“Heaven and Earth Collide”

Hillsong Music’s Evolving Theological Emphases

In: Pneuma
Author: Nelson Cowan1
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  • 1 Boston University, Massachusetts

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Hillsong Music has swept across the global Christian landscape, with many of their songs entering the liturgies of charismatic megachurches and small mainline parishes alike. The theological content of these songs comes under scrutiny for a lack of doctrinal depth and hyperpersonalism. This paper argues that between 2007 and 2015 the theological content of Hillsong Music has become increasingly “generalist.” Notably, this theological shift, as expressed in the hymnody, is embedded in a larger shift in Hillsong Church’s vision: from the local church level to a self-replicating global community. As the scope of the church has widened, so, too, has the theological scope of the hymnody. Methodologically, this project is an exercise in comparative discourse analysis, examining song lyrics, official statements from Hillsong Church, officially sanctioned blogs of the church, and dialoging with liturgical and hymnological discourse.

  • 3

    Mark Evans, “Hillsong Abroad: Tracing the Songlines of Contemporary Pentecostal Music,” in The Spirit of Praise: Music and Worship in Global Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity, ed. Monique M. Ingalls and Amos Yong (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015), 182. Hillsong Music Publishing is the resource and publishing arm of Hillsong Church’s music.

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  • 4

    For exceptions, see C. Michael Hawn, “Congregational Singing from Down Under: Experiencing Hillsong’s ‘Shout to the Lord,’ ” The Hymn 57, no. 2 (2006): 15–24; see Gesa Hartje-Döll, “(Hillsong) United Through Music: Praise and Worship Music and the Evangelical ‘Imagined Community,’ ” in Christian Congregational Music: Performance, Identity and Experience, ed. Monique Ingalls et al. (Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013); see Greg Scheer, “Shout to the Lord: Praise & Worship, from Jesus People to Gen X,” in New Songs of Celebration Render: Congregational Song in the Twenty-First Century, ed. C. Michael Hawn (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2013); see Tanya Riches, “The Evolving Theological Emphasis of Hillsong Worship (1996–2007),” Australasian Pentecostal Studies 13 (2010): 87–133; see Mark Evans, “Hillsong Abroad,” in Evans, The Spirit of Praise.

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  • 7

    Tom Wagner and Tanya Riches, “The Evolution of Hillsong Music: From Australian Pentecostal Congregation into Global Brand,” Australian Journal of Communication 39, no. 1 (2012): 22.

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  • 8

    Ibid., 23.

  • 10

    Ibid., 24.

  • 13

    Riches, “The Evolving Theological Emphasis of Hillsong Worship (1996–2007),” 87.

  • 28

    Prior to the albums released in 2013, there were zero references.

  • 29

    Reuben Morgan, “Calvary (Easter Song Study),” Hillsong Collected (blog), March 31, 2015, http://hillsong.com/collected/blog/2015/03/calvary-easter-song-study (accessed July 16, 2015).

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  • 32

    Brian Houston, “When Kingdoms Collide,” Hillsong Collected (blog) April 17, 2014, http://hillsong.com/collected/blog/2014/04/when-kingdoms-collide (accessed July 16, 2015).

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  • 33

    See Hans Schwarz, “Eschatology,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology, 169.

  • 35

    Ruth, “Some Similarities and Differences between Historic Evangelistic Hymns and Contemporary Worship Songs,” 75.

  • 37

    C. Clifton Black writes, “In Jesus’ proclamation the kingdom is not coterminous with Israel or any geopolitical entity; neither is it styled as inner spirituality or a utopian dream. The kingdom is a metaphor for God’s dynamic sovereignty throughout eternity (Matt. 13:36–43), already yet secretly erupting in human history (Matt. 13:18–23; Mark 4:22; Luke 17:20–21).” See “Kingdom of God,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology, 265.

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  • 39

    Shane Clifton, Pentecostal Churches in Transition: Analysing the Developing Ecclesiology of the Assemblies of God in Australia (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 165–166.

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  • 40

    Ibid., 165.

  • 41

    See Kate Bowler and Wen Reagan, “Bigger, Better, Louder: The Prosperity Gospel’s Impact on Contemporary Christian Worship,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 24, no. 2 (2014): 186–230.

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  • 46

    Hartje-Döll, “(Hillsong) United Through Music,” 145.

  • 51

    Evans, “Hillsong Abroad,” 183.

  • 52

    Ibid., 183.

  • 53

    Miranda Klaver, “Media Technology Creating ‘Sermonic Events’: The Hillsong Megachurch Network,” in Crosscurrents 65, no. 4 (2015): 422–433.

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  • 54

    Ibid., 422.

  • 55

    Ibid., 432.

  • 57

    Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” in Theory, Culture, Society 7 (1990): 299.

  • 60

    Joel Houston, “Even When It Hurts,” Hillsong Collected (blog), December 5, 2015. http://hillsong.com/collected/blog/2015/12/even-when-it-hurts-2/#.Vr5e6pMrKYU (accessed February 13, 2016).

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  • 63

    Robbie Goh, “Hillsong and Megachurch Practice: Semiotics, Spatial Logic and the Embodiment of Contemporary Evangelical Protestantism,” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief 4, no. 3 (2008): 297.

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  • 64

    Karl Tangen, Ecclesial Identification beyond Late Modern Individualism? A Case Study of Life Strategies in Growing Late Modern Churches (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2012), 56.

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  • 67

    See Birgit Meyer, “Religious Sensations: Media, Aesthetics, and the Study of Contemporary Religion,” in Religion, Media, and Culture: A Reader, ed. Gordon Lynch and Jolyon Mitchell with Anna Strhan (London: Routledge, 2012), 161.

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  • 73

    Evans, Open Up the Doors, 114, 144–147.

  • 74

    Riches, “The Evolving Theological Emphasis of Hillsong Worship (1996–2007),” 110.

  • 75

    Ruth, “Some Similarities and Differences,” 70–71.

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