Sunday, March 09, 2008

updated post: the theology of one Hillsong song

Update: Commenter Bill has posted on this post at his blog, and started another stream of conversation over there. His blog is bigger than mine (just like Hillsong is bigger than most of us), and so the commenting energy has now swung over there.

For those who think I might be a Hillsong devotee, check out my other posts on Hillsong here and a here and here. And other posts I have done on exploring Jesus images in texts, including Narnia, Edmund Hillary and the Mel Gibson movie.


I did the below at our Grow service tonight. We’ve started a series looking for the real Jesus. As part of it, I am leading into worship by taking a song and asking “what are we thinking when we sing this.” Here is the Hillsong number “for all you’ve done.”

The song has 3 parts. The opening is fascinating;
My savior
Lifted me from the miry clay

I hear echoes of the Old Testament. For example Psalm 40:1 -3; I patiently waited, LORD, for you to hear my prayer. You listened and pulled me from a lonely pit, full of mud and mire. You let me stand on a rock with my feet firm, and you gave me a new song, a song of praise to you.

Such echoes of Jesus are present in a number of places in the Old Testament. The most well known is Proverbs 8, with what I call a “Cosmic or Wisdom Jesus,” Jesus present at the birth of creation, giving wisdom to life. So “for all you’ve” done starts with a creation Jesus present redemptively within creation.

The middle of the song keeps the Old Testament theme going:
Forever, I will never be the same

At this point, I become a bit uneasy, as there is the potential of Jesus being mushed into Almighty God. But then the song gets very specific.
Cos You came here
From the everlasting
To the world we live
The Father’s only Son

This is a good Incarnational theology. This Cosmic Jesus is God before time, that came to live. The life of Christ is essential. “For all you’ve done” includes every day of every one of those 33 years.

The good theology continues as the song moves to end:
And You lived
You died
You rose again on high
You opened the way for the world to live again

I find fascinating the echoes of ascension. Jesus fully human and fully divine “opened the way.” The human body of Jesus ascends into God. In the Ascension, the way for humans is opened to God. What is more, God is changed as God embraces humanity.

In summary, “for all you’ve done” is a surprisingly broad song theologically. Christians often limit what Jesus does to the cross. Yet this song names Jesus, for all you’ve done as including creation, incarnation, life, resurrection and ascension. So salvation in Christ is not limited to the work of the cross. It starts with God making the world, involves the sending of Jesus, God with skin on, moves through thirty three years of healing to the embrace of the cross, the surprise of Easter Sunday and the ascension, as Jesus opens the way. That’s the Jesus being worshipped in “for all you’ve done.”


Being a U2 fan, I must note the echoes of both an old hit, “40” and a new hit, “Windows in the Sky.”

Posted by steve at 08:40 PM


  1. Hillsong United’s “United We Stand” is my favourite album at the moment. What amazes me about their music is, not only the great theology such as you have pointed out here, but the way they integrate what they’re singing with the music they are playing, so that the music so closely reflects the emotions and affections provoked by the theology.

    I’ve seen people give Hillsong a lot of stick over the last few years. And they do have a lot of songs which are a bit inaccessible as far as the music is concerned (i.e. too high, sophisticated), and there are some songs which are theologically dodgy. But there are many, particularly among their latest stuf, which are a breath of fresh air. Because there are definitely a lot of songs sung in “contemporary” services these day wich really lack meaningful theology.

    The Lord be praised for Hillsong.

    Comment by A.J.Chesswas — March 10, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  2. Hillsong? Theology? I must have woken up this morning in a parallel universe.

    Comment by Bill Kinnon — March 12, 2008 @ 1:14 am

  3. yeah well, easy for missional/emerging to take cheap and continous shots at hillsong. and i must admit, i was preparing to do the same as i sat down to my task “to explore theology of Jesus songs.” they include hymns like “power in the blood.”

    and so i read the words.

    and was quite surprised. so Bill, join me. put down your preconcieved judgements and tell me what you make of the content of the song?


    Comment by steve — March 12, 2008 @ 7:08 am

  4. One thing most people don’t realise is that Hillsong does change, albeit slowly, as many people have made comments about the “dodgy theology” and other qualities of their music.

    I know I have been caught out by potentially having preconceived ideas. My PhD research looked at their songs for a period up to about 4 years ago and shows concerns. Their more recent good songs, which not all their songs are, address my concerns. So, for example, they now do talk about (social) justice.

    Comment by David Morgan — March 12, 2008 @ 10:05 am

  5. Yep, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. One to Hillsong! The thing that I like is that this song is hinting towards a subversive God centred narrative all through it that I wonder if the writer even fully understood as it was written.

    Bill, have you bought any more underpants recently?

    Comment by Andrew — March 12, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

  6. Steve,
    What you forget is that I worked inside a Hillsong affiliated clone megachurch for a period of time in the last five years. I am a little too aware of the theology of this aberrant, prosperity-focused movement in Christianity. (And it’s Kiwi cousin, Parachute Music/Life Church.)

    That there is actual orthodox theology appearing in some Hillsong music is to be commended. Would that it begin to appear in the pulpit @ Hillsong, its clones and affiliates.

    Or perhaps I’m just taking a missional/emergent shot.

    Comment by Bill Kinnon — March 13, 2008 @ 5:51 am

  7. Andrew,
    As I remember it, ’twas a certain baggage-losing pastor from Australia who was in need of “men’s furnishings” replacement. My undergarments were in order, as it were.

    Though I do recognize that Hillsongs does tend to get my knickers in a knot.

    Comment by Bill Kinnon — March 13, 2008 @ 5:56 am

  8. I understand Bill’s “cheap shot” having previously worked within that kind of environment. Although the comment is a “shot” Steve I think it is a fair critique of the Hillsong enterprise. In my opinion if Hillsong have good lyrics then they have stumbled upon them not thought them through theologically. Pentecostalism is based primarily on experience andthese songs are written out of the song writers experience of God. Which is fine as long as people are allowing those songs to be critiqued theologically (which is what you are doing). However, try challenging Hillsong if one of their songs is dubious; what happens then? Also, I think it is important to read and understand their lyrics in context with their whole church, business etc. For when I do this my gut begins to churn! Hillsong are the biggest influence over Christian music in Aus and probably through their conference the biggest influence in mainstream Charismatic/Pentecostal leadership and I for one do not think it is a healthy one!

    Just my reflections Steve. Please understand just because my critique of Hillsong is negative; it doesn’t mean it is done in bitterness:-)

    Comment by mark — March 13, 2008 @ 9:37 am

  9. Mark and Bill,

    i simply wrote a post saying “in this 1 song, I am surprised by how theological it is.”

    surely we can give credit where credit is due? surely we want people who look at our missional conversation to be affirm the good as well as the bad? surely we want to be allowed to grow and change and develop over time?

    if that’s a courtesy we expect, why aren’t we extending it to others?


    Comment by steve — March 13, 2008 @ 11:59 am

  10. Steve,
    You know I love you, but I fear you are being disingenuous. The title of your post is the Theology of Hillsong, is it not? Perhaps the title should have been, the Theology of One Hillsong writer. The theology in the song is hardly the theology of Hillsong. And. Quite frankly. Anger is an appropriate response to the actual theology of Hillsongs. Whether one purports to be missional or otherwise.

    Comment by Bill Kinnon — March 13, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  11. Bill,

    i have changed the title of the blogpost as per your suggestion. thankyou for pointing out the inaccuracy of my bloglines.

    anger has a place. sure. therapy is good. detox is a resting place. but imho, i don’t think its a good place from which to drive a missional conversation. much better to read Luke 10 and seek hospitality at the tables of contemporary culture, than moan about the practices of the local synagogue.

    i don’t love you. i do like you.

    back to branding my shampoo,


    Comment by steve — March 13, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  12. Appreciate the title change.

    I would argue with you, however, regarding the need to detox from what I would argue is righteous anger regarding the “theology of Hillsong,” an anger shared by many folk.

    Rather than appealing to Luke 10. I might rather look to Matthew 21:12 – but then I would, wouldn’t I. 🙂

    Comment by Bill Kinnon — March 13, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

  13. i’m tired Bill. i’m tired of Christians kicking other Christians in public.

    it’s good fun, but is it a good witness? and does it do anything?

    you see Bill, a tear ran down my cheek last week. it was a tear that developed from a splinter that I found in my own eye.


    Comment by steve — March 13, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  14. And many tears have flowed down Imbi’s and my cheeks, Steve, as we’ve watched the damage Hillsongs’ prosperity message has had not just in the First World but also in the Developing World. We have watched people in Kenya walking to church because they can’t afford to grab a Matatu (mini-van transport) and still pay the “money-backed guaranteed” tithe. (And yes, Hillsongs is not the only promoter of this crap. They are just one of the most prominent.)

    Critiquing theology is hardly kicking other Christians.

    I appreciate your concern for me, Steve, but no matter the amount of detoxing and counseling you feel I need, I will never be “nice” about the aberrant theology of Hillsongs. I will do my best to love the people caught up in it.

    Comment by Bill Kinnon — March 13, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

  15. I am very dissapointed that you have changed the title of the post Steve. I would be almost certain that everything you wrote about would be directly the theological belief of Hillsong Church.

    In fact all songs are checked before being recorded to ensure they do match the theology of Hillsong Church. So those claiming good theology may have been accidentally stumbled across are incorrect as it has been double checked and were it not the belief of Hillsong it would have been edited.

    I understand that some may have problems with aspects of Hillsongs theology. However that does not give them a right to attack ALL of Hillsongs theology. Some of the criticism has been playing the man and not the ball.

    For some to suggest that the basic premise of Christ existing eternally and coming to earth to change our lives is not part of Hillsong theology is ridiculous.

    On the Hillsong website the following is listed as one of their beliefs

    “We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man is the only One who can reconcile us to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose again to prove His victory and empower us for life.”

    Comment by Aaron — March 13, 2008 @ 2:15 pm

  16. well, this was a nice quiet little post that was gradually going the way of all blog posts – fading into fodder for spammers – that has suddenly came alight.

    I changed it because Bill was right. My post was about 1 song and it is not fair to suggest to 1 song captures all of the myriad hillsongs and sermons and churches that make up “theology of hillsong.” (Which surely is exactly the point you raise, the need to keep focused on the 1 song and not the “man.”)

    since you seem a defender of Hillsong, i’d love for you to respond to Bill’s comment “we’ve watched the damage Hillsongs’ prosperity message has had not just in the First World but also in the Developing World. We have watched people in Kenya walking to church because they can’t afford to grab a Matatu (mini-van transport) and still pay the “money-backed guaranteed” tithe.”


    Comment by steve — March 13, 2008 @ 2:23 pm

  17. Sorry Steve! If I can borrow (and learn) from Aaron’s phrase “I have played the man and not the ball!”

    I have my issues with Hillsong and share in Bill’s pain. I will seek to critique and understand my own faith before others. I think it is fair to critique Hillsong’s theology and songs but I missed the beautiful nature of your post, and, for that I am truly sorry!

    The proclamation of the song is both heavenly and earthly. I can almost feel the mud between my toes. Sometimes I feel stuck in hurt and pain, yet God inclines his ear and his hand. He lifts me up of the pit; out of the miry clay! May we all, along with those we agree with and those we don’t let God erupt a new song in our hearts!


    Comment by mark — March 13, 2008 @ 2:42 pm

  18. I think to try and enter into a full debate of whether tithing is scriptual in the New Testament requiresfar more space then a simple comment on a blog. Also given that I have never attended Hillsong Church or been to Kenya I don’t see it as my position to defend their doctrines.

    My point is that I don’t believe the issue of tithing even needed to be mentioned. The topic being discussed was clearly incarnational theology (even if the title was slightly broader then that). To suggest that becuase Hillsong have a differing view on the tithe that they do not have good incarnational theology is wrong.

    If people want to have a discussion about the problems of Hillsong then they should feel free to write a post about that on their own blog. But to come and hijack a positive post with off topic criticism is not helpful.

    Comment by Aaron — March 13, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

  19. well said Aaron,


    Comment by steve — March 13, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

  20. i comment very rarely on here. i am just a guy lurking in the background. i like your approach steve. it is important to recognize people when they do something that is on the mark. especially those we usually disagree with. more for our sakes than theirs. a healthy dose of humility is always good to keep us in check.

    Comment by joe troyer — March 14, 2008 @ 10:00 am

  21. Ian,
    good thoughts. using your category of I/me vs we was one I toyed with, but did not blog.

    so while this song starts with “my” (I wish it was “our”); yet still this song is a surprise when we are asked to sing

    “you came to the world we love” and
    “for the world to live again”

    naming Jesus for the world, rather than for the individual.


    Comment by steve — March 14, 2008 @ 10:16 am

  22. Hillsong has basically purchased Jeremy Shum who is of the Southern Baptist Convention, and gotten him to write up the long, in response to giving him his lovely wife or something like that. Hillsong and Theology are dichotomies.

    Comment by Ted — March 20, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  23. post being closed due to unwanted advertising, thanks for all the comments, peace to all,


    Comment by steve — March 27, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

  24. post reopened. and still, peace to all 🙂


    Comment by steve — April 25, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

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