Monday, May 23, 2005

Jesus, I am so in love with You

There are several good posts at Mere Comments regarding the phenomenon of how we tend to so focus our worship towards Jesus, that we effectively ignore the first and third persons of the Trinity. S. M. Hutchens writes, The Problem with Loving Jesus and More on Loving Jesus, and Russell Moore writes, Where Everybody is Somebody, and Jesus Ignored. What is it about our culture, here in America, that motivates us to emphasize a personal relationship with this Jesus who loves us? Do we tend to overemphasize this aspect and, as a result, the person of Jesus in our worship? Consider the worship song Let My Words Be Few, from which partial lyrics were used as the title for this post.
You are God in heaven And here am I on earth So I'll let my words be few Jesus, I am so in love with You The simplest of all love songs I want to bring to You So I'll let my words be few Jesus, I am so in love with You
Is this a pattern that is modeled in scripture? What are we to make of, say, Psalm 100?
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. - (ESV)
Or how about The Lord's Prayer? Or the doxology? Do we, in our eagerness to experience the closeness that a personal relationship entails, lose sight of proper Biblical Theology in the process? Why, indeed, do we worship God? Stop and listen to the lyrics of most of the worship songs sung at a typical evangelical church. Do the songs primarily echo the fact that God is God, and He is owed worship simply because of who He is (remember the Greatest Commandment)? Or do they more often than not exude experiential fluff, straining for an intimate relationship, in the hopes of satisfying a deep longing? There's a version of Let My Words Be Few that plays on the local Christian Radio station in which the female singer passionately sings,
And I'll stand [heavy breath] in Awe [heavy breath] of You [heavy breath]
Theological heavy breathing, I suppose. Who is the God we sing to in our worship services? For that matter, who is the God we hear preached about? Is it God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Or is it a gentle Jesus caricature that we're supposed to be so in love with? As a kid, I remember hearing evangelicals deride Catholics for supposedly leaving Jesus on the cross on the icons in their churches. Have we evangelicals, through our misplaced zeal, confined the Father and the Holy Spirit to a back row in the church, only allowing the Spirit freedom to move about when we desire a life-changing experience? Hutchens, in More on Loving Jesus, states,
This has brought me to reflection on how God is worshipped in churches that do not deny the Trinity, but are obviously most comfortable directing their worship toward the Son, and the question of how true this worship is. (We might also bring in at this point the churches that place a great deal of emphasis on the Holy Spirit.) I am not going to make any judgments on individual cases here, but think an admonition is in order. When we speak of God, we mean the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Father being the Source and Origin of the eternally begotten Son and the eternally proceeding Spirit. It is the Father toward whom our worship is to be pre-eminently directed, in and through the Son and the Spirit, with whom he is worshipped and glorified. To the degree this or similar formulations give difficulty or sound offputting, I suggest it is to that degree our worship and theology need to undergo examination and reorientation. In this mind also (I believe) lies the antidote to a great many of the modern heresies with which Dr. Moore is so rightly concerned. I do not wish to by any means slight the fact that we only know the Father, can only come to him, can only worship him, through the Son, and in the power of the Spirit. What I am speaking of here is the difference between the means and the end in which the means is contained. Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father, but it is the Father to whom he is bringing us, and toward whom all true worship, that is, worship by and in the Son and the Spirit, is directed.
Amen.

11 comments:

John T. said...

Admittedly, I find the romantic overtones of that song a little distasteful. But are you really saying that we ought to emphasize worshipping God and "proper Biblical Theology" over a personal relationship with Him? Jesus didn't say that the greatest commandment is "to worship" but "to love" the Lord.

For me, worship springs out of love for Him, and that love comes from having a personal relationship with Him.

You do make a good point here:

"Have we evangelicals, through our misplaced zeal, confined the Father and the Holy Spirit to a back row in the church, only allowing the Spirit freedom to move about when we desire a life-changing experience?"

Having a personal relationship with "God" means God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I can't make a distinction between "having a personal relationship" and living by the Spirit (Gal 5:16). To me, they're the same. If I'm led by the Spirit, won't He see fit to lead me into worship and make sure my "Biblical Theology" is proper?

Everything the the New Testament writers urge us to do springs out of love, not worship or knowledge (i.e "Biblical Theology"). Paul wrote that "Christ's love compels us." John wrote that we love others because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Paul prayed that the Ephesian church would grasp "how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ." How can I experience that love without a personal relationship with Christ? What about "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col 1:27) and every other verse that speaks of Christ in us, and we in Him? You can't get much more "personal" than that.

Rusty said...

Hi John,

You make some very good points.

I'm hoping to study more about "worship" this summer (self-study). The issues I have with our version of "personal relationship" is that it over-emphasizes Jesus. This is not so very surprising, since he is the incarnate one and, unfortunately, since we seem to advertise our message as though one gets something from Jesus by entering into a personal relationship with him (e.g., "Jesus can calm the storms of your life!", etc.). Read the entire book of Acts, which outlines how Christianity moved from the Resurrection to the world, and you won't find one message tied to the fact that God (or Jesus) "loves" us. The messages spoken always entail the fact that we are sinners and that God has provided redemption for those who repent. If the "personal relationship" aspect were as important as we seem to think (in 2005), then why is it virtually ignored in the book of Acts?

The more I look into the aspect of "worship," the more I see that it is an act based on our understanding of who God is and what He is owed. While it is certainly understandable that we may feel like worshipping Him for what He's done, the Biblical model is that He is simply owed worship for who He is.

Bonnie said...

Rusty,

There certainly is an over-emphasis on Jesus, or rather, on having a “love affair” with Jesus as opposed to a covenant relationship with God in and through Jesus. And I would say that worship is, in a sense, owed to God -- but not in an obligatory sense. If God’s steadfast love and complete faithfulness (as spoken of in Psalm 100) are truly received, then there is no other response but to worship. We are compelled to worship. (At least, that’s my basic understanding of it -- as a member of worship planning committees, I’ve given a bit of thought to the subject beyond a personal application, though I’m certainly no expert!)

John, I hesitate to speak for Rusty, but I think he means that the love with which God loves us and we love Him is really not an emotional thing at all, and goes beyond even the experiential. It may involve our emotions (any number of them, in fact), but true worship is that which is done in spirit and in truth. It is love, but a love that is completely un-self-conscious. (Actually, I think any true love is un-self-conscious.) The emotions are secondary.

Experience is certainly part of it, but our worship shouldn’t be based on our experience of God. We worship Him for Who He is and what He’s done throughout all time.

This is also why the Body of Christ is so important. In our present age, we tend to emphasize individuality; we tend to think of our personal relationship with God as central to our self. But I think it’s got a lot more to do with community – our covenant relationship to each other – and with corporate worship than we realize or practice.

John T. said...

Rusty,

Thanks for your kind reply. I don't agree that the "method" used in Acts is necessarily the "model" we need to follow. First off, it's primarily Paul's preaching we read about, and his emphasis on sin and redemption may have more to do with his listeners and the cultural context in which the message was delivered than it being the "right" way to deliver the message. Virtually every ancient civilization had the concept that Man was somehow "not right" with God or the gods, and that some type of sacrifice was required. There is even a now-extinct Indian tribe that lived here in California that would sacrifice an "unblemished" animal to their gods. Coincidence? I think not.

Paul even said he became all things to all people, in order that he might save a few. For example, in Acts 17:16, he delivered a very different message to the Athenians. He makes no mention of sin or redemption, yet some people became followers. In Athens, Paul spoke to the people from a viewpoint they understood.

In our secular culture, the concept of being wrong with God is virtually non-existent. So the message "you are a sinner and Jesus provides redemption" does not resonate as it did with people in ancient cultures.

My personal experience was that many Christians were always telling me that Jesus would save me from my sins, and that I was going to hell otherwise. The problem was, I had heard that message sooo many times that it meant nothing. In fact, when I compared myself to others, I certainly didn't see myself as a sinner. When God revealed Himself to me, what I was shown was His tremendous love for me, which hit a nerve, because I saw myself as worthless and unlovable. It was a few months later that the Holy Spirit began to show me how truly awful some of the things I had done were, and led me to confess and repent of them.

What people don't realize is that the concept of sin is closely associated with shame. (Jesus was crucified naked. What's more shaming than that?) Shame is essentially rejection, unworthiness and being unloved.

Guilt is about what you've done, but shame is about what you are. We are not lost because of what we've done. We're lost because of who we are -- sinners. Jesus' death gave us a new nature and new identity, that of saint. That's the basis of redemption. So, no, I don't see emphasizing "God's love" for us being any different than what Paul preached.

Rusty said...

John & Bonnie,

Thanks for your comments.

By obligation to worship God, I mean what J. Budziszewski wrote in What We Can't Not Know:

###
The point of the First Commandment is that the one true God, and only the one true God, is to be worshipped as God. To hold that this biblical injunction belongs equally to the natural law is to hold that although not everyone believes the Bible as the word of God, everyone does know that there is one true God and that he owes Him sole worship...

The Commandment presupposes more than just the knowledge that God is real. It presupposes that we also understand that benefit incurs obligation, supreme benefit incurs supreme obligation, and we are indebted to God for benefits beyond all others. This in turn presupposes that we know the principle, "Give to each what is due to him," what we owe God being loyalty, worship, and obedience. To deny Him is the deepest form of treason - much more serious than the ordinary sort. [emphasis in original]
###

If this approach is correct (and Biblical), then one can't help but ask, "Would we still be obliged to worship God, even if He hadn't provided a means of redemption for us?" In other words, do we worship God because He's nice (i.e., the supreme personal relationship?) or because He's God? Perhaps most Christians, when facing that question, would answer that it is for both reasons... but my main complaints stem from the observations I've made in which it appears that most American Christians view worshipping God as a purely emotional act based primarily on the experience. Indeed, the entire tenet of our contemporary worship songs embrace how we feel and the concept of entering into a personal relationship with Jesus (not with God) speaks volumes on our cultural bias towards narcissim. While the pattern demonstrated in Acts is not necessarily our Biblical model, it does enlighten us as to how the Christian message was promulgated. The message was "you are sinners," and then "God has provided a means of redemption." Now we seem to hear, "Feeling down and out?," and then "Enter into a personal relationship with Jesus and you'll be comforted." How does this square with the thief on the cross who acknowledged that he was a sinner before God? Or the prostitute who cleansed Jesus' feet?

That a 21st century American may not understand that he is a sinner does not diminish the truth of the fact that he is a sinner. I would rather that we first explain to this person, as Francis Schaeffer advocated, why he is a sinner, and then give him the Gospel message. And I certainly would avoid tickling his emotions with what sometimes amounts to no more than a sales pitch (i.e., "Jesus wants to change your life and give you peace! Just pray the sinner's prayer and, you're in!"). Of course, I exaggerate my example, but I think you get the idea of where I'm coming from.

Lastly, in comparison to how we tend to view coming to Jesus in a "sinner's prayer" personal relationship sort of way, consider how C.S. Lewis described his transformation into a Theist (not yet quite a Christian):

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In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?
###

Also, check out this post at Mere Comments.

John T. said...

Rusty,

I submit that you are overlooking the bigger picture of redemption, which is essentially an exchange (2 Cor 5:21). So when you say it's somehow incorrect to say to someone who's "down and out" that Christ will bring you peace, you fail to acknowledge that the issue is not their feeling of being "down and out, but of perhaps shame, unworthiness, frustrated goals (i.e., self will), which is all sin. So, yes, part of redemption is Christ exchanging his peace for our lack of it, because our lack of it is rooted in sin.

I believe that God meets us where we're at. If that's "down and out," then I believe we must be led by the Spirit to know the right thing to say, rather than follow a pattern from the book of Acts. Saying that "Jesus will give you peace" is not violating Scripture, because you can point to many passages that tell you this. To me, the method: i.e. "Jesus will give you peace" vs. "You're a sinner in need of redemption" is merely the road to enable you to bring the person into a saving relationship with Jesus.

Yes, people need to come to the fullness of the Gospel message. But do we not trust the Holy Spirit to guide them "into all truth"? (Jn 16:13) By following a pattern, even one from Scripture, you set it up to become a principle. As soon as we begin following principles, we run the risk of it becoming a "law."

Perhaps we are coming from different pre-suppositions. Some people make the assertion that the Bible is "The Instruction Book of Life," that by knowing Scripture, you will "be equipped for every circumstance of life... equipped for every good work... totally prepared to handle every situation in a way that honors God..." (That's a direct quote from a book I have). Of course, I know that the Scriptural basis for that is 2 Tim 3:16-17. But how does that square with 2 Cor 4:13, being "given over to death" so that his life may be revealed in our mortal bodies, or "apart from me you can do nothing"?

My point (and I do have one) is that the Bible's primary purpose is to point us to Jesus. Yes, it's also meant to teach and instruct us, but we subjugate its primary purpose and make it a book of rules to be followed. So in a sense, this philosophy does the same thing you say we do wrong in presenting Jesus as one who'll bring us peace when we're down and out. "You're life's messed up? Well, you need to live the way the Bible tells us to live and you won't be." The problem with that is it actually eliminates our need for God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. "Need to know how to present the Gospel to someone? Well, just look at how they did it in Acts." Yet, we're looking at a patern that was presented to a culture 2000 years ago that may or may not bear any resemblance to today's culture. Does that make sense?

Bonnie - I do want to adress your comments on emotions in our relationship with God, but I've gone on a bit too much already. I'll get to that at a later time.

BYW, I appreciate the charitable way you've both responded. Too often, I've seen Christians blast one another over differences of opinion. For me, "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" is exactly what these types of discussions do for me, regardless of whether we end up agreeing or not.

ilona said...

I'm going to put in my simplistic two cents. In many of the songs identified there is an aspect of the relationship to God.

So much that is spiritual gets hijacked by the flesh whenever that's possible, but I don't think that negates the original spiritual integrity of worship.

I am not sure you can over emphasive Jesus, if it is really Jesus that is emphasized. Simply because one cannot truly know God apart from the Son and the Son's ministry( as you pointed out). To truly emphasize any aspect of the Godhead we will necessarily be turned towards that which we lack. The Lord explained that that is how the Godhead interacts.

I do think we get "into the flesh", that is, take over things in an effort to insert self. But the one antidote for that is to more sincerely seek God, and many of the songs express that.
====
To bypass religion butting against religion, there must be a personal encounter of some sort with God. For that reason I do not think that it is wrong to serve the message that God can be known personally.
Meeting with God has a powerful way of undoing all the well-made arguments of man.

That is what saved me, it was the catalyst and means of God's Grace in my own life. So I suppose I am biased on that subject.

Bonnie said...

Great discussion. It is so interesting to see the different perspectives we come from.

Rusty, you’re right about the first commandment being, well, a commandment, and therefore obligatory. Let me clarify that what I meant by “obligatory” was “obligatory outside of a context of love.” Consider what Jesus calls the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) That wouldn’t be justified unless God is worthy, and loves us with at least as great a love as we could possibly love him back.

If God didn’t love us, he wouldn’t be a jealous God. If He wasn’t worthy of our worship over and above all else, he wouldn’t be a jealous God.

He is God by nature of His attributes. All of them.

Natural Law is not exclusive of love; I would say that love actually encompasses natural law and not the other way around. If creation was an act of love, then love is the basis of everything created as well as everything spiritual. There ought to be no dichotomy, no dualistic understanding. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:1-3) This is our origin.

For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17)

Owing to God (or to anyone) need not connote something oppressive or lacking in dignity. Our indebtedness to God is a grateful one! What is due God is not a reverence in which we, in the final result, become lowly scum, but one in which we are redeemed. Abba, Father! Loyalty is an act of love. Obedience to God is a willingness to follow what we know to be a benevolent way; i.e., it’s an act of love. Worship is an act of love.

Stephanie said...

First of all, you need to stop being so critical and actually think about what the song is saying. We are to indeed LOVE Jesus and if anyone is worthy of love I am 100% sure it is Jesus Christ our lord and savior who went to the cross out of LOVE for us! Reevaluate what the song is saying. Its not taking about a so called "love affair", its talking about a relationship where you are in love with Jesus. For that matter what about "Friend of God" by Isreal Houghton and the New Breed? Awesome song but I'm sure you wouldn't think so. I think you are being to critical of a song!!!! Its a song somebody felt in their heart and I personally love the song because I am in love with Jesus and when you do have a personal relationship with Jesus you will know what it means to be "in love" with him.

Anonymous said...

Check out John 21:15-19 Where Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?"

Anonymous said...

I think that any form of exalting Jesus name is glorifying God. I feel like the composer was not implying at all a romantic relationship with Jesus only an intimate one. I say all the time I am so in love with my grandson and that in no way is romantic. I love this song and the way it makes me feel when I sing it. God Bless you all. Love in Christ Jesus, Leesa