This is the first of a three part series by Greg Cooper on the extent to which singing serves as an effective means of the proclamation of God’s Word.
Congregational singing has long been considered a central part of Christian church gatherings. This is true not only at services each Sunday, but also at special occasions like weddings and Christmas. But what is the place of congregational singing as a means of proclaiming God’s Word? We want to suggest that singing is a unique form of proclamation – it helps the Word to dwell richly in those singing, and thereby provides opportunities for transformation by the Spirit.
But first, let’s consider the role of proclamation in the Christian life generally.
Proclamation and the whole person
Since Jesus commenced his public ministry, the gospel has been communicated through proclamation. Following Jesus, Paul writes in Colossians that “[Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” This passage helpfully identifies the object of our proclamation (Christ), the means of proclamation (teaching and admonishing with wisdom), and the goal of proclamation (full maturity in Christ).
This notion of attaining full maturity in Christ may also be seen as the goal of the Christian life itself  – so proclamation is central to Christian growth. What’s more, the Spirit is the agent of Christian growth. For, as Paul notes, Christians are being “transformed into [Christ’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. While the Spirit may work however he chooses, we are promised that he will act through God’s Word – “the sword of the Spirit”. The gospel is the message of God and comes to believers “not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”
So, as the Word is proclaimed, the Spirit is active in bringing about transformation in the lives of hearers. Proclamation, then, is of primary importance in providing opportunities for such transformation.
But as hearers of the word, we are not just brains. We are complex, multi-faceted creatures, “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a loving Creator who created our “inmost being,” and who knows all our inmost thoughts before we can articulate them as words. Indeed, we are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. So a nuanced approach to the ‘whole person’ nature of receivers of the proclaimed Word is important in exploring the place of singing.
It is instructive here to consider briefly a key means of proclamation in our gatherings: preaching. There are three widely-acknowledged components of delivering the spoken word to persuade hearers: logos (logic), pathos (emotion, imagination, sympathy), and ethos (the speaker’s credibility, authority, reliability.). Our nature as emotional and intellectual beings means each of these three aspects must be attended to.
To this end, Tim Keller argues:
“the goal of the sermon cannot be merely to make the truth clear and understandable to the mind, but must also be to make it gripping and real to the heart.” For if Christianity is about transformation, then for Keller, “change happens not just by giving the mind new arguments but also by feeding the imagination new beauties.”
This acknowledgment of the heart and imagination draws on the thinking of Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, who saw the “affections” as central human faculties to be shaped by the gospel. Edwards saw humans as having “inclination” – in which a like or dislike is established – and also the “will” – where actions are determined by inclinations. The affections were “the more vigourous and sensible exercises of the inclination and the will” – and included emotions and thoughts.
Further, Edwards saw affections like “fear, hope, love… compassion, and zeal” as core components of the Scriptures and Christian life. Indeed Paul often called us to view our faith in emotional terms, like a “living hope”, that we “love” Christ, and that we are “filled with a glorious and inexpressible joy”. Paul, himself a hearer of the Word, readily acknowledged that emotions – like “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” – drove his concern for the church.
Accordingly, if we are intellectual and emotional beings, our proclamation should seek to reach not only our intellect, but our emotions also.
In our next blog, we’ll consider how singing might function within this understanding of proclamation.
 See, for example, Mark 4.
 Colossians 1:28. (NIV translation is used for all Bible texts, unless stated otherwise.)
 Ephesians 4:13.
 2 Corinthians 3:18.
 Ephesians 6:17.
 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
 Psalm 139:13-14.
 Psalm 139:1-4.
 Mark 12:30.
 T. Keller, Preaching (New York: Penguin, 2015), 160.
 Keller, Preaching, 160.
 J. Edwards, The Religious Affections (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2014), 24.
 Edwards, The Religious Affections, 24.
 Edwards, The Religious Affections, 31.
 1 Peter 1:3-9; emphasis added.
 Romans 9:2.
- Greg Cooper currently works part time with Effective Ministry, researching the place and importance of music in disciple-making. He is also Creative Director of EMU Music.