One of the great dangers we face in the modern worship music setting is a tendency to overemphasize our emotions. Because we (rightly) recognize that we are to worship God not only intellectually but with our feelings, we have esteemed music that moves our emotions highly—and this is a good thing. However, it can also lead us astray very quickly. We begin to evaluate our worship services purely in terms of how deeply moved we felt. We think that because we had strong emotion, we were close to God (and accordingly, He was honored)—even if the songs we offered did not honor Him or make Him look great to anyone, even if, as is too often the case, the songs were really all about us.
Eventually, we become junkies, always looking for the next fix of emotionally satiating sound. Power chords, the kick drum, and evocative solos come to define our worship more than well, worship does. We stop seeking to honor God and start seeking cheap thrills. If left to run unchecked, emotional worship becomes worship of emotion—the idolatry of self-worship.
I suspect it is not a coincidence that the advent of churches offering "worship experiences" (as opposed to the traditional wording, "worship service") has come in a distinctly non-creedal time, as ties to history are cut off and the theological grounding of worship is cast aside. A people who will not take the time to speak God's word aloud together, or who categorically refuse to link themselves to the Great Tradition on the basis that creeds are somehow stuffy, are in danger of running off into the weeds. Yes, the creeds and corporate reading of Scripture can both become worn-out traditions.
So can Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, and David Crowder.
The problem—always—is not so much the particular elements of our worship, as whether it is in fact worshipping God, and whether it is doing so properly. Worship is not something to be offered cavalierly, it is not about self-gratification, and it requires reverence. A look at the header of my blog points us in the right direction: we are to offer God an acceptable worship, with reverence and awe—because God is a consuming fire. The reference is to God's promise to the Israelites in Deuteronomy if they offered Him an unpleasing worship—a fire that destroys. God takes worship seriously, and most Americans simply don't.
We need to return to a theological grounding for worship. Not at the expense of technical excellence—though, frankly, more theological excellence would make up for a great deal of technical failure: remember that we are worshipping God, not performing at a concert. In the end, though, our goal must be to make our technical excellence serve one and only one end: turning the congregation's eyes away from themselves (and away from us) and toward Christ on His throne.
That means including Scripture more actively in our service, and actively calling the congregation to participate in reading it aloud together. That means incorporating the creeds—at least time to time. If, for historical reasons, the creeds are uncomfortable to people, bring them back in slowly and with a lot of introduction—but don't leave them by the wayside; they are too valuable to waste because of our discomfort. We all need to grow up out of our pasts, difficult and slow though that process may be.
Most of all, it means setting aside the constant desire for emotional highs and seeking to glorify God. The worship service ought to be just that: a time of self-sacrificial service to God, not a time of self-serving experience-creation. I am not saying that we will not have strong emotions at time—grief and repentance, joy, adulation, etc. are all good and right parts of worship. But the one emotion we must stir up in ourselves is not any of those but deep, abiding affection for God (for from it come all the others)—and that is stirred in us not by power chords (though they have their place) but by knowing Him more deeply and praising Him more truly. So it is that the most important emotion of all can be inculcated through some of the very means that evangelicals have cast off in the quest for more emotionally charged experiences.
We should keep singing Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, the Gettys, Hillsong, and a dozen more besides. Yet we should not stop there: we should also remember that we stand in the line of a great many thousands of believers who have affirmed the faith through the Apostles Creed, with its magnificent proclamation of God's Lordship. We should also remember that God's word is the most appropriate source of worship, for all it says is true. Every song we write that does not quote the Word directly, however good it is, can never measure up to the truthfulness of saying God's word back to Him in praise.