Why “What A Beautiful Name” Is the #1 Song in Churches Today

“What A Beautiful Name” was released in early 2017 by Hillsong Worship. Written by Brooke Ligertwood and Ben Fielding, the song quickly rose to #1 on the radio and CCLI and has won two Dove Awards and a Grammy.

With a classic feel, it is an inconspicuous hit. The lyrics aren’t as modern or fresh as those of many recent songs. In fact, Ligertwood and Fielding intentionally included the more traditional word “wonderful,” knowing that it’s not a hip word right now in worship songs.

So what is it about “What A Beautiful Name” that has served the Church so well?

Why “What A Beautiful Name” is so popular

We propose two main reasons why this song has proved to be a mighty congregational tool worldwide:
1. Its range and melodies are accessible. With a range just one note over an octave, the song works great congregationally in its original key (D).
2. The lyrics are simple and worshipful. Pulling from Scripture and not overcomplicating things, the song summarizes beautiful passages of the Bible in a conversational way.
Go ahead and pick up a guitar or sit down at the piano and sing the chorus:

What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King

You’ll instantly feel how effortless it is to sing, and how easily your heart is lifted into worship of our Savior. Seriously, try it. Sing that chorus right now and see what happens.
The writers focused their attention upon themes found in Hebrews 1:1–4 and Colossians 1:15–20 and 26–27, but “What A Beautiful Name” pulls from other passages as well:

  • Verse 1: John 1:1, 14
  • Verse 2: Matthew 4:17; John 3:16; and Romans 5:8 and 8:35.
  • Bridge: Matthew 6 and 27:51; Romans 6:9; Philippians 2:9; and Revelation 19:1

Theological controversy surrounding “What A Beautiful Name”

As with most wild success stories, there are detractors, and for very sincere reasons. The controversy centers around two lines in verse 2:

You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus You brought heaven down

The argument is to suggest heaven is incomplete without us evokes a man-centered gospel, rather than a God-centered one.
We agree with what John Piper said when asked about this issue:

The first thing I want to do is praise God for a worship team that is struggling with issues of truth in song lyrics. This is really good news. It’s a good sign and I hope all worship leaders who hear this would be encouraged to do the same. One of the reasons this is really good news is that a congregation learns its theology, and takes it down into the crevices of their soul, by the songs that they sing, not just by the preaching they hear.

As Piper goes on to say, this particular lyric may not paint the full picture of God’s glory being the chief end of both God and man. We would have no problem leading this song in a church culture where the gospel and God’s jealousy for his glory are declared—from the stage and the pulpit. We would suggest the phrase “you didn’t want heaven without us” is the negative and artistic way of saying this positive sentiment:  “you wanted us in heaven.”
Ben Fielding, one of the songwriters, explains:

God is eternal and was fully God before (and after!) creation. His presence is perfect and complete and yet He chose firstly to create humanity, and then like so many times since the fall, to reconcile His people to Himself. There is nothing in the scriptures to indicate that God has ever been lonely, but the scriptures do demonstrate a loving God who actively desires reconciliation with humanity (John 3:16).
It is certainly not that God needed us, but as the lyric hopefully describes, God didn’t want to leave us out of His eternal plan for salvation (John 17:24). While we were still sinners (our sin was great), God showed us that His love was greater, as Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Now we can sing that nothing can separate from the love of God (Rom 8:35). When I stop to think of the grace and love of Holy God, I am filled with wonder.

Whatever your conviction on leading this particular song, as a worship leader you have an incredibly significant job: to lead the body of Christ in corporate worship of our Creator.

[…] God’s glory is the end of our worship, and not simply a means to something else. In the midst of a culture that glorifies our pitiful accomplishments in countless ways, we gather each week to proclaim God’s wondrous deeds and to glory in his supreme value. He is holy, holy, holy. There is no one, and nothing, like the Lord.

— Bob Kauflin, Worship Matters


Thank you for directing the hearts and voices of our brothers and sisters in Christ to our beautiful, wonderful, and powerful Savior, and for proclaiming his Name to the world.
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Other resources for “What A Beautiful Name”:
About the song:

Lyrics:

Verse 1
You were the Word at the beginning
One with God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ
Chorus 1
What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a beautiful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
Verse 2
You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus You brought heaven down
My sin was great Your love was greater
What could separate us now
Bridge
Death could not hold You
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again
You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names
Tag
What a powerful Name it is—the Name of Jesus

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Written by
Matthew Boffey

Matthew Boffey (MDiv, Trinity International University) is the pastor of worship at Christ Church Bellingham. He is also editor-in-chief of Ministry Team magazine, has edited several books, and has written for several blogs and publications, including Relevant online, the Logos blog, and the Faithlife blog.

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