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Not a Hillsong to Die On

100 Billion X and One Big Why

Hillsong United’s “So Will I (100 Billion X)” appeared last June on the worship band’s album Wonder and then as a single this January. The song has a compelling and reverent sound (and now nearly thirty million plays on Spotify). The song grows out of Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” And if the heavens declare his glory, sings the refrain, “so will I.”

The song also draws on Luke 19, when the disciples are rejoicing and praising God for what they see in Jesus, and the Pharisees charge Jesus to rebuke them. Jesus answers, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). In this spirit, the song rallies our praises, to join the creation.

Each of the three verses begins with “God of . . .” — first creation, then promise, then salvation. Each verse then shapes its own version of the chorus, beginning with “And as you speak, a hundred billion galaxies are born . . . a hundred billion creatures catch your breath . . . a hundred billion failures disappear.” And if creation still sings his praises, so will we — 100 billion times.

It’s easy to see why so many Christians love this song.

Thorn in the Second

And I love the first verse. God created the universe from nothing. He spoke and there was light — galaxies were born, planets and stars formed — all to tell of his glory. And “if creation sings your praises, so will I.” As the bridge will add, “Everything exists to lift you high.” Amen.

The third and final verse is even more powerful than the first. Just as creation reveals God, so also the cross reveals his heart of love. We “see [his] heart / Eight billion different ways.” We could quibble over whether “child” is a helpful term for all eight billion humans: “Every precious one / A child you died to save.” But the lyrics here do circle back to creation by mentioning eight billion humans made in God’s image. I’m eager to affirm Jesus died for all (1 John 2:2; John 4:14; Revelation 22:17), just not all in the same way (for his sheep, John 10:14–15; his friends, John 15:13; his bride, Ephesians 5:25).

I also pause when the song says Jesus “would again [die for us] a hundred billion times.” It’s an admirable sentiment but seems to overlook the stunning once-for-all-ness of Jesus’s sacrifice (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:10). Even then, I can get over my qualms with the third verse. It’s the second verse that creates the one big Why?

Why That Word?

The trouble in the second verse comes down to a single word. Ironically, this verse begins, “God of your promise / You don’t speak in vain / No syllable empty or void.” We praise God for his care with words. It seems fitting, then, that we also exercise care with ours.

The second verse mentions not just “nature” but also “science,” and then describes God’s one hundred billion creatures as “evolving in pursuit of what you said.”

All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice
And as you speak
A hundred billion creatures catch your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what you said
If it all reveals your nature so will I

It’s difficult to read “evolving” here, in the context of nature and science, as anything other than an affirmation of what we might call “theistic evolution” — that God governed and guided the process modern science has called “evolution.” Perhaps the authors only mean to affirm what we call “micro-evolution,” the observable generational adaptations within species, rather than the more philosophical theory of origins. But does affirming God’s work in micro-evolution really warrant mention and celebration in a worship song?

Or perhaps this is simply a terribly unfortunate word choice. The final line of the verse says, “If creation still obeys you, so will I.” Yes, this is a biblical way to talk, as the disciples asked, in awe, about Jesus, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). Maybe the authors didn’t really mean “evolve,” but only hoped to communicate that God’s hundred billion creatures “obey,” or are “led by,” or are “guided by” what God says. That’s the best possible reading I can imagine, but the problem remains: “evolve” does not mean “obey.” “Evolve” does not mean “guide.” This “evolving” line is either what many of us would view as a foolish compromise with unbelieving philosophy (masquerading as “science”), or it’s a very bad word choice.

On the Lips of the Church?

Authors often err in their word choice, but what raises the stakes in “So Will I” is that its authors designed it for worship, and in particular, for corporate worship. It’s one thing to err in an article or song for performance. It’s another to err in a church confession or worship song designed for public profession.

I asked a worship leader about “So Will I.” He was eager to give the lyrics as much benefit of the doubt as he could: “‘Evolve’ can have many different meanings, but by far its most recognized usage is in Darwinian terms . . . though I could see how individual Christians could take it in the sense of spiritual transformation or growth. That wouldn’t be the natural reading, though, given the context of the verse.” Art is one thing, however; corporate worship is another. “I wouldn’t put it on the lips of our people,” he said.

It’s one thing for Christians to discuss whether “theistic evolution” is compatible, or not, with the Scriptures; it’s another thing to make and sell a “worship song” which celebrates it; and then quite another for pastors and worship leaders to put it on a screen and prompt the church to sing it together to God in the context of a worship gathering. Whatever was intended by the authors, I cannot see how a significant number of worshipers will not be distracted and confused by that word choice — which is disappointing since it’s such a good song otherwise.

For Worshipers

Having raised my concerns, let me make it practical for two groups of people in the church — for congregants and for leaders. If I were visiting another church to worship with them, and this song came up in the service, I would not walk out. I would sing along with as much as I could.

I would eagerly confess everything in the first verse, and I think I can supply biblical meaning to the words of the third verse. But if I were to keep my mind engaged in worship, I would simply have to go quiet on the “evolving” line. As a worshiper in my church, or a visitor to another, I want to be quick to join creation in worship — “so will I!” — and slow to criticize. In the context of worship, I want to have a wide, generous spirit, not a narrow, critical one.

And in worship, God means for us to have our minds engaged. He is looking for worshipers, Jesus says, who worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23–24) — with heart and head, with emotions and thought. God means for us to be thinking when we sing in worship, not just saying the words while our thoughts drift elsewhere.

For Leaders

But the question is different for pastors and worship leaders who are making the choices about which confessions and lyrics to include in corporate worship. What a holy stewardship it is to choose what words will be on the lips of our people in worship! This is not a task to be taken lightly. What a privilege and joy and responsibility.

God has gifted us in our day, in English at least, with countless powerful songs, with truthful lyrics, set to compelling tunes, that we don’t need uncareful lyrics like “So Will I” to fill our services. We have choruses and hymns, old and new, that proclaim with crystal clarity truths we as a church would die for.

Fellow pastors, your people, if they are thoughtful, are going to stumble on the word evolving. Some will not even be paying attention, but others will ask about it after the service or in emails. Still others will just be distracted and confused. In corporate worship, “So Will I” is simply not a Hillsong to die on.