Out Here On A Friday Night Where It all Began: A Theological Review


Hillsong Young & Free (Y&F) release their EP Out Here On A Friday Night Where It All Began on July 30 2021. This EP consists of seven tracks; six songs and one spoken introduction (Selah). The EP was reportedly "written over the course of Just one week" and collaborated with many of their own youth members. Laura Toggs, Global Youth Pastor and Y&F pioneer, says of the project, "Out Here On A Friday Where It Began’ is our youth gathered together and declaring the name of Jesus and making a statement that the church is alive and we’re here.” But why statements are they making?


In my previous post, I discussed the ability of Christian Worship Music (CWM) to influence the theology of a person (you can read it here). Scott Ellington observation of theology in worship music is worth stating again: "The Church expresses what it believes in worship even before these beliefs are studied or analyzed."[1] Christine Longhurst adds to Ellington's observation, "... in the face of increasing biblical illiteracy... song texts have traditionally been one of the key ways in which worshippers learn about their faith.”[3] Thus, both Ellington and Longhurst charge the songwriter with being a theologian as well.


Ellington's and Longhurst's observations are particularly true in a youth ministry setting. An effective youth ministry would have young people attending who do not have a church background. In this case, many young people would be singing these songs without any prior knowledge of their themes.


This blog endeavours to critically analyse (1) the theological doctrine represented throughout the album; (2) the voice of the song (singular/individual or plural/corporate); (3) who the song is addressed to (Humanity: self or others; or the Godhead (Trinity): together (unspecified) or separate - God the Father, God the Son/Jesus/Christ or Holy Spirit; and (4) type of songs in relation to the Psalms.


Method

This analysis was based primarily on the lyrics of the six songs of the EP and did not include Track 4 - Selah, which is a spoken introduction to the following song. The lyrics analysed were sourced from Hillsong's Lyric website (here). The lyrics were then categorised in Numbers.


First, the lyrics were manually categorised by their voice or perspective of the worshipper (singular/individual or plural/corporate). Second, the lyrics were categorised by who the song addressed - the self, others, or the Godhead. Where the song addresses more than one category, each category was documented.


Third, the lyrics were coded by their engagement with theological doctrines. Each theological reference was listed only once. The categories explored were:

  • Theology Proper - The doctrine of God

  • Bibliology – The s doctrine of the Bible

  • Anthropology – The doctrine of the nature of humanity.

  • Christology – The doctrine of Christ

  • Pneumatology – The doctrine of the Holy Spirit

  • Eschatology – The doctrine of the end times

  • Ecclesiology – The doctrine of the church

  • Soteriology – The doctrine of salvation

Fourth, the songs were categorised in relation to the sub-genres of the Psalms. The sub-genres included: Communal Lament, Communal Thanksgiving, Communal Psalms (Wisdom & Torah), Liturgical Psalms (Public Worship), Hymns and Doxology, Individual Lament, Penitential Lament, Thanksgiving: Salvation History, and Thanksgiving: Songs of Trust. Each Psalm and EP song was put in one of these categories and a comparison was made between the two sources.


Theological Engagement

David Bailey describes the use of "theological shorthand" by CWM songwriters, and its function as "icons of epistemology.[3] " He employs youth ministers to be "dialogical guides and storytellers" who elaborate the theology touched upon in the songs.[4] The songs on this EP are no different. All songs engage with Soteriology, explicitly mentioning the act of salvation and implicitly mentioning conversion and redemption. Fifty percent of the songs engage with Theology Proper, primarily the attributes of God. Furthermore, there are brief references or inferences to Bibliography, Christology, Eschatology and Ecclesiology.

Figure 1


Voice/Address Findings

The majority of the songs on the EP were individually voiced. That is, they were sung from an individual perspective and not from a corporate perspective. Song for His Presence, although primarily individual, changed voice in the chorus to a corporate 'we.' There are instances in Phenomena and House of the Lord where the word 'we' is used but may mean 'I'. In this case, the song was categorised as both. The use of fist person pronouns was prominent. There are 120 uses of a first person pronoun (I, me, my and stemmed words, e.g. I've) within the EP. Thus the songs are individual and do not bring worshipers together to worship corporately.


Figure 2

Most songs referred to 'You' as in God. In Figure 3, this is shown as Trinity/Unspecified as it relates to the Godhead and not a specified person of the Godhead. The only song that specified a member of the Trinity as the one to whom it was addressed was The Pride of A Father. In this case, God the Father was being addressed by the use of pronouns. It is evident, however, that it is God the Father as the phrase 'In the light of Your Son" is used.


Three songs addressed other people/the congregation, most notably Phenomena and Freedom is Coming, where the one being addressed changed. Both songs primarily addressed God but addressed other people/the congregation in the Rap and the Chorus, respectively. On two occasions, the self was addressed whilst addressing God.



Figure 3

Categorised Against The Psalms

The Psalms are often referred to as the songbook of the Bible and it is by their standard that many CWM songs are measured. An analysis of the 150 Psalms found the following sub-categories:

  • Communal Lament (10%)

  • Communal Thanksgiving (12%)

  • Communal Psalms (Wisdom & Torah) (7%)

  • Liturgical Psalms (Public Worship) (22%)

  • Hymns and Doxology (11%)

  • Individual Lament (27%)

  • Penitential Lament (5%)

  • Thanksgiving: Salvation History (3%)

  • Thanksgiving: Songs of Trust (6%)

* Numbers are rounded and do not total 100%


Each song of the EP could be placed in one of only four of the sub-categories specified - Hymn and Doxology (17 percent), Individual Lament (50 percent), Thanksgiving: Salvation History (17 percent) and Thanksgiving: Songs of Trust (17 percent). The function of a hymn is to praise God because He is good. Hymns often assume deliverance and praise God for what he can do and does. An individual lament functions as a gateway from sadness to joy and dark to light. A lament is a 'crying out' to God but also has hope, seeing God as a saviour and redeemer. Thanksgiving Psalms thank God for what He has done. Salvation History Psalms recount a salvation story such as the Exodus for Israel. Songs of Trust are Hymn like but tend to be more reflective and turn into generalised praise of the character of God.


It is excellent to see that half of the EP are laments. It is often uncommon to have Charismatic/Pentecostal songs that are laments, although they are important and biblical. Although the sub-category Thanksgiving: Salvation History is generally reserved for Psalms concerned with Israel as a nation, House of the Lord has been put in this category as it recounts salvation. Phenomena could also be placed in this category, however, it often turns into generalised praise of God.


Conclusion

The songs on Hillsong Young & Free's EP Out Here On A Friday Night Where It All Began reference some major doctrines, primarily salvation and the character of God. God as one is worshipped throughout the EPm but there is no specific trinitarian reference. Reference to or the addressing of The Holy Spirit is lacking. This is a primarily individualistic worship album that focuses on communication from the individual to God and not the Church (corporate) to God. However, this is unsurprising as many CWM songs are written from an individual perspective. It is important to state that individual worship is not wrong; however, there needs to be a variety of voice in CWM. Hillsong Y&F has created verity in the genre of song, with half of the album being lament. This is refreshing and a nice balance. The particular lyrics of the songs have not been analysed as that is outside the scope of this blog. Personally, my favourite songs from this album are Pride of the Father and Song For His Presence.






 

Footnotes

[1] Keith Pecklers, Worship: New Century Theology (Collegeview, Minnesota: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005), 164.


[2] Christine Longhurst, ‘Direction: The Words We Sing: An Exploration of Textual Content in Contemporary Worship Music’, Direction 44, no. 2 (2015): sec. 3.


[3] David Bailey, ‘Living Amongst the Fragments of a Coherent Theology: Youth Ministry, Worship and Icons of Epistemology’, Journal of Youth and Theology 15, no. 2 (30 September 2016): 189, https://doi.org/10.1163/24055093-01502005.


[4] David Bailey, ‘Living Amongst the Fragments of a Coherent Theology: Youth Ministry, Worship and Icons of Epistemology’, Journal of Youth and Theology 15, no. 2 (30 September 2016): 189, https://doi.org/10.1163/24055093-01502005.