Sunday, September 16, 2007

In love with Jesus...or not.

"Today our congregation was asked to sing, "Jesus, I'm in love with you"-a line that shows up, in one permutation or another, in several songs that occur frequently in our worship leaders' rotation. Well, I didn't sing it. It's wrong, and I try not to sing wrong lyrics."

Bill Kinnon's blog, achievable ends, which I am reading daily now and will blogroll momentarily, points to a prickly little essay about modern worship lyrics with the above opening statement by Professor John Stackhouse of Regent College in Vancouver. I'm not prepared to agree with all that Kinnon or Stackhouse say, but I think together they make an interesting and useful point. I'd enjoying hearing more discussion of the topic. As a worship leader, I confess that I have sung lyrics like he describes and have felt some vague discomfort from time to time, although not necessarily for the same reasons.

Dr. Stackhouse, whose most recent book (which I haven’t read) is entitled Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender, also writes this interesting bit:

" gives me the homoerotic creeps to declare that I am "in love with" another man. And I don't apologize for saying so. A gender lens is interesting here, for a lot of men feel as I do (many have told me so), while many (not all) women seem to love telling Jesus that they are in love with him. I saw them, swaying with closed eyes and waving hands in the air this morning, singing exactly that. Maybe, indeed, they are in love with Jesus. But they shouldn't be."

I am no Greek scholar, but it is no secret that the word “LOVE” in a New Testament biblical context usually refers to the Greek words phileo, the warmth of emotion shared among friends, or agapao, which is a love founded on esteem, admiration, and an active sense of high regard for someone. The common noun form, agape, is, I believe, the most frequently used derivation and communicates affection, good will, love, and benevolence. Love’s sexual side, eros, appears only twice in the early Greek translations of the Old Testament, and does not appear at all in the New Testament. So, obviously, it does not inform discussions of or expressions of worship in any general or specific Christian context.

Dr. Stackhouse’s point seems to rest on his notion that the English language syntax utilized in the construction “I’m in love with Jesus”, necessarily refers to eros. That’s quite a stretch, in my opinion. It may well be bad poetry, but to strain so at the semantic nuances between “to love” and “to be in love” strikes me as being overly pedantic. Academically, it is a tenuous point at best, but if it makes him uncomfortable, then I agree, he shouldn’t sing it.

Poets, lyricists, and wordsmiths of every stripe have always stretched language and syntax in search of finding connections or creating new expressions. Though that is their function, their calling, and their art, it doesn't place them beyond the reach of criticism and the scrutiny of their peers. Sometimes the art is bad, without a doubt. And Kinnon's point at the end of his post about how bad lyrics lead to bad thinking about God is a very important one.

I encourage everyone to go read all of both posts referenced above.

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