Friday, August 15, 2014

Musicians' Gambit, Part 2: Casting Crowns

From the July 2011 E-Block.
For this installment of the series on Christian musicians, I have purposely chosen the group Casting Crowns (CC) -- one I have been told by many listeners is perhaps the most theologically solid of the CMC groups out there. What remained to be seen is whether that was in any way significant, or if it meant simply something like, "Chuck got the highest grade in class...he got a D. Everyone else got an F." 

The good news: It doesn't mean that. CC does a fairly good job, as good as can be expected given the amount of time and the creative restrictions they have. Much of their orientation is set towards pricking the conscience of the church, as in this popular song: 

She is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction
She is trying
But the canyon's ever widening
In the depths of her cold heart
So she sets out on another misadventure just to find
She's another two years older
And she's three more steps behind

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see? 

Although I'm somewhat nonplussed by the effort to relate the Gospel to modern neuroses of loneliness, as is done here, it remains that this is a powerful and proper indictment of the irresponsibility of the ekklesia at large to act as salt and light. Even I relate to warnings against "lofty glances from lofty people" -- for apologists, in their own way, wear a "scarlet letter" in the eyes of many modern Christians. (it's not a sin, as what the song alludes to is, but it does make the "lofty glances" all the more ironic). 

The theme of meeting modern psychological needs is repeated here as well: 

The love of her life is drifting away
They're losing the fight for another day
The life that she's known is falling apart
A fatherless home, a child's broken heart
You're holding her hand, you're straining for words
You trying to make sense of it all
She's desperate for hope, darkness clouding her view
She's looking to you
Just love her like Jesus, carry her to Him
His yoke is easy, His burden is light
You don't need the answers to all of life's questions
Just know that He loves her and stay by her side
And love her like Jesus, love her like Jesus 

First century Christians, as agonistic peoples, would probably be astounded to learn that we had turned Jesus into a personal psychologist this way. Still and all, CC does get this much right, again: The salt and light is missing and we're controlling both the shaker and the switch. And although I wouldn't recommend using Jesus in such a cavalier way, our general mission of support does fall within the parameters of comfort and counsel, even for what would be termed a modern emotional problem. 

The call to action theme can be seen yet again here:

What if the armies of the Lord
Picked up and dusted off their swords
Vowed to set the captives free
And not let Satan have one more?
What if the church, for Heaven's sake
Finally stepped up to the plate
Took a stand upon God's promise
And stormed Hell's rusted gates?
And what would happen if we prayed
For those raised up to lead the way?
Then maybe kids in school could pray
And unborn children see light of day
What if the life that we pursue
Came from a hunger for the truth?
What if the family turned to Jesus
Stopped asking Oprah what to do?

Ouch. Had to love that last line! I could nitpick about the dispensational tinge, of course, but other than that, these are magnificent statements of the need for us to recognize valid and proper authority -- and take action on it. The rest of the song I find a little questionable in terms of how it envisions prayer:

He said that He would hear
His promise has been made
He'd answer loud and clear, yeah
If only we would pray

But, it's not made clear what exactly is meant by an "answer," so I can't object. 
The lyrics further on do imply that an "answer" implies also action on our part, though, so there's probably no "magic wand" view of prayer here.

In contrast, here's one that takes Jesus a little too close for comfort:

Living on my own, thinking of myself
Castles in the sand, temporary wealth
Now the walls are falling down
Now the storms are closing in
And here I am again
Jesus, hold me now
I need to feel You in this place
To know You're by my side
And hear Your voice tonight

We've written before of this too-intimate language, when used by writers like Stanley and Lucado, so there's no need to discuss it further here. In contrast, here's a set of lyrics that are unusually meaty in the theology department, for CCM: 

Looking out from his throne
Father of light and of men
Chose to make himself known
And show us the way back to Him
Speaking wisdom and truth
Into the hearts of peasants and kings
He began to unveil
The word that would change the course of all things
With eyes wide open all who'd see
The word is alive
And it cuts like the sword through the darkness
With a message of life to the hopeless and the frail
Breathing life into all who believe
Simple strokes on a page
Eternities, secrets revealed
Carried on from age to age
It speaks truth to us even still

I think if John had written his prologue to music, this probably would have been something like what it would have ended up as. And then we have this from the same song, which sounds a bit like chapter 1 of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict:

The Bible was inscribed over a period of 2000 years
In times of war and in days of peace
By kings, physicians, tax collectors, farmers
Fishermen, singers and shepherds
The marvel is that a library so perfectly cohesive
Could have been produced by such a diverse crowd
Over a period of time which staggers the imagination
Jesus is its grand subject, our good is designed
And the glory of God is its end

Basic though it is, it's hard not to be pleased by the effort to add a dash of historical confirmation when most groups are emphasizing nothing but feeling.

In light of CC's calls for action, it's somewhat more forgivable to see them also going the way of Mercy Me with the praise aspects in another song:

Oh God, You are my God
And earnestly I seek You
O how I long for You
In this dry and weary land
I’ve seen You in the sanctuary
And I beheld Your glory
So I can think of only one thing I can do
I lift my hands
I lift my hands and I will praise You all my days
I lift my voice
I lift my voice to You in this simple song of praise
I lift my eyes
So I will think of You through the watches of the night
Hear the voices ring as Your children sing
In the shadow of Your wings

So in the end, CC gets a B minus. Even so, that they do get a grade that high doesn't say much for the content of modern Christian music as a whole.

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