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Thinking Like Theologians May 25, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Random Musings.
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Joe,

This post is a response to Jim W.’s comment on a previous post titled The Importance of Deep Thought. If you haven’t read Jim’s comment, give it a read by scrolling to the bottom of that post.

As is always the case with Jim, his comments are wise and perceptive. Because he’s more of an ‘artist’ than I am, he is able to get in their minds much better than I am able to. His dissection of the song ‘Why?’ is very good and accurate, much better than I could have done! But of course, as I read, I had some thoughts come to mind. So what follows are three things I would say in response to Jim; not to critique his comments, but simply to keep the discussion going.

First, all people are theologians. Every person who listens to the song ‘Why?’, or any Christian song, is a theologian in some sense. Jim mentioned that most Christian songwriters are first and foremost artists, not theologians. That is probably true in capturing their thinking, but should that be something that we are okay with? I’m not an authority, but I don’t think I’m okay with it. Theology is but a fancy word for the study or contemplation of God. Which means that Nordeman, every songwriter, and every listener of Christian music is in a sense ‘doing theology’ in writing and listening to Christian music.

From reading Jim’s comment, I got the sense (and maybe I was wrong) that he was saying that artists should not be held to the same high theological standards that a preacher should be held to. Jim suggested that while a hymn or song for corporate worship should be held to higher scrutiny, a ‘pop-song’ like ‘Why?’ shouldn’t be held to that same standard. I think that I would humbly disagree with that perspective, and for why I disagree, I share my second point of response to Jim:

Second, too many Christians today are dependent on Christian authors and artists for Truth. Why should Christian pop artists strive for strong theological accuracy in all their songwriting? Because I think that many well-meaning Christians blindly assume that if a woman as popular as Nichole Nordeman says this in a song about Jesus, then it must be true.

I wish that all people who listened to music thought about what they listened to the way Jim does. But I highly doubt that the majority of people do. While Jim may be right that I was theologically dissecting the song too much, I would venture to say that Jim artistically dissected the song far more than the average listener would. The average listener would assume that Nordeman knows what she is talking about, and that if she’s singing it then it is true.

My desire would be to see Christian artists who know that people look to them as a source of truth, and therefore striving for theological precision in all their words. If I should strive for theological precision in opening the Word of God for 25 young people on Sunday night, then I think Nordeman and other Christian artists should strive for the same precision when they write songs about Jesus which millions of people will listen to and form thoughts about God from. But maybe I’m wrong about that, I don’t know.

My third point of response is to simply say this: I long for the day when we in the Church will have our affections shaped by the Truth, and not the other way around. CJ Mahaney writes about this perceptively in his book Living the Cross Centered Life in a chapter called The Divine Order. First comes truth, then comes affections. In his comment, Jim wrote,

“Artists are people who minister to us exactly because they feel life and emotions more deeply than the rest of us non-artists. They are called to stir in us these emotions.”

I agree with him on this, but still would add that to stir in us emotions in a way that honors God, Christian artists should be arousing emotions with the truth of God’s Word. God wants us to think deeply (1 Corinthians 14:20) and feel deeply. And the depths of our feelings should be proportionate to the depth of truth.

Far too many Christians think with their emotions, and then people like me sometimes come off looking like cold intellectuals because we care not only that people have strong feelings for Christ, but want those strong feelings rooted in solid truth. I’m not saying Jim in any way gave the impression that I was a cold intellectual, but that is often the criticism I received in a Charismatic church where I regularly wondered if the Church’s desire for emotions was affecting their understanding of truth.

One of the great passions in my ministry is to see ‘normal’ Christians (and by that I mean non-preachers and teachers, from who we expect careful thought) thinking maturely about God and the Bible, full of deep affections that are shaped by the truths of the Bible. I think that, by and large, that is absent from American Evangelical Christianity. And I wonder if one way that passion of mine could be advanced is if Christian ‘artists’ were aware of their deep influence on what people believe, and used that influence to write doctrinally rich pop songs that stir the heart with mighty affections. There are some who do it well, Caedmon’s Call being a good example.

These are just my (hopefully) humble thoughts, brother. Hopefully they keep the discussion going,

Larry

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Comments»

1. Jim W - May 31, 2007

(Things aren’t too busy in the office today, obviously!!)

Thank you, Larry, for your reminder to all of us to be theologically informed listeners. We need to be discerners, Bereans, disciplining our minds and running what we hear through the grid of Scripture. I wholeheartedly agree.

This discussion brings up the sticky issue of faith and art, and where they intersect, if that’s the right phrase to use. Interestingly, one of L’Engle’s books is about faith and art, and I just saw it cited again by another artist, Mat Kearney, in CCM magazine, as the most influential “secular” book he has read on these issues. Admittedly, I don’t know who Mat Kearney is and haven’t heard his music.

My ramblings continue….
Here’s a terrific quote from CJ Mahaney:
“Worship songs should serve the church as take-home theology, reinforcing God-glorifying doctrine and teaching through Christ-centered lyrics and memorable melodies.”
Very well put, and I say a hearty, “AMEN.” Since I don’t have the context of this quote (it’s from a CD jacket), I wonder if he added anything such as: “…that would spur us on toward love and good deeds both within and outside of the church Body.” Because I think that is an important part of the doctrine — right doctrine results in right actions.

I don’t know what the line is between a worship song and a “Christian pop” song. That’s really sticky. Too much “worship music” has been commercialized. I still recall my general unease with paying eighty dollars for Jenny and I to experience and join in with Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman’s worshipful music, with a message by Louie Giglio. It was a terrific worship experience, but….

Where is the line? What’s meant for public worship versus private contemplation? Are we consumers of worship music now?
What about the contemporary Christian music machine? Why are all the artists so good looking? Maybe the ones that aren’t are on independent labels? (I’m getting a little jaded now, I know.)

I’ll stop now. I don’t have any good answers. Like you, I hope to keep the discussion going regarding what we fill our minds with.

2. larrylaz - June 1, 2007

Jim,

All I can say to this one is that I really do think that you and I should start a blog! I bet Jenny would just love that!

As for where faith and art intersect, I really don’t know. But I do know that art exists for the display of Christ’s glory, because ALL THINGS are from Him, through Him and to Him.

But maybe that doesn’t help to answer your question!

Larry


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