Wake Up! To Optimism

If it is true that everyone is a theologian then I wonder what ?uestlove’s Theology is. He, along with the rest of The Roots, and friend John Legend give us a glimpse in their new collaborative work Wake Up! The album is actually a thoughtful, if sometimes self-indulgent, unique interpretation of 60s and 70s cover songs. It is also, perhaps like the 60s, overly optimistic about changing the world for the better.

The album is over an hour long and at various points it feels longer. Each song is, however, a  blend of soul and hip-hop sounds and socially conscious lyrics, which makes it a rather unique contemporary offering. The title track “Wake Up Everybody” demonstrates both its musical and optimistic sounds well.

The first verse starts, “Wake up everybody, no more sleeping in bed. No more backward thinking, time for thinking ahead. The world has changed so very much from what it use to be. There is so much hatred, war, and poverty.” The following verses then call on teachers, doctors, and builders to wake up and work towards making a better world. The chorus then chimes in, “The world won’t get no better, if we just let it be. The world won’t get no better, we got to change it, yeah, just you and me.” The very next song sings out “Our generation, the hope of the world.” Love “the way it should be” is a theme that echoes throughout the whole album and beckons us to put hate away. This is, of course, all an ideal that is hard to see as a reality in this life. The notion that humanity has the capacity to actually change their world to this degree is not just hard to realize. It’s also completely unbiblical.

The Scriptures teach that man’s heart is wicked, born in sin, and that his heart needs to be fixed before his behavior can be changed. Only God can make this kind of change. The Roots and Legend call on God’s name at various points in the record. Rapper Common says on the title track, “Even when I fell in God I believe;” and “Created in this image so God live through us.” Ultimately, however, this theology still falls short of the reality of man’s total depravity and our great need for an external savior to change our hearts. That being said, I can’t help but compare Wake Up!‘s optimism with much of the church’s “realism.”

Since pop-Christianity’s transition from a post-millenial theology to a pre-millenial dispensational theology it is common to hear language about our world which, while readily recognizing total depravity (as did post-millenial theology), suggests that the world is destined to go to hell in a hand basket. What this means for much of the church, then, is that involvement in social causes and “world changing” is contrary to our eschatology. Historically this has not always been so. It was the church who originally founded schools, hospitals, and orphanages. It was the church who fought for prison reform and the end of slavery.The church, then, has not always been so “realistic.”

I have really been enjoying Wake Up! It’s typical of both The Roots and Legend in its quality sound, but it has also propelled me to think more specifically about my role and the church’s role in helping our world. I don’t want to be as overly optimistic as they are. I know we are all sinners in need of a new heart. But I also know that by the Spirit of God I can and should have an impact on my world. The gospel certainly changes communities when it floods into the lives of people. So maybe it’s time for the church to Wake Up! once again and see our role in this world a bit more Biblically.

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