December 14, 2017

Someone Has to Put a Foot Down

By Chaplain Mike

I haven’t really offended anyone for awhile, but I’m pretty sure that streak stops with this one. Sorry, but somebody must speak up and draw a line somewhere when it comes to what some call “worship” music.

Today, I’m writing about one song.

Churches everywhere sing it these days.

Many, many well-known artists in the Christian music industry have covered this song.

It has a pious, emotional backstory that people find inspiring.

It rose to #8 on Billboard Christian Songs in 2009.

It was #4 in the US iTunes Top 100 Christian Songs for 2010.

The David Crowder Band version of the song was a big hit that was nominated for a Dove Award in 2010.

It was #16 in the CCLI Top 25 Songs used by churches and ministries in the period between October 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011.

I have read comments about this song like this: “This song is starting a revolution. Simply singing it can change your heart. Continue singing it throughout your day and you find yourself intimately in God’s presence.”

No one seems to have a bad word to say about this song, except during a tempest-in-a-teapot controversy that arose over one line in the lyric that was deemed too “mushy” for worship music.


I am sure a lot more could be said about this song from its admirers. But as I stood in a megachurch in the suburbs of Chicago on Sunday listening to and trying, with difficulty, to sing this song for the first time, I was amazed at the violent sense of dislike and utter bewilderment I felt within me. “This may be the worst song I have ever heard in a Christian service!” I thought. And yet it formed the emotional peak of the “worship” gathering. The band was clearly into it. The audience, er, congregation seemed to enjoy it. The pastor (a decidedly un-flashy middle-aged Bible teaching minister in this church that has been a bastion of conservative evangelicalism over the years) could only say, “Wow!” as he came forward to speak after the song’s conclusion. He breathlessly tried to express how much the worship had moved him this day as he prepared to teach a hard message on serious discipleship.

My jaw may have actually dropped. Surely he was joking. I, for one, had found the song completely incomprehensible. I guess it was catchy but what the heck did it have to do with anything in this Sunday morning’s corporate worship?

The band had just led the congregation in the popular “worship” song, “How He Loves,” by John Mark McMillan.

Hey, I know — I’m way out of the loop when it comes to praise and worship music these days. This song is a couple of years old now, practically an antique. I’m sure some will wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, “How He Loves” has probably been a staple in churches long enough now that it seems like a quaint and comfortable old favorite to many. Believe it or not, I’m so separated from the evangelical consumer-industrial complex these days that this was the first time I’d heard it. Not impressed. In fact, it seems like almost every time I attend a service that uses praise and worship songs, I come away shaking my head over the degeneration of quality and content in our congregational repertoire of music.

So, here are the “awesome” lyrics to “How He Loves”

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,*
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.

*original version-“sloppy wet kiss”
© 2005 John Mark McMillan

Really?

This is the emotional high point and the song before the sermon in a serious Bible teaching church’s corporate worship service?

These are the words that worship leaders chose as the song of preparation before a serious sermon on discipleship from Romans 12 on how we as Christians must offer ourselves up as living sacrifices, not being conformed to our culture but being transformed by the renewing of our minds?

  • First of all, the poetry is dreadful, almost incoherent.
  • Second, the lyric is incredibly clumsy, almost unsingable.
  • Third, the metaphors are strained and mixed to the point of utter confusion.
  • Fourth, the only real “power” the song has is the continual repetition of the line, “How he loves [us]” as the band builds intensity, à la a million other pop-rock songs.
  • Fifth, it is individualistic to the point of being narcissistic, despite part of a verse that, inexplicably, is written in the plural. Whether one sings the controversial “sloppy wet kiss” line or not, this turns out to be just another song about “me and Jesus” and how he “meets me” in my experience without giving any context of the church, the Gospel, or the words of Scripture. It represents a perfect model of personal “spirituality without religion.”

If I were still a worship and music pastor, there is no way on earth I would allow this song to be sung in corporate worship, much less make it the focal point of the service!

Before you take up stones and start hurling them in my direction, let me say that I have been a follower of popular music long enough to recognize, on some level, the attraction of a song like this. I happen to like plenty of folk, pop, and rock songs with inane lyrics and bad poetry that try to say something profound through incomprehensible words. That’s almost a definition for most of Dylan’s catalog, isn’t it? (I remember when we used to all just sit around with this awed look on our faces and say, “Wow! Heavy.” We of course had no clue; it just sounded deep.)

The difference is, I can handle that with pop music or pieces from a singer-songwriter whose very job is to probe her inner self and write about what she is feeling with regard to the experiences of life. If I read the backstory correctly, this is what John Mark McMillen was doing in writing this song. No problem there, whatsoever. So let it be sung by the folkie pouring his heart out to an audience! But this little personal inspiration piece is simply not appropriate for the corporate worship of Christians who have gathered to celebrate the Gospel and hear God’s Word.

Please, please, friends in ministry! Someone start putting a foot down! Let congregational worship be what it should be and fill it with music befitting the God of heaven and earth. Pastors, do your job. Stop basing your decisions about music on the “Top 40” model. Guard the corporate worship service and stop taking the easy way out, pandering to the tastes of audiences who want primarily to have their ears tickled while chills run up and down their spines.

Build congregations, not audiences.

Make disciples, not entertainment or emotional thrill seekers.

As with all areas of ministry, lead people toward maturity.

Treat worship music as another form of speaking and hearing God’s own Word.

Honor the music of the church by demanding quality and depth and artistic integrity.

Put your foot down.

Comments

  1. Lyrics can be funny things. I remember as a young Christian happily crooning along while George Harrison sang about his “sweet lord”. It was only years later that the lyrics became un-garbled for me and I heard the background singers identifying his “sweet lord” as Krishna. Oops. Not surprising given that I used to think that the opening line to “Earth Angel” was “her thing, Joe”, but disturbing nonetheless.

    My point is this, most Christians are bombarded with metaphors (and there are numerous ones listed throughout the comments) some truly biblical, some not straight from the scriptures but theologically sound, and some just weird. The ability to discern between the second and third type is a skill that not all have to the same degree, so it shouldn’t be surprising that some enjoy, even embrace this song.

    • And it shows David Crowder can turn any song into solid gold with his cool papery-sounding voice!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Not surprising given that I used to think that the opening line to “Earth Angel” was “her thing, Joe”, but disturbing nonetheless.

      There’s a webcomics artist who goes by the pen name of “Kinky Turtle”. Comes from a mishearing of “O King Eternal” as a kid — he heard it as “Kinky Turtle” and thought it’d be a great name for a cartoon character.

  2. Rich Starnes says:

    I appreciate Alan Cross’s comments about the song above. I was starting to feel guilty for liking the song.

    With that said, as a Music Minister (yeah, I’m still called that) in a rural, family-oriented SBC church with half of the people wanting traditional services and half wanting “blended” services, I wouldn’t use this song for congregational worship. Its language is far more “intimate” than I would use for congregational singing, and, even in today’s pop-saturated culture, the melody is incredibly difficult for two people to sing together at the same time, let alone 20, 200, or 2000. The latter is a pretty big trend: trying to find new worship songs can be difficult, as I do believe we have lost a sense of “singability” in worship song selection, which is vital if you want people to, you know, sing along. So that’s not a song for us.

    As for Mr. McMillan, give him another shot and check out “Death in His Grave.” I think the poetry is better (challenging, even), the melody is better, and the focus is squarely on Christ, not me.

  3. Read the post again. I have no problem with Mr. McMillan and his freedom to write any song he chooses. My problem is with pastors who think this is appropriate for corporate worship.

    • I’ve never heard of this song, so take the following with a grain of salt.

      Whatever the appropriateness of singing about “His love is a hurricane, I am a tree” after Irene hit, I have to say – the chorus expects you to go “Whoa, Yeah, Whoa”?

      No. Sorry, just no. The only time such responses are appropriate is in this context.

      🙂

      • I have a suspicion that they actually chose to sing the song BECAUSE of the hurricane that was striking the east coast of the U.S. that day. I hope I’m wrong.

        • My wife went to a wedding on the eve of the hurricane, and it turns out the bride had chosen this song as part of the ceremony. My wife brought the program home and as I was looking at it I noticed the lyrics to one of the songs: “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”

          “Interesting,” I thought, and then it was suppertime; but now you’ve re-piqued that interest. I’ll ask her how it went over.

          BTW, she played flute for the processional and during a hymn, but I guarantee not for this one.

          Hmm… Just had an awful thought. Our youth pastor/music leader led the ceremony, and I’d be willing to bet the song shows up at First Baptist one of these Sunday mornings. Pray for me.

  4. A few years back, my husband and I moved from a more liturgical tradition (where hymns were mostly sung, with praise songs thrown in) to a more evangelical church (where praise songs are mostly sung, with hymns occasionally & apologetically thrown in). I can tell you I’ve been saddened by the “me-centric” repetitive praise songs I regularly hear now. I remember the joy corporately of worshiping God to songs like “Crown him with many crowns” and “Come ye sinners” and ALL the lines to “Amazing Grace” and as a new convert of 19, singing these hymns for the first time I felt the joy of connecting with generations past of the Christian community. I felt a sense of being a part of something greater than myself as I understood what my parents’ parents’ sung. Those songs taught me about God and about the gospel, about what it means to be a Christian. I doubt the praise songs such as the one you’ve mentioned can teach much.

    Incidentally, when the occasional hymn is sung at my church, I feel the whole congregation join in. I hear the often muted voices of the older members of the congregation who grew up singing these songs along with their parents and grandparents. They know the words, they hold a lifetime of meaning for them. Whereas when the new songs are introduced and forgotten week after week I don’t hear half the participation I do during the hymns.

    All this to say, that sometimes, during rehearsals, someone will want to cut out several important verses of a hymn, or make a chorus more repetitive, or mix 2 songs together (whose meanings do not relate.) And sometimes all it takes is one voice to (gently) speak up in defense of the meaning of the original song for people to understand the value of leaving some things the way they are.

  5. As I was reading the article I was waiting in anticipation for your theological rebuttal of the concepts or ideals in the song. But that point never came.

    It seems the main thrust of your argument is that the song should not be used in corporate worship. I was struggling to find strong support for that argument in the post (though I’m sure you have some and would love to hear it). If I were to garner your view from the article, the primary requirements for having a worship song in corporate worship would be:

    1) Complex poetry
    2) Lyrics that are in your opinion, not “clumsy” or “unsingable”
    3) Consistent and perhaps singular metaphors throughout
    4) Devoid of self-focus
    5) Not emotion-evoking, but rather depth and quality

    Well, I’m exaggerating a bit, :). But my point is, the song is simple, short, and stirs your emotion through repetition. If there’s nothing theologically incorrect in the song, is there anything so wrong with that? (Used in moderation of course). An occasional play in corporate worship…I really don’t see a problem. It seems any pop-style type song that’s meant to stir emotions of praise to God is disallowed on that basis only.

    I enjoy the classics as much as the next guy. Sometimes I’m moved to tears when we sing “How Great Thou Art”. At the church I attend we have a nice mix – songs with depth and quality (and big words), that call back to hallmarks of the gospel and high theological truths. We also have a popular song or two in there, which is simple, straightforward and yes, may have repetition and simple words. Honestly, I think it makes it more accessible to the random guy who walks in the door. Those songs stir his emotions, the other more “hymn” like songs will get him thinking. We’re emotional and rational beings, seems logical to appeal to both in corporate worship.

    • You’ve modeled a stereotypical problem plaguing the modern worship industry. The idea that anything devoid of abject heresy is appropriate for the gathered saints to utilize in celebration of the gospel is just abominable. There are plenty of cookbooks without any theological errs. Why don’t we sing them? Because they say nothing positive about why we are assembled!

      Your five points are outstanding discussion starters, though. Here’s a few thoughts.
      1. Balance is needed between simplicity and complexity. The abundance of songs like this one indicate we may be a little heavy in the former category. Additionally, not all repetition is equal. Taize is an outstanding example of excellence in simplicity in repetition.
      2. An absolute, imo. What is the point of having music if the assembled congregation serves merely as spectators? Too much of this makes it hard to distinguish worship from a concert. While there is certainly a place for an anthem, “special music,” or seasonal production in the life of a prosperous congregation, the times designated for everyone singing together ought to be designed with that in mind: How can we facilitate participation, rather than frustrate it? Melodies ought to be singable as well.
      3. Nothing wrong with diversity in metaphors. Ambiguity clouds understanding, thus defeating the purpose of the metaphor to begin with.
      4. Why limit this to simply music? How about an entire life devoid of self focus? Is this not what Christ calls us to as disciples? Should not our worship model and teach this?
      5. False dichotomy. Depth and quality is precisely what provokes genuine, lasting affection for Christ. Production driven emotional manipulation may produce a temporary high, but roots the sentiment in an experience rather than a truth. This never lasts and is thus counterproductive to the mission of the church to make disciples.
      There’s a little logic and reasoning to get you started.

      • I understand the complaints somewhat, but something about this whole post and a lot of the comments make me sad. Worship should definitely be just that: worship (not a concert, so yeah, repetitive lyrics are sometimes obnoxious and I stop singing after a couple of repetitions because I don’t really feel like I’m singing to God at that point anymore). I don’t think there is anything harmful in these lyrics, in fact, I think they are powerful and symbolic of one’s interaction with God. This song helps me remember God’s mercy and love along with His strength. It may not be terribly eloquent, but I daresay that our relationships with Christ are not the most poetic at times either. Anyway, it’s worship to me.

        When you get down to it though, shouldn’t worship be both an intellectual and an emotional experience? It’s not pedestrian to say that one is emotionally affected by worship. Old hymns can praise God, new “hymns” can praise God. This song DOES say something positive about why people are assembled — to praise God. There’s nothing abominable here, even if it isn’t the best choice for corporate worship.

        Additionally, I must admit that I find a lot of melodies difficult to sing, especially when singing from a hymnal in a more traditional church service. In such circumstances, it seems as though elderly church ladies have it right — belt it out anyway. God is the audience. Also, perhaps the problem is that there is an “industry” at all — maybe that is the “plague?” The cookbook is a huge leap from the song at issue here. Check out the lyrics again. Regarding point 5, there is truth in some of these songs. I don’t really want to sing out chapters verbatim from the Word either. To each his own, as long as “his own” is worshiping God and not oneself.

        There is always something wrong with worship from someone’s point of view, including, often, mine. That’s part of the trouble that maybe we should be focusing on a bit more. I’m such a crank sometimes regarding the church, but it does me a disservice.

    • For the soppiest, most sentimental songs I’ve ever sung in church (or other religious events e.g May processions, pilgrimages), it would be a toss-up between Bring Flowers of the Rarest (composed 1871) and As I Kneel Before You (1975), but this one has them all beaten.

      The notion of our God is a jealous god and that the love of God for His Church may be figured erotically (as in the Song of Songs) is certainly Biblical and Scriptural.

      Going “Whoa! Yeah! He loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah” – repeat ad infinitum – not so much. This song makes me grateful that we’ve sung nothing more modern than hymns dating from the 1980s, poor as they can be, round here (though I read American Catholic blogs on this topic mentioning the names of Haugen and Haas with fear and dread).

      • “Going “Whoa! Yeah! He loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah” – repeat ad infinitum – not so much.”

        You didn’t have the Beatles in Ireland???

        • Not only did we have the Beatles in Ireland, we had Ireland in the Beatles (Liverpool Irish, to be exact). 😉

          “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” is a great song, but it’s not a hymn. Unless you want us to try singing “Lady Madonna” or “Let It Be” as Marian hymns?

          😀

  6. Jon Acuff started a great (and often entertaining) discussion about this song on his “Stuff Christians Like” blog. http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2011/03/kissing-metaphors-in-worship-music/ Sorry if someone has already mentioned this–I’m late to the party and haven’t read through all of the comments.

  7. Good post. I knew it would spark a lot of conversation.

    I’m one of those who stand with my hands in my pockets wondering what’s going on a fair bit of the time with contemporary worship music. I think worship music and lyrics should be something we might actually sing or say if we really, truly believed we were actually in Jesus’ presence and knew what that meant (picture Aslan here if it helps). I think then it would be a lot less likely to be individualistic, narcicisstic, mushy, triumphal, and such. And we surely wouldn’t take anything for granted.

    The last church I went to frequently sang a song with lyrics that said “I’m wholly devoted, fully committted to you” or something close. I couldn’t sing it because the most I can say is that I want to be (on my better days) and that I’m trying to be those things by God’s ongoing and unfailing grace and mercy.

  8. Charles Fines says:

    Chaplain, I tend to let folks go with whatever rocks their boat as long as they don’t expect me to climb in their boat. You mention as an alternative that we can read and sing the Psalms. I agree with you that this seems the best way out of what strikes me as a bad situation since I find most Christian hymns painful. My personal opinion is that songs in church ought to be sung to or for Jesus but I don’t have much company on that one.

    I finally started a search in response to your piece looking for examples of the singing of Psalms. Didn’t do so well, mostly coming up with a contemporary Presbyterian effort which to my ears sounded as dreary and offputting as what I recall from my youth. I wonder if there are recordings of Jews singing the Psalms? What about the Eastern Orthodox tradition? Does any of the American Black church sing psalms? And what about chanting the Psalms as opposed to singing them? I have heard goose bump prayers chanted in a Lutheran service by a classical symphony tuba player but never a Psalm.

    I’m sure the answer is out there somewhere but may I suggest Singing the Psalms as a topic for another day? The expanse of expertise and experience here ought to be definitive. I don’t see how to get around the problem of not posting links and don’t see how the information could easily be given otherwise. I am interested in listening to free samples of what is out there, not so much places to buy Psalters and CD’s tho that too. I am interested in opinions, preferences, and recommendations over a wide range of traditions.

  9. I just read Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand.” Beautiful. Even that song would not be a good one for a congregation to sing, though, in my humble opinon. It would be too difficult.

    I guess it’s good that we have all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. This “How He Loves” song would not be one I would wish to sing in church, but if it makes some people happy to sing it, it’s OK with me. I just wouldn’t join in and I can see how it would be a problem if you loved everything about your church except for the choice of music which you find to be grating, or shallow, or stupid, or overly emotional or too hard to sing. I am sure many new churches have started up because some of the congregation could not stand the music being played or sung any longer at their current church.

    I do like Gregorian chanting, but I don’t know if I would want a steady diet of that.

  10. For me, the lyrics just sound too much like another love song. Its all about how I feel, which I suppose is legitimate.
    The sexual overtones are too strong for me. Sometimes I feel like some of this music is striking the same chord as popular love songs, only it is ‘baptised’.

    That is my thought without any deep processing.
    I think I would want to leave a service if that was sung

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Writing Christian music is simple. Just take 20-year-old pop songs and substitute “Jesus” for “Oooooo Baby!”
      — Eric Cartman, South Park

      • Baltezaar says:

        Also: replace secular cliches with time-worn theological ones, preferrably about mountains, sun rises, and rivers.

      • Okay, Headless, I took a song from the 90s completely at random, and here’s the Christian Music version of the first verse(s):

        Groove is in the Heart by Deee-Lite, re-done for Jesus, with modified lyrics within italics 🙂

        We’re going to worship,
        We’re going to worship,
        We’re going to worship
        And have some fun

        The chills that you
        Spill up my back
        Keep me filled with
        Satisfaction when we’re done
        Satisfaction of what’s to come
        (I) I couldn’t ask for another
        (I-I-I-I-I I)
        No I couldn’t ask for another
        Your Spirit I do deeply dig
        No walls only the bridge
        My Saviour, my Lord
        (Sing it baby)
        (I) I couldn’t ask for another
        (Uh-huh uh-huh)
        (I-I-I-I-I I)
        No I couldn’t ask for another

        Jesus is in the heart
        Ah-ah-ah-ah
        Jesus is in the heart
        Ah-ah-ah-ah
        Jesus is in the heart
        Jesus is in the heart
        Ah-ah-ah

        • Great, Martha. A dozen churches will now lead with this song on Sunday, and half of them will be in Tulsa…

        • Darlene from Ottowa says:

          Can I try?

          I sure do appreciate, the fact that you are near
          Your love is so beautiful, and your Word, it is so clear
          So preacher, fetch a Bible
          We’ll read it every day
          So baby, why don’t we get saved, and pray?

      • Oh…my. That’s hilarious!

      • Funny you should mention that, HUG, and while Dylan’s ears are burning. I once heard his “If Not for You” sung in church (it was in 1980, while he was still considered among the fold) and all the singer had to do was change “babe” to “Lord” and it worked!

        If not for you
        Lord, I couldn’t find the door
        Couldn’t even see the floor
        I’d be sad and blue
        If not for you

  11. Baltezaar says:

    Frankly, this song doesn’t seem any worse than most of the songs I’ve experienced in contemporary-themed worship services. It certainly shares their weaknesses and irritating traits, as spelled out in Chaplain Mike’s post and the comments above: fairly narcissistic, poor writing, and an emphasis/purpose on amping up the emotional side of worship.

    I hold nothing against McMillan, who rightly channeled grief, wondering and more into the gifts he’s been given. More of us should do that. And while I agree that this is simply a thin, flabby song for corporate worship, it’s a symptomatic problem, not a causative one. Simple, repetitive lyrics, poor writing, and weak, self-centered theology are rampant in the songs I’ve seen and heard used in contemporary services.

    Not that I think using nothing but dusty old hymns is the solution, either. A lot of those seem to emphasize the Happy Christian Syndrome, which can be just as cloying as the Warm Fuzzy Theology apparent in modern worship.

    I’d like worship music to challenge me, take me outside of myself, and focus on God for God’s sake, not for mine. And I’d like it to be free of time-worn cliches, too.

    • I have been attending a mainline church for a few years and have found plenty of deep hymns and not many of the ‘Happy Christian Syndrome’ type. Some of them are translated from Latin!
      My old background had plenty of ‘gospel’ hymns like you get in an Assemblies of God church.

      The church has a long history of hymns, many really good ones.

      I have a relative who works at a national level in Christian circles and I was once complaining to him about feeling that worship had degenerated into a concert at my church, shallow lyrics, and many times songs being sung in such a way that you cannot sing along.
      His reply was that this is a national problem, in all church denominations that he knew of.

      • Just to be clear, in my mainline church we have to struggle to make sure we get some current music in! But we are careful about making sure it is God centered.

  12. I haven’t been a fan of that song ever since I first heard it 🙂

    However, it’s not the most vapid CCM song that was brought to my attention today. That honor goes to one whose chorus is:

    “You have to believe you’re worth dying for.”

    Thanks. Jesus just left the building, cause apparently he isn’t necessary.

  13. Kristi Travis says:

    Such pettiness.

  14. The one that makes me want to hurl, that’s currently getting significant air time, is Hold Me by Jamie Grace:

    I don’t know how many times she sings the line: “I love, I love, I love, I love the way you hold me,” but it’s definitely too many.

    And in the chorus? “Lord, I love the way You hold me.”
    Simply replace Lord with Babe, and presto, instant sappy pop love song!

    It’s no wonder I’m currenly listening to my area’s classic rock station.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Just so long as their idea of “Classic Rock” isn’t “Dope is Groovy” and “Get Out of Vietnam”. We had an oldies station on our PA at work once that was like that. Employee mutiny within two days.

      • Nope – this station is okay. A little bit of the Eagles, some CCR, and half an hour of Led Zeppelin every evening. Not a bad way to pass a couple hours.

    • I heard that one, or maybe it was a similar one, a few days ago and had the same thought. ‘Jesus pop’ love songs.

  15. Pam Burns says:

    I won’t comment on the song in question because I’ve never heard it or heard of it until now. However, to respond to comments about traditional hymns vs. contemporary-one being remembered and the other soon forgotten, I disagree. I know the words to traditional hymns because I sang them growing up. My 34 year-old son remarked tonight that he liked the music at a particular church (they use worship choruses and contemporary songs) because that’s what he grew up with. Doesn’t a lot of this continuing discussion have to do with what we remember from our own experiences? Why isn’t it all right to be moved by a certain song if that song brings you closer to worshipping God in your own experience?

    • “Doesn’t a lot of this continuing discussion have to do with what we remember from our own experiences? Why isn’t it all right to be moved by a certain song if that song brings you closer to worshipping God in your own experience?”

      I don’t think the point of the original post was to stake out some kind of fight of traditional vs. contemporary worship music. Chaplain Mike’s post wondered about the _appropriateness_ of the song for congregational worship, for the reasons he lists above. I don’t think he, or anyone else, is arguing that contemporary worship music is bad simply for being, well, contemporary.

      And no, there’s nothing wrong with being moved by a song, particularly if that “movement” draws you into a deeper awareness and love of God. However, I have to wonder if that should be the point of worship – some kind of subjective, experiential moment (or moments)? Shouldn’t we worship because it is _right_ to do so, because God deserves to be worshipped, and out of the belief that, in some way, focusing on God will help us to conform to the likeness of Christ?

      My main struggles with contemporary worship music isn’t the _music_ itself; that is, I love modern pop and rock and think the musical forms can easily be adapted and used for healthy worship. My problem is that lyrics are often near-pablum, seem very “me-centered,” and also seem intent more on producing/forcing an experience or mood rather than reminding us of critical truth.

  16. Hear Hear Chaplain Mike! But your article may seem about 20 years behind the trend. To quote Miguel, this is now a “modern worship industry”. And there is much money to be made for the right sounding repetitive track. For years we jokingly call these songs 7/11 hymns, 7 words repeated 11 times. The purpose of the song is to put people into the mood of worship. The question to ask though is what is being worshiped? I believe this is a major point of contention being leveled at today’s modern worship services. Having grown up in the 70s – 80s music culture, I really don’t see much difference in the music being played or the response of the audience. Both use lights, mellow smooth vocals, catchy phases, electric synthesized instruments, and above all, good looking young people performing on stage. I worshiped back then, but at the time, I did not know what I was worshiping, yet the emotions evoked were very similar. Yes, I know Christ is mentioned in the lyrics in a modern worship service, I only wonder if people would notice if they left His name out.

  17. Playing the devil’s advocate here, but Mike don’t you know that anything is ok if it has good intentions behind it? The song and many like it “want” to do the right thing… That’s rule number one. The other rule is that you must never “judge” anything in the evangelical subculture because – well, God is probably using it somewhere, somehow… and if you “judge” in this way you sound too much like Bill Maher and he’s an evil liberal who hates christianity – you don’t want to be like him… So you must be encouraging; always encouraging of everything and don’t think too critically about anything because then you can see how God’s going to use it and you can keep that happy face ever glowing…and never face the mediocrity and narcissism plaguing the church.

  18. “build a congregation and not an audience”????? Congregating for what other reason than to hear the music and watch the performance. I hate to sound like such a pessimist but I think it’s too late. The only congregations that I am aware of that gather to hear the word and for mutual edification are in the Amish/Mennonite churches and the persecuted churches. I just purchased a CD of an Amish Chorale and of course no musical instruments are used except the beautiful voices. A friend of mine (70 years young) who is a member of my former large, loud, contemporary music centered church listened to two of the songs. I said, “Aren’t they beautiful.” Very lukewarm response. Just a quiet “lovely”. We get desensitized to beauty I fear. Beauty, silence and peace.

    • Aw, c’mon, that’s pushing it. I’ve heard the Word preached in several churches over the past several years, including the services of the church body I am a part of. I attend FOR that reason. It’s non-denominational, by the way. There is both a traditional worship service and a more contemporary worship service.

  19. One of the worship leaders at the church I go to defende this song bu saying that the best way we can love God is by accepting how much God loves us. Thoughts?

  20. I have to bump Phil’s comments from earlier in the thread, especially in context of CM’s other post about being a hospice chaplain. The song was originally written not as a church-service-singalong, but as a confession from a songwriter trying to process the instant death of his close friend who was in a car accident – “when all of the sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory”. The lines “loves like a hurricaine” and the “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” are not supposed to be sensible analogies – – they’re supposed to reflect the difficulties of trying to understand how God loves us while he allows us to walk through the tragedies of life.
    Feel free to criticize the music pastors who turn this into a Sunday morning “Jesus is my boyfriend” song, but don’t level that charge at John Mark Macmillan’s original songwriting without first hearing the song in its original context.
    In fact, I would daresay that the album it came from (The Song Inside the Sounds of Breaking Down) might resonate with much of what IM readers have previously written elsewhere on this website, and you may find it refreshingly honest even if it’s not theologically perfect.

  21. 25 years ago, I began writing “contemporary Christian music.” It’s not that I hated the hymns. It’s more that I wanted to be a successful singer/songwriter. To date I have written and sung about 100 works. And as I go back over them, the thing that I notice about almost all of them is that they are themed directly from something in the Bible. Many times they are even quoting Scripture. I remember putting the lyrics to one of my songs on a Christian chat site once. The response I got was “That is really textual.” Exactly! Because, as it turns out, the thing that makes the hymns great is that they reinforce what the Bible says. They allow a response to the Biblical message of the day. This is a very liturgical idea, and it is also a very evangelical idea at the same time. Because the very meaning of evangelical is “telling the Good News” and the very meaning of liturgical is to make all things work together in an orderly way to preach the whole “Good News” of God.

    At church, we have a praise band, and many instrumentalists, and use several different genres. But the one thing that is a must is that the message of God and his Gospel is always from and center.

  22. I don’t know Chaplain, when one looks at the real concerns of the world (i.e. the use of child soldiers in foreign countries, sex trafficking, starvation, poverty, AIDS epidemic, homelessness….) Your critique of corporate worship starts to look real small, and quite petty. I’m sorry, just call ’em like a see ’em.

    Why don’t we get busy being a blessing to the world, rather than trying to customize the perfect worship experience (which is very much subjective by the way)?

    Why don’t we “put our foot down” for the things that actually matter…

  23. I have a response to this post written on my blog. Check it out!

  24. Oh, I should mention that the web address is pauliethinkingoutloud.blogspot.com

  25. I am not a big contemporary Christian music lover…and rarely listen to Christian radio and know the latest pop songs. And I have been overly critical at times of it too. Having said that, I don’t see anything wrong with this song mentioned. I say that as I was speaking to around 1,000 teenagers in Portland earlier this year and the band played this very song being discussed here. I watched the teenagers sing it back, not in a frenzy or mindless fashion – and this was a conservative evangelical group as well. But they were singing it and taking in the truth that they were loved by their Father in Heaven. “How He loves them so”.

    I was watching them, I was thinking what a beautiful thing it was for them to be focusing on this truth for a few minutes. Here were teenagers who get beat down in culture, their identity torn and understanding of who they even are as children of God distorted through the messages and reality of living in today’s confusing world. Perhaps some of them don’t even understand love or experience being loved by their parents or friends. Yet for a few moments in this meeting, they were singing the reminder of how much God does love them and focusing on that. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us..” 1 John 3:1…… ” I pray that you grasp…how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” Eph 3…..”As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” John 15:9…… I didn’t at all see this as narcissistic, but a few minutes of the teenagers singing together and being reminded of no matter what the world, culture etc. teaches them to think about themselves, that the truth is they are loved.

    I have 2 twin nine year old daughters and every time I can, I want them to know I love them unconditionally. I hope that throughout their day they live with that truth and feel confident their dad “loves them so”. — So with this song being discussed, I guess I don’t see the error in for a few moments of this worship gathering which also had other songs sang and 35 minutes of teaching from Scripture, to be reminded of this truth of God’s love for us. And I was thankful to God for the song seeing those teenagers singing it and being reminded of that truth.

    Now if all we did was focus on “me” and how much God loves “me”, then I can see it being off kilter and develop the focus on self vs. God and others. But not every song at this event was that. So for a few minutes, I was very glad this song was song. And thankful these teenagers were reminded of the truth that God does love them so -despite what they may be experiencing from other people or culture. I hope my daughters when they read “I love you” on cards or notes that I write are reminded of that truth. Or when Jesus said “so I have loved you”… and the many other times in Scriptures we are reminded of God’s love for us that, that we don’t need to be reminded of “how he loves us so” or that we are narcissistic to ponder and dwell on that truth for a few moments in a song. You may not appreciate the poetry of the lyrics, but we could probably look at some hymns and say the same thing. Or even some Psalms and wonder about why certain metaphors or images were used to describe things. All I know is I was thankful that those teenagers were reminded of the truth of God’s love for them as they sang this one song. And it was one part of a whole worship gathering that also included others songs, Scriptural teaching etc. Thanks for reading! Hope my heart comes through in this.

    • Your heart does come through, Dan. Perhaps the setting and integration of this song into the service you observed made it more useful. One of the complaints I had in the service I attended is that the song did not seem to have anything to do with the rest of the service.

  26. Ryan Nathaniel says:

    Well, I know I’m in the minority here, but I actually really like this song. I think the poetry of the verses is actually quite beautiful. I am not a poet, but for some reason those lines get me every time.

    I think one of the reasons I like it so much is because, knowing the song’s backstory, it is like a fragile fist held high in the midst of the Problem of Evil – a declaration of God’s love in a situation where it seems He’s left the building.

    My favorite verse in the song is the one that’s never sung corporately:

    I thought about You, the day Stephen died
    And You met me between my breaking
    You know I still love you God despite the agony
    Some people want to tell me You’re cruel but…
    If Stephen could sing he’d say it’s not true cause He loves us…Oh how he loves us…

    When I sing “How He Loves,” usually I’m thinking about the mystery of the Problem of Evil. I’m thinking about how – In spite of the evidence to the contrary – God really does love us. When I’m singing it, it helps me to feel what I already say I believe.

    One thing the song is NOT is a standard, trite, cliche-ridden, paint-by-numbers worship song. It’s raw and the words DON’T make sense at first glance, but whether it’s “great poetry” or not it strikes me as real.

  27. I agree with Ryan. And when we pull it out of context and we criticize songwriters for romanticizing worship, let’s not assume that it is only recent-style songwriting that is vulnerable to this critique. I can remember my parents singing this Bill Gaither song:

    He touched me
    Yes, he touched me
    and oh, the joy that floods my soul
    Something – happened – – and now I KNOW…

    I first heard this song as a young kid, about the same time that my school was teaching us how to defend ourselves against predatory adults. While my parents found the chorus inspiring, I found it unnerving.

  28. Unimpressed says:

    My wife and I just can’t seem to escape this dreadful song as we have been trying to find a church lately. In our latest attempt I told her “they are probably going to sing the hurricane song”. She was agast. It took 3 weeks but they sang it last Sunday. We’ve heard it played in a variety of ways and it is always a bad experience. I think what is most difficult about this song are the lyrics themselves. They are just creepy. Coming from South Florida and experience many a hurricane, the last thing I want to relate to God is that his love is like a hurricane. Hurricane’s are destructive and there is nothing good about them. But yet, I am supposed to suspend my belief and praise God’s love for having a destuctive love? Eh, no. But as I told my wife, this song has it all. It is the pinnacle of what is wrong with so-called worship music these days.

    The initial hurricane reference is more than enough, but it keeps building; getting worse with every line. It’s not just that God’s love is LIKE a hurricane, he actually (apparently) has wind of his own and his grace is measurable (bending beneath his wind and his mercy). It gets better. “..All of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions ecclipsed by His glory.” Eh? What afllictions, His wind? All of a sudden? It just took you by suprise?

    From them on, it’s pretty much me, me, me. Whoa! me, he loves me. As if singing it over and over and louder is suppose the breakthrough and prove the point that God loves us? Does God really love us that way? Does God really give us a “sloppy big kiss” (kind of blashpemous if you ask me). It kind of reduces God to a simpering, gushing well-spring of love, love, lobe for ME, ME, ME! But what about his holiness and the fear of God? I, for one, don’t even want to think about God planting a “sloppy” kiss on me. Sinful me and a holy God? Yes, I believe that He loves me more than I can explain in human terms. Sorry, but God is not my lover. I am loved by Him indeed, but taking it to such a fleshy anthropomorphic conclusion is out-of-bounds. Do with that what you will.

    Oh, back to the song. You know it just keeps getting “deeper”. We didn’t get it with the sloppy kiss, but God is so amazing that apparently “my heart turns violently inside my chest.” Seriously. Turns violently? Like side-to-side, or upside-down or what. Is this a heart attack. Perhaps too much wind or too much saliva from the sloppy kiss.

    Church we can do better than this. It is by His grace that we are saved and he didn’t grant that grace so He could “Love” on us. His is the King and we are his servants. We are not equal with Him and it’s a good thing to fear God and stand in awe of him. Yes, we can boldly approach the throne, but with reverence and much trembling.

    It is a sad thing that worship has sunk to to level it has and I pray that God will again grant us mercy to worship Him in the beauty of holiness.