Contemporary evangelical music was the highlight of last Wednesday’s “American Idol Gives Back” show when contestants sang the first line of “Shout to the Lord” as “My shepherd, my savior,” instead of “My Jesus, my Savior.” To pacify critical evangelical viewers, Idol contestants sang the song again the next show, this time using the original first line.
It is said that the inspiration of the song was Psalm 92-96, but I think Psalm 98 is a good summary of these other psalms. As I read Psalm 98 and the lyrics of “Shout to the Lord,” I couldn’t help but notice several obvious differences:
|Sing a New Song to the Lord
Psalm 98 – 1650 Scottish Psalter
1 O sing a new song to the Lord,
4 Let all the earth unto the Lord
7 Let seas and all their fullness roar;
|Shout to the Lord
by Darlene Zschech (1994)
My Jesus, My Savior
First, “Shout to the Lord,” like many contemporary evangelical choruses, repeats the same words over and over again to the same tune, prompting others to call them “7-11” songs – 7 words repeated 11 times over. Compare this with the three stanzas (and three main themes below) of Psalm 98.
Second, there’s no reason given in praising God in “Shout to the Lord” other than the repetitious theme of his love and an unnamed “work of Your hands.” Psalm 98:1, on the other hand, opens with “O sing a new song to the Lord,” and then immediately follows the line with “for,” signifying that the rest of the psalm is a list of reasons why we are to praise him.
Third, notice the self-centeredness of the song in the profuse use of “I” (9) and “my” (7) (multiply these by the number of repetitions) in contrast to the absolute God-centeredness of the psalm.
Fourth, compare the romanticism and sentimentalism of “Shout to the Lord” – a common characteristic of contemporary evangelical music – with the themes of Psalm 98: God’s salvation (1-3), kingship (4-6), and judgment (7-9). No effeminate love song to Jesus here.
Fifth and last, this television event exemplifies the evangelical idea of mixing the sacred and the secular in doctrine and worship. The distinction between what must be done in the worship service in contrast to what the world does in stadiums, concert halls, Hollywood, and MTV is blurred. If I were watching “Idol” and didn’t know I was watching a TV show, I might have guessed that I was watching an evangelical “worship” team if I saw those “Idol” contestants singing “Shout to the Lord.”
An outline of a sermon on Psalm 98 would be something like this:
Theme: “Praise God: Our Gracious Savior, Mighty Warrior-King, and Righteous Judge”
I. He Saved His People with Mighty Works
II. He is the King of Creation
III. He is Coming in Judgment
Psalm 98 is a psalm of praise extolling the God who redeemed his people Israel from Egypt by “his right hand and his holy arm.” By this Warrior-King’s mighty deeds in Egypt, “his justice in the heathenâ€™s sight he openly hath shown,” that even the people of Canaan heard and were fearful of them (Joshua 9). He is not only the Mighty Redeemer, he is also the King of the earth, and as such, all peoples praise him. But not only of the earth, he is also the King of all creation, that even the waters clap their hands and the hills declare their joy. Why? Because this Redeemer and King is coming to judge the whole earth in righteousness and equity.
Sing praise to God! Sing Psalm 98 to the tune of “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”