CCM Praise Songs We Have Trouble With Meme (at the Religion/Science Interface)

Rod of Alexandria has come up with an interesting meme, asking bloggers what Contemporary Christian Music songs they have problems with. He’s not referring to my struggles to come up with a more impressive keyboard solo for “Rock of Ages,” but lyrics we object to. As he rightly indicates, there are many to choose from. My first instinct was to go with “God of Wonders” because, even though there are many levels on which I like the song, there is one phrase in particular that always makes me bristle: “God of wonders, beyond our galaxy…” That illustrates well the problem of how the meaning of Biblical language changes against the backdrop of our current cosmology.

And, while we’re on that subject, I want to link to a post at Hoping for Redemption about a post by Tony Jones. The focus is on how Jesus held a cosmology that we today cannot, and suggests that this should affect not only how we think about the relationship between science and faith, but also whether we accept the idea of the existence of hell.

Anyway, back to the meme. I’ve decided to go with the song “Indescribable” by Chris Tomlin for the following reasons:

1) If God is indescribable, you’d really do much better to sing “Indescribable” and then stop and add no more lyrics. (As an aside, apophatic worship ought to be explored, as the antithesis of the tradition that requires a capella singing and rejects all instruments.)

2) “Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go…?” If the answer is God, then this is deeply problematic.

3) “Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow…?” This language from Job highlights an irony in being a modern reader of the book. In emphasizing God’s superiority and unfathomable wisdom in creation, it makes references to these storehouses which we today know do not exist. And so the point in the Book of Job can probably be made effectively today – but it will require using images from the Hubble Telescope, rather than the actual language in Job.

4) “Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light, Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night?” The answer to the second question is “the Earth.” And so it is hard to hear or read such lyrics in the present and not hear Bill O’Reilly saying “the tide goes in, the tide goes out…” I’ve talked previously about the need for progressive Christian music, and presumably there’s every bit as much of a need for scientifically accurate and up-to-date Christian music.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, here’s the song:

I really want to tag Scott Bailey, to second Rod’s tagging of him, but he is foregoing blogging at the moment. So let me tag Chris Tilling, Doug Chaplin, and Wheat Among Tares, and add that whoever likes the idea of this meme and is reading this can and should participate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13088067015467092319 Vera

    #2 is why I thoroughly dislike that song.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14847912389789698622 Rod

    Yes! Awesome James. I agree with this pick!

  • http://www.nearemmaus.com Brian LePort

    I kind of like this song. Boo.

  • http://cdntheologianscholar.wordpress.com/ cdntheologianscholar

    On a practical note, this song is absolutely horrible to sing as a congregation. Even when everybody knows the song, it is hard, as a worship leader, to keep everyone together.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Just saw this.I'll have to think about it. I know there are too many for me to focus on right now!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04335917715944481443 Gary

    "All things are possible" has always bothered me. Don't remember the exact title of the song. But it is repeated so many times, it gets on my nerves. Not that it is shaking my faith. Just that if true, how come I don't get what I want? Enough of the esoteric, "wait till heaven", "everything makes sense in the end", "we all learn and grow", "It's a mystery",…enough already! If all things are possible, how come people and animals I know and love die, when I don't want them to? Although the alternative is the rejection of faith, in which I/we have absolutely nothing to hold on to. So I have no choice. You might be able to tell, I don't consider this subject particularly funny. Although life goes on – that is the only answer.

  • Anonymous

    All too often I think we measure things in terms of blessings and what we get out of life that we neglect that we are able to give something to it in return. The question is hard to think about and I have no easy answers but I sincerely hope for a miracle and if I must wait till heaven than so be it. Brian

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Cdntheologianscholar, were you trying to have them sing it in the original key of G# minor? It is too high for many people to sing comfortably, but if we try to sing it in another key it just doesn't sound right to my ear.

  • Anonymous

    We should produce a song that incorporates the familarity of our traditions with newer imagergy all too often people do it the other way around causing the material to look rather akward and strange…We should look carefully to how Job presents God's majestic powers. We must start at creation [laying down the foundations of the earth] and proceed onwards, but in the way Job does, so we should expect to see descriptions of the wonderful acts of the universe on a cosmic and earthly scale and maybe find the modern equivalent to Leviathan as a way to show his dominance even over the fiercest of creatures.To keep the familarity I say we sing our song to the tune of classic litury whether it be greogrian or ect.Brian

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05947081596759328950 Matt

    Wouldn't using Hubble imagery in praise songs be just as bad as singing God of Wonders? I'm not too upset when praise songs use Biblical imagery based on scientific ignorance. It's fun and harmless. If it were an ID praise song I guess I would have a problem but no one is pushing for a snow storehouse curriculum in public schools.

  • Anonymous

    Well I'm just playing around, I honestly love using biblical imagery and often talk about firnaments and things like it in my praises. But inventing newer psalms using the modern world won't hurt anybody either.Brian

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Matt, what if we project high-resolution Hubble images on a big screen, play music (maybe Atterberg's Symphony No.2) and forego having lyrics altogether? :-)

  • http://www.shinyphoto.co.uk/ Tim

    I can arrange to have issues with `you' if you like.What an awful noise. Breathe through the heats of praise-guitar…Use biblical imagery where it helps illustrate a point. Then get on with life :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05947081596759328950 Matt

    Dr. McGrath,I once did something like that with God of Wonders (though we DID sing the words). I would in all seriousness love it if my church had some kind of cosmic instrumental worship with Hubble slides. Atterberg would work just fine. What I would really hate though is if someone played Zarathustra -cliche!

  • AnonGear

    So it was God who zapped that 75-foot Jesus statue last year in Cincinnati. Restores my faith.

  • Anonymous

    I somehow think this is missing the point of many things. Firstly, assuming that there was some fundamentally different cosmology or lack of the modern scientific understanding. It might be easy to asume, butI think a lot of the Biblical passages (like the heavenly storehouses of snow) are probably poetic licence or quirks of language we still say the sun rsies and sets even though it is just the Earth that rotates). It may be that ordinary men of that era had a differnet understanding, but I would expect God to know better. And I also consider Jesus to be God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    When we today use such language metaphorically, it is largely a remnant of an earlier usage which is literal.Your view seems to imply that the authors of Scripture knew they were using such language metaphorically, and used it even though they must also have known that their contemporaries would understand it literally. And that seems to me to attribute to the authors of the Bible a deceitfulness that is more problematic than the view that they simply shared the cosmological knowledge of their time.

  • Anonymous

    It's called being poetic, you retard.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    What is? Attributing thought to the heart? If only Aristotle had known that it was simply a matter of poetry, it could have spared his reputation somewhat. Alas, no one in his time – or Paul's – had the evidence we do so as to know whether thinking took place in the heart, the brain, or somewhere else. Alas, Paul seems to have gone with Aristotle on this. If reading texts against the background of the time in which they were written, instead of treating these texts as though they were written today, is "retarded" then so be it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04335917715944481443 Gary

    I find that we all fit under the category of "special needs".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13483419817200339955 Paul D.

    I think everything should be sung with Gregorian chants in Latin, and we can go from there.

  • http://robertcargill.com/ robertcargill.com
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15125903696984548852 Fredd

    Could someone elaborate on #2? It sounds like he is saying that God controlling the lightning is problematic. I admit i'm not familiar with the song so i wonder if someone could clarify that. Thanks

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    The song actually says that God tells every lightning bolt where it should go. I think that the idea that every lightning strike hits a target singled out for divine judgment (or any other specific purpose) is indeed problematic. I don't think we can correlate lightning strikes with those most deserving of being smitten by God.

  • http://facebook.com/bastroppresbyterian Dougfritzsche

     I share some of the concerns about the theology offered by much praise music. Why has Progressive Christianity been so uninspiring to creative minds that there seem to be few contemporary, rocking songs that feature progressive ideas? Or am I missing a great resource somewhere?
     

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      If you’re missing a great resource, I and many others are too. I keep hoping to find the time to both write songs and compile a list of songs by others…


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