Sources of Theology continued…

In still thinking about this stuff I was surprised to see Out of Ur covering a similar topic. Think that this quote struck on what I was trying to get at:

“Fear of God is what matters most,” says Labberton. “The failure of our people to live this way is a failure of our worship.” The solution is not making our worship louder, faster, or more spectacular as many are in the habit of doing. Rather, we need to reevaluate what our worship is forming within our people. “Does our worship impact our view of our neighbor?” (emphasis mine)

So the problem for my mind with the particular song is really that “what our worship is forming within our people” is an approach to God that is disturbingly individualistic, and that it certainly doesn’t have a positive impact on our view of our neighbour. Thanks for the discussion though, it’s been fun to have my thinking stretched a little bit. (If you haven’t had a look at the comments of the previous post, I suggest you do. Some good healthy conversation)

14 Replies to “Sources of Theology continued…”

  1. Wow… there are so many frameworks by which to analyse this topic…

    Why on earth should worshiping God through song have to have anything directly to do with how we see our neighbour? That seems ridiculously utilitarian, and about as poetic as the anual general meeting of boredom corporation.

    Surely focusing on the beauty and wonder of God in worship, and allowing that to soak in, will very directly influence the way we relate to others anyway. Besides which living a life of worship is about treating others well… and only a smidgeon about singing pretty songs.

    Gosh I still think we’re being a bit insecure about it. Perfection is unatainable, and somewhat boring. If there was a perfect formula for the perfect worhsip song I guess we’d all be standing around like cherubim singing “holy holy holy”.

    Oddly I think God created us with our quirky idiosyncracies becaues he quite enjoys diversity.

    So instead of standing in judgment over one persons idea of poetic and romantic lyricism, perhaps we would do as well to focus on putting our energy into worshiping in the best way we know how. Anyone who wishes to theologise songwriting had better do so with an instrument and a pen in their hands… because its not an easy task.

    >>Small section removed to remind Tim to be nice to people<< (My reason for having strong opions is simple: I'm just opinionated! :o) )

  2. “Why on earth should worshiping God through song have to have anything directly to do with how we see our neighbour?”

    To start – from the article:

    “Drawing heavily from Isaiah chapters 1 and 58, Labberton argues that what matters most in worship is how the act impacts our love for our neighbors. “It is possible to worship God and lose our neighbor,” he said. But in Isaiah we see the Lord rejecting his people’s worship because they did not act justly toward the oppressed, orphans, and widows. Their worship was vertical, and was never horizontal.”

    Why should worshiping through song be related to how we see our neighbour? Because our theology is profoundly impacted by what we sing. And so if our worship consists of songs that begin being all about how great we are, that has a massive effect on how we start seeing this whole Christianity deal, and we lose the crux of our faith.

  3. I think this passage contributes a little to this discussion:

    21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
    I cannot stand your assemblies.

    22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
    Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.

    23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.

    24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5).

    God desires our worship, and I am sure He is not adverse to it in song, but it can’t be divorced from loving our neighbour – this passage is in the context of injustice and treatment of the poor.

    My 2cents worth again… 🙂

  4. Hmmmm…. I see two veins running here:
    1. Lyrics of a song, indivudualizing worship by symbols and languaged used.
    2. Worship in song needing to be a reflection of the worship we are giving God in the way we live our lives.

    I myself have been very frustrated with songs being very focused around what I can give or do for God, almost to a point where I stopped singing them… now I simply just play with the words ; )….

    I don’t struggle singing this Third Day song… here are all the lyrics:

    You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song
    You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song
    You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song
    And I will sing again

    You are so good to me
    You heal my broken heart
    You are my father in Heaven (2x)

    You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song
    You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song

    You ride upon the clouds
    You lead me to the truth
    You are the Spirit inside me (2x)

    You are my strong melody, yeah
    You are my dancing rhythm
    You are my perfect rhyme
    And I will sing of You forever

    You poured out all Your blood
    You died upon the cross
    You are my Jesus who loves me (2x)

    You are my Father in Heaven
    You are the Spirit inside me
    You are my Jesus who loves me

    The language describing God as beautiful song is interspersed with the verses describing what else he is for us… Father, Spirit, Jesus, truth, good, healer, Lord over all Creation, a sacrifice. The only difference I can see here is that the verses contain COMMON descriptions of God, and the chorus and bridge take up a more INDIVIDUAL description of God as as song, melody, rhythm, and rhyme.

    It is easy for a song using a picture that means nothing to us personally to “feel” wrong. But that does not mean it is wrong… it just means the picture or symbol isn’t connecting with us.

    There will always be symbolism/pictures/language used about God that mean more to us than others simply because they highlight a facet of the character of God that is significant to us at the time.

    I think that creative language used to describe God is needed. We like to stick to familiar symbolism… We need to remember and use the old pictures used to describe God yet still feel free to understand God in other descriptive language that hasn’t been used before. We can only understand God in the small way we can by seeing him reflected in the world around us… and there is a lot of his creation we can draw from, a lot of life to draw from.

    I feel as comfortable in saying God is my sweet sweet song as saying he is my firm foundation, my rock, my king, my truth, my light, my peace, my strong tower, my flowing stream, my sun…. and to be really radical my placenta (please forgive a midwifery student 😉

    All poetic language, all symbolism will never be perfect, for God can’t be contained… but it can lead us to understanding God in new ways.

    I could if I wanted, go off and write a song which highlighted the maternal aspect of the character of God that means a great deal to me at the moment…. but I understand using deeply individual symbolism will in turn lead to something which won’t mean a great deal to anyone else. Infact the poetic language I could use might make some people uncomfortable. So I do think that there needs to be balance with poetic language used to describe God in a congregational setting.

    This song is simply reminding us about the truth of who God is for us…a song, our saviour, our healer. While we are singing truths about God, we are also worshiping that truth about him, proclaiming that truth about him and reminding ourselves of who God is.

    …. hmmm perhaps I should have left this comment in your previous post Geoff, it doesn’t seem to quite fit.

    I don’t see this song as being a danger to our theology. If you compare this song to some of the Psalms I don’t think you’d find much difference… many of the writers speak about who God is to them (in a symbolic, poetic way) and proclaim that they will sing or talk about that forever.

    Is it the symbolism or the word “my” that you are concerned about?

  5. Laura – it is absolutely the use of the word “my” that I have a problem with. But it’s the specific context of the use of that word that I have qualms with. When I say that God is my rock, I’m making a specific reference to something about the character of God, that I’m taking claim of. God is not my rock because I’ve made him that, God is a rock because that’s a part of who he is, and the “my” part is secondary. But when I’m singing about my sweet sweet song, the implication is that either I’m singing about how wonderful my song is, or that God is the song that I’m singing.

    And the point isn’t that it’s not how you interpret that song. But if a quarter of the people who are singing the song have their theology all screwed around because they suddenly think that their worship is all about them then it’s lost it’s value as a congregational song. That’s not to say that it’s not a good song, and not a great song in the context of having a band play it. Because in THAT context, you can have your interpretation be as loose or as tight as you like. That’s all that I’m saying.

    So if the song line was (a more poetic version of) “You are a beautiful sweet song” then that’s absolutely something I’m fine to identify with. Because it’s not got anything to do with “me”, it’s all about the character of God.

    Sorry that this is getting long and ranty

  6. No probs with long or ranty Geoff… it’s good to talk about this stuff.

    From how I see it you are saying the possiblity of people being confused is the reason why singing this song in a congregational setting is not really “a okay”. I agree that singing a song where people think they are singing about their own beautiful song is not a wise or desirable thing at all.

    You said:

    “When I say that God is my rock, I’m making a specific reference to something about the character of God, that I’m taking claim of. God is not my rock because I’ve made him that, God is a rock because that’s a part of who he is, and the “my” part is secondary.”

    Is a sweet song something specific about the character of God that you can take claim of? Or is it too unfamiliar?

    God is a sweet song because that’s a part of who he is, as is he a rock.

    I agree the problem lies in people not digesting their songs properly and understanding what they are singing about…. which is why I think it is helpful for new songs with new language to be introduced/explained to the church… I think Paul mentioned something along the lines of this in his blog post.

  7. Thanks for posting all the lyrics Laura – I haven’t actually heard the song and I think the imagery in it is beautiful. I heard a DVD by Rob Bell describing the essence of God being like a song that we are invited to be drawn into, and if we are not then we are like discordant notes that jar with the song. I think I agree with Geoff that it is the “my” that seems not quite right. Maybe it is because the “my” is so emphasised in our culture that it flows into worship – we make it all about “me” and God. Thanks for getting me thinking on this…

  8. I know a song by Ron Kenoly… its called the center of my joy… or something… and it goes a little something like this…

    Jesus you’re placenta of my Joy.

    Joke Joke.

    Is God my God, or am I his Tim?

    Or are we united? Am I making myself equal with God to say my?

    If you feel wierd about, you are beautiful my sweet sweet song… perhaps its because a song is something I create… whereas God is the creator.

    So ‘my’ and ‘God’ work together like ‘my’ and ‘father’ work together.

    But to many people ‘my’ and ‘song’ work together like ‘my’ and ‘painting’… a created work.

    To claim to posses and to have created God would be wierd. The fact that that’s clearly not the intended statement… as you say… doesn’t change the potential for confusion.

    Perhaps we could rate this song PGR (pastoral guidance recommended) and let it go? Or perhaps we could just appreciate the fact that the question it raises probably inspires people to find some new depth in their understanding of worship and theology.

    If we spoonfeed the church apple babymush forever, it will never grow teeth.

  9. p.s. this particular topic demonstrates the influence of linguistics on meaning. I can’t remember who I had a discussion about that with recently… but it matters.

    Its why feminists get so fired up about the language of abuse. For hundreds of years the way we have used language has subtly but strongly undermined the status of women. Often what you don’t say is as influential.

    But at the end of the day… no change of language can replace a change of heart. The change of heart coms first and then the language follows.

    To get back to being relevant for a second… the key thing behind this worship song is not the chosen words, but the state of the heart. How responsible is the worship leader for being paranoid about every possible interpretation of words? I hate to be the postmodernist… but everyone will have their own interpretation anyway… as is abundantly apparent here.

  10. “How responsible is the worship leader for being paranoid about every possible interpretation of words? I hate to be the postmodernist… but everyone will have their own interpretation anyway… as is abundantly apparent here.”

    I think I’m just about at my last crack at flogging this horse, but it seems to me you’re extending a simple truth beyond it’s value. Is every possible statement able to be mis-interpreted? Yes. Is every possible statement as likely to be mis-interpreted as any other? No. The point here is that it’s not only “possible” to mis-interpret but that unless you specifically make an effort to think about it, it’s likely to be mis-interpreted.

    And I think that almost all of this happens on a sub-conscious level. Nothing brainwashes quite like music, and especially when it’s as palatable a message as one that’s telling you how great you are.

  11. gosh thats fair.

    Sorry i was in one of those mooods. I should tie my hands behind my back on days like this.

    (tries to visualise myself tying my own hands behind my back)

    So yeah the vineyard guy didnt have any more work for me hence sitting at home reading blogs and being an irritating smarty pants.

    Sorry Geoff

  12. Don’t be sorry at all timothy – you’re helping me to think about this whole thing, and I’m appreciating the opportunity. It’s certainly not personal at all: I’m really enjoying it.

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