“Whoa!” Is the New “Hallelujah!”

Maybe this article will make it onto the next iteration of this project!
Maybe this article will make it onto the next iteration of this project!

I’ve heard people riff on “___________ is the new ___________” in many different ways, but today I’m applying it to the positively pragmatic approach of many worship song writers.  You see, they have realized that “Whoa!” is the new “Hallelujah!”

Allow me to explain.  For years the word “hallelujah” has been a mainstay of the Christianese Dictionary, but it has carried about as much meaning as an armless man does a bundle of sticks.  We all know it is a distinctly religious word, but for most Christians it is utterly devoid of meaning.

I remember when I spent a summer in Africa, we attended a church that used “hallelujah” as a Christianized version of the word “hello”.  When I tried to explain to the church that the word “hallelujah” actually means “Praise the Lord”, they looked at me funny, like I was speaking a foreign language (come to think of it, I was talking to them through a translator).

large words on a signWhether speaking Chichewa or English, Christians don’t know what the word “hallelujah” means, nor do they mean anything by it. Therein lies the conundrum.  Why on earth do we still use the word “hallelujah” in our worship songs?  That’s where many of our modern songwriters have had the guts that most of us lack.  They have stopped using the religious sounding word “hallelujah”, and they have substituted the similarly hollow but much more colloquial word “Whoa!”

I have to give it to these guys.  At least practice and theology are sharing an honest handshake. Music writers have caught on to the fact that hallelujah is one of the last meaningless vestiges of traditional worship, and they have replaced it with “whoa”–an equivalently meaningless word.  Both express no rational truth in our minds.

If our corporate singing were a game of Chicken, then theology flinched and practice won out.  Rather than talking about the importance of our songs communicating actual spiritual truth, we have decided to conform our practice to our truthless theology.  We have nothing to say about God or to say to God, so why use words at all?  “Whoa” shall suffice.  Rather than spending time learning about the true meaning of a word like “hallelujah” or “justified” or “substitution” so that we can sing these words from the heart, we have rubbed them out of the worship book (or from the projector screen), and replaced them with words that communicate our meaningless worship to a God that we don’t really know.

How can we love God if we don’t know what he has done for us?  How can God know that we love him for sending his Son to die in our place on the cross so that we might find justification before his throne, being changed from convicted criminals to beloved sons of God, if we don’t communicate these ideas with words that actually contain meaning?

I believe we are selling ourselves short.  Our songs no longer give us the ability to communicate our true love for God.  Christian, do you want to sing “whoa” 13 times to your God–or would you rather sing words that describe the beauty of God’s creation, or the sorrow of Christ’s death for sinners, or the victory of his resurrection from the grave, or perhaps the glorious grace of the Holy Spirit that works to unite the body of Christ?

So, “Whoa” is the new “Hallelujah”.  Does that bother you?  Or are you glad that worship leaders have finally helped us find the right vocabulary to inspire sentimental emotionalism without the encumbrance of worshipful meaning?  At least we are being honest, and once everything is on the table we can make an honest choice.

Wouldn’t you like to learn what a word like “hallelujah” means, so that you can sing it from a heart of intelligent faith and love?  Perhaps you are satisfied with abandoning these archaic bible words in favor of the bland and common.  However, I believe that the better we come to know God and what he has done for us, the more our hearts will long for better words to express our love for him.

(photo credit)

Published by Chad C. Ashby

Instructor of Literature, Math, and Theology at Greenville Classical Academy Greenville, SC

3 thoughts on ““Whoa!” Is the New “Hallelujah!”

  1. Amen to that brother! That’s what I was trying to say..it’s gotta be both! I think it’s cool that you lean more towards TRUTH and I lean more towards SPIRIT so we balance each other out by calling out to each other to meet in the middle! I know that’s your heart behind these blog posts, is to call out to the other side and bring balance! That’s definitely my heart behind the responses!

  2. I love how the body of Christ is so diverse! As usual I’m going to inject another perspective on modern worship! For you “whoa” is hollow and meaningless..but for me it is very significant! Of course, I guess..the same goes for hallelujah! I’ve actually thought it out though…as a worship leader I remember several years ago singing “All of Creation” by Mercy Me…the lyric was “lift up your voice and let his glory resound!” Then we sang 13 whoas lol! I thought to myself..why would we sing whoas like this…lots of songs do it, and I always do it..but why? I thought this way because I want people to know what they are singing instead of just singing hollow words! I always like to explain words in songs that might not make that connection, so I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain whoa! Then God reminded me of the scripture that if we were silent even the rocks would cry out! I think a rock would probably say something like whoa! Then the song led me to this expansive place of worship, where I’d listen for the tree’s to cry out, and the waters, and the birds. I’ve since also realized that words always fail at giving God the glory He deserves…they will never be adequate. Jesus says that God turns our moans and groans into prayers! I believe He does the same thing with our whoas! In fact, just last night at The Intersection as we sang “Spirit Fall” by Chris Tomlin, I felt God really pushing in, just during some instrumental space. I felt God was asking us for a response and so I challenged everyone to respond to whatever God was putting on their hearts…I knew the Oh’s(the hallelu’s to the whoas) were coming up, and I felt like some people might not even know how to respond in words so I said..if you don’t know what to say just cry out ohhh! I think God is more concerned about our hearts, which He knows every nook and crany of, than our words..because out of the heart flow words of worship! I love screaming oh’s and woahs in worship…it helps me connect to God with my eyes closed, not reading lyrics but just loving my Lord. My good friends in The Change wrote this song called In This Hope..and right in the middle are these Whoas that just make it into an anthem! If it’s your first time ever hearing the song and singing it you might not connect with God through any of the verses…but you do during the whoas, because this is a part of the song that you can fully and joyfully sing along with everyone else…this is a part where you don’t feel out of place because you don’t know the lyrics like all the other insiders..this is the part where you just take a step forward by connecting with others and make some noise together! I say all that not to say you are incorrect about worshiping God with meaningful words. I 100% believe that Jesus inspires some of the most creative and amazing lyrics in history, and shame on us as worship leaders if we don’t let His awe inspiring works create some awe inspiring words! But I’m also convinced that the whoas at the end of “With Everything” by Hillsong, are what heaven sounds like! Love you bro, it’s awesome to be able to do ministry together even when we have different views and opinions!

    1. Thanks so much for engaging on this topic, Eddie. I appreciate the thought and consideration you have put into the way you lead worship. A few thoughts to bounce off of you:

      Jesus tells the woman at the well, who would wish to leave ambiguity in worship, that “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). To Jesus, it seems that truth is an equally important element in our worship of the Father as the Spirit is. There is always a danger in falling off the horse into the Spirit or into the Truth, but Jesus commands us to hold to both with equal ferocity. In fact, it is a work of the Spirit to reveal truth to believers, so to pit spirit vs. truth is not really fair.

      I understand what you mean when you say our words fall short in giving God the glory he deserves. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. God gave us the ability to communicate with language (an ability he did not give rocks or trees), and as the image of God, we were created with the ability to actually communicate in a relationship with God. It’s like in a marriage. Our wives might take it as a compliment if we were to say, “I love you…because…whoa! I mean words can’t describe how much I love you.” But if every time we told her we loved her we used that same line, she would start to wonder whether we actually did love her.

      It’s the same with God. Sometimes we do find ourselves at a place where we have come to the end of our words, and it is still inadequate. But, we should use up every word in our vocabulary to express our love to God before we fall over exhausted and full of the Spirit saying, “whoa.” God wants to be praised for his mighty works; He wants to hear about his beautiful attributes. He wants to know specifically why we glorify him.

      The Bible is a bunch of words. God could have given us an inspired movie, or an inspired sculpture, or an inspired melody to communicate the glories of Christ to us, but for some reason he chose Holy Spirit inspired words. God speaks to us using words, and the heart of faith responds in kind–with words.

      Love you brother!

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