Corrie Mitchell: I repent!
I was recently sent a link to your article on the faithstreet.com web site titled “Let Stop Singing These 10 Worship Songs.”
You're right: we NEED to stop singing some of these songs you listed, because, as you said, they have verses that are “theologically incorrect” or “questionable,” “vague lyrics could easily suggest a plan to sneak around and make out in the bushes,” or contain “zero theological content.” And let's not forget those songs that don't mention Jesus or God (while in the same breathe, you complain about songs that used “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” the New Testament equivalent of which is “Lord”).
As one who has led or helped lead worship over the years, I have to take responsibility for propagating some of these these songs that should be on the chopping block.
Let's start with all those songs you say have with “zero theological content.” I think we should add some other “zero theology” songs I grew up with as a young Christian, such as “This is the Day,” “I Will Enter His Gates,” “His Banner Over Me is Love,” “I've Got The Joy.” Out with them all! You have to have really DEEP truths in music—like the song the theologian Karl Barth quoted when a student asked him to summarize his life's theological work in a sentence: “Jesus loves me, this I know/for the Bible tells me so.” Guess I'll also have to toss out those pop songs I rewrote for my children's church (although I must confess, I'm sure you would put “I'd Have a Blue Christmas Without Jesus” and “God Loves You, Yeah, Yeah Yeah” up on your list, above even “How He Loves” and that yucky “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” line).
Then you've got to steer clear of those songs with the “vague” lyrics, since you don't really know if God or a “middle school crush” was being addressed. Yes, I've been guilty of singing “vague” lyrics that no one can apparently really “figure out.” Then again, I'm sure people singing “Draw Me Close” or “In The Secret” can pretty much figure out it's God who is being addressed, since they're in a church service instead of a Metallica concert.
As for those “theologically incorrect” songs, can I suggest one more, one of those hymns you say we REALLY need to bring back: “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing,” and that great line, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it/prone to leave the God I love ...” Well, if I ever sang something like that to MY sweetheart, my wife of 18 years, I'd be sleeping in the barn with the chickens! And yet, it's a-okay to sing it to GOD! Now, I understand those who would say that lyricist was simply being honest about struggles in our faith. And maybe that's my point: the writers of these songs (hymns or modern), in expressing their love for God, may not be 1,000 percent “theologically correct” when they express their devotion. I'll paraphrase another great theologian, John Lennon. He once talked about one song he wrote, comparing it to someone drowning, who is not going to say, “Can someone please help me with this problem,” but will be screaming a very loud “HELP!” So the songwriters, in simply expressing what's in their heart, may come up with lyrics that are too “simple,” or not “specific,” or may not be theologically accurate at times. Whatever we do for God, and whoever we are in the Body of Christ, we're all a work in progress (including songwriters).
Then there's all those songs where God is singing to US, instead of the other way around. Gosh, all those years I was told from the pulpit, “The Bible is God's love letter to YOU!” I guess we shouldn't be expressing that truth musically, huh?
Look, I agree there are songs or lyrics that probably should be re-evaluated. I'll be honest here: I did not know about the line in “How He Loves” with the “sloppy wet kiss” (my church sings the alternate “unforeseen kiss”), and if I HAD heard it in a service, my gag reflex probably would have kicked in. I'm just not sold on the idea, that making sure everything we sing is “up to snuff” is really going to aid in our worshiping Jesus. This is coming from someone who for years has told people they need to be discerning about any music they listen to, so that it doesn't have ideas that can stunt their spiritual growth—and church music doesn't get an automatic pass from me on that one.
Maybe I can best close out this response with an incident from the life of Rich Mullins (whose music should be a lot more evident in church services than it is). Rich and his band once visited a church that met in a barn, where the worship team's singing ability was, well, terrible. Then the church leaders realized Rich was in the congregation, and invited him up to sing some REAL music. But when Rich came up on the podium, he DIDN'T sing—because he was so overwhelmed by the HEART of those singers. He knew they sang straight from their hearts of their love for Jesus, and he didn't need to add anything to it. Maybe that's my bottom line of what songs we should or shouldn't sing in worship. I'll take worshipers singing to God from their HEARTS, even if the song they're singing is not the most spiritually “accurate” or “deep,” over a cold, religious repetition of a song that has the stamp of approval of every Bible college on the planet.