The Six Christian Songs

In 1996, Rich Mullins described the current trends in worship as “Shallow, mindless, stupid, and perfectly harmless, at best.” It’s gotten worse since then. I had a chat with our pastor yesterday when I realized that there are really only five Christian songs being written anymore.

Seriously. Five.

Then I started crunching the numbers and getting rid of outliers and realized there were actually six.

1. How Great is Our God

This song is all about how great and awesome God is. Usually the purpose is to tell God how great God is, as if in spite of God’s greatness, God turned out to be all shy and humble and not actually know how great he is. Sometimes it’s to tell other people how great God is. Christians believe we hold exclusivity to this claim, and so do Muslims. I wrote about this a while ago. Chris Tomlin wrote most of the songs in this section.

Examples
How Great is Our God, by Chris Tomlin (the titular song)
Forever, by Kari Jobe
Show Me Your Glory, by Third Day
How Great Is Our God, by Chris Tomlin
Holy is the Lord, by Chris Tomlin
God’s Not Dead, by the Newsboys
Everlasting God, by Chris Tomlin
Indescribable, by Chris Tomlin
You Are God Alone, by Phillips, Craig, and Dean

2. I Don’t Deserve You

The lyrics to this song tend to be along the lines of “You are so great, I am so small, I am so short, you are so tall.” It basically wallows in how stupid / wicked / evil / sucky we humans are and how only God can save us. Casting Crowns wrote most of the songs in this section.

Examples
You Won’t Let Go, by Michael W Smith
Back to You, Mandisa
Hello My Name Is, by Matthew West
Don’t Deserve You, by Plumb
Who Am I, by Casting Crowns
East to West, by Casting Crowns
Voice of Truth, by Casting Crowns

3. I Will Praise The Lord

This song LOVES to praise the Lord. It’s consistently either singing the first song (How Great is our God) or singing ABOUT praising God. Chris Tomlin wrote most of the iterations of this song as well.

Examples
Back to You, Mandisa
He Reigns, by the Newsboys
I Lift My Hands, by Chris Tomlin
Sing, Sing, Sing by Chris Tomlin
How Can I Keep from Singing, by Chris Tomlin
LifeSong, by Casting Crowns
Blessed Be Your Name, by Matt Redman

4. I Believe No Matter What

You know this song. All sorts of bad things are happening in your life, and you cling to Jesus like the last strand of hope… err. rope. Whatever else is going on, when this song plays, you know it’s going to be all right, in spite of everything.

Examples
We Believe, the Newsboys
God’s Not Dead, the Newsboys
Press On, Building 429
All The People Said Amen, by Matt Maher
Not Gonna Die, by Skillet
My Lighthouse, by Rend Collective
We Won’t Be Shaken, by Building 429
My Hope Is In You, by Aaron Shust
Walk by Faith, by Jeremy Camp

5. Amazing Grace

In a few minutes of searching the internet and my brain, I found no less than three different (new) iterations of Amazing Grace. I’m sure there are more. This song also includes other hymns that have been adapted and updated. And “Amazing Grace” is really just the old-school “I Don’t Deserve You.”

Examples
This Is Amazing Grace, by Phil Wickham
Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)
How Sweet the Sound, by Citizen Way
Lead Me To The Cross, by Chris and Conrad
‘Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus, by Casting Crowns

6. Your Name Is Awesome

This song is about God’s name. The obsession is kind of weird. Like, if a 15-year-old girl obsessed this much about her boyfriend’s name, she would probably be in the psych ward. This song is just a rehashed “How Great is Our God.”

Examples
I am, by the newish David Crowder
The Only Name (Yours Will Be), by Big Daddy Weave
Your Name, by Phillips, Craig & Dean
Great I Am, by Phillips, Craig, & Dean
I Am, by Mark Schultz

These Six Songs Are Only One Song: How Great Is Our God

These five songs really all boil down to one. There has only been one Christian song written in the last thirty years, and that song is “How Great is Our God.” Everything else is derivative.

I realize that there have been other kinds of Christian songs written, but these are the only ones that get really popular. Rich Mullins was a spectacular songwriter, but the only song that he wrote that you know is called “Awesome God.” Seriously.

David M Schell About David M Schell
David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that's why his posts don't come out as often or as angry.

  • You’re missing a whole genre: the “I want to be closer to you; I long for you; fill me; pour down on us; send revival; do your great works” etc. song.

    • Oi! You’re right! The Jesus-is-my-boyfriend genre. How could I have missed that?!

    • linc321

      Yes…the ones that teens play constantly because they’re the closest to romance tunes that fundie youth are allowed. “no, really, nothing dirty here! The lyrics are about Jesus!” Coming of age as a fundie, I wasn’t even aware of it myself until my non Christian friends started snickering and cracking up listening to the tunes.

  • Not having read your blog much, I’m not sure where you’re coming from. I assume that you don’t believe that any of these things are untrue, and that you don’t actually think we shouldn’t sing about these things. After all, the Psalms (ancient worship songs) are replete with these exact themes, with many psalms dedicated to each theme.

    How Great Is Our God came out at a time when most of the songs being written were more about me and what God is going to do for me than about God, and it was refreshing to have a modern worship song that wasn’t about what God was going to do for us, but that acknowledged that His greatness is independent of us and our need of Him.

    So, I guess I’m left wondering what you wish you were seeing in worship songs. Or are you just pointing out that there are really only five songs to be written?

    • So I wrote this incredibly long and detailed response, but I wasn’t signed in and when I signed in my comment was gone. Grrr. Here’s the gist:

      1. Welcome! I said all kinds of nice things here and then they got deleted.

      2. I think Christians focus too much on the greatness of God. It’s almost obsessive. I don’t think that’s what we should be focusing on. Here’s why: http://davidmschell.com/god-made-small/

      3. I want more honesty and more Rich Mullinsy songs. I hate how few songs are allowed to exist outside of these six slots.

      4. Rich Mullins wrote this amazing song called “Hard to Get” where he wrestled with how often it seems like God isn’t there at all. Just beautiful. And it wasn’t a “I believe in spite of the facts” song. It ends with “And you’ve been here all along, I guess.” No certainty. Beautiful. And Mullins wrote a ton of other beautiful songs.

      5. There’s a song by The Brilliance about the flood, imagining a drowning mother crying out for God to have mercy. It’s incredible, just incredible.

      6. Again, welcome!

    • Also, I see you’re a worship leader… that is way cool. I hope you’re playing good songs. I can try to recreate my old list, but it’s mostly Rich Mullins songs and “Mercy” that I love so far. Also a little Nichole Nordeman, songs like “I Am” and that one where she says “to know You was to keep you in my pocket.” So good. Such rich concrete descriptions.. and all we have now is this crap about “OUR GOD IS GREAT, OUR GOD IS AMAZING, OUR GOD IS AWESOME, OUR GOD IS , repeat, ad nauseum.

      Oh. And in my sadly deleted comment, I used the word inanity to describe Michael W. Smith’s new songs compared to his old ones.

  • Pingback: How to Sell the God Product | David M Schell()

  • Velvet

    This is really accurate!

  • Pingback: The Dictionary of Evangelical | David M Schell()