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Craving choruses don’t strike the right chord

Worship songs need to reflect bigger themes said Geoff Bullock. Photo courtesy of www.geoffbullock.com

One of the best known voices in Australian worship music is afraid we have missed the point of Christianity.

Former Assembly of God pastor and founder of the Hillsong music empire Geoff Bullock told Journey he questioned the theology of many of the songs sung in churches, including some of his own songs.

“The biggest thing that I fear is that we have missed the point of Christianity,” said a humble and thoughtful Mr Bullock. “I fear that the church is all about something that hasn’t yet happened and it is all about us and the worship is all about us.

“People are so intent on this pleading with God to come or to make us feel different… which to me says… you’ve missed the point, the whole crux of Christianity. How can you be singing these things and then celebrating Christmas?”

Having penned some of the biggest hits in worship music in the last twenty years including ‘The power of your love’ and ‘The heavens shall declare’, Mr Bullock sees a clear difference between the act of worship and the songs sung during that act.

“When we call music ‘worship’ I think we are missing the point.

"I write songs that are about worship, but worship is an entirely different thing. It is a bit like love songs. Love songs aren’t love, they are songs about love. I think worship is far more your response and your meditation and being confronted by what it means to receive grace and forgiveness from God.

“I think we make God really small, we make him hover above the moon, rather than thinking of eternal issues and all of creation and then putting God outside that and having this sense of forgiveness and grace from that eternal being. The crucifixion and the resurrection define God in such a way that it challenges us to change. Now that, to me, is where worship is.

“I think what we call worship music needs to reflect those issues far more than issues of feeling the ‘anointing’ or ‘the presence of God’.

“We tend to sing songs that are asking God to do things that he has already done, like ‘Lord have mercy’, ‘Lord forgive us’ or ‘Lord let your presence fall’.

"When you think about the coming of Christ, that has already happened! Which to me says maybe we do not fully understand what being a Christian is.”

It was for these reasons that after leaving Hillsong in 1995, going though a very public marriage breakdown, being diagnosed as Bipolar, and finding love again that Mr Bullock decided to rewrite the lyrics to many of his songs.
“At that time I was probably being a bit extreme,” he said. “I have settled back in what I hope is middle ground.

“I just became aware that if I wrote the songs now, I would write them quite differently. Then the challenge was just how much I could change them without losing the metre and the poetry of the lyrics.

“A good example is ‘The power of your love’ where I say, ‘Lord I come to you’. “Well, that is not particularly ground breaking, it is not a great revelation of spirituality… that is the objective of all religions.

“The miracle is “Lord, you come to me”. I find that far more exciting.

“The same thing with the chorus: ‘Hold me close’. Again, the reality is God holds us close and asking God to hold me close is almost a presumption that he doesn’t. Whereas, “You hold me close” is the miracle of God’s presence.

“The same thing with ‘Just let me say how much I love you’.  The miracle is, ‘Just let me say how much you love me’!   For me that is incredibly comforting considering my life journey.

“I don’t want to sound like some puffed up prophet but this is the progress in my life and the change in my spirituality which has come through hard times.”

Hard times that were very well documented in the media.

“I have tried to walk away from it many times because I found that to remain in the public eye is to be responsible for my life’s journey and to speak about it. I’m not sure how I keep coming back, but I do.

“I’ve come back this year. The word is almost miraculously, because it is so at odds with the last few years, but it is necessary.”

Living life in the public eye is not something Mr Bullock enjoys but sees as an opportunity for people who relate to his story.

“I think my story makes sense of the music.  I suppose it gives people com-fort because there are so many people dealing with depression and they feel burnt out and disappointed and at odds with the church’s teaching because they are not experiencing what the church is saying they should be experiencing. I would hope that my story gives them a sigh of relief.

“The songs are birthed out of human experience and not to speak about it is, in a way, not to do the songs justice.”

As for the future of worship music, Mr Bullock hopes to see songs focus more on social justice. “It would be really lovely if we wrote some justice songs for our worship music. It would just change the emphasis without it necessarily being a big change.

“I think it would be more comforting, where there wouldn’t be all this spiritual striving anymore where people are crying out for God without realising that he, in reality, cries out for us.

“There are so many of those statements like, ‘I walk with Christ’.  No you don’t, he walks with you!

“Music is a language to the soul and I think we need to return to the point of inspiration that has preserved Christianity for 2000 years and the point of revelation of the coming of Christ and lyrically express that.”

Geoff Bullock’s new self titled album is out now through Koorong and Word Books. www.geoffbullock.com

Photo : Worship songs need to reflect bigger themes said Geoff Bullock. Photo courtesy of www.geoffbullock.com