A Response to Andrew’s Songwriting Rant (from Nathan Fellingham)
All that said, Andrew touched on so many key things for us to think about in regards to our corporate worship, and I for one love the fact that it sparks some discussion and gets me asking my own questions. I guess that’s what Andrew was probably after. So no watertight arguments here. Just some thoughts and questions in response to some of the things he said.
1. Jesus is my boyfriend songs. This is just such a blurry line to me. Is something really wrong when words which would be suitable as expressions of love towards your spouse are directed towards God? I get the point. We do really need to be careful. But I’m not sure that this is the right litmus test as to what is appropriate or not. I guess the lack of nuance here implies a sense that any language which is more emotive, intimate and maybe slightly ‘giddy’ should be reserved for your spouse and anything directed towards God should be purely about his ‘Agape’ love for us - unconditional, covenantal and rich. But doesn’t that ultimately hinder us as humans from actually being able to express any language of love towards God? Yes, we can thank him for his unconditional love for us. But as soon as we say the three simple words ‘I love you’, we are surely on dangerous ground if we follow this through, as our love for him is always going to fall short of his love for us. So yes, certainly let’s make sure that the richness of agape is more adequately expressed in our songs. And some of the examples given by Preston (via Andrew) certainly make me squirm. But I still want to tell God I adore him. I want to tell him he’s beautiful (he is). And I want to be more desperate for him. And what about the Greek word proskuneo? Doesn’t that word partly mean to ‘come towards to kiss’?
2. Random lists of superlatives. Yep. Right on. I for one wish I did a better job here.
3. Lack of Trinitarianism. Yep. You said it.
4. Nonsense. Here’s the next one that starts the questions rolling in more earnest again - and I fear I won’t be able to put across what I think adequately enough. But I think a lot of Andrew’s comments here stem from his emphasis on the cerebral - giving value to the words of a song only insofar as the inherent truth that they express when read on a page - divorced from the music. Flip, this is where I wish I could more cohesively express this. Someone help me. But let’s take three of his examples. Firstly the ‘theologically questionable’. Was there a battle in the grave after the cross? I guess not. But does that song cause my heart to swell at the idea that Jesus has defeated the powers of darkness and now sits at the right hand of the father, his work accomplished, his Kingship authenticated? Absolutely.
It’s a funny thing with songwriting. It’s very possible to write a load of words that are incredibly tight theologically and put it to a half decent tune - and it just suck as a song. The reality is that writing songs that really connect with people and cause them to want to sing has no formula to it. If it did, then more of us would be writing ‘those songs’ more often. Now I’m certainly not saying here that it doesn’t matter a jot what we write in our songs as long as people like it. Far from it. I’ll beat the drum of needing theologically rich songs as much as the next man. But I’ll also extend some grace towards a song that captures the heart of a truth - even if there’s a questionable line in it. And to be clear - it does depend on how questionable that line is! And this is where teachers in the church do need to be aware of what there congregations are singing and assess whether a song has the potential to take people down a harmful theological discourse - or whether based on the rest of what they’re being taught - they’ll probably actually be OK.
Moving on to ‘Waiting here for you’. I get that it can be ‘confusing’ to sing about waiting for God - when God is omnipresent and by the Spirit lives inside all those he has adopted as his sons and daughters. But I - along with I think masses of people within our movement - have many times had the experience of beginning to sing or pray to God and after a time sensing him ‘drawing closer’ to me. And that being a wonderful thing. I’m certainly aware of the dangers of making that the litmus test of a good worship time. But is it actually something that we shouldn’t be wanting or expecting? Lastly, ‘Nothing else could take the place to feel the warmth of your embrace.’ Yes, it doesn’t strictly make sense, but I just don’t believe Andrew ‘can’t fathom’ what it’s saying. It’s saying that nothing else could take the place of feeling the warm embrace of our father. Isn’t it? I’m sure there’s a whole discussion on dumbing down our use of language, not using punctuation properly and such - but I think that’s the beef of this example. All ideas must be expressed in perfect English otherwise it’s not valid.
5. Assumed shared experience. Interesting one this - and not something I’ve given loads of thought to. But surely if we believe that it’s a good thing for a community of believers to sing together (which I’m sure we do) we’re going to have to be able to sing certain things that are more true for someone else in the congregation than it is for ourselves? And maybe this is a great means of breaking ourselves out of an individualistic mindset?
6. Splicing in secular songs. This relates to point 4 - but I don’t think I’m going to go there at this point! And by that I’m not implying that either example was good and helpful for the congregation present.
In summary, I certainly hope that leaders and songwriters hold the responsibility of what we sing incredibly highly - and it’s all too easy to settle for cheap phrases and to fail to consider what is appropriate when we come before God. Andrew is right to point this out. And I hope we can keep the dialogue going to help us all have clearer definition to what that looks like.