Monday, May 01, 2017

This Song is About Me!

I read this a week or so ago in my Facebook feed from the click-baity site Hello Christian: "Is the Song 'What a Beautiful Name It Is' Heretical?"  As expected, commenters were quick to defend the ear-worm song specifically and Hillsong's ministry in general while criticizing the author for picking at nits (or staining gnats, if you prefer).

The author, Sam Storms, a pastor in Oklahoma who was just recently elected vice president of the Evangelical Theological Society, tried to make the point that the line, "you didn't want heaven without us" paints God/Jesus as being needy, as if his worth relies on our "acceptance".  Responses to the effect of, "it's a song, get over it!' miss his point entirely and ignore stories like Esther, to whom Mordecai pointed out that God's deliverance of Israel didn't depend on her, or Paul's words on Mars Hill in Athens that God "is not served... as if he needed anything."

As authors N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and others have (I believe) rightfully pointed out, the terms "gospel" and "salvation" have been diluted in Western Christianity to satisfy our personal tastes, making God no different than Santa Claus.  We "accept" Christ in "our hearts".  We lament how politicians "keep God out of our schools" as if that's even possible.  We church shop based on worship, children't ministry, or we don't even front and base it on how much time it takes out of our Sundays.  I've often heard the phrase, "if you were the only person on earth, Jesus still would've died for you."  So in other words, the gospel is all about me.

And we hear it in the songs we sing.

'What a Beautiful Name It Is' isn't the only one.  Another that always makes my skin crawl every time I hear it is 'This is Amazing Grace' by Phil Wickham.  I pointed this out to my pastor the other day and now he says he can't not hear it.  The chorus goes like this:

This is Amazing Grace
This is unfailing love
That you would take my place,
That you would bear my cross

You laid down your life
So I might be set free
Oh, Jesus, I sing for
All that you've done for me

Do you see it?  No, I'm not talking about "all that you've done for me".  Rather that Jesus took my place to "bear my cross".  This runs counter to Jesus' very words that following him is conditional upon us taking up our own cross.  It's not like he said it just once either.  You can find the message to "take up your cross and follow me" in Matthew 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, and 14:27.  Yes, I know, synoptics.  But my point is, this isn't some obscure teaching that you only find in the fine print.

Jesus puts this condition as a "must" in Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9.  You're not "worthy" of following Jesus if you don't in Matthew 10.  And perhaps most hard-hitting, you "cannot" even be his disciple unless you do so in Luke 14.

So it's a pretty big deal.

Yet we sing the opposite because it makes us feel better.

I don't think Phil Wickham or Brooke Ligertwood include such lyrics intentionally.  (Another example that I think makes it obvious this isn't intentional is TobyMac's 'Until the Day I Day' where he repeats that he'll follow God until things stop going well ("til the spotlight fades"))  The phrases fit the rhythm of the song and rhyme just right.

But I think this individualized gospel is so ingrained that we don't even realize it when lyrics like this slip into the songs we regularly listen to or when it permeates the language we use.  And that individualism drives our religious decisions, our convictions, and our evangelism.  So we perpetuate it and it gets worse.

Songs are meant to impact us emotionally, so obviously we like songs that make us feel good.  But our theology shouldn't be the same way.

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