The Five Types of Christian Songs (used in Church)

35There are five types of Christian songs used in Churches today: declarative, confessional, prophetic, celebratory, free style and… ok, there’s even a sixth. The post below discusses each, as part of a broader reflection the theology of music, and especially thoughts on Christian songs.

“Christian music” and “Christian songs”, like Christian art or Christian anything, are very difficult to define. Is a piece of music “Christian” if it is written and/or performed by a Christian? Does the theme/content define a song as Christian? Or does the context, and particularly the way the song/music is used, determine that a song/music is Christian? Or is there a spiritualistic definition of Christian music: music/songs are only Christian if the Holy Spirit is involved in the entire process, from conception to performance to listening? Or is it all of the above (mixed method)?

Assuming a lot of grey area around this, let’s just assume there is plenty of variety in Christian music and songs. And to focus, let’s think about songs used in the context of the Church. For that, there are generally five types of songs:

1. The Declarative songs

These songs (or “hymns”, or whatever you want to call them), declare the praises of God, they talk about God’s goodness, holiness. They proclaim the truth of God and his works. Sometimes these songs focus also on the events of scripture, and objectively declare what happened and what will happen. Many hymns are like this, which begin with a proclamation of God’s goodness and end with the hope of resurrection. Often, older Christians bemoan the loss of declarative songs because modern worship has tended to, they say, shift the focus away from God, to human beings.

Example: A classic example of a declarative song is “Majesty” (the old one). Consider the lyrics, it simply declares the Majesty of Jesus.  And even though it is a call to the Church to worship the Majesty, it still declares that God/Jesus is Majesty.

2. The confessional songs

But confessional songs are also part of the musical canon of the Church. Here, the Christians say “thank you” to God, they “request” God’s presence, they confess their sins, they ask for forgiveness, they proclaim that God is truly part of their lives. Unlike the declarative songs, these songs focus on the subjective experience of Christian living. Where, regardless of the truth of the Bible, that God is above all, sometimes, God does not feel above all in our life, sometimes God is not praised by us every day, so these songs are a restatement of faith, a desire to keep on singing, keep on praising God.

Example: An interesting parallel example would be the song “Majesty” (the new one, by Delirious and popularised by Hillsongs United). In that song, the focus is a little more on the confession of how God’s “grace has found me” and how “I am changed by your love.” It’s not simply the “I” coming in, but the song is an affirmation that God has truly made an impact in my life.

3. The prophetic songs

Unlike the declarative and confessional songs (which are songs where the church or an individual in the Church sings to God), the prophetic songs speak from the point of view of God to the Church–the audience is the Church. Interestingly, if one googles “prophetic worship” what turns up most commonly is “free style”/spontaneous worship. However, prophetic as understood as “speaking forth the word of God”, the goal of prophetic songs would be to teach, to inspire the Church/congregation, to stir the church/believers into action, or help them do something (remember something); sometimes perhaps even warn. To put it simply, prophetic songs are songs that draw from scripture and speaks to the Church from God’s point of view. The scripture in song movement had examples of these types of songs; where the song quoted scripture represented God speaking to the hearts of people.

Examples: The classic song that comes to mind is “Servant King” by Graham Kendrick, that is a call to the church to “let us learn how to serve.” In modern songs, I think there’s “Days of Elijah,” especially in its emphasis to “prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

4. Celebratory songs

Celebratory songs are popular in Sunday schools and youth groups; these songs have lots of actions, often scripture in song, but the goal is more to get the group together, connect with other Christians, improve the mood, and even the fellowship etc. The theology of the song is of less importance, more important is the effect of the singing (and the manner of singing of the song) has on its audience. Oftentimes these songs open the worship time, especially in youth groups, to help the congregation become more free (like icebreakers).

Examples: Usually any song with coordinated actions, even “Lord I lift your name on High”, but consider “B-I-B-L-E” or “I’ve got peace like a river.”

5. Free Style

The Free Style songs are typified by singers who spontaneously create new songs on stage, and/or speak words of declaration/confession/encouragement while the music is playing in the background. Sometimes the worship leaders encourage the audience to join in the creation of new songs as they are singing. This freestyle singing is a mixture of prayer with music, features atmospheric music/sounds in the background, encouraging the members to create their own words to God on the spot. It can be more like a confessional (often is) but is even declarative, and often is sung in-between more traditional songs, but it exists as part of the way music is seen in some churches.

Examples? I’m sure there’ll be several on YouTube, but consider one popular example, Kim Walker-Smith’s “Jesus”:

6. Mixed method songs

In most cases, it’s rare to find songs that do not blur lines of the categories. Many songs combine two or more elements of the above, which may begin for instance with declarative aspects and move towards confessional, or even have aspects of prophetic teaching in verse one that is followed by the confessional chorus, etc.

Example? So many, but how about, “There is a Redeemer,” by Melody Green, a song that’s primarily declarative, but incorporates thanksgiving and also a personal hope of “When I stand in glory, I will see His face.”

(this post will be updated with possibly more examples. If you have examples, or further types of songs, would love to hear them in the comments section below).


Let’s avoid these number games

I just read an interesting article about “Why Christianity Failed in India” by self-proclaimed atheist, Tony Joseph, in the secular news magazine Outlook: Why Christianity Failed in India

Rather than fear or be upset with the article, I think it is important for the Indian Christian church to read this article , especially since it has several important lessons for the Church.

However the author uses the infamous 2 per cent number of Christians, to justify his claim of Christianity’s ineffectiveness in India. And it is that use of numbers which we should be very careful to reject. In fact, I feel, number games should be completely avoided when discussing matters of faith and religion.

Common sense would remind us that this “number” of Christians could be much less (because we should be counting “real” Christians in every generation, rather than Christians by birth). Or the “number” could be much more, if we count people who are Christians but do not change their birth records that list their religion as Hindu etc.

In India, numbers are a dangerous game. And to say that Hindus have become less, or Muslims have become more, or that Christians are still less, tend to make the fanatics (from all parts) more fanatical.

And so, let’s learn from (and respond to) the idea that people in India, according to the author, do not need Jesus, do not need the Gospel. India is “more than Christian.” If this is true, then truly it is harder for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to enter the eye of a needle. Similarly, if India does not need the Gospel, then Jesus came for the sick, and not for those who do not need healing.

However, if in India, there are those who “need” the gospel, if there are those who need Jesus, then for them, we hope, the gospel will continue to be proclaimed. For them, the Church would exist without forcing them to change their name. For them, the Christians would sacrifice themselves, because Jesus died and rose for the lost. The love and hope of Jesus is for those who have no more hope in where they currently find themselves.  Let us continue to be faithful to what we are called to do, without worrying about the “results” as the world understands results.

“What is religion?” from the supposed perspective of children

The video below purports to show some kids talking about what is religion? Notice however that the word in Hindu is used “dharm” which itself has different connotations from religion. As a result, rather than “What is religion?” as answered from children, it is more likely that this videos is the perspective of a person who’s editing, chopping and representing the voices of children to project something. Further, the video-maker is asking questions as if they make sense, and if the children are confused or diverse in their answers, the meaning that is derived is that religion is confusing, rather than the questions themselves. Similarly, to what extent are children repeating popular culture, and/or the parent’s own beliefs (rather than standing in contrast to their parent’s beliefs) is not addressed.

Latest issue of Christian Trends released!

Christian Trends

Issue: Dec-Jan 2015

I just received my copy of the “latest” Christian Trends magazine, dated December-January 2015. And the cover theme “Celebrate the Season” seems a little dated, since it features articles about “Christmas” and also about New Year resolutions.

However, that I received the copy on Ash Wednesday, the day to start the period of Lent (during which we remember Good Friday and the inevitable Easter), the call to “Celebrate the season” was perfectly timed!

Traditionally, we Christians do not celebrate Easter as much as we should. In fact, we spend more time, during these Easter celebrations, to “remember” the crucifixion of our Lord, by fasting for a whole 40 days!!! There is surely great value in fasting and sorrow and repentance in Christianity. But at the cost of Easter, it is a heavy price to pay. We are ultimately children of a living God, servants of a resurrected King! Today is the day to rejoice! Happy Easter!!!

Nevertheless, fasting and repentance are needed in a time of opulence and consumerism, even in the Church. The negative impact of materialism and corruption in some churches today, is hardly known to its full extent. Yet it is probably true that we as a church need to recover the gospel message for the poor, but also ask ourselves whether we the rich (urban church elite) are moving away from the kingdom of heaven. So let’s not take away from the more sombre “celebration” of Lent either. May sacrifice and self-denial be the mark of the true disciple of Jesus!

Back to the Christian Trends issue. It’s a good edition, featuring an article by a certain Nigel Ajay Kumar (yes, that’s me!) :). I basically talked to several pastors and church leaders to see how they celebrated Christmas in their regions and the results were presented in an article format. It was a fun piece to write, to find out the “trends” in Christianity so to speak. I also think the suggestion, that we should be more intentional about the way we celebrate Christmas as both joy and mission, is a good one.

However, that article is certainly not the best one in the mag. The article I liked best was Akshay Rajkumar’s movie review. He writes about PK, the recent Hindi movie blockbuster. I only just saw PK and felt the urgent need that Christians respond to it. In fact, I had felt that PK had more valid points against religion and Christianity than the current Hindutva brigade, and the Church must more intentionally respond to its critique. So, when I saw Akshay’s article, I let out a spiritual “hurray”! It was an astute and fair movie review (though I don’t agree with everything he said, especially about the depiction about the heroine). But more importantly, he highlighted the key issues that as Christians we should address. Namely, false religiosity, justice and the search for God. (Good job, Askhay! May your tribe increase!)

There is also a box within the review about the other “religious” movies that have been coming at us, Son of God, Noah, and Exodus. However, none of those movies are half as interesting as PK and even half as effective in raising issues for Christians in India to think about.

An interesting move by Christian Trends was to include a satirical article by a supposed Hindutvavadi (a person who subscribes to Hindutva) “Saraansh Patel”. When I read that article, I wondered whether this person was actually real, and was relieved that it was satire. I felt that the ideas expressed were quite extreme and it would be rare to find a Hindu who would actually express all of those views publically (in print). I think however, it was a brave move for Christian Trends to address political issues through alternative styles.

Which brings me back to PK, which I think has a more realistic “ideology” that represents a majority of India, and one that must be brought to the fore even more. Hindus today, I think, care less about Hindu extremism or mindless Christianity. They want a practical religion. To them, both Hindutva ideologues and Christian fundamentalist missionaries are extreme. And we need to be clear how we distinguish ourselves in this milieu.

So, I must say, even though this issue feels a little “late”, this was one of the better issues from the Christian Trends stable. And I would urge again, that if you haven’t yet subscribed to it, please do so. Support Christian publishing; support the godly exchange of ideas and views.

Can we ban Religious Conversions? A Response to Jaideep Prabhu

Here’s a friend of mine, making an important “point”.

Thought Fragments

I couldn’t help but notice the irony in Jaideep A Prabhu’s strong critique of Nehru’s political imagination, when my quick search informs me that he is the Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Business and Enterprise at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge. His article, [ ] Is Religious Conversion really a Fundamental Right, or Can We Ban it? is undoubtedly argued with a certain flair. And given that its primary appeal is the political incorrectness of the Abrahamic religious nuances, his argument would appear quite persuasive to many. However, his assumptions and rationale beg several questions.

Prabhu’s principle argument is that religious liberty as imagined within the Nehruvian secular framework of the Indian Constitution a) neither originates from the Dharmic faiths nor is compatible with it, and b) does not provide a level playing ground for Dharmic systems vis-à-vis Abrahamic faiths. Given these, Prabhu argues for “a complete ban…

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A Skit About Jesus, Today

old-television-clip-art_414415(An adapted form of this skit was performed at the Gospel Church thanksgiving service (29 June 2014), in Bangalore. The target audience was mainly people who did not take Jesus seriously enough in their lives).


One: Has the football match started yet?

Two: Put it on, let’s check.

 (TV has some people playing football)

One: Hey it’s football!

Two: Don’t get too excited. It’s not live, it’s a recording. Put it off.

One: Let’s just check what else is there.

Two: (changing channel)Music video?

(TV has a dance scene)

One: Naah.

Two: (changing channel) Movie?

(TV has a fight scene)

One: Naah.

Two: (changing channel) Documentary?

One: Oh, not at all.

Two: Hey I’m not able to change the channel. Battery must be dead.

One: Please not a documentary, anything but a documentary.

Two: I can’t change the channel.

One: Try the button on the TV.

Two: It’s a special TV. The buttons only work through the remote.

One: What documentary is it…

Two: It’s about Jesus.

One: Oh, please, no, switch it off. GOD please switch it off.

Two: That’s funny.
One: What’s funny?

Two: You said, “God please switch it off”… and Jesus is God. So you’re telling Jesus to put off the TV programme about Jesus.

One: Jesus, God? Well, that’s what you believe. I don’t believe such things.

Two: Anyway… since there’s nothing else to watch, let’s just watch this.

One: No, please… let’s just leave the TV on and go out and watch a movie or something…

Two: Look, look… here’s an interesting story…

ON TV: (on tv the story of the adulterous woman is enacted)

Jews: Master… this woman was caught in adultery. The law says that we must stone her. What do you say?

One: Adultery… what’s adultery?

Two: When a married man or woman get involved with another married man or woman.

One: What’s the big deal… this happens all the time.

Two: Yes, but God doesn’t like it.

One: Oh, since Jesus is God… is he going to punish the woman?

Two: Let’s see…


Jesus says, “Let the person who has not sinned cast the first stone.”

And everyone leaves.

Jesus: (to the woman) Go and sin no more.

 One: So is Jesus saying that adultery is ok?

Two: No, I think he’s saying that we should not condemn other people… and I think he is also saying that he can forgive.

One: Oh, big deal! What does this have to do with real life. What does this have to do with me? Please, check if the battery is working… change the channel.

Two: It’s still not working. Hey look, the next scene.

ON TV: Story of the paralytic man… where Jesus says, your sins are forgiven.

One: This story is funny. I’m sure that the man wanted to be healed and when Jesus said “your sins are forgiven” he must have said, “What! I want to be healed, not forgiven!” So weird.

Two: You don’t think YOU need to be forgiven?

One: Me, forgiven? Not at all.

Two: Meaning you’re perfect.

One: Me, perfect? Of course not. Are you?

Two: Well, not exactly.

One: So, see! We all have problems, I don’t think I need to be forgiven. All this sin business is bakwass (nonsense). It has nothing to do with me.

Two: Hey look another part of the story.

ON TV: Crucifixion… the two murders on the cross beside Jesus.

Jesus (ends with): Today you will be with me in paradise.

One: Do you think that man would go to heaven just because Jesus said so.

Two: I guess so, and I’m sure that it helped that Jesus told him that before he died.

One: See, that’s what religion is all about. It’s something to make us feel better when we’re going through a difficult time.

Two: So which is better?

One: What?

Two: Which is better? To die while making fun of Jesus, or dying while recognising that Jesus is better than you and admitting that you need God.

One: Hmm… I guess the other thief/murderer is better because cursing someone on the cross… especially a person like Jesus… isn’t really a nice thing. Anyway this has nothing to do with me. Is the story over already?

Two: Hey what happened to the TV?

One: Oh good, its working? You’ve changed the channel?

Two: No no, it’s on, but the story of Jesus has suddenly stopped showing on TV. There’s no picture.

One: What, it must be the remote, check it. (they hit the remote to test it)

TV: (is blank). Suddenly Jesus (the character who played Jesus) appears in the room.

Jesus: Hi guys.

Both: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

One: This is a dream, this is a dream. One horrible dream.

Two: How could you come out of the TV. This is like a horror movie.

Jesus: You asked, what does this mean to you… So I wanted to tell you that I’m alive.

One: I can see that. Now please go away, so I can wake up. You’re freaking me out.

Two: Are you really, here, Jesus?

Jesus: Yes, I’m here. I am really here, with you, right now. I want to tell you that I’m the same Jesus who can heal the sick, I’m the same Jesus who can forgive sins, and I’m the same Jesus who died for you.

One: Go away, go away, leave me alone.

Two: (speaking to One) Why are you telling Jesus to go away?
One: Because it’s freaking me out. He should not be here.

Two: Do you know that if Jesus is truly God, then he is here, whether you can see him or not.

One: Ya ok, but I’d rather not see him right now. Please tell him to go away.

Two: But why? Do you have anything to be afraid of? You said you don’t need to be forgiven.

Jesus: (speaking to One)You don’t need to be forgiven?

One: No, no… that’s not what I meant. I meant that we have all done bad things, so I’m no worse than anyone else.

Jesus: You’re right.

One: I am.

Two: He is?

Jesus: Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of God.

One: So that means you’re ok with me, I don’t need to be forgiven?

Jesus: That’s not what the Bible says, it says that while all men have sinned and fallen short of God… we can all be forgiven because of what I did on the cross. I died for you.

One: You died for me.

Jesus: Yes, I died for you, so that you can be forgiven.

Two: You still feel you don’t need to be forgiven?

One: (speaking to Two) Shut up.

Jesus: What?

One: Not you, Jesus. Sorry… I mean… I mean… I actually need to be forgiven. I was scared to ask.

Jesus: Ask and you will receive, my friend, ask for forgiveness and you will receive it.

Lights go out. When the lights come on… the two are sleeping. And suddenly One wakes up.

One: What, what, what… what happened?

(It was a dream)

One: Huh, what’s happening? Oh, phew! It was a dream.

Two: (waking up)What was a dream?
One: I was dreaming that I saw Jesus on TV and he came to life. I mean he was alive and he was saying that he wanted to forgive me.

Two: Oh be quiet and go back to sleep, otherwise I will not forgive you!

(Two goes back to sleep, while One thinks for a while and then goes back to sleep. Lights out). End.


World Cup dreams (football)

footballThe following is a true story… well actually, it is true that I dreamed this dream last night.

As Brazil was losing to Netherlands in the World Cup third place match (they were 2-0 down at that time) , I fell asleep and I dreamed that I was in the Brazilian team, as a defender (no joke, I really dreamed this! I don’t even like football that much, and so it was all the more crazy.)

Anyway… I was a Brazilian defender… and another team (not necessary Netherlands) was on the attack. A foul led to a free kick near the goal box. And I was marked to stand in the defensive line on the far left of the line. The kicker kicked and the ball flew past me on my left… the kick was not that fast… but I just missed it… and the ball rolled pass the goal line. Interestingly, even as I was dreaming… before the kicker kicked… I remember thinking that the kicker will try to kick past me on the left… even before it happened. However, when it happened, I was still unable to stop it.

Then… goal number two… another attack on the Brazilian goal… this time… as a defender I stood at the goal line, to the left of the goal-keeper to cover the goal as the attackers grew close enough to shoot. I remember thinking that they will probably kick straight towards my right and that’s exactly what happened… and even though I knew what was going to happen, again I saw the ball go past me, and to another goal. I missed.

When I woke up… Brazil had lost 3-0… but it really felt like I was “living” the moment of Brazil’s loss. I had seen the 7-1 humiliation to Germany. And now this 3-0 loss was just more pain. So dreaming this dream was probably expected… I had taken the loss a little personally… and had empathised with the Brazilian defenders.

But I also remember thinking that failure sometimes happens even when you know the answers… when you know what to do. In my dream… I could pre-empt the attackers… I knew what would happen… and yet I was not fast enough to execute that defence… I was not able to stop the ball. I obviously felt sympathy for the actual Brazilian defenders.

But this also reminded me about how (in theology) we aim to know/speak the right answers, but that is so very different (even hard) to actually perfectly follow the right answers. We may know what to do, but so often we are unable to do what we know we should do.

Anyway… that’s enough world cup theology for now. At least I had another sport to talk about other than cricket! :)


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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.