An Important Interjection into the “Feminization of Worship Songs” Debate

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought10 Comments

When I first heard Vicky Beeching’s music, I knew she was different from your average modern worship songwriter.  Her songs have substance, reflection, and biblical insight.  One of my favorites is her “Great is Your Glory,” which is very gospel-centered and nearly creedal in tone.  It’s marvelous.  Beeching is an equally formidable thinker in the area of worship, church, theology, and culture…something you cannot say about many, if not most, modern worship songwriters.  I respect and appreciate her insights.

If you are not familiar with the ongoing debate, it is whether or not modern worship has been “feminized” such that men feel uncomfortable singing the standard fare of the evangelical mainstream.  Put another way, men struggle in singing mushy things like, “I love you, Jesus,” or, “God, you are beautiful.”

Beeching has weighed in, and she has a special perspective worth listening to.  She is a relatively high-up woman in the modern worship world.  Here is a bulleted summary of her challenges to the “feminization” claim, but please read her whole post rather than just reacting to these:

 

  • Wasn’t David actually a very emotional singer and songwriter, modelling what godly masculinity looks like?
  • “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in Scripture. It packs a real punch. Could manhood actually be about owning and being secure in your own feelings and expressions? Jesus was pretty emotional. 
  • Why were so many people’s #MachoWorship suggestions about beer, DIY, shooting, hunting and fighting? Are we overlaying our skewed ideas of masculinity onto what godly men should be like? Have we been influenced by the ‘Cage Fighter Jesus’ that certain theologians peddle?!
  • Song of Songs was written by Solomon (i.e. a man). Is that not evidence that godly men are able to express themselves freely in emotion and words of love and affection?

10 Comments on “An Important Interjection into the “Feminization of Worship Songs” Debate”

  1. Thanks for interjecting these thoughts, Zac. I haven't heard these particular critiques, but I have seen very gifted and competent women degraded or devalued in public worship, just because they are women. Something is certainly askew in how we view God and gender.

  2. Interesting post. I have struggled with this, but not from the macho-masculinity aspect, more from what I perceive as a distorted Christology.

    The following questions have been asked.

    Wasn’t David actually a very emotional singer and songwriter, modelling what godly masculinity looks like?

    Yes and no. No one truly models godly masculinity except the God-Man Jesus. So, David is flawed and should not be the standard of masculinity. The counter argument is simple. What about Sampson?

    “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in Scripture. It packs a real punch. Could manhood actually be about owning and being secure in your own feelings and expressions? Jesus was pretty emotional.

    Well, Jesus in that context was mourning over death, and that being the consequences of sin. Seeing his creation tarnished and wasted pierces his heart. In other words, this was no Hallmark sentimentality.

    Why were so many people’s #MachoWorship suggestions about beer, DIY, shooting, hunting and fighting? Are we overlaying our skewed ideas of masculinity onto what godly men should be like? Have we been influenced by the ‘Cage Fighter Jesus’ that certain theologians peddle?!

    Yes. These images and attitudes are equally unbiblical and should be questioned.

    Song of Songs was written by Solomon (i.e. a man). Is that not evidence that godly men are able to express themselves freely in emotion and words of love and affection?

    Song of Songs is not worship, but marital devotion. I agree as far as expression goes, but we should be careful when speaking of God in an erotic sense. Since it is difficult for the world to discern this, we should be modest in our public worship regarding the marital bliss we share with Christ. In private worship, I think we can rest with the great ecstatic experiences like that of Theresa of Lisieux.

    My main problem, is that we worship a resurrected Christ. The king of kings. How does one act in the high court of a king? What music is appropriate there? Are cheesy love songs appropriate to sing to the sovereign lord of creation? The Eucharist is the resurrected body of Christ, not the pre-crucified body. Our music should transcend all earthly glory in light of our resurrection hope.

  3. Great thoughts, Mark. I think they're worthy of consideration. The "court of the high King," for me, must be held in tension with the fact that He IS our bridegroom and our friend. The biblical weight of the psalms, though, would suggest what you're saying. More reverence, less intimacy…maybe. I'm pondering that.

    As for the David/masculinity piece: David indeed was a broken, sinful man, and Christ is our only archetype for true, unadulterated manhood. That said, while David was imperfect, his inspired words in the Psalms are not…they are both human and, through the Spirit, perfect. They model intimacy (e.g. Pss 42, 139) and open emotions (e.g. Ps 13, 130). So, though David's life cannot be a model, the inspired psalms he wrote can. They are trustworthy and true. I still think you make a valid check.

  4. It would be interesting to map out on a graph the percentage of touchy-feely songs to high court anthems in the book of Psalms, and how they track with what is happening in the historical context.

    Anyway, if the Psalms are the songs of Christ, our ultimate David, and personification of Israel, the called one, then we can read masculinity through the Christological lens more easily. I think the main need I see in evangelical worship today is "balance". Swinging from more feminized language to viking epic prose would be, yet another extreme. The struggle is dancing around the via media.

    Peace.

  5. As always, great thoughts. Mightn't the simple exhortation be, worship should reflect biblical ways God is worshiped in spirit and truth? Concurring with what others have said, it doesn't seem to me the Bible focuses much on masculinity or femininity at all. The Bible addresses men and women, but not necessarily what constitutes the makeup and personality of men and women, especially in how they worship.

    For example, I just finished Wesley Hill's impressive book, "Washed and Waiting" about his struggle with homoerotic desires/temptations/orientation and with his firm conviction in biblical sexual values. I wonder if he'd say there's a definitive way to be a man, and worship like a man. I'm not sure, but I bet he'd be skeptical. Heck, I actually hate guns, hunting, DIY, outdoor camping. I do like other "man" things, but I usually am put off by the cover-all-bases masculinity that parades as baptized religiosity.

    Let's worship in spirit and truth, and if it's worship that comports with the truth of the Bible, let's stay there.

  6. I have to laugh at several of the comments regarding the songs that call Christ "beautiful". This is indicative that our culture thinks primarily perhaps of the physically arousing sense of beauty, and not the objective aesthetic quality of beauty in the Thomistic sense. Beauty occurs at the intersection of wholeness (unison), harmony (consonance of parts), and radiance (shining as an archetype of reality). Christ, in being, nature, and work IS truly beautiful. With this definition we would definitely declare mother Theresa more beautiful that Marylin Monroe.
    Any Christian man should have no conflict in his sexuality when singing about the beauty of Christ in that sense.

  7. Excellent, excellent point, Mark. I can see, though, how it gets convoluted when such expressions ("You're beautiful") are wrapped in a musical context that often sound like typical pop love songs. It certainly can breed associative problems. Nevertheless, the fact that we can't sing through that to the real way we should praise Christ's beauty (the sense in which you describe) is telling of our limited Christology, or limited theology of beauty.

  8. Interesting post and discussion, as always, Zac.

    It seems that much of the discussion amongst evangelicals about worship music is based in the context of an, often unverbalized, presumption. That presumption being that worship music should 'attractive" to people. The current discussion is an example, especially as it deals with the extremes. If we want to reach "macho guys" we need "macho music." If we want to reach "sensitive women" we need "sensitive music." Perhaps neither is true and perhaps rather than question "why and how" genders connect with our music, we should question WHY we are concerned.

    Each one of us is at a different point on the continuam of spiritual growth and will connect spiritually with different things as we move along it. There was a time in my life that high-church anthems would not have even caught my ear but now I find myself listening intently to the rich, deep truths they proclaim and the transcendant music which frames them so beautifully. My gender or sexuality has little to do with it. My walk with the Lord is changing and so is my approach to worship.

    Music that speaks truth to mankind's heart (men or women) regardless of the wrapping, can be used of God to shape and mold us. I pray that I am changing enough, becoming more like Him, that I will be attracted to something completely different tomorrow.

  9. I don't have a problem with the terms "I love you" or "You're beautiful". My issue is with the highly romantic language being used these days.

    "… lay my head back against your chest…"
    ".. I want to be laid down lovers…"
    "…You could love me more in a moment then all the other lovers could in a lifetime…"
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb2oAt2GHx8

    I mean… really? You expect me, as a man, to sing this garbage?
    I don't think so.

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