Monday, November 14, 2011

Song lyrics

I've written a number of times about my concerns regarding the lack of theological substance, correctness and completeness in many Contemporary Christian Music choruses.

There are some good modern songs, though. Here are links to a few of the ones that touch my heart meaningfully:

How Deep the Father's Love

In Christ Alone

The Gospel Song

All I Have is Christ


It is not about when a song was written, whether it is a new song or an old song. It is about:

(1) What kind of truth do the lyrics of the song proclaim about the Lord?

(2) Does the form of the song (the way it sounds and feels) support the meaning that it is trying to communicate?

In other words, the song needs to have good, solid truth in it, to begin with. And then, the melody and the rhythm need to underscore and spotlight this truth, rather than distracting attention away from the lyrics. Even a really good song can be ruined by a distracting drumbeat, although I recognize that this statement drifts dangerously close to matters of personal taste. Still, it is something to beware.

Aside: I was once in a choir that sang a song with lyrics that proclaimed,
It was a great thing that He did for me!
It was a great thing that He did for me!
Jesus died on Calvary,
for the whole wide world to see!
It was a great thing that He did for me!

Now, this is all absolutely true and good and right. However, the song was sung to a loud, catchy, swinging country gospel tune. I'd say it was rollicking. If the song had been about the resurrection, it might have been appropriate. But singing in such a sing-song, hee-haw, kick-up-your-heels-and-dance style about the crucifixion of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ... well, it always made me cringe. Quite a bit.

Lyrics are important. Words are important. If Jesus is the Word of God, made flesh to dwell among us (John 1), then words are important. People who say, "You just think too much," are copping out, and the Emperor has no clothes.

I just wanted to write about this today because there is an old hymn that I have never liked, since I was a child, and this morning I thought of an analogy for why I do not like it.

I do not like the song, "The Old Rugged Cross." Here are the lyrics in particular that I do not like:

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.

It has a nice, heartfelt hymn melody, so in these days when hymns are sung somewhat rarely, especially if it comes up in the middle of a head-banging set of contemporary music, I can get lulled into a sense of well-being by the melody before I realize that I do not like the words.

But really? "I'll cherish the old rugged cross..."? How about if I cherish JESUS, who died a horrible death on the old rugged cross? The cross itself was a terrible thing, the thing I'd have had to experience if Jesus had not sacrificed Himself for me on it.

The analogy I thought of: Imagine a young man who has to work for a living in a terrible machine factory. In this factory, his bosses beat him and insult him daily, working him to the bone. Day after day, in the ear-splitting din of crashing metal parts, he lifts and carries large, awkward, heavy, sharp-edged metal pieces from one end of the factory to the other. He has no hope. He is miserable, and he can't afford to quit, or he will starve.

Then, suppose his mother learns of his predicament. She moves across the country to live with him, and she goes to work in the factory for him, enduring all the harsh treatment and excruciating labor to earn money for her son, which she gives to him so he can go to college and earn a degree and get a better job.

At the end of it all, when the young man has received his college degree, paid his college bills, and begun a new job, does he say... "I love the old machine factory!"

I think not.

And neither do I love "the old cross." I love Jesus. I am grateful that He died for my sins. I appreciate with all my heart what Jesus did for me on the cross. But I do not love the cross. It is almost like saying that you love Hell, because Jesus saved you from it. That would just be ridiculous.

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