Monday, February 22, 2010

Song of the Week

I've been reading a fantastic (depressing at times, but always insightful) book by Stephen Nichols Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ. Expect a full review in a day or two, but chapter five 'Jesus on Vinyl' is a devastating critique of the Christology of the Contemporary Christian Music industry, including contemporary worship. Nichols, along with many others including musicians, bemoan the 'Jesus is my boyfriend/girlfriend genre'. For example, consider these lines: "Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place." I won't name the culprits who penned that awful song, but Nichols comments, "IN non-Christian songs these lyrics would be taken directly as a double-entendre". Yep.

Anyway, the chapter left me wanting a good old hymn with profoundly theological lyrics. I give you Toplady's classic 'Rock of Ages' reworked by David Crowder.

3 comments:

Beth said...

Surely there's room for all kind of expressions of worship to God. Christ may not be my 'boyfriend,' but he's certainly my deepest and closest source of comfort, security, love, nearness, and understanding. It takes nothing away from his mercy, justice, truth, gospel, or righteousness, either.

Christ is the only one who knows me, and that knowing is as intimate as intimate gets, albeit non-physical in expression. Why shouldn't we sing in celebration of that intimacy? Why shouldn't we draw on a universally understood metaphor for intimacy in order to describe it?

If the point is an academic one, that we need a more balanced understanding of who God is and how God and humanity relate to one another, let's have that discussion. If it's a matter of taste and personal preference, fine. But worship is an expression of one's heart to God, with all the emotions and longings therein. Certainly it's not our place to judge that.

Dan Waugh said...

Beth, thanks for the comment. I do think they deserve response.

"Surely there's room for all kind of expressions of worship to God."

Beth, I really don't agree with that. Remember the incident of the golden calf when Moses was on top of Mt. Sinai. The issue, as Michael Horton points out, wasn't that the people were worshiping a false god as much as they were worshiping God falsely. We could use our imaginations and come up with all kinds of improper expressions of worship.

"Christ may not be my 'boyfriend,' but he's certainly my deepest and closest source of comfort, security, love, nearness, and understanding. It takes nothing away from [him]..."

You may be right, but many of the songs cited in the chapter say nothing about what Christ has actually done to express his love. Nichols writes, "All of these songs focus not on any act of God in history, not on the concrete events of Christ's life and death and resurrection...Like a good boyfriend, Jesus shows up at the right moment, says the right thing and knows how to hug."

"Christ is the only one who knows me, and that knowing is as intimate as intimate gets, albeit non-physical in expression. Why shouldn't we sing in celebration of that intimacy?"

I think you are right that our relationship (communion, union) with Christ is intimate. But intimate doesn't equal romantic, more specially it doesn't mean erotic. The lyrics I
posted have an erotic ring to them (I can picture Dave Matthew singing it along with 'Hike up skirt and show your world to me'). I do not think the Bible encourages us to view our relationship with God in erotic or romantic ways. The Song of Songs could lean that way, but I think Magary made a good point - none of the NT writers picked up on that! Even if Song of Songs is about Christ and the church, the language would be corporate, not individual. In other words, Christ is the bridegroom of the church, not of
me, not of any one individual.

"...worship is an expression of one's
heart to God, with all the emotions and longings therein. Certainly it's not our place to judge that."

I think the church is to judge what modes of worship are appropriate. I doubt any orthodox Christian would be comfortable bringing back the little ditty Arius taught his churches, "There was a time when He [Jesus] wasn’t”. Worship isn’t just an expression of our theology, it shapes it also. I don't doubt the sincerity of the song writers, and Stephen Nichols goes out of his way to say that. The motives are probably good, but good motives can have bad and lasting consequences. Nichols considers and grieves the impact our reshaping of Christ has had on the church and the worlds view of Christ (they see him as we present him – for a painful parody of this, watch, if you can stomach it, the episode of South Park where one of the kids starts a Christian rock band:(http://www.southparkstudios.com/episodes/103772). Warning! It offends me, and I don’t get offended. I saw it in a class on Evangelicals I audited at IU. The class was amused). The problem, as Nichols sees it, isn’t so much what is sung, but what isn’t. He writes, “At least some of these songs that have been critiqued can be taken as intending to express the same longing for God expressed in the psalmist…The longing to express a deep devotion to God is laudable. But caution enters in when that longing comes in a theological vacuum.” Again, Nichols, “what type of Christology does CCM teach? It appears to be circumscribed by the experiential. And that experience tends to focus on the romantic and heroic love of Jesus for the individual in the trials and storms of life, which leaves the person shaking like a leaf and needing to be held.”

I want to make sure I’m clear. I’m not against emotion. I speak often of affections. But to target and move affections without truth is shallow, trite and manipulative. That seems a fair summary of much, certainly not all, of CCM.

Beth said...

Thanks for the exposition. I'll have to read the book at some point... and possibly do a more in-depth Bible study on worship that is pleasing to God.