Friday, April 07, 2006

Soothing Ourselves to Death - Colson

Charles Colson's has an article: Soothing Ourselves to Death - Should we give people what they want or what they need? in the most recent issue of Christianity Today.

I don't often write letters to the editors, but I think I might over this article. He says some things that I think show very much some of the differences between approaches to "church life". And, which I have appreciated much that Colson has written over the years, he doesn't seem to understand this.
When church music directors lead congregations in singing contemporary Christian music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We'd been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called "Draw Me Close to You," which has zero theological content and could just as easily be sung in any nightclub. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed. "Let's sing that again, shall we?" he asked. "No!" I shouted, loudly enough to send heads all around me spinning while my wife, Patty, cringed.

"zero theological content" - those are fighting words.
Here are the lyrics of the song in question:
Draw me close to you, never let me go.
I lay it all down again, to hear you say that I'm your friend.
You are my desire, no one else will do.
No one else can take your place, to feel the warmth of your embrace.
Help me find the way, bring me back to you.
You're all I want. You're all I've ever needed.
You're all I want. Help me know you are near.
Copyright 1994 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing.

If that is "zero theological content" then Colson doesn't understand theology. The song expresses a longing for God’s nearness and confirms that “there is nothing on earth I desire besides you.” (Ps. 73:25) The music also allows appropriate time for reflection. I'm not sure it is the best song for congregational worship - as it is an intensely personal song.

I have heard people complain about this song because nothing in the song balances “to feel the warmth of your embrace” but
since when does every song have to convey everything
since when does every worship service have to contain all aspects of worship.

Others have alluded to the potentially sensual overtones of the words and music. Read the Song of Songs - Bernard of Clairvaux preached over 80 sermons on God's love from the Song of Songs.

Colson goes on:
I admit I prefer traditional hymns, but even so, I'm convinced that much of the music being written for the church today reflects an unfortunate trend—slipping across the line from worship to entertainment. Evangelicals are in danger of amusing ourselves to death, to borrow the title of the classic Neil Postman book.

This trend is evident not just in theater-like churches where musicians—with their guitars and bongo drums—often perform at ear-splitting levels. It's also true of Christian radio, historically an important source of serious preaching and teaching. Several stations recently—many acting on the advice of a leading consulting firm—have dropped serious programming in favor of all-music formats. For example, a major station in Baltimore has dropped four talk shows in order to add music. Family Life Radio, a first-class broadcaster, has adopted a new program split of 88 percent music "to appeal to the 35- to 50-year-old demographic." A respected broadcaster recently dropped Focus on the Family on the grounds that it had become too involved in "moral issues." Does anyone really believe the Bible is indifferent to moral questions—or that modern Christians should be?

One station cancelled my four-minute BreakPoint commentary saying that four minutes is the equivalent of one song. Horrors! Besides, the station manager allowed, BreakPoint is too serious and not contemporary enough. When another major station, this one in Cincinnati, replaced BreakPoint with music, I called the station manager, arguing that believers need to think Christianly about major worldview issues. The young woman on the other end of the phone admonished me: "But we don't want to do anything that will upset our listeners." Younger women, she said, want "something to help them cope with life."

This view was confirmed by a Christian homemaker interviewed for a tv special on evangelicalism. She is so busy, she explained, taking care of the kids, family activities, Bible study, cooking, etc., that she doesn't even read the newspaper or care what is happening in the world around her. Church for her is getting her spirits lifted.

Is this Colson's real concern - that is broadcasts are getting cancelled? Christian radio is sometimes boringly uniform - some of it makes great elevator music; some of it reduces worship music to background music.
The decision by influential Christian broadcasters and music companies to avoid moral controversies could result in the church withdrawing from the culture as it tragically did a century ago. What is the job of Christian radio, after all? To give people what they want, or—as with any ministry—to give them what they need? Music is important in the life of the church and can inspire us to focus on Christ. But it cannot take the place of solid teaching.

The great strength of radio, as with books, has been to present in-depth teaching and moral discussion that engages Christians cognitively. This is something Americans find increasingly difficult. According to a recent study, the average college graduate's proficient literacy in English has declined from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent today. The study defines proficient literacy as the ability to read lengthy, complex texts and draw complicated inferences. Think about it: One out of three college graduates cannot read a book or absorb a serious sermon.

But the gospel above all else is revealed propositional truth—truth that speaks to all of life. Yes, the gospel is simple enough for a child to understand. Yet if you want to study doctrine and worldview, you need the capacity to think. You need the capacity to engage ideas cognitively.

Doctrine and biblical teaching are not—as some "emerging church" advocates believe—dry, dusty, abstract notions. This truth has to be carried into the heart and applied. But there is no escaping that it is truth that must be learned.

Sure, skits and catchy music are good tools for drawing people in, and good Christian music on the radio can inspire us. But these things aren't an end in and of themselves; they should engage us in learning and applying truth.

When Postman published his book two decades ago, he feared television would impair our capacity to think. He was right. Can we learn from this—or are we destined to follow suit, the church blissfully amusing itself into irrelevance?

"the gospel above all else is revealed propositional truth—truth that speaks to all of life" - No it is NOT!!!
The gospel is not about propositional truth. It is about the truth of the trinitarian God who loves with such an incerdible love that he "made his dwelling among us" [John 1:14]; that we can "know him" [Ephesians 1:17]; that we can be alive in him; and I can on & on to describe this incredible relationship. To reduce this to "propositional statements" is one of the tragic downfalls of the modernity and which post-modernity or post-post-modernity has pointed out. Colson, in this article, clearly minimizes and writes off, without understanding what is happening in the emerging church conversation. Is the emerging church perfect - no; are there growth pains - yes; is it part of what God is doing on earth in this generation - yes.


michael lewis said...

Obviously you've never been to church in Lethbridge.

Here are two of the zero theology content churches:

the Gate

Soul Survivor Canada

These two alone have turned me off of church completely. They lack God. And draw me close to you is common tripe at their services.

I'm sorry, but I've got to agree with the catalyst which set Colson off. Church sucks; stop dragging God down with it.

The Righteousness of God said...

You know which buttons to push. At best this is a 'seeker song' (someone looking to get right with God). It is hardly a worship song for/of someone who is confident in their identity of who they are in Christ and where they truly are in the Kingdom of God.

Draw me close to you,(If a believer, He cannot be drawn any closer...He is your Life (col. 3.3-4, Gal. 2.20)

never let me go. (He said He never leave or forsake us -read you Bible)

I lay it all down again, (pal you were crucified with Christ and now living in your true spiritual identity which is alive in Christ)

to hear you say that I'm your friend.(Someone hasn't appropriated his identity as a son/daughter of God, in Christ)

You are my desire, no one else will do. (Well who can argue with - You are my life sounds more theo correct - directionally okay)

No one else can take your place, to feel the warmth of your embrace.

Help me find the way, bring me back to you. (ahhhh, who moved? God didn't)

You're all I want. You're all I've ever needed.

You're all I want. Help me know you are near (A Christian who may want to check their pulse or check out!!!).

There are so many sad so called worship very favorite vomit rides is "Tell me the stories of Jesus, I love to hear...things I would ask Him to tell me IF HE WERE HERE" IF HE WERE HERE...does he sneak out for some pizza and beer every once and a while...does He take a little nap...NO HE IS OUR LIFE!

Worship songs, choruses, hymns cease to be worship songs when believers fail to know who they are in Christ! Can I get an Amen from the Choir or have they gone for wings and beer!

I use to lead worship music on prayer night. I created a duotang of almost 100 songs. I went through it and took out those that contradicted scripture - who we are in Christ, who God is.

have maybe 25-30 songs of worship left. It saddened me. Some of the music, licks, are great but the words are tripe and stupid. No self respecting God would put up with this kind of carnal blabbering verbiage. He gave us a brain...He gave us His life...Engage. Question the so called worship that comes out of your mouth on Sundays or at prayer meetings.

You might also want to check out how you pray. It should be thanksgiving. It should be worship. It ought not to huge petitions to change your circumstances, even if it is greater than a hangnail. Paul told us to rejoice - thank God where ever He has us.

Kevin Flatt said...

Taking the Merriam Webster definition of proposition as "an expression in language or signs of something that can be believed, doubted, or denied or is either true or false", it is interesting to note that "The gospel is not propositional truth", "God loves us", "God made his dwelling among us", "We can know God," etc., are all propositions.

Without endorsing the rest of his points, I think Colson is right to call the gospel "revealed propositional truth" if he means it in this sense. After all, the gospel is "good news" and news conveys truth. Of course, these truths describe and lead us to a Person (or Persons!) who loves us. And because he loves us he has revealed certain truths to us: truths about himself and us.

I'm not sure what is so upsetting about calling the gospel propositional truth; perhaps you are using a different definition of "propositional" with different connotations?

pastor mike said...

Good question Kevin
Colson says: "But the gospel above all else is revealed propositional truth—truth that speaks to all of life."
A couple of comments:
1/ It's not just the word propositional - which, in the way it has often been used theologically, seems to be more focused on truth as a set of propositions than Truth as the person of Jesus.
2/ It's the words above all else that worry me. Yes, you are right in pointing out the propositional statements, but as the old saw goes - God sent his Son, not just a book. Now I am hoping that Colson's understanding of propositional truth is broad enough to include the historical, narrative, time-space event of Jesus Christ, the express image (eikon) of God who came, died and rose again.

The Dude said...


I had the same problem with the article at the end. Whatever Colson meant by 'propositional', it seems to me that he is missing an important part of the whole thing, namely story. It's not just that A,B,C are true, but the relationship of A,B,C and how those things play out through history(narrative). I appreciate your comments here...

The Dude said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scott said...

This article was a breakpoint back a couple months ago. I'm not a regular listener but caught it when someone else brought it to my attention.

I more less like Chuck and find he often has some good things to say. In this case I think he let his emotions get the best of him and take things a little to far.

That being said he does raise some good points. I personally don't think the song "Draw me Close" is one of the stronger worship selections. By the same arguements and logic you're using Mike, you could justify a lot of secular love songs to be sung at church. That being said I don't think the song is necessarily wrong, but it definitely could be better.

He also does a good job of pointing out the danger of mistankening entertainment for worship. I think this is very valid and something we need to be aware of.

I guess I'm saying although the article isn't gospel, I do think there's some good things to be gleaned from it.

I must admit I'm a bit surprised that a guy who could find enough good in the sacreligious McPassion flick can't find enough good is this article to justify it. (That's an attempt at a dig)....