Tuesday, September 05, 2006

God is My Girlfriend Songs

If you’ve been a worship leader for long, you’ve likely either sung or heard many “God is my girlfriend” songs. To clarify this term, let me give a few examples:
  • “Jesus draw me close, closer Lord to You. Let the world around me fade away…”
  • “Draw me close to You, never let me go, I lay it all down again, to hear you say that I’m your friend…”
The easy way to know if a song is a “God is my girlfriend” song is when it could easily be sung to your girlfriend (or guyfriend) by simply replacing the name (or focus) from Jesus or God to “Kelly” or “Meghan” or whoever. Consequently, another obvious characteristic of these songs is they tend to speak more with terms of emotional endearment and less with the actual qualities of God that precipitate our affectionate response to Him in worship.

The reason I am bringing this up is not to bash or insist on a comprehensive boycott of these songs. At Parkview we presently sing or have sung many songs (or sections of songs) that could be classified as “God is my girlfriend” songs (choruses, verses, etc..). In any case, I do feel we need to be cautious about over using these songs in corporate worship for the following reasons:

They make less of God

If we verbalize affection to God in the same way we would a person we are dating, then maybe we are thinking (or teaching) too little of God. If we are inviting unbelievers and believers to the goodness of our great God, then is it in our best interested simply paint a picture of a better cuddle?

They tell us nothing of God’s character or acts

Certainly our finite ability to understand and articulate the greatness of God forces us to simplify our adoration to tangible categories of God’s goodness; however, we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to emasculate our songs to the point that they say nothing specific of God’s goodness or character by only dwelling on the feelings we have for him.

My wife deserves better

Taking the previous point a little further, I could tell my wife “I love you, you are wonderful, come near to me, for when I’m with you the world fades away.” I could also tell her “Your loving smile fills my life with gladness, you grow more beautiful every single day, our children care for each other because of your example of selfless love, your spiritual fervor inspires me to love God more deeply, being with you brings me great joy.” Which would she prefer? Hands down she would prefer the second (BTW: I did confirm this with her before posting this). Why? Because those statements spoke deeply of the qualities that make me love her. Interestingly I could have wrote the first statement after my second date, but could only write the second after years of growing to love and know her more deeply.

The guy factor

I remember having a discussion with a Worship Leader friend about the lyric “Jesus I am so in love with You” in a song we used to sing at Parkview. The discussion was centered around the idea that sometimes flowery or emotional language can create a disconnect with men who tend to have an aversion to “touchy feely” moments. Certainly this is not true with all men, but in my perception is true with many.

They aren’t worth our time

Worship songs are more prolific now than ever. There are scores of wonderful songs to choose from every week. As we select our five to six songs for a weekend shouldn’t they be the best we have to offer?

People want to say something

I have worshiped in many charismatic churches that seem quite contented to repeat endearing phrases to God over and over and over again. This plain reality is that most people who attend mainline evangelical churches don’t relate to this way of thinking. Feedback I’ve received at our church (in a very academic oriented community) is that people really struggle with highly repetitive songs. They tend to want the lyrics to take them somewhere by telling a story that challenges them to think as well as engage the emotions.

In conclusion, I am not arguing that churches should only sing a diet of heady four verse songs rich in theological meaning. This would be insensitive to the seeker in our midst and would prevent us from occasionally pausing to dwell upon one aspect of God. My only concern is that we not fault on the side of singing songs that only express feelings and neglect to give God worship that articulates more deeply what makes him deserving of all our honor and praise.

11 comments:

First Theology said...

Scott-

My 2cents... Seems like the move toward this type of lyrics is reflective of a desire to couch our "relationship with God" in terms of a modern-Western-romantic relationship. Possibly this notion derives from the apostle Paul's language of "marriage" in places like Eph. 5 (or bride of Christ language elsewhere). To me it that is really overstretching language that is analogical (an analogy rather than 1-to-1 correspondence) and communal (as I believe all metaphors for the church are expressed communally) and it makes this language univocal (1-to-1 correspondence with our experience) and hyper-individualistic (rather than communal). While relationality is part of the Triune God, it's a bit reductionistic to reduce him to "my buddy":

http://www.worth1000.com/web/media/22287/buddy%20jesus.jpg

or "my lover" by describing our relationship with him in terms of a modern-Western-romantic relationship.

Vitamin Z said...

You said: I remember having a discussion with a Worship Leader friend about the lyric “Jesus I am so in love with You” in a song we used to sing at Parkview. The discussion was centered around the idea that sometimes flowery or emotional language can create a disconnect with men who tend to have an aversion to “touchy feely” moments. Certainly this is not true with all men, but in my perception is true with many.


Is this me? I know I have have that discussion with people before concerning that song. I think men need to get over it. Probably not a song that we are going to sing every week, but still a great song non the less and I think it Biblical to say "I love you" to Jesus. Just because some of our men (myself included) can be a bit emotionally cripled at times, does not mean we should avoid this song.

Don't go off the deep end here Scoot! I know you are excited about Bob K. and all... :)

Josh,

in what sense is "lover" a :modern-western-romantic -relationship? Help me understand what you are saying here.

Jim C said...

Would it be safe to say that moderation is the key?

I agree with Z (how's it going, man?) that this manly emotional disconnect men often suffer from is not necessarily a good thing... I know sometimes that even though my wife deserves me to be extremely expressive about my thoughts toward her, that sometimes what she wants to hear the most is the simplicity of "I love you."

Regardless of what it is I say, she always wants to hear it from the heart... not just out of obligation.

Maybe that's not an appropriate analogy with God, but does it make it wrong to pair it down at times to something as simple as "I love You, God." Is it not true?

So guys have the need to belch and pound their fists against their chests... is a time of worship the time to be concerned with that?

At the same time a diet consisting only of what might be considered shallow songs turns out to be like bad nachos... just a pile of cheez whiz(tm)...

I guess as I stated when I started writing... all in moderation.

Where are our heart while we are singing any of the songs? Are we expecting to be entertained? Challenged? Taught? All of the above?

What makes up our understanding of "worship" (verb - see Scott's other blog article)?

What does God want from our time of worship? Creative lyrics? Deep truth? Heart seeking after Him?

I understand that you aren't advocating all of one and none of the other... just thought I'd add some thoughts.

Scott... in case I'm in trouble... you told me to read this, remember :) haha

John Carlson said...

OK . . . so here we have the "God is my "guy friend" " version of Jesus Draw Me Close -if you ever need this for a Men's Conference or Promisekeepers, etc.

Jesus let's hang out
Grab a seat on the couch
Let the game around me fade away
Jesus let's hang out
shoot the breeze for awhile
For I just want to run some things past you . . .
(repeat)

John Carlson said...

Seriously . . . with men who are less emotional, etc. - more typical "Men's Men" - whatever that is - does singing ANY song in the context of worship really hit home with them at all? One thing I've thought about is that America is no longer really such a "song singing" culture. Where do we sing in public these days at all? The National Anthem if you're into sports. Christmas Carols perhaps. Other than that?? Have you ever looked around a sports arena these days and seen anyone really SINGING with all their heart the National Anthem? And when was the last time of group of carolers came to your door made up of normal everyday neighborhood folk? Contrast this with Europe and other countries, where it still seems like singing is part of their lore and custom if you look at their holidays and tradition. (Ever heard the different countries singing in unison at the World Cup Soccer games? So I don't know. So much of what we actually "do" in church is so "only done in church" these days. Which is why I feel strong that we need to teach people about worship, what it is, why we do it, what to do if you're "not a big singer" and remove a lot of the falsehoods from people's minds (that someone with hands raised in the air, crying, eyes closed with that "worship grimace" is somehow worshiping more than some guy just standing there but internally just taking it all in and trying to process just what it all means when nothing registers on an emotional level. I don't know - just lots of confusing thoughts I have quite a bit about why we do what we do. We should have a service where we give people many alternative ways to worship God besides our normal singing, etc. (I know this was done by who was it, Matt Redmann or someone?) and see what people do. Better yet, don't give them any thing or ideas - just say we're going to spend time worshiping God WITHOUT music or singing. Who would like to start? And see what people would do.

First Theology said...

Z- Sorry for my lack of clarity (I was actually alluding to a conversation Scott and I had in person a few days back)!

By saying that we try to couch our "relationship with God" in terms of a "modern-Western-romantic-relationship" I didn't mean to imply "lover" was a concept unique to us, rather that we are wrong in carrying over all of our concepts about that kind of a relationship illegitimately to our relationship with Jesus (hence the language in Eph 5 is analogical, not univocal). Further, to reason "Jesus is my lover" is a concept that is unique to us as Westerners because we insist on making our relationship with God exactly parallel with our modern-Western-romantic-relationships (I see no parallels to this in Scripture/church history). Not that we don't say "I love Jesus" (surely love has a wide semantic range, far beyond just romantic love), only that it is not 1-to-1 with a romantic relationship (I know somewhere John Eldredge is crying that he can’t have a “Sacred Romance” anymore).

I also think you can see the same phenomenon happening not only in our worship lyrics, but also in Christians who use "revelatory language" - i.e - "God told me." I think behind these statements is the thought that: "In order for me to be in a genuine (and here even the concept genuine is conceived in modern-Western-romantic terms) relationship with God, He must have private words for me that are mediated individually." This thinking does much more damage than good in my estimation and it often comes from thinking of God primarily in terms of a modern-Western-romantic-relationship.

scooterpastor said...

Good thoughts guys. I figured this one would generate some discussion.

To reiterate my opening and closing sentiment, the thrust of this post is MODERATION and not ELIMINATION (I’m right there with you Jim).

I do appreciate that this post may appear to be a bit extreme, but come on, if popular worship music faults on any side it is on the side of being reductionistic in regard to our relationship with God. We all know that the commercialized worship music industry propagates songs to the masses that gravitate away from definitive statements about the deeper issues of orthodox Christian faith. I am just asking for us to consider balancing the scales a bit by flattering God with more lyrical insight!

Regarding the guy thing…. Yes Z, it was the conversation with you that I was referring to. My main point is that there are artistic and lyrical expressions that alienate men (and women). This comment was a small cog in a much bigger discussion, which I don’t want to get lost in the midst of tangential controversy.

Josh, I am interested in the discussion regarding a loss of communal language in worship. This is something I have been thinking more about lately and am interested in exploring more deeply in the future.

First Theology said...

Scott-
That would be a fun discussion to explore (you'll notice Wells hammers the "hyerindividualism" idea throughout his book - the one for the Piper conference). Like you I'm not saying let's decimate all "first person" type language. Instead we should help the pendulum swing back in the communal direction as a corrective and realize where we've imported lots of our romantic-relationship concepts into our religious langauge.

scooterpastor said...

Josh, I am still waiting on the "Wells" book. Hopefully it will arrive soon.

BTW: John, I wanted to commend you for another skillful parody. Maybe you should become the Christian version of Weird Al!

Jim C said...

It is kind of interesting if you read through the psalms, how many different "styles" are represented:

Author as individual to God in prayer
Author as individual to God in praise
Group to God in prayer
Group to God in praise
Author to reader in teaching
on and on and on...

It is hard to strike a balance at times with all that can (and should) be expressed to and/or about God in worship.

We don't want to be too simplistic in expressing our relationship with God, yet that certainly is a part of who God is - at the same time we don't want to be too heady about what is being expressed because it is easy to over complicate the intent.

I don't think this is anything new to popular praise music, to be honest. Look at any hymn book and you will see the exact same issue.

There are hymns that are (for lack of a better word) "fluff" and there are hymns that are so complex in content that they are hard to understand... they both have their weakness and probably both have their place.

You might even be able to say the same of certain psalms... careful now... I'm not suggesting that any of the psalms are fluff, merely pointing out that they are varied but yet serve a purpose.

Again, I'll go back to commenting that its all about the heart behind the issue and taking it all in moderation. We certainly have a need to acknowledge the depth of God's character while at the same time being able to be grateful for the simplicity of our individual salvation.

If you read Bob K.'s articles on the role of worship leaders, it seems that he understands the multiple needs as well. His main concern seems to be the reasoning and heart behind it more so than the content.

(DISCLAIMER: I read some of Bob's articles based on wanting to have a better understanding of Z and Scott's discussion. I've not attended Bob's conferences. I am also not attempting to claim I understand all of his views on worship and praise music.)

Further complicating the topic is our definition of worship. Further complicating the definition of worship is the addition of doing so in a corporate environment.

Person A considers the act of worshipping to be deep reflection of the many attributes of God. Person B considers it to be focusing on the simplicity of God's grace in their life.

I'm over exaggerating the case, but I think it certainly exists.

As John mentioned, the desire is to remove expectations from people that "worship looks like this" and have an environment where there is freedom of individual worship in a corporate environment (does that make sense?).

I know Scott and Josh are not disagreeing with me... so don't consider anything I am saying as an argument. More or less I'm just pointing out that its usually much more complex than it looks from the surface.

I talk too much. :)

Brian Bailey said...

Wish I'd had time to comment on this earlier, but here's my input before everyone forgets about the topic:

This imagery of God or Jesus as lover does go back a long way, of course. The Song of Solomon could be read as a dialogue between God and the soul, and certainly many commentators over the centuries have read it this way. There is a lot of romantic imagery in historic Christian poetry and hymnody. Modern evangelicalism did not invent this.

But much (most?) of the historic material that is heavy on romantic imagery for our relationships with God was intended for personal, private devotional use, and not for corporate worship.

I have a problem singing, or even hearing the phrase "Jesus, I am so in love with you." I *don't* have a problem singing "I love you, Jesus," or "I need you, Jesus" and similar things (does anyone out there still sing the old gospel song "O How I love Jesus"?...one of my favorites as a child...). BUT: "Jesus, I am so in love with you"? I think that's one best left for private, personal use/listening. The phrase "in love" can mean different things to different people, including infatuation or obsessive attachment that is based primarily on feelings (which may be transient) rather than a choice or commitment to love someone. Haven't many of us fallen in and out of love, and doesn't the Lord deserve better? Of course not everyone perceives that phrase the same way.

--Brian