When people begin to think critically about worship, one of the first analytical dominoes to fall is the criticism that modern worship songs take too much of a “Jesus is my boyfriend” approach. Many (including myself) have often said that if one could substitute Jesus’ name for the name of a significant other in a worship song, it’s not a good (or biblical) worship song. Others have taken the analysis a step further and said that romanticized language in worship isn’t man-friendly. “Worship has become feminized,” they say.
There is value in this line of critique. As with any topic or focus, if it dominates the sung vocabulary of a congregation to the exclusion of other concepts, ideas, and attributes of God that receive equal (or even greater) play in Scripture, it’s more than likely that some mal-formation is taking place. But James K. A. Smith challenges me and us not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. At the end of a section teasing out the implications of a desire-based rather than cognitively rooted anthropology (in other words, a view of human beings as most essentially desiring, loving creatures rather than fundamentally thinking, rational creatures), Smith summarizes that “The end of learning is love; the path of discipleship is romantic.” But then this fascinating footnote follows:
I think a philosophical anthropology centered around affectivity, love, or desire might also be an occasion to somewhat reevaluate our criticisms of “mushy” worship choruses that seem to confuse God with our boyfriend. While we might be rightly critical of the self-centered grammar of such choruses (which, when parsed, often turn out to be more about “me” than God, and “I” more than us), I don’t think we should so quickly write off their “romantic” or even “erotic” elements (the Song of Songs comes to mind in this context). This, too, is testimony to why and how so many are deeply moved in worship by such singing. While this can slide into an emotionalism and a certain kind of domestication of God’s transcendence, there remains a kernel of “fittingness” about such worship. While opening such doors is dangerous, I’m not sure that the primary goal of worship or discipleship is safety. Catholic novelists such as Graham Greene (The Heart of the Matter), Walker Percy (Love in the Ruins), and Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited) recognize this thin fulcrum, that tips from sexual desire to desire for God–that on the cusp of this teetering, “dangerous” fulcrum, one is closest to God. The quasi-rationalism that sneers at such erotic elements in worship and is concerned to keep worship “safe” from such threats is the same rationalism that has consistently marginalized the religious experience of women–and women mystics in particular.”*
I know for some of my readership that the knee-jerk reaction to this will be to cry “liberal feminism.” For others who are in a context awash in romanticized worship language to the exclusion of other valuable languages, this will probably rub them the wrong way. However, I found, especially upon digesting the fundamental anthropology suggested by Smith, that there may have been some baby in my bathwater. No doubt some will press the line of questioning, “Well, just how far can we go with this? Where’s the line?” Our answer should be, “No further than Scripture.” Well, well, then. If that is the case, then we should probably consider ourselves challenged. Hmmm….
Related Posts (some of which could betray my one-sided view up to this point):
- Review of Love Shine Through, by Tim Hughes
- Matt Redman Confesses to “Girly” Worship Songs
- An Important Interjection into the “Feminization of Worship Songs” Debate