The other day I tweeted something that I suppose you might say, took off:
The conversation (if that is what you call a comment thread on social media) sifted out into a few camps, and I want to take this opportunity to expand on the original tweet.
The first camp came rushing to the defense of the song alluded to. The second camp thought my tethering of mushy worship ballads to looters in Chicago was like a VW Beetle towing a F150 up a Montana logging road at 55mph with a 40ft. rope. To put that in more boring terms, they thought I’d made a stretch. The third camp disagreed with me, arguing that the over-sentamentalized church music of the last 50 years has infected Boomers andâ€“â€“as a resultâ€“â€“their children (in resentment) have joined the social justice mobs.
Now, as Inigo Montoya would say, “Let me ‘splain.”
The song itselfâ€“â€“”How He Loves”â€“â€“was not the point of my original statement. But the song is quite illustrative of a tendency within modern worship songs to sensualize our piety. This isn’t anything new, per se, as this sort of “language of lovers” is found in the Zwinglian corners of historic Reformed hymnody. But the problem in our modern context is that the utilization of the language of lovers is used to such an overwhelming, never-ending, reckless way that in the mind of the worshipper Jesus is reduced to a spiritual boyfriend.
“How He Loves” is the epitome of this sort of worship song. There is a now famous line in it: “Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” (which are in fact the original lyrics). Some who recognize the impropriety of such language in reference to the Lord Most High, have reworked the lyrics to not offend Grandma in the back row (who still is a bit skeptical of these new fangled choruses).
But when we come to Christ, we come to Him as our brother, our friend, our bridegroom, and above all, our King. While our affections are to be stirred in our worship of the Lord Jesus, they must be godly affections. Our worship in song is not to be only emotional. The trap in modern worship is to evoke feelings at any cost, regardless of the theological content of what we’re singing.
Some pointed out that scripture (particularly Song of Solomon) has highly erotic language describing the relationship of the Bridegroom with the Church. The difference is that Scripture comes to us as a united whole. We sing “I am a worm and no man (in Psalm 22:6)” along with “let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth (Sng. 1:2)”. Modern worship songs croon about Christ the bridegroom/lover to the exclusion of other themes.
In full disclosure, I led the song in questionâ€“â€“and others similar to itâ€“â€“which I regret having used as corporate worship songs. Mea culpa. Over time, I came to see that such expressions were not helpful in fostering the aforementioned godly affections. Instead, I noticed that the fruit of these songs was what I came to call emotional masturbation.
This inflamed emotionalism is how we arrived at the place where this generationâ€“â€“raised on songs which did not inform their mind as well as stir godly affectionsâ€“â€“seeing injustices and being malnourished in that quarter they instead found a sense of justice by following the emotional mobs of worldly vengeance and vigilante justice. These youth who grew up in the church were not shaped by the mercy and justice of God which is declared in the Psalms, they were shaped by a mindset that worship = club music/love ballads.
As I’ve recently said elsewhere:
Worship in modern evangelical parlance has come to mean, almost exclusively, music. To be more exact, the sort of music that consists of three chords and the truth, give or take a chord, and give or take the truth.Worship Like You’re told
You cannot feed on a diet of emotionalism and not end up with an atrophied sense of what God demands and desires in our worship of Him. He desires mercy, not sacrifice. He desires us to walk humbly and do justice. He doesn’t call us to come into His presence in order for us to get a tingly spine. Your hot yoga class can accomplish that just fine.
God calls you to come into His presence as a living sacrifice. He calls you to walk in view of His mercy. He calls you to sing about His justice, which includes asking Him to bring vengeance upon His and our enemies (in the imprecatory Psalms). The Psalter teaches us to see that we are captives in need of deliverance, and so we learn to turn to Him alone to save us. It teaches us to think about the themes of creation (and how God made the world…you know with male and female as the only genders…but that’s another wasp nest I’ll whack some other time). It teaches us to think in terms of redemption and restoration coming from God’s hand alone, since no man is righteous, not a one.
Our sung prayers, especially as we sing the Psalms, help us to see that God is the great Avenger of His people, but they must walk in faithfulness to His Law. And then the New Testament helps us to recognize that the Law only exposes our sinfulness. Which is why we need to sing about the blood of Jesus.
We’ve raised a generation on vapid lyrics full of emotional language, orgasmic chord progressions, and plopped on top of that saccharine beverage a dollop of pop-psychology sermonettes by preacherettes. We’ve taught our children that they aren’t mature enough to sit through an adult service, and so we’ve taught them that whatever content is contained in a “grown up service” isn’t for them. When they grow up, they find that there is substantially no difference between their youth pastor’s sermons and the senior pastor’s sermons, the only difference is the sermon illustrations are more for Boomers.
But their gender diversity counselor at the community college points out a lot of the inequities, problems, injustices, and discrepancies that are present in our nation/culture. Their pastor is telling them to unhitch from the OT. Their humanities professor is telling them that Marx was right. And because their diet of worship has been ha-la-la-le-lu-jah x10, they do not have the immune system to fight the socialist bug. So, there they are manning the barricade of CHOP, or supporting BLM’s satanic form of justice.
I have some real sympathy with the final objection raised to my tweet. I agree that Boomers have just as willfully gone along with much of the inanity of our modern worship nonsense. They couldn’t stomach the hot gospel of Calvin, Knox, or Watts; so they opted for the self-help that felt much cozier ’cause it sounded like what Dr. Phil was saying.
As I mentioned earlier, these Millennials and Zoomers came (or are coming) of age, and see that there isn’t much of a difference between their youth group antics and the “adult service.” Which tells them that mom and dad just wanted to get away from them. These kids were told that God the Father “just gushed over them with luuuv,” but then they came to see that Mom and Pop sure didn’t overflow with love to them.
So, they hungered for a father’s love. But the patriarchy, they were told, should be smashed. It has been replaced with the bloodlust of bitterness and vindictive vengeance. So, yes, we sent our children to youth group to sing ooey-gooey love ballads, and when they found out that we did so to get away from them, it shouldn’t be Breaking News on CNN to find out that they ran to the arms of the Father of Lies.
So Come to the Father
But the love of Father God is strong.
It cannot stand injustice. It cannot stand a stubborn knee in the neck of a man pleading for mercy and receiving instead a death sentence without a fair trial. The Father’s love teaches us to ask Him to “defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy (Ps. 82:3).” The Father’s love cannot stand hypocrisy of using tax dollars to slaughter unborn black babies. The Father’s love refuses to tolerate the shame that is fatherless homes for Whites, Blacks, Asians, or any other ethnicity.
The Father’s love cannot be separated from the blinding light of being pleased to crush His own Son, the only innocent man who ever lived, so that you and I might be forgiven. The love of God assures us that all our animosity, guilt, shame, and sin are tossed in the sea, and God promises to not remember our sins against us (Ps. 79:8).
The Father of Lies will always demand another victim, another oppressor to overthrow, another stone to cast at someone other than ourselves. The Father of Light gave us the true victim, to suffer in our place, so that we might come to Him as adopted Sons and Daughters.
The church desperately needs to return to the Word, and find there the great love and justice of God as proclaimed in the simple Gospel news. You and I are condemned sinners. But God, through Christ’s sacrificial work, offers forgiveness for all our sin, and promises to welcome to Himself those from every nation and tribe who come to Him in repentance and faith. So sing the Psalter. Preach the Gospel. And get a Psalty sense of justice.