Plumbing the Depths of “Oceans”

95 million page views on YouTube.  Last time I looked, I think it was only 92 million.  Regardless, it is quite clear that the Hillsong United song “Oceans” is one of the most popular contemporary praise songs ever written.  If you’re the leader of a praise band, and you think that worship should look and feel like a rock concert, you definitely should introduce “Oceans”.  It’s hard to argue with 95 million page views.  96 million now?

ROCK BALLAD OR CONGREGATIONAL STANDARD?

However, for those of us who are committed to the New-Testament pattern for song worship, who look to Colossians 3:16 rather than to rock concerts for spiritual guidance, the question remains unanswered.  Just because a song works when played by a praise band for a crowd of swaying evangelicals does not mean that it will work in an a-cappella congregation.  To argue otherwise is to insist that Michael Jordan ought to be as good at baseball as he is at basketball.  Two different sports have different demands, and so do two different modes of worship.

In particular, there are two characteristics of “Oceans” that we ought to consider before we import it into our worship services.  The first is content.  After all, content requirements for a rock ballad and a Colossians 3:16 hymn are very different.  Rock music doesn’t have to make sense to be successful.  It just has to generate feels.  Hymns, on the other hand, have to teach and admonish.  A good hymn is a sermon in song. Continue reading

Wash, and Be Clean

To me, some of the most intriguing passages in the gospels are when Jesus marvels at somebody.  Here He is, the One who searches the hearts, God made flesh, astounded by some facet of human behavior.  People can make the Almighty shake His head in amazement.  We are indeed marvelously perverse creatures!

In particular, this perversity manifests itself in our ability to simultaneously desire some blessing from God yet refuse to do what God asks in order to receive the blessing.  This doesn’t make a lick of sense, yet it’s been evident for thousands of years.  Continue reading

Limping Between Two Opinions

The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is one of the most famous in the book of 1 Kings.  Even though the direction of the book is generally downward, 1 Kings 18 contains a moment of spiritual triumph.

However, even before the triumph takes place, there are still lessons for us to learn.  Particularly, in 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah says to the people, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if Baal, follow him.” Continue reading

The Young Prophet and the Old Prophet

One of the strangest stories in the entire Old Testament appears in 1 Kings 13.  In this story, God sends a young prophet to curse the idolatrous altar that Jeroboam has built at Bethel.  God has told him not to eat or drink until he returns to Judah.  On his way home, though, the young prophet encounters an old prophet who lies to him, claiming that an angel has told him that the young prophet is supposed to eat in the old prophet’s house.

The young prophet agrees to come with him, and in mid-meal, the old prophet prophesies that the young prophet will die because of his disobedience.  Indeed, on the way home, the young prophet is attacked and killed by a lion.  The old prophet, so far as we know, is never punished, even though his lie cost the life of another. Continue reading

Hymns and the Lindy Effect

A couple weeks back, I tackled Nassim Taleb’s latest book, Skin in the Game.  I’m not terribly sure that I’d want Taleb for a next-door neighbor (as a writer, at least, he tends toward the obnoxious and profane), but he does have some interesting ideas.

In particular, I was struck by one that he calls “The Lindy Effect”.  It’s named after a delicatessen in New York City where a lot of show-business types would gather to discuss their trade.  While there, they noticed a trend:  the longer a show ran, the longer it was likely to continue running.  A show that had been around for a week was likely to last only for another week, but one that had been going strong for five years most likely had another five years of lifespan.

Taleb generalizes from this to argue that in the realm of ideas, the longer an idea has been around, the longer it will continue to be around.  We can confidently expect that 2000 years from now (assuming the earth continues, of course), The Iliad will still be read and studied, but this year’s bestseller is unlikely to survive.  The best test of an idea’s value is how long it has endured already. Continue reading

Grace and Good Works

One of the great tensions in the Bible is the tension between faith and works.  If we’re not careful, it’s easy for us to overvalue one at the expense of the other.  If we put too much emphasis on faith, we might find ourselves believing that our actions don’t matter very much.  On the other hand, if we put too much emphasis on obedience, we might find ourselves believing that we are responsible for our own salvation rather than trusting in Jesus to save us.

The Bible, though, doesn’t really treat faith and works, obedience and grace, as opposites.  Instead, they’re complementary.  God’s grace motivates us to obey, and our faith stirs us up to good works.  We can’t properly glorify God without either, and we have to understand both.  This evening, then, let’s look together at a context from Titus that explores the connection between grace and good works. Continue reading

Solomon and God’s Dwelling Place

Most Christians know that the Holy Spirit indwells the believer.  However, there is considerable disagreement about what this means.  Does the Spirit indwell us in a personal, literal sense, or is there considerably more metaphor involved?

In our search for an answer to this question, 1 Kings 8 is one of the more useful texts in the Bible.  Even though in it, Solomon is concerned with what it means for God to dwell in His temple, New-Testament authors (particularly Paul) frequently borrow temple language to explore the dwelling of the Spirit in us. Continue reading

Wine and Women

These days, I consider myself pretty cynical when it comes to the outside world.  I think I have a pretty good idea what-all our society is up to.  However, a few weeks ago, Lauren sent me an article that made my jaw drop.  Apparently, one of the big trends among the soccer-mom set these days is drinking.  Alcohol consumption, especially wine, is way up for women who have kids at home.

This is a big change from the way things historically have been.  Back in the day, it was the men who did the drinking and the women who disapproved of it.  However, that’s no longer the case.  Women are rapidly catching up to men in drinking, binge drinking, and alcoholism.  I think this trend is all the more dangerous because of the innocuous way that it’s being presented, with ponytailed YouTubers joking about how their kids drive them to drink.  I have no idea how many people here drink at home, but I do know that it’s not a good idea for any of us.  Let’s consider, then, the unpleasant subject of wine and women. Continue reading

Psalm 136 and Repetition

A couple days ago, I posted about the hymn “Days of Elijah” and my complicated perspective on it.  Even though I didn’t introduce the topic myself, at one point, the conversation drifted to the bridge of “Days of Elijah”, which repeats the phrase “There’s no God like Jehovah,” about 20 times.  Lots of people don’t care for the repetition, said so, and provoked the usual online discussion/argument about repetition in hymns.  Continue reading

Are These the Days of Elijah?

I will admit to considerable ambivalence about the hymn “Days of Elijah”.  The tune is stirring, and it undeniably has lots of Biblical content that gives me a great deal to think about.  Nor, despite discussion to the contrary, do I think the hymn is premillennial.  (Note that, as always, only hymns that say something get criticized, while hymns that say nothing get a pass even though they teach nothing.  It’s hard to see the problems with what isn’t there.)  In short, there are many credits on the ledger.

On the debit side, though, I have to list the unfortunate couplet about David rebuilding the temple.  Yes, I’ve read the author’s defense.  No, I don’t buy it.  Instead, I think that one of the problems with writing a song in the church kitchen in half an hour is that you’re prone to make mistakes.  However, once people worldwide have started singing your mistake, it’s tough to admit that.

More than that, though, the content simply makes me uneasy.  The hymn brings in all sorts of Biblical concepts that fit together in a coherent picture, but I don’t think the picture is one that the author intended.  The music of the song is bouncy and upbeat, but the days that we’re singing about so happily are not.  Not at all. Continue reading