Chris Tomlin – Made to Worship

At this particular point in the series, we are looking at our first song called Made to Worship, a song written by Chris Tomlin. Please read the song and mediate on it before reading the rest of the post.

This song suggests that before creation God “stepped into time” and “wrote the story of his love for everyone.” The idea that God “stepped into time” suggests the theological idea that God lived outside of time until he chose to come into a world governed by laws of time and create the known universe. What is the story that he writes? It is a “story of love.” Resultantly, our hearts should be “filled with wonder…as we always remember” that “you and I are made to worship.” The first verse is, however, quote confusing until one thinks about what Chris Tomlin is referring to. Because of the vagueness of the lyrics, we have to assume that if God came down “before the light” or “before the day,” Tomlin is referring to God stepping down to create the heavens and the earth. In other words, before the world was created, God wrote a story. Notice the past tense of the story. The story is already written.

From the perspective of the story already being written, humans then must then ask what the design of a human is within the story of God. Our hearts are to be filled with wonder at the remembrance of this already written story unfolding before our eyes as we worship God. The story that God-as the chorus goes-is one where we are called to love, one where we are “forgiven and free,” one where we are “embrace surrender” while choosing “to believe…who we were meant to be.” We cannot, in other words, change the divine story because we are but players in the larger already written salvation story. But as we love one another, forgive one another, find freedom, and embrace this story in utter surrender, we realize who it is that we were “meant to be.”

The question still remains, who is it that we are meant to be? What story has God written that demands such total abandon? In the second verse, Tomlin reiterates the first by reminding us “all we have…is a gift from God.” The story that God has written is, in some mystical sense, a gift-from an all powerful God who gives away his own image to his own creatures-that we must receive. The gift itself is when we have our eyes opened and see “the majesty and glory of the king.” It is this story, this experience of the king-this utter lostness in the grandeur of the king-that Tomlin says our hearts should again find only “wonder” as we stare in the divine story. This very vision of God is what Tomlin says is worth total worship, total abandon, and total commitment. This vision-this glimpse of the almighty-is what we are called to worship. It is in this story that we find meaning to our own story.

The bridge of the song is a picture of all humanity, all creation, and all the world bowing before the glory and majesty of this king we are speaking off. The bridge prophetically calls all people to the king of kings and the Lord of Lords. It is a picture of parousia-the return of the almighty God-calling all creatures to return to his holy name.

What then could such a song teach us about the theology of the modern church? One particularly noticeable item off the top is the lack of traditional theological language-created over the centuries of the church-within the songs. There is no mention of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son (or even Jesus), the Spirit, the Virgin birth, election, or any other distinctly Christian doctrine. This song could fit many different religious beliefs. References to “God on high” and “Glory of the king” are both references that could be changed to refer to Allah on high or the glory of Allah the king and still work. These could reference the almighty Braham-by whose force the world stays together-and how we can share communion with him as we meditate upon and see him as he is. In seeing love for one another, embracing our destiny surrender, and practicing forgiveness we could also be Jewish, Buddhist, or even Gnostic.

Chris Tomlin intentionally (or unintentionally if he is unaware) distances himself from the theological language of his particular religion. The “love story” in the first verse is a “song for everyone.” Tradition and the scripture, however, do not appropriate such vague speech. If there is freedom, it is found in Christ. If there is justification, it is found in Christ. If there is hope, it is found in the parousia, the Triune God, the hope of heaven, in the patriarchs, in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and within the kingdom of God. None of these, however, are mentioned in the song. If anything, we have learned that while many Christian worship songs are rich in imagery, they are poor in theological traditional value.

Second, we note the importance within Tomlin’s theology of experience. We can “know” all the things in the first verse-that God created-but if our hearts are not “filled with wonder” at the experience of seeing the “king of majesty,” we have not yet fully experienced the presence of God. It is in such seeing and vision that we truly experience God. There is no call to obedience. There is a vague call to “worship,” a vague call to “love,” and a vague call to live as one “forgiven and free,” but what do these things mean. These ideas of worship, love, forgiveness, freedom and surrender are only given meaning by the theological language behind them. As a result, it is up to the worshipper to fill in the theological gaps. But even this is something that we can learn about modern worship-they do not want to provide all the answers. In the midst of experience, Tomlin is allowing space for the worshipper to interpret the lyrics for himself or herself in the midst of their own circumstances.

Such practices have their pros and cons. For instance, worship can mean a number of different things to a number of different people. Michael Spencer has recently written a wonderful article on how “freedom in worship” can mean so many different things depending on the denomination one enters into. The major con of such an interpretive practice is that the leaders of a church can make the idea of being “made to worship” whatever they want it to mean. Tomlin’s vague theological language can be used by cunning pastors to mean something other than what Tomlin originally had meant for a song. Such practices though are almost inevitable, however, because many worship songs are attempts-as Tomlin is doing here-to bring a mystical idea down to earth. Such ideas cannot always be expressed concretely. In fact, such concreteness may sometimes take away from the power of a song.

There is also the positive of such a practice that songs can become malleable to many different worship settings. Tomlin’s song can focus on the surrender of the song, on the majesty of the song, on the centrality of worship in the song, on the centrality of love in the song or any other part of the song. The song can be changed and manipulated by what the pastor has emphasized that particular morning because the song is vague enough to cover a variety of topics.

Thus we have with Tomlin a theologically limited, but at the same experiential worship song.


4 Responses

  1. The line “…stepped down into time… and wrote the story” also seems suggest that the writing of the story was a past even from our time governed perspective, leaving us powerless to change the story. Calvinism anyone?

    Good post, Danny. I actually like this song alot.

  2. Please just remember about :
    – Predestination of God’s love for all of us before the world.
    so that all of us really deeply understand that all of us, HIS creation, were made to worship HIM….worship can be explained more to having deeply relationship and walk day by day with HIM, so that we will be always in His amazing and great Love, and His strength, and His wisdom…

    and indeed, Father in Christ Jesus is worthy of all our praise, not because who we are ..but because who HE is…not because our good deed and what we did…but just because what HE has done for our eternal life…as HE really loves us as HIS beloved children and creation.

    I am the one that was predestined to be HIS beloved child, not because who i am…but absolutely because HIS eternal love for me…not because what i have done , but because HE has planned my days to be conformed and transformed since I was in the womb.

    love in Christ Jesus, our Father

  3. I really love this song!…

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