I suppose it’s natural for the Christian Church to go through fashions and cycles in what it believes and does, just like everything else. (This is what the Tao Te Ching teaches us.) It’s just distressing when you’re having to live through a particularly unattractive and heterodox phase, which may also be unhelpful and downright dangerous.
The other day I posted a bit of a rant on Facebook about some of the modern ‘worship songs’ that are typical of the current cycle. They are so relentlessly Christo-centric — this is the essential characteristic of what I’m describing — that I wanted to stand up and shout “Jesus is NOT. GOD. ! He is the incarnate Second Person of the Holy and Blessed Trinity (ever heard of it?)!”
Of course this was a bit of an exaggerated reaction, as some of the comments pointed out. But when you’re protesting about bad theology, you probably have to use somewhat intemperate terms. (cf. some of Martin Luther’s descriptions of the Pope.)
Of course I believe Filius est Deus, as it teaches in the popular medieval Trinity diagram. But of Jesus I would prefer to say he is the Son of God, or the Son of the Father. (Or even, as he preferred, the Son of Man, which some of my scholar-friends would like to explain as the Human One.) The problem with many of today’s worship songs is, you could almost believe Jesus alone was God, there was no Father in sight, and the Spirit was, of course, the Spirit of Jesus only. Now, the reason I’m a Christian at all is that I love Jesus — he captivated me and won my heart when I first seriously began to read the Gospels. But, though I may sometimes pray to Jesus, when I fall down to worship, I mean to worship God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This has been orthodox Christian practice for ever.
It turns out that many of the songs I find difficult come from the same source: they are copyright Hillsong. If you look at the Wikipedia article on Hillsong Church, where they originate, you may well wonder why so many of the mainstream churches would want to use them as much as they do? It turns out they are a Pentecostal Evangelical church with some very reactionary attitudes.
An example from last Sunday is the popular Your grace is enough, which has the chorus
Lifted on high from death to life
Forever our God is glorified
Servant and King, rescued the world,
This is our God.
Sure, I want to say “If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.” But it’s much too much of an over-simplification to say of Jesus, “This is our God”. And I’m not sure Hillsong Church really looked at Jesus when they drew up their list of beliefs. I can more easily imagine Jesus looking at this list and shaking his head and saying, “Hey, that’s not what I meant at all!”
Lots of their songs also have a heavy emphasis on the Second Coming:
He shall return in robes of white,
The blazing Son shall pierce the night.
And I will rise among the saints,
My gaze transfixed1 on Jesus’ face
At a time when so many world leaders and their followers seem to be intent on pursuing policies that could destroy the human race, all life on earth, the whole planet, it’s particularly unhealthy and unhelpful (and frightening!) for Christians to be promoting an end-of-the-world mentality — even hope, God help us. It just encourages the crazies who seem to think that by destroying the earth, they could precipitate the longed-for Parousia. It would be much better to have a generation-or-more moratorium on thinking about the Second Coming at all. Yes, don’t expunge it from the Creeds, but don’t preach about it or give anyone the impression we’re expecting it imminently2.
The Bishop of Oxford has just written a hymn to accompany his diocesan focus on the Beatitudes. I applaud his creativity, which is way beyond what I could do, and also that his hymn is way more literate than the Hillsong lyrics I’ve quoted. But I note, as well, that it’s a hymn to Jesus. No harm in that per se: there are lots of great hymns about Jesus. But the words suggest that the kingdom, the earth, the church, the Spirit, are all Christ’s; the Father doesn’t get a look in (except by implication that the Son of God must be Son of somebody.) And in the light of the present climate of Christolatry, it would be good for some of our best hymn-writers to be working on correctives, and good if all the hymns we sang were more about God the Trinity.
When I mentioned this to Alison she said, “Yes, but it is about the Beatitudes, and the theme is about us becoming more Christ-like.” But in fact the Sermon on the Mount has a different emphasis from encouraging Jesus’ followers to be more like Jesus (desirable, and uncommon, though that would be.) A couple of years ago I made a detailed study of the Sermon on the Mount, while I was in the process of learning it by heart in order to tell it at the Scholars’ Seminar of the Network of Biblical Storytellers. And I’m clear that the major theme of the Sermon on the Mount — you could say the major theme of Jesus’ teaching altogether — is: You have a Father in heaven – God. Live, then, as God’s children.”
That’s much more of a Jesus Agenda than modern worship songs are promoting, for all their claimed devotion to Jesus.