Chris Tomlin’s “Good, Good Father” Wins GMA Song of the Year


As my fellow Patheos blogger reported last week, Chris Tomlin’s recording of “Good, Good Father” has won the GMA Dove Song of the year award.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Dove awards, it began decades ago as the annual awards show for the first kind of commercial Christian music…

(Do yourself a favor and watch the video through to the end. You won’t be sorry.)

Slowly, it has morphed into an unabashed celebration of the worship industry that would recognize a song like “Good, Good Father” as the best thing Christian music has to offer.

And that’s a bad, bad thing. That’s what it is, that’s what it is….

As evangelical theologian John Stackhouse once said (about Tomlin, actually), “We are the most educated Christians in history, and yet our lyrics are considerably stupider than our much less educated Christian forebears–the people who sang lyrics by Fanny Crosby or Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts.”

Not that all new songs and hymns are stupid, but by and large, the most popular ones are shallower and less articulate than those of the past centuries. I’ve written much before about Tomlin, and how the fact that he’s the most sung lyricist in churches today should be deeply troubling to all of us who care about church music, so I’m not interested in doing so specifically here. Besides, he didn’t write this one.

But out of everything anyone has written or recorded this year, this is what they choose? Well, it did crack the top five on the iTunes list of most downloaded songs in the Gospel/Christian genre, so that probably counts for something with whatever GMA contingent decides these things. It’s also currently third on the Jesusy Hot 100, so it’s played pervasively.

Unfortunately, it’s a bad, bad song…

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

Oh, and I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only you provide
‘Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word

You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

’cause you are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us

You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us

Oh, it’s love so undeniable
I, I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I, I can hardly think

As you call me deeper still
Into love, love, love

You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am it’s who I am

It’s not identifiably Christian. How can the Christian Song of the Year not be explicitly Christian? It is unfathomable to me that this could happen. Didn’t anyone notice this?

Just take a look. The only reference to God is the locution “Father.” That’s it. This is a love song to parent figure with no clear identity, and who hasn’t done much of anything in particular to deserve our homage and submission.

It’s completely narcissistic. Of course, any song that says practically nothing about God’s character tends to drift toward narcissism. But this one begins and ends with us. The “thousand stories” we might have heard don’t matter, since we’ve heard whispers of love in “the dead of night” (creepy!). Consider the unabashed arrogance here! The witness of the saints is disregarded for the way we experience God.

Incredibly, the text is so narcissistic that it is devoted to self without even trying to be. Look at the refrain, which we repeat ad nauseam. After the “good Father/it’s who you are” piece, the only way we can possibly understand the second part is self-referentially. “I’m loved by you/it’s who I am” in this case can only mean “You love me because of me!”

It’s scary that the writers didn’t seem to notice this. And it’s even scarier that we all like sheep fumble along through all the repetition as our “worship leaders” stand on their stages and croon it. This just isn’t okay.

It’s poor poetry. Step back and take a look. No rhyme scheme. Abundance of passive voice. It’s almost comical. It doesn’t try, it doesn’t try, it doesn’t try..

It’s nearly impossible to sing congregationally. If you read music, take a look for yourself. Syncopation and compound meter is a recipe for a train wreck.

It succumbs to the modern tendency to over-familiarize the personal nature of Abba. For instance, listen to the fellow at the end of the video. “Just tell him, ‘Daddy, you’re a good daddy!'”


Christian culture is obsessed with the idea of a personal “Daddy-God.” So it is with “Good, Good Father.” The writers allude to God as a father figure that tucks children into bed and scratches their heads during bedtime prayers. But that’s not the heart of the Aramaic term. Abba isn’t “daddy.” It isn’t “dada.” It isn’t desperate, childlike babble. It indicates our relational status as God’s adopted children, while preserving an air of deep respect, distance, and reverence.

When we worship, we aren’t climbing into our Daddy-God’s lap. We aren’t achieving relational intimacy with God as we would a lover or the closest of friends. (Of course, liturgy that leads from Word to Table does lead us toward a deeply personal encounter with Jesus the Christ.) We are affirming our faith alongside others who share it, and who will ideally hold us accountable that the constant repetition of truth takes hold within us.


Some of you will say that we should accept this kind of song because of the good intentions behind it.

That’s even more concerning to me. I firmly believe their intentions are good. They don’t even realize that they’re luring congregations into constantly repeating how they feel about God, and divorcing those feelings from anything concrete. And the church, including the scholars and pastors who should know better, continue to turn a blind eye and let it happen.

The worship industry will peddle this fluff, and it will try to make us believe that Chris Tomlin is brilliant. That’s how they make money. We should be angry at ourselves falling for it; for downloading it by the million, consuming it into our parched minds and spirits, and demanding it in our worship “experiences.”

We’ve got to do better.

We’ve got to stop putting crap like this into the hearts and mouths of God’s people, and letting them think they’ve worshiped.

It’s time we focus our worship away from the music and toward the Table.

It’s time we return to voicing our prayers with careful, specific, honed poetry and prose, so that our prayers of praise, confession, and thanksgiving speak truthfully and honestly about God and about ourselves.

It’s time we reject Nashville’s and Atlanta’s and Australia’s narcissistic, indulgent offerings of thinly-veiled self-adulation.

It’s time we rediscover the simple, intelligent, elegant language that once permeated the church’s worship, so we don’t fall for this kind of unrefined and subjective babble anymore.

We can’t let this stuff slide.

“Stupid” words have no place in corporate worship.

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