lincoln brewster’s “today is the day” needs theological precision

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought10 Comments

Lincoln Brewster’s popular song “Today is the Day” seems like a flash in a pan.  I think its popularity has peaked (KLOVE plays seem to have lessened).  I have no doubt that churches are using it.  Brewster writes accessible, singable melodies and has a gift for crafting texts which are accessible and easy to remember.  He has given new vitality to a passage that is well-worn in Christian worship–Psalm 118:24 (though check out the TNIV’s translational decision about this passage, which, if correct, means that this passage is saying something different than what we’ve thought).  The song seems to be putting lyrical feet to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…,” and that is always a welcome reflection in worship and the broader Christian life.  However, the first verse is theologically troubling:

I’m reaching my hand to Yours
Believing there’s so much more
Knowing that all You have in store for me is good
Is good

It’s a simplification at best, and a distortion at worst, of a popular and powerful passage of Scripture:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Cutting to the chase, the thrust of this passage is quite different than Brewster has construed it.  To the contrary, not all that God has in store for us is good.  God just promises to work good in all things (be they good or bad).  This is a huge misunderstanding of this passage which has led to prosperity gospel thinking, crippling the church by stripping it of a theology of suffering.  Jesus prayed for the church,

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

This and other countless passages let us know that trial and tribulation is something the church WILL experience (we’re not going to be removed from the world and its suffering).  And trial and tribulation are NOT good.  Yet Romans 8 reveals that God can and does use them in the lives of His people for good ends.

Trying to be fair to Brewster, I can think that perhaps Brewster has this in mind as he writes this verse.  “All you have in store for me is good,” perhaps, is looking at the end after the trials.  However, this is so touchy and potentially damaging when misunderstood that it’s not good to leave things fuzzy on this issue.  So I land a bit harder on Brewster than on “Mighty to Save” because the collateral damage is potentially much more devastating.  What would a new Christian do, upon believing this, with future trials?  I fear they would despair in their faith, believing God to be a liar.

So my plea to my brother and colleague, Lincoln Brewster, is: Please rewrite this section. Please use it as a teaching point for the church.  Maybe run new potential songs by some pastors/teachers/theologians you trust to give honest feedback about the content before you publish and record.

Given that my attempts at gaining permissions from major labels like Integrity’s Hosanna! (Brewster’s label and administrator) for lyric changes have all been denied, it doesn’t appear I can use this song in our church.  I’m nervous about the misinterpretations that it could yield and, as a teacher (which all worship leaders are, whether they acknowledge it or not) being held accountable for giving bad food to God’s sheep (James 3:1).

Worship leaders, I humbly urge you to think critically about using this popular song in your worship services.

10 Comments on “lincoln brewster’s “today is the day” needs theological precision”

  1. Dude, I think you’re being extremely critical about all this… to a fault. Either you’re saying that God DOES have evil in store for us, or you know better than God what IS good. Your entry, “not all that God has in store for us is good” screams of the former. You’re afraid that the world won’t understand these lyrics on their own and be misled towards a prosperity gospel. But consider the lyrics in light of the scriptures it represents… The Romans 12 of it all, about laying down our lives and worries and histories that distract us from being God’s own. What better understanding of Christ’s message of self-sacrifice, for God’s sake.

    Recently, Lincoln and I lost a friend who served in the worship community, to suicide. No, that’s not good… but it wasn’t God’s plan either. God makes good come out of bad… God doesn’t orchestrate bad. (I’ve always hated that line in the Lord’s Prayer – “lead us not into temptation” – it must be poorly translated into English. God doesn’t tempt.) I think Lincoln’s song communicates a faith bigger than yours and mine – one in which our free will is used to lay our self-interest aside for the sake of the Kingdom, and where we stop using our earthly eyes, but start seeing with our spiritual ones.

    Lastly, I’d say that this song accomplishes what it should… turning our eyes upon Jesus and His good works and plan for our lives, and noting that we have to lay our junk down in order to more fully grasp all that He has in store for us… which is GOOD… ALL OF IT! (And, Zac, you’re a musician, man… a music minister… you know our job isn’t to write another gospel, but to take what has been inspired by God and promote the truth of the text through the vehicle of music, that will open people up to the Holy Spirit’s leading in their lives.) “I’m trusting in what YOU say… Today is the day!” Give people a great vehicle to get deeper into God’s word… that’s your job… and mine. And that’s what I think Lincoln has done with this song. Give him a break. Don’t operate from a place of fear, but of faith, that as Lincoln proclaims the truth from the word, that it will not come back void. Be blessed. Have faith. Hope to talk again.

  2. As much as I think this is a cheesy song, I disagree a bit with your assesment.

    I’m reaching my hand to Yours
    Believing there’s so much more
    Knowing that all You have in store for me is good
    Is good

    Isn’t “in store” pointing to the “ends” and not the “means”?

    Also, could not the existential “knowing” in that context, be said to be the result of the act of “reaching”, which is the outworking of “believing”, ie. faith?

    Has anyone made a song out of Colossians 1:24?

    “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (RSV)

    Suffering is not good in and of itself, but it is the process in a broken world God uses to conform us to the image of His son. That alone, makes it blessed. Blessed are those who mourn, etc. . .

    Calvin’s commentary on this verse sounds satisfyingly Catholic:

    “As, therefore, Christ has suffered once in his own person, so he suffers daily in his members, and in this way there are filled up those sufferings which the Father hath appointed for his body by his decree. Here we have a second consideration, which ought to bear up our minds and comfort them in afflictions, that it is thus fixed and determined by the providence of God, that we must be conformed to Christ in the endurance of the cross, and that the fellowship that we have with him extends to this also.”

  3. Thanks, Jeff! Good words.

    Underneath our disagreement is an underlying theological difference. To slap some labels here, you’re operating from a “free will theism” approach, which, if you believe that, would lead you to the conclusions you’ve stated. I’m operating out of “compatibilism.” So behind your critique lies a fundamental theological difference with me. We’re still brothers, one in the gospel and under Jesus, but our theological differences will lead us inevitably to disagree with this.

    “Operating out of fear” seems a bit strong to me. I’m trying to exercise a cautious wisdom I’m called to as a pastor.

    Thanks, man.

  4. Thanks, St. Mark! Yes, my hope at the end of my post is that Brewster means precisely what you’re articulate: that “in store” points to ends not means. In fact, I have every reason to believe that Brewster means that (as his brother in Christ, and as I’m called chiefly to love, I should offer him the benefit of the doubt).

    However, it still can be interpreted the wrong way, and so for the sake of the “weaker brother,” I’d rather not go there.

    As for more congregational songs infused with Colossians 1:24 and a theology of suffering…AMEN TO THAT. Write a sweet poem, Mark, and I’ll set it to music. I’m not kidding. I’d prefer conventional v,c,v,c,b,c,c structure. My bent is pop/rock!

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  7. Just for the sake of argument, I make arrangements constantly of popular (and unpopular) songs so they better fit our need for the day or congregation, etc. So, in the vein of arrangement, I would sing the words “Knowing that all you have in store is for my good- my good!” We don’t record or sell copies etc., and we pay (handsomely) for a CCLI license that allows me to use songs and record and arrange and even sell copies of us singing them, all under license. I have also learned that the “Fair-use” clause in current copyright law may speak to this situation. We do not attempt to re-record this song or put out a new one to replace it, simply to tailor it to fit our congregation.

    All that aside, I hadn’t really thought about that small difference until now, and now that I see it, I would be inclined to make that change locally, especially in light of the “weaker brother” issue.

    Just a thought.

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