It’s all about you, Jesus

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.)

Diagram of the Trinity

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.


  1. You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
  2. Martin Luther again had the right attitude: “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.”

Children’s worship songs (2)

And then there’s that Hillsong Kids worship song I mentioned in my last post. Alison came home complaining about having the words and tune stuck in her head, so like any loving husband, instead of saying “Don’t expletive well give it to me, then!” I googled it.

These, it turns out, are the lyrics:

He’s the one who makes the sun shine
He’s the one who puts the moon in the sky
He’s the one who hung the stars
One by one

He’s the one who makes the birds sing
He’s the one who makes your dreams so high
He’s the one who makes me smile
Day by day

Jesus you’re my superhero
You’re my star, my best friend
Jesus you’re my superhero
You’re my star, my best friend

Better than Spiderman Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
Better than Superman Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
Better than Batman Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
Better than anyone Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Jesus you’re my superhero
You’re my star, my best friend
Jesus you’re my superhero
You’re my star, my best friend

Better than Yu Gi Yo Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
Better than Barbie Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
Better than Action Man Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
Better than anyone Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

You can listen to it here on YouTube, if you dare: Jesus you’re my superhero.

Now, I don’t have a problem (at least, not more than any other grumpy old man) with the cultural effect this may be having on our grandchildren’s generation… though it does seem inferior in quality to a lot of what’s available on CBeebies. What I wonder about, is the spiritual effect it may be having. Are we really wanting our children to get the idea that Christianity is a Christo-Unitarian faith, without Father or Holy Spirit, in which Jesus alone is the Creator God? And as if giving them a false idea of what the faith is, isn’t bad enough — what effect will it have on the likelihood of them believing at all? Will they grow up thinking, That Jesus is so cool, I’m really going to be a Christian? Or will they more likely pretty soon reach the conclusion, That was so patronising and juvenile, there’s no way that as a teenager, still less an adult, I’m going to carry on believing what those people were trying to sell us?

One of the curious things is, that while Christian children’s evangelism, or teaching, or holiday childcare (whatever this counts as) is dumbing down the message, many of the actual superhero comics and films are tackling really deep, important themes: good and evil, sin and guilt, retribution or redemption, how people or the world can be ‘saved’, and such. It’s as if, when popular contemporary Christianity is trying to turn itself into some emotional-sensual form of entertainment, popular entertainment is stepping up to fill the gap by exploring spiritual issues of eternal importance.

Maybe I’ll stop going to church, and start watching X-men, Spider-Man and Batman instead.

Children’s worship songs (1)

I recently came across a song from Hillsong Kids, which was being sung at a local Christian holiday club for children. I was concerned enough about what it might be doing to the spiritual development of the children (more about this in the next post) to reflect on one of the first hymns I remember from primary school, Percy Dearmer’s Jesus, good above all other. My love for this, which persists to this day, is a product of both the simple yet deep words, and the simple, ancient tune to which it’s sung, Quem Pastores.

Jesus, good above all other,
Gentle child of gentle mother,
In a stable born our brother,
Give us grace to persevere.

Jesus, cradled in a manger,
For us facing every danger,
Living as a homeless stranger,
Make we Thee our King most dear.

Jesus, for Thy people dying,
Risen Master, death defying,
Lord in Heav’n, Thy grace supplying,
Keep us by Thine altar near.

Jesus, who our sorrows bearest,
All our thoughts and hopes Thou sharest,
Thou to man the truth declarest;
Help us all Thy truth to hear.

Lord, in all our doings guide us;
Pride and hate shall ne’er divide us;
We’ll go on with Thee beside us,
And with joy we’ll persevere!

I notice a number of things as I reflect on this. First, in spite of my recent rants about the almost absolute Jesus-centredness of much contemporary Christian worship – amounting almost to a Christo-Unitarianism – Dearmer’s hymn is also addressed to Jesus. But this is a very incarnate Jesus: the emphasis is on his stable birth, his refugee status, his death and resurrection, his human suffering as he bears the sorrows of the world. His human example, and his disciples’ imperative to learn from it. There’s none of the Cosmic Christ who seems almost to make the Father and the Spirit redundant, that we see in some current songs.

Secondly, although the language is simple, it doesn’t offer any hostages to modern usage among primary school children. They tend to be even less familiar with ‘thee’ and ‘thine’ than we were in the 1950s, to their loss. There are quite a few ‘poetic’ changes to normal word order, which would keep a child on their toes. And what about that strange word persevere? Who uses that?

I conducted a little experiment with two of my granddaughters. First I asked Tilly (almost 5 and about to start school), “Do you know what ‘persevere’ means?” She didn’t. Then I asked Libby (aged 7, just finished infants), and she gave me a pretty good definition: “It means trying and trying until you do it.” Apparently Perseverance is one of the school values they’ve learned. So it’s a word that children need to learn (like all the rest) but well within primary school capabilities.

Thirdly, although it’s obviously a hymn written with younger Christians in mind, there’s enough substance, or spiritual meat, there, to nourish a person into late adulthood, as it has me.

All of that seems like a pretty good recommendation for a children’s worship song, I think.