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.