One of the things one must understand about the gospel is that it is not primarily concerned with ethics. That might seem like a scandelous statement. I’m not saying that Christian ethics do not exist, only that they are an outworking of the gospel in the life of believers, not the gospel itself. The gospel is this: Christ crucified to save sinners. It is God’s work through Jesus to reconcile fallen humanity to him. We the fallen are quick to dismiss this, though. We want to qualify the gospel in terms that make sense to us. Earning favor with God makes more sense to us, doesn’t it?
So we substitute things that make perfect sense to us. Some of these things are just fine, in and of themselves, which makes them sound so good to our ticklish ears.
But that isn’t how the gospel works. In fact, it is a denial of the gospel. It denies that what Jesus offers is enough. And it falls into the old fallactious thinking that people are all-powerful.
So anytime I hear a message, or in this case, read a hymn text, that is focused on changing the world through ethical behavior, it gives me great pause. “Sing a New World into Being” (Not to be confused with the Catholic boomer hymn, “Sing a New Church into Being,” which I also wouldn’t mind blocking.) is representative of a new wave of hymnody that assume we have the power to move mountains. The audacity is striking; we can’t sing a new world into being. We don’t have that power, and our efforts to do so will always fail. The only one who can do that is God himself, who only needs to speak to make it so.
These hymns preach a works-based pseudo gospel that makes Jesus a chaplain-mascot alongside our own efforts to be nice and thoroughly inoffensive. Look at this one, stringing together nice thoughts, positive energy, and fashionable buzzwords. Some of these platitudes are meaningless, others politically coercive (another problem for another day), others fine and good. But whether they are good and a proper outworking of the gospel, they don’t contain the gospel itself: when we were dead in our sins and the way to reconciliation with God was shut, Jesus made a way by his death and resurrection.
We cannot manifest salvation for ourselves or anyone else. Our good works and positive thoughts only lead to death. Socio-political rallying cries and self-indulgent musical celebrations of our deluded, quixotic visions of pseudo-Judeo-Christian utopia are distracting and dangerous to the soul. We have to point people to the finished work of Christ which alone can make us good enough.
Don’t try and sing a new anything. That’s not a bold and hopeful theme. Pray. Pray that God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Turn to Jesus, who offered himself in our place when we didn’t even ask, when we didn’t even know we needed it.