Indescribable Descriptives

Indescribable Descriptives

Talented songwriters can do better. It is not as if we don’t have an inspired songbook to show us how it’s done. Let’s mine the Word of God and the world of God for analogies that will fire and inspire the Christian imagination to rightly know and encounter our infinite God.

Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”: make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”
C. S. Lewis

Lewis helps us to recognize a flaw in much modern Christian songwriting. No doubt, many contemporary songs are vast improvements on the gospel-song cliché-mill. The re-commitment to theological clarity and depth in many contemporary hymns is something to rejoice over, and any serious Christian will be thankful for an injection of sound theological ideas into the gelatinous world of modern evangelical conviction.

With all that said, I find Lewis’s sentiment played out before me in not a few modern songs. These songs seem to try to gather as many superlative adjectives as possible that will fit the meter of the song. These are then piled on top of one another, and the result is a rapid-fire of high-concentrate adjectives. The resulting lyrics are something like: “Indescribable majesty, incomparable glory, unbounded mercy, immeasurable beauty…”

Yet for all this verbal altitude, the effect is palpably flat. Instead of soaring into the heights of praising God as the ultimate Being, we sing these super-hero adjectives with a sense of incomplete affection. It is as if we are hoping that these superlative adjectives will kick-start our delight in God. Some worshippers succeed, others don’t. Likely, most content themselves with the thought that ascribing superlative adjectives to God is surely the right way to go, even if little moral excitement is raised in response to them.

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