What’s Wrong With Emotional Worship?

What’s Wrong With Emotional Worship? May 2, 2023

What’s wrong with emotional worship?

Absolutely nothing.

Recently my wife and I watched “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” the new biopic about Whitney Houston.

As with literally all musical biopics that I’ve ever seen, afterwards it sent me on a rabbit trail of Spotify and YouTube searches, as I always forget how many good songs artists have until I hear them performed in these movies.

One scene in the movie was Whitney’s famous national anthem performance at the Superbowl in 1991. Here’s her actual performance below:

Now, I am not American, but I have to say that this is probably the best version of The Star-Spangled Banner” that I’ve ever heard.

The power! Some of it is the arrangement, and some of it is because it’s Whitney and she’s just otherworldly in her talent, but it’s more than just that.

There is passion. There is heart. There is beauty. There is deep emotion.

“And the rooockets’ red GLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARE…”

Something inside you soars when you hear it.

Music has the ability to affect us profoundly. It is poetry and melody and passion and heart all rolled into one.

Music is emotional. And as Christians, we often use music as part of our worship of God.

And yet I hear regularly from people, “Modern musical worship these days is too emotional.

worship concert
Image via Pixabay

It is a common accusation.

Unlike the straight-forward theologically-rigorous hymns of the past, the argument goes, modern worship music is criticized for being too light, too fluffy, and too appealing to the heart at the expense of the mind.

But consider the following:


  1. God is an emotional God. We have discussed this already in a previous column here. Like it or not, you serve a very emotional God (e.g. Zeph 3.17; Isa 62;5 Gen 6.6; Ps 78;40; Dt 9.22; Ps 7.11; Jg 6.24; Ps 135.14; Jn 3.16; etc), and we are made in His image (Gen 1.27), which means we too are emotional beings.


  1. God is a musical God. Yes, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit all have singing/music attributed to them in Scripture (Zeph 3.17; Heb 2.11-12; Eph 5.19; Col 3.16), and again, we are made in His image. If God is musical, then so is humanity, and that explains why music is one of those truly universal things across all times, places, and cultures – humanity reflects the musical nature of God Himself.


  1. Music, by its essence, is emotional. You’re supposed to feel something. It’s art – that’s what art is meant to do. Every time I hear “At Last” by Etta James, I’m back dancing my first dance with my wife on my wedding day. Every time I hear “Wheat Kings” by The Tragically Hip, I’m back in high school sitting around a campfire with my friends while my buddy Matt strums a guitar as we all sing the tune. Every time I hear Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” I’m lost thinking about all the loved ones who’ve passed on before me. Any of these songs can bring me joy, or sadness, or nostalgia, or pull on my heart in a dozen ways and for a dozen reasons. That’s what music does. It is, by its essence, emotional.


  1. Our emotional, musical God calls us to worship Him musically. The use of singing and instruments are biblically commanded regularly (e.g. Ex 15.21; Ps 33; Ps 81; Ps 96; Ps 100; Ps 150; etc.), and thus it is something that God clearly wants from us – even knowing, as He must, that music engages our emotions.


  1. QED, it is perfectly appropriate for musical worship to be emotional.


The idea that worship is “too emotional” is a strange one, when we get this biblical picture of who God is, who we are, and what worship is.

Perhaps the critics need to view this worship as a place for them to grow emotionally.

And yes, of course, we worship in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4.23), so our songs must be grounded in truth and thus engage our minds as well. All heart with no brain is just as damaging as all brain with no heart. This is good, and teaches us God’s Word and doctrine through song.

But perhaps the very reason that God calls us to worship Him musically is because He wants to engage our emotions. We are not always good at doing so, and He surely knows this.

Perhaps the reason God gave us music, other than because we are made in the image of a musical God, is so that we have an outlet to engage the heart in our walk with Him, and not just our brains.

Perhaps those of us who struggle with expressing emotion in worship (and likely in other areas of life as well) should view worship as a place of stretching and maturing, and a place to allow ourselves to become more comfortable in this area.

Perhaps, rather than complaining that our hearts are being overly engaged during musical worship, we should lean into it instead, acknowledging that we are called to love God (love, of course, being one of the lesser-known but still important emotions), and that loving God involves loving Him with “all our hearts” (Mt 22.37), and that musical worship is a beautiful place to love God with our hearts.

When we have musical worship that is grounded in truth, but also causes our hearts to soar into joy, or lament, or peace, or whatever emotion the song calls for, we will be basing our worship in the nature of God Himself, full of truth, full of emotion, and full of grace for all who would draw near to Him in worship.


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