A Worship Song Parody…to Bless God’s People and Make a Point

Zac HicksSongwriting4 Comments

Several weeks ago, I offered a provocative post at The Gospel Coalition encouraging the minimizing of “surrender” language in our worship services. The gist of the post was that an overload of “I’m surrendering it all to You, Jesus” in our worship songs tends to put way too much spotlight on what we do for God rather than what Christ has done for us. 

Today, Liberate has published a follow-up post of mine that digs a little deeper into some of the reaction and interaction I received after that initial post. It’s doing ground-level, very real theology. At the end, it offers a reorientation of the classic hymn / worship song, “I Surrender All.” This hymn is still very popular, and it continues to make appearances on worship records (like Passion’s latest, out just a few weeks ago).

My reorientation of “I Surrender All,” which I call “Christ Surrendered All,” is really a parody. It interacts with the original text in an ironic, table-turning way. But it’s not a parody that’s meant to be cheeky or comical (and, yes, I understand that inherent in the word “parody” is a measure of humor…I just can’t find a better word). I really want churches to sing it. In fact, we sang it this past Sunday at Coral Ridge, to the original tune, with a bit of a pipe-rock flare, and it went over very, very well. Again, you can go read the full text over at my post at Liberate.

All of this made me think about the role of parody in worship songwriting. I think there is a place for it. Not a huge place–maybe a square foot. With a parody like “Christ Surrendered All,” you end up being able to convey several layers of meaning with the text, beyond the text. As we were singing the song, not only were we actively engaging the lyrics, but we were also internalizing the message of what the lyrics were not, given their inspiriation piece. So, not only were we we singing “Christ, You surrendered all,” we were aware that we were not singing “I surrender all.” Not only were we singing,

Worldly pleasures I was seeking
Still, Lord, You were seeking me 

Many of us were aware that we were not singing:

Worldly pleasures all forsaken
Take me, Jesus, take me now

Therefore, in addition to the message of the song, which really is the raw Gospel, the parody itself functioned to reinforce and re-preach that same message: “It’s not about what I do, Lord, but about what you have done for me.” 

All of this made me think that it would be pretty sweet if some artist out there reworked a bunch of worship songs and hymns as a sort of parody, not to mock, but to delve into the richness of multi-layered meaning and communication that is a part of the makeup of parody. Again, this doesn’t have a lot of mileage in Christian worship, I think. Too much of this kind of stuff can come across as arrogant or trying too hard to be clever with its theological one-upsmanship. Still, this whole exercise made me raise my eyebrow at the intriguing notion that there may be a formational place for “parody songs” in our worship, tastefully and pastorally done.


4 Comments on “A Worship Song Parody…to Bless God’s People and Make a Point”

  1. Wowsers! Turn down for what!!!! We should always be turned up on the truer better, second Adam. I'm hardly ever encouraged or moved by my love & sacrifice for the Holy Trinity.But in tears & wrecked by the overwhelming sacrifice of God to me. Like the psalmist says who is man that you are mindful of him. #AmazingGrace

  2. Zac,

    You've hit on something. I agree that many churches tweak (often illegally) lyrics to suit their own theology (i.e. PCUSA's rework of "In Christ Alone") and often this is done with the appearance of the theological one-upsmanship you describe (I've been guilty of that for sure). However, a thoughtful reworking of lyrics borne out of theological sensibilities is a different matter.

    Not only does such a venture have the ability to create a new and more full perspective on a beloved tune, but also (as you mention) it is a great inroad to get congregations thinking theologically about what they're singing.

    I think you should helm (or appoint someone, if you're swamped) to lead this type of thing and present the hymns in the same vein and humility as the many retuned hymns gracing churches today.

    Perhaps "recrafted or reworked hymns" would be a better title than "parodies"?

    For His Glory and Our Good!

  3. Totally. I'm surprised by the TYPE of feedback I've received from my congregation this week. Many have said something like, "It actually got me thinking about what the words of the original song was saying and gave me an appreciation for what I was singing instead in the moment." Big win. // The thing you're talking about in your third paragraph is something of what hymnal editorial boards do. The Trinity Hymnal is a good example of calculated "theological editing." But…an overhaul like I did is a bit more robust. If someone out there feels a call to lead something like this, I'll be a cheerleader. In all honesty, many of the old hymns we sing have stood the test of time because they've been sifted through generations of theological scrutiny.

    Yes, I need another word besides "parody." It's too snarky. But it makes for a juicy post title!

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