lives are massive and eternal. Hope and comfort in trials doesn’t come from continually rehearsing our problems and needs but through remembering the compassionate, all-powerful Savior who cried out “It is finished!” for his people’s joy and his Father’s glory. Peterson continues: Is the language we use as powerful and as simple as in the material given to us by John? We need to avoid the extremes of being trite and trivial, and loading our hymns and choruses with so much imagery that only the well-instructed can appreciate them. This is relevant to both worship leaders and song writers. Our songs ought to be powerful and simple at the same time. Powerful doesn’t equal verbally dense or complex. Simple doesn’t mean repetitive, boring, or trite. We need fresh images and phrases that communicate unchanging biblical truth in clear and compelling ways. …