Monday, July 07, 2008

Radio that's "Safe for the Whole Family" Part II

One of the issues of popular music is that if we're not careful, we can thin the text to a place where complex ideas and thoughts are forced into a synonym corner. Crafting text carefully to be clever is one thing, crafting text to be clever while maintaining depth of meaning is another--and evidently much more difficult.

What in the world am I talking about? Let me give examples. This was first brought to my attention several years ago with the song "I Stand Amazed." Written by my buddy Travis Cottrell and Dennis Jernigan.

I see the stars that You have made
I know You call them each by name
To think Father God who heaven displays
Is thinking of me in intimate ways

I stand amazed in all of your glory
That you would die for me I stand amazed

Now I am in no position to "explain" the trinity, nor am I a theologian, but we need to be careful of what it is we're learning from song lyrics that flow well, but inadvertently teach un-truths.

What is wrong with this passage? Did God make the stars? Yes. Does he know them each by name? Sure. Is "Father God" thinking of us "in intimate ways?" Yes, we can surmise from scripture that this is the case. Did "Father God" die for me? No.

Heresy you say? Not at all. Jesus died for us, not "Father God." Poetic license? Jesus is God, right? Yes, but Jesus prayed to the Father to let this cup pass before he went to the cross. Jesus the Son was crucified, not "Father God."

There are further examples from the songs of yesterday's post. These are songs that are currently on Christian radio stations, and in the top 20, no less.

All About Jesus, Steve Fee:

giver of every breath I breathe
author of all eternity
giver of every perfect thing
to you be the glory

maker of heaven and of earth
no one can comprehend your worth
king over all the universe
to you be the glory

I'm alive because i'm alive in You

it's all because of Jesus I'm alive
it's all because the blood of Jesus Christ
that cover's me and raised this dead man's life
it's all because of Jesus I'm alive

every sunrise sings Your praise
the universe cries out your praise
i'm singing freedom all my days
now that I'm alive

Verses describe attributes and actions typically ascribed to God the creator, yet the chorus changes gears to being all about Jesus.

You Reign, MercyMe

Even before there was a drop in the ocean even before there was a star in the sky even before
the world was put in motion You were on Your throne You were on Your throne.

You reign glory in the highest You reign let creation testify by Your name every knee will bow
and every tongue proclaim that Jesus reigns.

Even before Your hand made the heavens even before the breath of all mankind even before we
had to be forgiven You were on Your throne You were on Your throne. [back to chorus]

Yesterday, today and forever Your are God who was, and is and is to come. [back to chorus]

Very similar to Fee, a kind of lyrical "mode mixture" switching between actions and attributes of God the Father (Creation in the verses), but proclaiming "Jesus reigns" in the choruses. Is this a problem? Maybe not. Perhaps that is the point of the song, that Jesus is God, and God is also Jesus, however the change from one character to the other is not very clear, and the listener can easily presume that we're talking about the same Person of the Trinity, that Jesus the Son=God the Creator (Elohim not withstanding)

Song of Hope, Robbie Seay Band:

I will sing a song of hope
Sing along
God of heaven come down
Heaven come down
Just to know that You are near is enough
God of heaven come down, heaven come down

All things new
I can start again
Creator, God
Calling me Your friend
Sing praise, my soul
To the Maker of the skies
A song will rise


So again, God of Heaven came down, but not as "Creator, God," or as "Maker of the Skies" but as Jesus. This is omitted in the song. God the Father is in heaven, Jesus came to earth, sent down from God, and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit.

Love is Here, Tenth Avenue North:

come to the waters, you who thirst and you'll thirst no more.
come to the father, you who work and you'll work no more.
and all you who labor in vain and to the broken and shamed:

love is here.
love is now.
love is pouring from
his hands, from his brows.
love is near,it satisfies.
streams of mercy flowing from his side.
cuz love is here.

Either this is brilliantly poetic (I'll give them that) or it is modally inaccurate. The verse talks of coming to the Father, but the chorus depicts the crucifixion of the Son, yet makes no distinction between the two.

What difference does all this make? Is this me splitting hairs, or is this "hair-esy?" I think it's something we need to watch out for. Being aware of which person is being sung about is important, just like we would want to keep clear which of the Godhead we were discussing in a conversation. The danger is that even if these songs aren't sung in church, the undiscerning or ignorant listener my receive falsehood when he believes the source to be reliable and full of truth.

If these songs work their way into a corporate worship context, we run the risk of misappropriating the richness of the "Word of Christ" and misappropriating the use of music to "teach and admonish." (Col 3:16) Instead these songs may "breach and astonish," and will not edify the body with Truth, and in fact add to confusion, resulting in people like me writing posts like this.