Why singing “Our God is Greater” *might* make our God seem less great

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There’s a song that has now made its rounds in the evangelical church circuit. This song is commendable on many levels.

First, the melody is catchy. If you haven’t listened to or sung this worship tune, you can check it out here:

Second, it’s a song with lyrics that are all quite true. I will quote them here for you now:

Water you turned into wine, opened the eyes of the blind. There’s no one like you, none like You!
Into the darkness you shine. Out of the ashes we rise. There’s no one like you, none like You!

Chorus: Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer, Awesome in Power, Our God! Our God!

Bridge: And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.

I agree with every line of this song. Nothing about it is theologically untrue in any way. But I think that singing “Our God is Greater” *might* make God seem less great.

Culture is evolving. Christianity no longer occupies the center of public discourse. The civil religion of the American Empire used to be “Christian,” but the truth of the matter is that our society (like the rest of the West) is in the transition toward Post-Christendom. Stuart Murray, Juliet Kilpin, and others at Urban Expression (a church planting initiative that I’m connected to) say the following about Post-Christendom:

“Post-Christendom is the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence.”

With that basic definition, here are some of the major transitions that take place culturally as post-Christendom takes root:

-       From the center to the margins: in Christendom the Christian story and the churches were central, but in post-Christendom these are marginal.

-       From the majority to the minority: in Christendom Christians comprised the (often overwhelming) majority, but in post-Christendom we are a minority.

-       From settlers to sojourners: in Christendom Christians felt at home in a culture shaped by their story, but in post-Christendom we are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home.

-       From privilege to plurality: in Christendom Christians enjoyed many privileges, but in post-Christendom we are one community among many in a plural society.

-       From control to witness: in Christendom churches could exert control over society, but in post-Christendom we exercise influence only through witnessing to our story and its implications.

-       From maintenance to mission: in Christendom the emphasis was on maintaining a supposedly Christian status quo, but in post-Christendom it is on mission within a contested environment.

-       From institution to movement: in Christendom churches operated mainly in institutional mode, but in post-Christendom we must become again a Christian movement.

Among American evangelical leaders push-back is common when confronted with a list like this. One need only to recognize that these things are beginning to happen in our context as they did in places like England to realize that we are headed in a post-Christendom direction. Although we never had an “official” state church, we have had a cultural civil religion that uses Christian language to support imperialistic aims. This too is fading as America no longer is comprised of only Christian religions. Our country is pluralistic.

I personally welcome the transition that is happening. Christendom (as described above) resulted from the marriage of Empire to faith. In a world where Christians are placed back into the margins, it will force us to move into a more authentically Christ-centered mode of humility, enemy-love, and justice.

To call God “great” is more than appropriate, but calling God “greater” invites a competitive and confrontational tone. So, in this sort of cultural climate, I make the claim that singing songs about how “our God is greater” actually makes God less great. Two reasons come to mind as to why this *might* be so.

First, for followers of Jesus who feel the real world results of this shift from the “center to the margins,” singing about how our “cosmic dad” can beat up everyone else’s ideological parent reinforces the belief that the Christian story should be central in a society. We must avoid any such perspective and find our voice from the margins, just as the earliest Christians did when they refused to bow down to the Emperor or to carry the sword of nationalism.

If we look to history, any time a society attempted to place Christ in the center, they subtly turned the idea of Christ into an idol. Think of the “Holy Roman Empire” and all of the resulting nations. A Christ who favors any nation besides the distinct “kingdom of God” is not the Jesus of the New Testament. Christ forsook this temptation in the desert when Satan offered him all of the earthly kingdoms of the earth.

Uniting Christ and an earthly nation, (besides after the resurrection/renewal of the cosmos) gives into the very temptation Jesus himself resisted. When we sing “our God is greater” we might (I’m not making a global claim here) actually be trying to live out of a Christendom shaped dream of yesteryear.

Second, for outsiders peering into our churches, whether as curious visitors or as skeptics believing that we are a cancer to society, for us to sing “our God is greater” sounds coercive and arrogant. I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t believe that our God is the greatest of all gods/ideologies, but wonder if in a pluralistic society if the path of loving humility might win others over more effectively.

For centuries the Church used violence, power, and a sense of entitlement to “get their way” in public discourse. What if we flipped the script, forsaking these power clinching perceptions for washing people’s feet – especially feet that walk a differing religious or ideological path? Perhaps this would create space for skeptical folks (rightfully so) to reconsider a non-coercive Christ and the “new humanity” he came to establish.

Our words, even when they are true, can damage our witness. We can make power-claims of our God or we can demonstrate the power of God’s Spirit from the margins. One path attempts (if we are not careful) to place Christ where he himself refused to go, to the center of earthly cultures/nations.

Another route invites the people of God to embrace their place on the sidelines of society, not as separatists, but as Jesus followers creating a beautiful alternative culture for the sake of a post-Christendom world. This unconventional way forward embraces our alien status as sojourners, making the name of God great (not just greater but the greatest) through living in our corners of the empire as a minority people, daily embodying the values of “faith, hope, and love.”

When this happens, we won’t have to sing that “Our God is Greater” because our Jesus-shaped Spirit-empowered communities will give witness to the greatness of our heavenly Father without relying upon verbally combative claims.

————————————————–

PS – I’m not here, trying to say that we should never be in dialogue with people of other religions, but that we need to choose our words wisely. We can come from a place of humility or we can appear like we want to re-incarnate Christendom. I choose humility.

 

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  • http://www.missional.ca/ Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Great post.  I think a large part of the problem stems from the fact that we have made our Sunday worship gathering the primary context for evangelism.  So while I affirm what you are saying here, part of me is also concerned that this dynamics might cost worship unnecessarily.  Just pondering…

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Jamie… I agree with you on that…. I’m simply saying that the fact is that most contemporary settings attempt to create space for skeptics. I’m hoping this helps those sorts of churches. Also, I think it’s always important, no matter the setting that churches practice some level of hospitality… Even in song.
      KURT WILLEMS
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems

      • Flexiwrists222

         Do biblical praise psalms and hymns and exclamations always leave space for skeptics? I agree with you, but I also agree with the song. The disconnect seems more in the context and interpretation, which is the case with any and every song and scripture. I would suggest rather than picking on one particular song (which as you have said, contains true words) to criticize, I would criticize the interpretations that are dangerous. What I am worried about is that we lose the good, kingdom-focused, power-filled message this song CAN bring by only singing singing songs outsiders would question. Are there times when communal worships NEEDS to address itself and not the missional call? Certainly the community of Israel, Jesus, and Paul think so from time to time.

        So, rather than point out this song because of a possible contextual difficulty, lets point out songs that blatantly oppose the Kingdom-Gospel, there are plenty of them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.maslin Matthew Maslin

    Ah thank you! I have been waiting for someone to say this, because I thought I was just being over critical. My world religions lecturer Bob Robinson just released his book “Jesus and the religions” which in passing talks about pluralism and inclusivism etc. really got me thinking about this song. And you should check out the book too, its great!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1266531818 Sandy Daniels

    I always thought this about those lyrics! I agree. :) I just don’t feel quite right when we sing that part. I DO believe He is great. And even greatest! It just feels unloving and antagonistic. I guess worship songs are written with the idea that Christians will be hearing/singing them. But we have to remember that non-Christians will hear them too. :) Great post. I really appreciate your opinions and the conversations they start, Kurt.

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

    Love this thoughtful post. I’ve been thinking about worship songs lately too (just recently deconstructed Steve Fee’s “Burn for You” and our tendency toward hyperbole in worship over at my blog, How to Talk Evangelical.)

    For a person who usually has something cynical to say about popular worship music, this one has never really struck that dissonant chord with me. I absolutely understand what you’re saying. I too resist that sort of battle-cry, us-against-them mentality. 

    But when I sing this song, I tend to think about it on a more personal level. Not so much “I am superior to the rest of my errant country because I believe the right, ‘greater’ thing” but rather, “God, you are greater than my fears. You are greater than my anxiety. My dreams. My desires. Your power is bigger than…Your love is stronger than…”

    If I’m able to sort of channel my thoughts into that place, I find that I can sing this song. But you’re right…turn it just a little and it can sound completely different.

    • lizdyer

      I understand that you don’t mean anything offensive and that you tend to think about it on a more personal level.  But as Christians we also have a responsibility to consider how what we do and say looks to those outside of our faith communities.  We live in a pluralistic society and as Christians we need to find a way to live within that kind of society in a way that is respectful and considerate to those who believe differently than we do.

      • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

        I certainly would agree with this statement: “as Christians we also have a responsibility to consider how what we do and say looks to those outside of our faith communities.” 

        I tend to think, however, that in the Christian worship service itself, worrying about offending the outside world shouldn’t take priority. If there is anyplace where we should be allowed to celebrate who God is and his beauty and power and victory, it should be in our communal worship.Now, when it comes to having it on Christian radio stations or singing it on street corners, I’m totally with you. But if we start taking anything out of a church service that could potentially offend someone who does not consider themselves to be a Christian, we’re going to start losing a lot of really precious truths.

  • http://twitter.com/Ryan_LR Ryan Robinson

    I actually had a similar train of thought, less deeply of course, yesterday after singing this song at my church. I realized the theme of the song is essentially “my god can beat up your god.” Do I think it’s true? Yes. But aside from your point of being confrontational, I have to ask the question: is God being stronger the reason we worship him? Do we praise God because he beats up every contender, or do we praise God because he loves us, gave up his physical life for us, and invited us to be a part of his Kingdom?

    • Steve K

      I believe the answer to your question: ” is God being stronger the reason we worship him? Do we praise God because he beats up every contender, or do we praise God because he loves us, gave up his physical life for us, and invited us to be a part of his Kingdom?” is “YES. All of the above”

  • guest

    Seriously??  ” if the path of loving humility might win others over more effectively”?  Our God IS greater!  He is the GREATEST!  And there is nothing else we should boast about other than this!  This is the best and greatest message we can give to unbelievers – that our God reigns higher than ALL other created gods and idols.  We have no reason to be ashamed that “our dad can beat up all other dads” because HE CAN!  And He WILL!  I will gladly and loudly proclaim and worship our God who IS greater.

    • lizdyer

      no it is not the best news – the best news is that our God is loving and kind and generous and just and merciful.  This being great thing and boasting in that is something that Jesus never embraced although he was tempted in the desert.

    • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.maslin Matthew Maslin

      No-one is going to want to know your God if that’s how you are presenting him to others. Just in the same way as you would scoff and be offended by an Muslim say to you “Allah is greater, he can/will crush your God.” It’s arrogant, and leaves no room for discourse- essentially a waste of time. Does God want his believers merely walk around saying he is powerful? or does he want to see his love being manifested on earth to others?

  • Steve K

    Kurt,
    I agree with much of the spirit of your post and I think your observation of where the church stands in today’s cultural climate is very astute. I don’t propose we try to recapture the control in the political/public square in some kind of modern-Constantinianism. We are a church on the margins, aliens in a strange land, sojourners.
    That said your arguments are somewhat baffling and disturbing to me. First, I don’t see the connection of your first line of reasoning (that singing that “our God is greater” ties us to some kind of nationalism). To say “our God is greater” means He is greater than ALL powers and principalities, ideologies and governments, worldviews and false gods. If we really believe “our God is greater than any other” as the song goes, it fundamentally breaks down trying to equate God with some political party or ideology. It’s a song about recognizing GOD’s control and sovereignty, not about us capturing control.  
    Your second argument (that singing “our God is greater” is overly arrogant and coercive) worries me to a greater extent. Again, you connect these words to an attempt to “get our way” in the public discourse (see above for my confusion regarding this line of reasoning). The greater concern for me is your fear of proclamation that might be perceived as offensive. I met a man in my seminary education who argued “if we consistently really live like Jesus, the world will accept us, love us, and flock to our churches.” I’m not trying to put words in your mouth here, but I want to make the observation that no one lived and talked more like Jesus… than Jesus. Jesus was loving, perfectly holy, AND combative. He wasn’t combative in physically violent manner – he told Peter to put away the sword – and he wasn’t trying to wrest some kind of worldly power from the existing powers. But, when it came to God, His demands on our lives, the call to repentance and faith, and that he was the only way to the Father, he offended a lot of people. In fact, he offended so many people so often by his radical claims that they killed him.
    We must remember we’re not the only believers to live in a pluralistic society. The prophets of the Old Testament were speaking to a pluralistic multi-national world. They spoke on behalf of God and were rejected because of their unashamed call to worship God alone. The apostles in the New Testament lived in a pluralistic multi-national society (this Paul in the marketplace). They spoke on behalf of God and – guess what – the people found their words offensive and combative.
    You offer an “alternative” that I don’t see as an “alternative” at all. We should absolutely live out a “beautiful alternative culture” that embodies Christ in the world. We should seek the good of others. We should love across boarders and ideologies. We should serve others (include perceived enemies) and wash their feet. We should care for the poor. We should seek justice. Amen and amen. But I fear this is only half the gospel. It’s not an either or proposition. We can proclaim “Our God Is Greater” in our speech and our song AND live it out so that people see it. Will our speech be offensive and combative? Possibly. Will it turn some away? Likely. But I believe it’s a claim we need to make if we are going to be faithful to the mission God has given us in the world.

    • lizdyer

      you forget that the people that Jesus was so offensive to were religious people – not those who you would consider non-believers

      • Steve K

        That’s an excellent point and one we shouldn’t forget. But, Jesus didn’t offend the “religious” because they were religious per se, but because their religion was false, empty, and hypocritical. The problem was that they were singing “I am greater, I am stronger, I am better than any other” (see the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14).
        My larger point, however, was that Jesus was unafraid to tell the truth in an uncompromising way. He wasn’t (and we shouldn’t be) needlessly offensive. We shouldn’t try to make people mad but we also shouldn’t try to remove the offense inherent in the gospel. The call of God is universal to religious and non-religious alike; turn away from idols and false gods and worship God alone, through Jesus. That same message brought before “the nations” in Acts did not fail to offend many.
        Ultimately, the gospel isn’t about being offensive – it’s about being reconciled to the God of the Universe, the giver of life, through Jesus – but that comes through faith and repentance and turning away from self-worship to God-worship is always a painful process.

      • Mteston1

        Liz your comment is so crucial to us grasping both Jesus and our current situation. Jesus’ most, dare I say, offensive word, was to the religious of our day. Any grandstanding & loud “greater than” is, for me, a continuation of being part and party to that same kind of religiosity distancing ourselves from the Jesus in the dust and dirt of his day. The use of terms non-believer/believer is an oxymoron today and laughable to the very persons we are called to live gospel to.

      • Dale K

        Yes, but Jesus did not change His message for either group. He still called sin, sin. And, pointed out their sins publicly…woman at the well, just pointed out her adultery…it appears she chose not to be offended. Jesus was eating with Matthew the tax collector and his tax collecting friends when the pharisees challenged Jesus and he said in front of Matthew and the rest of the party…He came for the sick not the well (if I was Matthew, I would take that personal…Jesus just called me SICK), and again Jesus told them he called the sinners to repentance not the righteous…(again, Jesus was calling the tax collectors & Matthew sinners –though implied the pharisees as well). Jesus was very offensive…we can not narrow His message to make people feel ok with our religion. We must speak boldly about sin and the love of Jesus that can restore us…a Relationship with Jesus, that is beyond religious activity. Jesus is so much more that we try to fit into a box of “He offended these…but not these…” Jesus offended those who even followed Him rather closely…for at one point many who followed quit following because of His words (unless you eat of my body and drink my blood you shall not enter the kingdom). Again and again, the truth offends the person who disagrees, light offends the darkness, freedom offends the captive, etc. The world will hate us because it first hated Him.

        I don’t worship a namby pamby Jesus/God. I worship the God of the universe who is mighty, great and powerful, who offends even me. I am not worthy (that is offensive to me) but in my offense He still gives Himself to make me worthy. Got to have a balance look at God…when you figure Him out…HE IS MORE! There is no box of understanding that we can seal Him in…He is Greater.

    • http://www.facebook.com/leostaley Leo Staley

      Good comment. I agree with Kurt’s point, but I would make it like this:

      How does it sound to an outsider listening to Christian’s sing the song?  Rather than, as it would have sounded to ancient Greeks and Romans, sounding like an affirmation of our own deity’s power above other deities, it sounds like an affirmation of ourselves and our own agendas to outsiders today. 

      1800 years ago in their pluralistic society, various sects singing or chanting about how much greater their god is  would have been par for the course. Nobody would have had an idea of coercion or violent politics when they heard it, ESPECIALLY coming from these non-violent Christians.  But today, in OUR pluralistic society, THAT conotation of coercion and violent politics is precisely what most people have at some level in their minds when they see a Religious service, and ESPECIALLY from historically VERY violent Christians. 

      To put it another way, The ancients would have interpreted the phrase, “Our God is greater than yours!”  with, “hmm? really? Do tell.” or ” yeah, okay, whatever. so is everybody’s.” Moderns interpret that same exact phrase with, “These people are dangerous!” or “They’re getting themselves ready to take over”

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

         @facebook-577280121:disqus … Amen!!! Yes, pre-Christendom called for a different response than Post-Christendom does.  Perhaps if we someday find ourselves in some sort of post-post-Christendom we might look back to pre-Christendom for a parallel, but in this cultural moment I’m with you – its not a simple ‘one to one’ correspondence. Excellent comment bro.

      • Steven K

        Leo. You make a good point. We do have a lot historical baggage. Certainly there is a difference between pre-Christian and post-Christian plurality. The two are not identical. That said, I think the biblical record might challenge your argument that an ancient would have interpreted these words with such nonchalance. I would like t offer two pieces of evidence for your consideration.

        First, Acts
        19:23-40 tells the story of a riot in Ephesus directed against Christians. The riot
        was cause by a silversmith named Demetrius. Demetrius was so upset for two
        reasons. First, he made idols and the claim that “man-made gods are no gods at
        all” was hurting his business. The gospel was causing him financial pain. The
        second reason was that he was so made was that Paul’s words were an offense to
        the goddess Artemis and to the whole city who worshipped Artemis. 19:17 sums
        his complaint: “There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good
        name, but also that the temple of the great goddess herself, who is worshipped
        throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divinity.”
        See, if Paul had only said “Jesus is who we worship, go ahead and worship other
        gods” that would have been fine. But he didn’t just lift up Jesus – he said
        that they were worshipping “no gods at all.” That’s a dangerous and offensive
        exclusive public claim. Demetrius (and the whole town who rose up against the
        Christians) was not inclined to say “hmmm, really? do tell.” 

        Second, the song in question gets as its lyrics part of
        Romans 8. Paul says, “what shall we say in response to this? (this = God’s
        salvation in Jesus Christ) If God is for us, who can be against us?” And who, you
        might ask, would be against those followers of Jesus to whom Paul is writing.
        Paul lists, “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or
        danger or sword?” At least two of those terms (persecution and sword) would be
        coming from someone to whom the gospel was seen as a danger. The Christian
        claim was far more dangerous for Paul to make than for us to make today.

        I
        want to make one final note that may clear up some misunderstanding. I don’t
        really view worship (here used in the narrow sense as referring primarily to
        singing songs) as a primarily evangelistic task. I am not a supporter of the
        so-called “attractional” model. I see the primary purpose of the worship
        service as building up the local body of believers and singing as a way of
        calling back to God truths about Himself. So, I don’t see the song as a
        primarily “evangelistic” song, nor do I see any worship songs as primarily
        evangelistic. That’s not to say we shouldn’t care about how we are perceived by
        outsiders. But, my approach tends to see the witness in worship more in line
        with 1 Corinthians 14:24-25. Here, an outsider comes in, sees people
        prophesying (which is understandable as opposed to speaking tongues which
        sounds like babbling) and is convicted by the Holy Spirit and proclaims “God is
        really among you.” So, when it comes to visitors, whatever their beliefs before
        they come in, my biggest concern is that we are clear and understandable in our
        worship. This has a lot of implications including avoiding “putting stumbling blocks” in
        their way. I would agree there are certain songs and words we could say that
        are overly and needlessly offensive which prevents a clear message from coming
        across. However, as I see it anyway, setting the bar at “Our God” because it
        makes an exclusive claim about God over/against our pluralistic world is
        setting that bar way to low.

        I hope that I have no been too combative. Kurt, I was really pleased to see you say in another post that the exclusivity of Christ will always be offensive. I think there is actually a lot here we agree on. I just feel compelled to offer a slight word of caution. I know you weren’t trying to make a global claim but there were some underpinnings I was a bit worried about. Anyway, I hope this is a case of iron-sharpening-iron (if I may be so bold to call myself iron) and not a battle.

        God bless.

        • Steven K

          Bummer! Sorry about the formatting, that’s what I get for a copy/paste from word :/

      • allie8962

        I don’t really care what anyone else thinks. I sing MY GOD IS GREATER because it’s true! I am not ashamed!

        • Lamont Cranston

          What a shock, an obnoxious christian jackass! One so seldom comes across one of those in the wild.

  • Emily Hunter McGowin

    I sympathize with these sentiments. My first exposure to this song was in the context of a July 4th celebration at our former church. The lyrics were presented over a PowerPoint slide displaying an open Bible over the American flag. Ever since then, I can’t hear the song without hearing a (idolatrous) blend of nationalism and Christian worship, where Yahweh and Jesus Christ are national symbols of American greatness. I am certain that was not the intent of the song’s writer, but in my own experience, it’s there.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Wow! Idolatry indeed. Glad that you shared this and hope you have found a more biblical church!

      Kurt

    • Shelly

      Yeah that would make me ill too. I had serious issues with my dad’s church because of their clear idolatry of the USA during a Sunday morning service. 

  • Chalem Bolton

    I’ve had more issue with the bridge of this song than with the chorus. This is probably getting picky, but in using the possessive pronoun ‘our’, the singer of the song is elevating their position in connection with God. It makes God a possession of humanity, a supporter of ‘our’ movements and ‘our’ organizations. I don’t necessarily disagree with that idea, but I think we often get it backwards. In the context of ‘ You shall be my people, and I will be your God’ (Jer 30:22), I think it is our place to be ‘his people’, and God’s place to be ‘our God’. The song should go ‘If we are his people, who could ever stop us.  And if we are his people, what could stand against.’

  • http://www.sojournchurch.info Michael Scarlett

    (tongue in cheek) Maybe because Tomlin had used “great” in another song, he felt like he needed to use great in a different way–”greater”…

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      hahahaha!

      Kurt

  • Rosannadawn

    Yep. I have been very uncomfortable singing that song, because it says our God is greater. He is, and we all know it. It just sounds so snobby, lol. :)

  • http://twitter.com/onepursuit jenni baier

    No matter what the place of Christianity in culture, it doesn’t change the truth that God is and always will be greater… than anything. No matter how politically or culturally incorrect that might be :)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I know that Jenni :-) I made that point quite clear in this post. My point has to do with when / how we communicate the greatness of God…
      Kurt

  • http://mikeleake.net Mike Leake

    Kurt,
    I’ve typed up a response to your article here in which I defend the use of the song.  I’m with you on the necessity of seeking Christ’s kingdom and not the shoddy version we try to construct ourselves.  I’m also with you in not being needlessly offensive.  But I think, if I am reading you correctly, I disagree with you on this one.  
    http://www.mikeleake.net/2012/06/our-god-is-greater-but-should-we.html

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

       I appreciate you engaging at this level. I encourage you to read @facebook-577280121:disqus ‘s comment and my response to it. I think this gets at why I disagree with your argument. Have a great day!

  • lizdyer

    Kurt – I agree with what you said and also have a problem with this worship song.  I am ashamed to say that for many years I was so immersed in a Christian community that was turned in on itself that I was blind to what you point out.  I say that because I think there are a lot of Christians who will not be able to understand what you are saying.  

    I particularly appreciate you pointing out that having the attitude that “the Christian story should be central in a society” is an attitude that we need to rid ourselves of.  My youngest son graduated high school recently and because he performed so well academically we attended quite a few ceremonies at which he was recognized.  I was appalled as a Christian that at every ceremony Christianity was front and center – whether it was in an opening or closing prayer, a song or words in a speech it was insinuated that Christianity was the norm, the accepted, the best, the right way.  Of course there were people at these ceremonies who were not Christians – students who were also being honored and friends and families of those students there to congratulate and honor someone – but the Christians were the majority and they went to no trouble to be respectful to those who were not Christians.  I spoke to one of my son’s good friends who is an atheist and he said he noticed and was accustomed to things being that way.  Isn’t it a shame that this is the kind of attitude this young man expects from Christians?I think this kind of ungenerous and disrespectful attitude is reinforced by worship songs like the one you critique.  I believe we Christians need to get back to putting others above ourselves and to yielding our rights in order to be considerate of others. Someone in another comment here talked about Jesus being offensive to a lot of people but they didn’t seem to remember that the people Jesus offended were the religious people – people who today would probably be called “believers”.  The story in scripture portrays Jesus as a person who drew those outside of the faith to him.  We need to do a better job of imitating Jesus in that way.  In my opinion, you have done that here by being able to clearly see how this kind of worship song misrepresents the kind of attitude that Christians living in a pluralistic society should have unless they are satisfied at being turned in on themselves and using their faith as a barrier to keep them separate from others rather than a bridge to connect them to others.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Excellent observations / Comments Liz!!!

      Kurt

  • http://twitter.com/missiogibby Gibby Espinoza

    I love what you’ve done here, Kurt. You’ve challenged the status quo from a perspective that many of us either don’t see, fear to see, or wish we’d seen. I get what your saying and do agree, and much of that is because of my desire to be connected to the culture around me…especially in the margins of life. It’s in the margins where people continue to ask, “Where is this great God of yours who allowed me to get to this point in my life?” It is also in the margins where God reveals his greatness through his incarnational life in us and not necessarily through our shouting that our God is greater.

    I don’t recall anywhere that you said the song was not theologically sound or worth singing. My take on your blog post is to consider what we say, how we say it, where we say it and to whom we say it.

    Let us not forget that our experiences…good and bad…influence the way we see life, scripture and God. Because of that I say, “Bravo, Kurt.” Thanks for challenging our Western Church perspective with this and other posts.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Thanks Gibby… you nailed it. Key word in this article that some have not noticed *might* :-)
      Kurt

  • Brooke

    I can see where you’re coming from. But to me, the “Our God is greater” refers to how our God is greater than any circumstance that we may run into. That’s how I’ve always taken it. But that’s just me.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Brooke, I respect that and understand why “we” would take it that way. I wonder how “outsiders” take it? Thats what I’m trying to get us all talking about. Thanks for reading and for your kind comment!

      Kurt

  • CORKY RILEY

    Hi Kurt, I turly enjoyed your essay. I am not sure about your statements regarding your approach in relating to people of other faiths or no faith at all.  I think we always have to be careful in how we choose our words and how we come across. My old Mentor Bryce Jessup used to say ”what we win a person with is what we win them to.” With all respect to a brother I believe that  humility should be present when we serve one another or relate to others in our community but presenting God in a lesser way because we might offend someone is a little odd. No matter what we do we are going to offend people. The only way we are going to get along is not to say anything at all about God. I think we should be sensitive but there is a line to be drawn as far as being sensitive and politically correct. I was in Church yesterday and I sung and listented to the song in question. I was not thinking of how My God can beat your God up but of the empty tomb. I am sorry but if Christians are thinking my God can beat your God up then we have done a very poor job in teaching our people about God or our people have done a poor job in learning about God. To not present God’s Greatness in full as represented in scripture is odd when all of scripture supports and presents his greatness.

    If we are going to reach the various cultures and sub cultures that live in our communities we have to do it the odd fashioned way and that is ”earn it.” We have to work to reach and enter in to these cultures by establishing honest, trusting meaningful relationships. I am a member of a group of people who consider ourselves cultural different. It is very hard to break into our group and to be accepted. I am a conservative person and I worked for over 30 years in a liberal culturaly diverse career and field. I had to live in and work in a very liberal politically charge field and I was able to do well because of honest trusting relationships. We were able to exchange and share ideas in an honest open fashion. Relationships that is true relationships supported by words and deeds and truth supported by honest effort is the key to serving people in this day and age.

    A great article Kurt. Thank you for giving me something to really thank about regarding my faith. Corky
     

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Hi Corky,

      I agree with you to a point. I’m not calling into question *if* God is the Greatest. I believe that God is!!!! I’m saying that given the cultural moment, we do well to worship God exclusively without the need to fight a war with words. Not all people who sing this have that as their intention, but it can certainly be a residual effect. This is not going soft… just choosing to be humble rather than combative when verbal combat does nothing to help win others over to salvation found in Christ.

      Kurt

  • Patrick

    I disagree in principle with your critique Kurt…and my question is…when is a song of worship just that, a song?! Does song and even scripture (Psalms) have to be ‘correct’ theology and grammar. When can it just be artistic impression? The early Church was ready to flog and behead Michangelo for depicting David or Adam and God the way he did. I am not suggesting you are ready to do the same but your post today stirred something similar in me

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Hmm… I’m not dogmatic but rather believe that what we say has an effect on us as humans. Our words shape our identities. Sure we can get some things wrong along the way, but if we know something is harmful, why not simply adapt and move on?

      Kurt

      • Mteston1

        The “medium” has always been the message, and continues to be the message. The Word became “flesh” . . . the medium is the message, profoundly shapes the message, and ultimately allows the message to be embrace or not. Our “mediums” are crucial and will continue to be crucial in advancing the gospel. Your blog takes that very seriously.  I appreciate that.

  • AmyWalker

    Kurt, I love the discourse taking place on these lyrics. I think Western Christianity is often egregiously egocentric, and I agree that, as Christians, we should be much more humble and sensitive in our social and cultural interactions with others. As someone who frequently and passionately travels and also works with people of various faiths and cultural backgrounds, I strive to be conscious of this and encourage other Christians to do the same. I think it’s a travesty when the opposite occurs. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of being aware of how we represent ourselves and our faith to others.

    We both agree that Tomlin’s lyrics are theologically sound and thereby reference biblical truth, so here lies my dichotomy: In what context or setting are we allowed to say that our God is greater? Is it ever acceptable? If the worship song were being sung on a public stage outside the walls of a Christian house of worship, I would deem the lyrics unneccessarily haughty. However, I can’t seem to unequivocally conclude that it is wrong to sing these lyrics within the confines of a Christian church where biblical truths are (hopefully) taught. I do see the point you’re making about the arrogance it conveys to society, but where else would it be appropriate or acceptable to convey that biblical truth? Or, what would be a good alternate but similar proclamation? Anytime you acknowedge something as superior to something else, there is risk of offending someone. Do we lose our boldness by suppressing that? I don’t have those answers; I’m sincerely pondering those thoughts.

    Again, great post!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Amy, Excellent ponderings. I would venture to say that we could word these proclamations in a way that is not combative. Believing in the exclusivity of Christ will always be offensive… lets be careful not to bring about a combative tone when its not necessary in this cultural moment (in regards to how we relate as the former “powerful” religion compared to other faith traditions). I think we reserve combative language for the kind of war we Christians should have against injustice, poverty, and violence.
      Let me add that this article is the evidence of a similar pondering. It is not a definitive statement but rather what *might* need to be thought about :-)
      Thanks for such a thoughtful comment!

      Kurt

  • Starla

    Interesting thoughts. I think the main issue with singing a song like this is claiming it, but not truly believing it. This reminds me of the double-minded (or literally two-souled) man in James 1:8 who essentially asked for what he doubted God would actually give him. When I sing “God is Greater,” I think of it more in a spiritual sense. No matter the obstacles and spiritual battles in my life, God is powerful enough to overcome and conquer them. If we truly believe this, singing a song that claims it continues to build our faith that God will be our defender. Then our lives will show Him to be true.

    Then the question comes down to the context of the place of worship and the culture it takes place in. If the aim is to welcome newcomers into worship in a non-offensive way, perhaps other songs are better. But if it is for the body of Christ to join with heaven in worshiping our God, I think these songs are great.

  • http://chickchaotic.wordpress.com/ Elizabeth Chapin

    I had some similar thoughts when we sang this in choir recently and am affirmed by your post that I am not the only one
    thinking about these things. Our worship music speaks volumes about our
    theology. While the lyrics are theologically correct, as you note, it does feel reminiscent of Christendom thinking. I think much of popular worship lyrics continue to reflect Christendom thinking. I imagine it will take a while for missional theology to make it’s way into our song lyrics. I’m curious, are there any worship songs with an Anabaptist leaning you would recommend?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      hhhmmm… I like many songs in the contemporary scene. I’m a big fan of much of what The City Harmonic is putting out, but even there I try to use discernment. I think you are quite correct that its gonna take a while for worship songs to be translated into post-christendom by missional church folks. But, as communities seek the Spirit new expressions of the Kingdom, even songs, will emerge… Of this I’m confident!
      Thanks Elizabeth for your thoughtful reflection here!

      Kurt

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

       I know it’s not cool to refer to hymns anymore, Elizabeth, but we already know I’m not cool so I will anyway…our Mennonite Hymnal when I was growing up contained a hymn with these lyrics (not as gender-neutral as you might wish, but important I think).  It was written by the Moravian Nicholaus von Zinzendorf in 1723:
      ———-
      Heart with loving heart united, met to know God’s holy will
      May His love, in us ignited, more and more our spirits fill.
      He the head, we are his members.  We reflect the light he is.
      He the master, we the brothers, He is ours, and we are his.

      May we also love each other, and all selfish claims deny,
      So that each one for the other will not hesitate to die.
      Even so our Lord has loved us; for our lives He shed His blood.
      Still He grieves, and still He suffers, when we mar the brotherhood.

      Since, o Lord, you have demanded that our lives your love should show,
      So we wait to be commanded forth into your world to go.
      Kindle in us love’s compassion, so that everyone may see
      In our fellowship, the promise of the new humanity.
      ————
      That, IMO, is what an Anabaptist song about our Lord and faith looks like!

  • Brad

    Kurt – I’ve led this song in worship on Sundays on occasion  and my view is that worship (corporate worship) is a time for believers and has little to do with evangelism or statements about what’s wrong with the world and how our view is better than others’ view.  Rather, worship and relationship with God and other believers is a time to see what’s right with the world through the unlimited grace we’ve been given through Christ.  To me – the current structure of “Sunday” worship services are very Greek and/or often smack of the reinstitution of Temple Worship where we may often be praising with our tongues but out hearts are far from God.

    But all that aside – I think that the corporate time together is NOT primarily to convince unbelievers to believe but is supposed to be about encouraging and building up others who are in the community of believers.About the song.  I’ve always assumed that it referred back to the Old Testament sentiment (and even the time of Christ) when so many different gods were being worshiped by all kinds of people.  The assertion, as it was by Israel, is that God (the one true God of Israel) was GREATER than the other gods that were being worshiped (I recognize that many people in Evangelical circles would say that no other gods exist – they are just myths – but that was not necessarily the sentiment of many people in history nor is it the sentiment of many today).  Elijah had a run in with those who were worshipping other gods and he set out to show that God was GREATER than any other gods – if they were real or not – draw your own conclusions about whether gods exist or not.  It also reminds me of Paul’s message to the Athenians regarding the Unknown God they had built a statue or altar to.  The point was that there is one God above all other gods whether real or invented by man.  This was particularly relevant to the OT times.  The post-Christendom age seems to me to be so incredibly similar to the environment Jesus found himself in as he walked the earth during the Roman Empire’s reign.  I see the relevance of Jesus’ ministry today through the power of the Spirit around, in and through us.Lastly, I agree with much of what you write, but the song to me is not arrogant or insensitive.  In its proper context (and everything is contextual in our age of multiple “gods” and world views under the rule of an empire just like in Jesus’ time) the song serves simply to remind and encourage believers what God has done, is doing, and will do.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Brad, Great observations. I think the one thing you might consider is that pre-Christendom and post-Christendom are different in one way in particular… violence and power. In Post-Christendom we are in recovery mode from the ways in which power-over approaches to Christianity damaged our witness.
      Therefore, during a shift like this we (christians) are suspect. This is quite different than in the days of the early church. Both pluralistic, but both distinct. I’ve said this multiple places today… Perhaps in a post-post-Christendom reality… one that looks more like pre-Christendom… it will be more appropriate to move back towards confrontation as we see in moments within the early church. Not sure this is that moment. We can worship God with full authenticity in a pluralistic environment without choosing words that provoke memories of Christians vying for power. Even so, I fully respect your opinion here…
      Thanks Brad!
      Kurt

  • http://twitter.com/tom_read Tom Read

    Kurt, have you heard Brian McClaren’s similar thoughts on this song? I was at a conference he was speaking at once and right after the worship band had sung this very song, he got up to say pretty much exactly what you outlined above. Awkward to say the least!

    I don’t have much to add as I feel that there have been so many great points raised and so much to take away and think about. I would just like to say that it’s so refreshing to read the comments section here and see such mature, open and honest dialogue between Christians. Thanks guys for restoring my faith in Christian dialogue on the internet :)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Thanks Tom for your kind words. No, I have not heard what Brian McLaren had to say about the song. I’m sure that we would have similar reservations. Thanks for the heads up on that. And yes… Inasmuch as I can, I always strive to facilitate open and respectable dialogue. Have a great rest of the week :-)
      KURT WILLEMS
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems

  • http://twitter.com/degrasse Nathan De Grasse

    I wonder what kind of musical worship God likes to receive. I wonder what He likes to hear and see.

  • http://twitter.com/yoshijinno Josh Jinno

    My problem with this type of lyric has to do with the possessive “our” which can be taken in all the ways you describe as well as a promotion of our own individualism. Theologians literally play this out sometimes because the Reformed God is greater than the Arminian God, and in church life as well the Evangelical God is greater than the Main-Line God. Perhaps even ‘the  God who made me feel ecstatic while singing with my hands raised to this new cool tune, is greater than the God of those old worn out hymns.’

  • Kristy Mcpherson

    Really appreciate your heart Kurt! I read your posts often, talk about them with my husband, rarely post though. I’ve been disturbed by the ‘my dad is gonna beat you up theme’ for quite some time. There’s so many other areas that are important to me…loving others being a prominent one. Yes loving kindness is where it’s at…otherwise we’re annoying cymbals and gongs. Please keep posting! 

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      What a kind comment to recieve. The greatest honor I can get as a writer is that folks are being stirred to talk about Jesus together as a result.
      You made my day!

      Kurt

  • Aaron Niequist

    Kurt,
    Fantastic post.  Just for solidarity, I wanted to share a similar post I wrote about this song…http://www.aaronniequist.com/blog/?s=did+we+just+sing+that%3FIn the history of my blog, I’ve never had as many feisty comments from people who 100% disagreed.  It was fascinating and surprising.  But on the other hand, I’m meeting more and more people who are wrestling with similar questions.  You did it masterfully on your blog.

    Keep graciously pushing and humbling asking the questions that need to asked!  

    Blessings,

    Aaron Niequist
    aaronniequist.com

    • Aaron Niequist

      Okay, I screwed up the link.  sorry about that.  this one should work…http://www.aaronniequist.com/blog/?s=did+we+just+sing+that%3F
      Aaron

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Thanks Aaron! I’ll try to check out that post! I’m humbled that many people agree with me on this… and if they don’t, most have graciously disagreed.
      Kurt

  • Jim B

    I find it difficult to read comments regarding a song
    written to extol the virtues of Almighty God, and should make no apology for
    doing so.  How often is it that words
    like awesome, amazing, wonderful, delicious, etc. are used to describe a meal,
    an automobile, a vacation spot, or a play on Broadway?  While a liberal view of whether our God is
    greater than any situation or other Gods, or will make the occasional visitor
    uncomfortable if stumbling into a church service may be entertaining to the
    flow of conversation or diatribe, I prefer to take a much more conservative
    approach than this.  My thoughts and
    willingness to sing words that include how my God is Greater is not about you,
    the other people around me, or those offended that I am inconsiderate in not
    first entering into an hour long conversation qualifying what my views on my
    God are before bellowing at the top of my lungs that in fact, My God is
    Greater.  It is, instead, about who I
    believe that God is in my life.  And when
    I get to heaven and my Father asks me whether I love Him, I will bow down at
    His feet and declare unashamedly that He is Greater than all others and I love
    Him.  There is no winning in conversations
    about subjects like words in a song, so I will not enter into a contest to do
    so.  There are times to ask questions and
    a time to stop asking questions.  Sing
    the song or don’t sing the song.  While I
    do not enter into conversations around my office or elsewhere that includes
    references to who’s God can beat up who which seems ridiculous to me, my God
    has shown Himself to me as worthy of my praise and deserving of my unapologetic
    affection.  The next time that this song
    is being sung in church or elsewhere, I assure you that I will sing even louder
    and with more conviction than I have ever before.  I love God, and He is Greater, Stronger, and Higher
    than all others as it concerns me.  My
    prayer is that others will see Him as not simply another God, but as the One
    True God.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    I love this, Kurt.  I haven’t thought this much about this particular song, but I always have thought it sounded a little like the kindergarten “my Dad can beat up your Dad” sort of bluster that ill fits a community of Jesus-like servants.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      Thanks Dan! I couldn’t agree more.

      Kurt

  • MattBillingsley

    I think this whole thing is overkill. Sure you have the right to write whatever you want, but as a Believer, I think your responsibility is greater than getting everyone’s head wrapped up in the potential of offending people with other beliefs because of the word “greater.”

    You have to consider – Holiness, or being set apart. God is greater (than all other gods or idols), which is why he is holy. Are we going to become offended that God is set apart? Are we going to become wrapped up in becoming estranged from society because our own desire to be holy could possibly offend people or be misconstrued?

    Following Christ requires sacrifice, and sacrifice requires boldness. Without either, we are without purpose. We can’t get wrapped up in wondering if Our God Is Greater is “combative”, as you put it.

    When you put things into perspective, thinking back on events like 9/11, or the combative nature of Westboro Baptist Church and similar groups out there – why are we even worrying about picking apart Our God Is Greater? For those reasons alone, considering how non-believers perceive the song is a moot point.

    Maybe it’s time to pretty much reevaluate everything. Recent commercials and ads are all about “re-imagining” cars, technology, etc. Maybe it’s time to re-imagine getting a grip.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/GaryFPatton GaryFPatton

    Thank you for your comments, Kurt. Essentially I agree with you. I’m also enjoying the other views being shared.

    Interestingly, Muslims sing that their god is greater as well as some Christians.

    “Allah Akbar”  does NOT mean “Allah (God) is Great” as the common Muslim chant usually is translated by apologists for Islamism and Islamization of the West plus the media.

    Literally, the Arabic actually means “Allah is Greater!” This is according to Raymond Ibrahim, an Arabic-speaker and  internationally-recognized expert on Islam and Islamism plus the Middle East. (http://is.gd/OXNoF9)

    Today and in Seventh Century Arabia, where other world religions believe in many gods (and demons (Arabic: Jinn), one does not need to guess whom  Allah is “greater” than?  It’s the gods of all infidels’  …and especially the Christian and Jewish God of the Bible, YHWH.

    When terrorist Jihadists and rioting, so-called moderate Street Muslims shout “Allah Akbar”, as is common on news reports, they are really saying: “My god is greater than your God so my religion is superior!” …an insult and “might makes right” concept.

    • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

       This is a factually incorrect claim, Gary.  Muslims teach quite explicitly that the God of Abraham is the same God worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  “Allah” is the name used by Arab Christians, as well as Muslims, to refer to God.  “Allahu akhbar” may indeed be a comparative (I’m not enough of a linguist to know), but Muslims would–quite rightly–take the strongest issue with your suggestion that YHWH of the Jews and Christians is a different God.

      I elaborate on this a bit more in my post Every Christian ought to be a muslim (but not the way you think) if you’re interested.

      • Shelly

        I had the same thought Dan. I had always thought that Allah was God, just as we as Christians worship the “Jewish” God. Same God, different religion somehow! I think you just explained it way better. 

        • http://twitter.com/ben_weeks Ben Weeks

          Same name, different characteristics, laws, timelines, priorities, teachings and internal structure.  A name is just a label for the sum of all these parts. 

          • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

            How, Ben, can you say this is true for the one Muslims (and Arab Christians) name as “Allah,” yet not (I presume) for the one Jews name “Elohim” or “YHWH?”  The Jews would insist that their God has not sent Jesus as the Messiah, so according to the usual criteria by which Christians claim that Muslims worship a false god, those same criteria lead to the same conclusion about Jews.  Are you prepared to make that statement, that Jews worship a false god?  If not, how can you make it about Muslims?

            Please note, I repudiate the “different god” claim against both Jews and Muslims.  I’m merely trying to understand the claim others are making.

          • http://twitter.com/ben_weeks Ben Weeks

            “If you knew me, you would know my Father also,” and “my sheep hear my voice.” is Jesus talking about a different God or the same one?

  • http://thingsfindothinks.com/ Findo

    Hi Kurt,

    I agree with most of the substantial points, just not your conclusion ;)

    Have engaged with what you’ve written here:
    http://aborrowedflame.com/2012/06/kurt-willems-on-our-god-is-greater/ 

  • Shelly

    Very interesting Kurt! I agree that we need to be humble, but I had always thought of this song from a different angle. First, I have no problem declaring that God is greater than anything or anyone else, because I believe it, but I do believe there is a time and a place for everything and an imperialistic attitude toward anyone never gives God the glory. Anyway with this song I had always thought of it as something that is meant to remind us and encourage us as Christians that God is bigger than the problems in our life, and also bigger than anything that the enemy (satan, not people) is trying to do. I have never actually thought of it in the context of physical things, or on a national scale, but on a personal spiritual level. It helps me remember that I DON’T need to be aggressive, defensive, worried, freaking out, or anything other than trustful towards God and loving towards others because no matter what is happening I know God has it under His control and will work it out with the best intentions for everyone involved. As I translated this song into something personal in my own mind, it was very interesting to read such a completely different take on it. It was challenging and I think good. I will be thinking about it for ages! It takes me a while to process :)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I love it when you comment cuz! I think that the first time i sang that song i had a similar feeling about it. But, the problem is that the lyrics literally mean “Our God is Greater… Than any other ___ (god).”
      Love that you are such a deep thinker and so passionate about the way of Jesus!
      Miss ya!
      Kurt

      • http://thingsfindothinks.com/ Findo

        the problem is that the lyrics literally mean “Our God is Greater… Than any other ___ (god).

        I still don’t quite get why it’s a problem if it’s true -if worship is about building eachother up, and not about shouting to outsiders.

  • http://steveauthieratheisehill.blogspot.ca/ Steve Authier

    Thanks for taking the time to write this piece. I’ve thought similiar thoughts about this very song many times. You did a great job articulating how I feel. Bang on.

  • Robertnevillemd

    But,but, He is.

  • http://twitter.com/ben_weeks Ben Weeks

    “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” So why are we worrying about what semantics might seem more favourable to our ego? Nationalism is an idol, but we are unwiling to recognize the plank in our eye shaped as the idol of ‘craving praise from men rather than praise from God’ ?

  • Salvatore Sberna

    Kurt,

      In light of
    some of your recent posts that cast what you call “Imperial Christianity” or
    “Christendom” in a negative light, I thought it was necessary to offer a
    different view on Civic Christianity in Christian history.  To that end, I would like to unpack a
    particular passage in your article, “Why Singing Our God is Greater Might Make
    Our God Seem Less Great.”

      In this
    passage you assert that you “welcome the transition that is happening.  Christendom (as described above)
    resulted from the marriage of Empire to faith.  In a world where Christians are placed back into the
    margins, it will force us to move into a more authentically Christ-centered
    mode of humility, enemy-love, and justice.”  You seem to set up a proposition where Christendom (i.e. state
    churches, the Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, Holy Russia, etc…)
    equates bad, inauthentic, oppressive, overly religious Christianity while
    marginalized Christianity equates, good, authentic, socially responsible and
    progressive Christianity.  Forgive
    me if I am reading too much into one article, but I believe your proposition is
    wrong.  In fact, it smacks of what
    I call “golden-ageism; a Christian quasi-heresy that states that there was a
    golden age of Christianity before the movement was corrupted by the empire or
    outside, pagan influences.  My
    suspicions of this way of thinking are further aroused a couple of paragraphs
    down when you posit that “we must avoid any such perspective and find our voice
    from the margins, just as the earliest Christians did when they refused to bow
    down to the emperor or to carry the sword of nationalism.” While there can be
    no doubt that during the years of Christian marginalization and persecution
    under the pagan Romans many believers earned their crowns of glory through
    martyrdom.  However, this does not
    mean that the message of the Gospel was not authentically lived or spread under
    Imperial Christianity.  In fact,
    the legalization of the Faith was one of the greatest boons to believers and
    the world.

      During Christianity’s
    marginalized period, serious heresies began to foment and threaten to tear the
    Church and Empire apart.  One of
    Constantine’s earliest mandates was to call the First Ecumenical Council of
    Nicea so that the Church’s bishops could stamp out heresies (notably, Arianism)
    and begin to set down laws for doctrine, worship an order.  For the first time, the Church was able
    to travel and come together openly and meet as a catholic body to defend the Faith
    and to strengthen the faithful. 
    Rome had a wonderful infrastructure (thank goodness for their roads for
    use by missionaries) and it began to let the Christians use it to propagate the
    Gospel.  This was the Empire’s
    first gift to Christianity.

      God’s use of
    the Roman Empire did not stop there, however. Now, since the Church was a legal
    and patronized entity, art and architecture could flourish.  Constantine and subsequent emperors
    made donations of land and civic buildings in which to participate in the Holy Liturgy.  These were marvelous, beautiful churches
    that reclaimed man’s labor and the earth’s material to glorify God.  It was a place that all could gather,
    no matter what their social standing and be apart of the communal worship of
    God. (As a side note, one of the greatest gifts we can give to God and the
    poor is religious beauty.  In the
    first place, beauty is an offering back to God of the divine He put in us.  In the second place, the poor, who
    rarely enjoy beauty, may beseech God for mercy in an environment that can’t
    help but raise even the humblest soul to the heights of heaven). Furthermore,
    Constantine commissioned 50 Bibles to be scribed and sent to the various churches
    at an enormous cost to the Empire. 
    In this way the public (mostly illiterate) could hear the sacred
    scriptures chanted in the churches.

      Perhaps the
    most shocking change to the pagan culture was the growth of Christian
    hospitality.  Church and government
    officials built hospitals and orphanages to take care of the “least of
    these.”  It is often forgot that
    right next to the Great Church of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople there was
    a hospital.

      All of these
    blessings took place under early Christendom.  Of course, the Roman Empire isn’t the only example of the
    efficacy of the marriage of Christianity and empire; it isn’t even the
    best.  I submit to you Holy Mother
    Russia.

      If you have
    never read about the conversion of the Russian people under St. Prince Vladimir
    I highly recommend you do.  Prince
    Vladimir was an inveterate pagan who finally united the Russian people in the
    late 10th century. 
    Aside from being a savvy politician and ferocious warrior, he was an
    absolute horror of a human being. 
    Before his conversion, his reign was marked by constant warfare,
    fratricide, polygamy and rape.  His
    first wife he raped in front of her parents (then proceeded to murder them) and
    his second wife was a ravaged Christian nun.  Get the picture? 
    By God’s grace, this pagan among pagans began a personal and empire wide
    religious inquiry (he was, at that time, a very superstitious polytheist).  His quest took him to Byzantium to ask
    for Baptism and the princess’ hand in marriage.  This was no mere political alliance; it was the culminating
    act of a heart that yearned for God. 
    Vladimir’s conversion rocked the Russians.

      Before he
    arrived back in Kiev, Prince Vladimir sent heralds ahead of him to say to his
    people, “I am coming with great power. 
    I am coming with a power far greater than that in which we used to trust
    in axes and swords, because I come in the power of Christ.”  And that power was certainly made
    manifest.  On his return, his
    nation was Baptized and his style of governance changed.  Capital punishment was outlawed for
    most crimes, wars of aggression were stopped, and hospitals and charitable
    houses were built along with thousands of churches and monasteries.  He also made sure his people had
    schools so they could learn to read and write.  St. Vladimir went to his grave extolling the virtues of
    piety and charity and ensured that the Russians would have a faith to sustain
    them through years of oppression, poverty and persecution under the Communists.  One need only look to St. Vladimir and
    the Russian people to find true examples of enemy-love, humility and charity in
    an imperial context.

      Furthermore,
    Russia (over the last 100 years) gives us a good example of Christianity shoved
    to the far margins of society and
    government.  After one reads
    Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn or any of the accounts of persecuted Russian
    Christians, one could hardly conclude that they were thrilled about marginalization.  We just assume that the Church will
    come out stronger after being persecuted, but this has not always been the
    case.  Sure, many saints were made
    under the Communists, but it has taken years to build back the Christian
    culture in Russia and Eastern Europe. 
    The truth is that most Christians (myself included) do not have the
    faith for marginalization or persecution. 
    In fact, during our Liturgy, Orthodox Christians pray for a peaceful
    death and a good defense before the judgment seat of Christ.  In reality, this prayer is a plea for a
    death free from persecution; a death where our faith is not tested, because we
    know we are weak.  It is very
    prideful to ask for marginalization. 
    We might not be able, as individuals or as a community, to bear such a
    thing.

      I’d like you
    to consider one final point; when Christianity is pushed to the margins
    something else takes its place. 
    Nature abhors a vacuum and when the dominant political or cultural
    narrative is not a Judeo-Christian narrative, things have rarely gone
    well.  In fact, when Christianity
    has been thrust into the center of culture and politics it usually is replacing
    something loathsome.  In one of
    your recent “retweets”, you seem to admire the courage it took to be a pagan
    after Constantine.  These are the
    same pagans who occasionally practiced human sacrifice, regarded revenge and
    selfishness as a virtue (read The Iliad)
    and treated sex as an act done with anything.  In fact, before Christianity, women
    were treated like breeding cattle. 
    Early Christianity saw so many women converts because it offered them a
    chance to be treated with dignity, as sharing an equal humanity.  Pagans just saw them as warm
    bodies.  This was the “culture”
    that was stamped out under Christian emperors and dominant Christian culture. Conversely,
    when Christianity is pushed to the margins, the rest of the
    nation/empire/community is hurt. 
    One need only look at the Communist take-over of Russia, the 500 years
    of Islamic oppression in the Middle East or, most recently the rise of
    secularism in Europe.  I was
    surprised to see you hold up England as an example of Christian marginalization
    and then welcome its rise in the USA. 
    Have you seen England?  
    Whole neighborhoods are under repressive, anti-Christian, anti-progressive,
    anti-women Sharia law.  Churches
    stand empty and church attendance is minimal.  What is more, the country is broke and students protest that
    they must pay more for tuition; demanding handouts is not a Christ-like trait.  No, if that is what marginalized
    Christianity looks like then I will pray against it.

      I don’t hope
    to change your opinions on any of these matters, but I do want you to take a
    broader look at Christian culture and “empire.”  It built Europe, gave the disenfranchised a voice in society,
    raised women’s social standing and continues to be a common bond in the West.  Christianity can thrive in the
    catacombs or in the capitol.  However,
    the world is better off when Christianity occupies a place of prominence.

     

    • N2hispower

      Kurt, are you going to reply to this very astute observation about Christianity in the margins versus the center?

  • JSO

    I’ve just recently come across this song, and now this conversation. I have to say II’m more with SteveK than with Kurt. In a post-Christendom age, which is indeed pluralistic, multi-faith, and in which the forces of secularism and of other faiths that are not compatible with Christianity seem to be on the rise, I can’t see the problem with Christians celebrating together, and reminding themselves that, whatever outward circumstances may seem like, our God is indeed greater. In fact, isn’t that why such a song needs to be sung? Given that my own church sings nothing as vibrant, positive and proclamatory, I find it exciting and encouraging that some churches are willing to sing such a song as this. Whether it is the best vehicle to express hte greatness of God to a non-Christian society is another matter, but it wasn’t written as a combative, Church-militant statement, presumably, but rather as a worship song for the church itself. As such it is an encouragement to fellow-believers. Yes, the visitor may be offended. Or they may be appropriately challenged. But isn’t that better than they, or indeed us, being underwhelmed by an apologetic expression of faith? As others have said in this fascinating discussion, what would Kurt have us sing instead? “Our God is on a par with other gods? our God is actually the same as other people’s gods, if they have one? Fear not, we Christians don’t believe in a radically different, or in-any-other-way-threatening-to-your-belief-system (or lack of) god. Actually, our God isn’t all that great anyway, sorry to have caused offence? BTW, other gods are available?”

  • edo101

    When singing this song. you should check your heart to make sure that you are only singing it to worship God and God alone. Arrogancy has nothing to do with it. People always wants to comments on what hymms or songs are sung within churches. Some people always want to find something bad to say. But if people of other religions praise their god. Then what do people say about that… nothing, absolutely nothing. When I sing this song, I am just proclaiming what I believe. Proclaiming without any pride or arrogancy.

  • Rudena Knowles

    Clearly this writer didn’t have anything else to write about

  • dante_serrano

    What do you say about the following scripture:
    Exodus 18:11
    Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.”

  • Spookstaz

    I refuse to sing this song it just sounds sooo wrong. “Our God is greater” is a possible English translation of “allahu akbar” in Islam. “Our God is Healer” is not gramatically correct since the Bible never uses “healer” as a name for the Lord. In fact singing that line is seems like an insult to our intelligence. And nowhere in this song will you find the name of JESUS! It’s time to discard this song.


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