Friday, September 12, 2014

The Musicians' Gambit Part 3: Phillips, Craig and Dean


From the August 2011 E-Block.
***
Our next music group is a controversial one, though we will only touch on the controversy long enough to see to what extent, if any, it touches on music. Philips, Craig and Dean (PCD) is known to be composed of ministers from the Oneness Pentacostal movement. Some have noted their reticence on this subject, and others have questioned the propriety of using their music. That is not an issue we will settle here, but we will be checking to see if "Oneness" theology makes it into their lyrics. 

One song it arguably does appear in -- obliquely -- is this one:

You are not a god
Created by human hands
You are not a god
Dependant on any mortal man
You are not a god
In need of anything we can give
By Your plan, that's just the way it is
You are God alone
From before time began
You were on Your throne
You are God alone 

There's a certain ambiguity in "you are God alone" that under the circumstances warrants a question: Is this line meant in a "Oneness" sense? Of course, mainstream Trinitarianism can accept tht statement and fill it with its own theology, and has done so. But it can be little unnerving to realize that PCD means something else by it -- akin to being fond of a love song, and having it all ruined when you are told the man singing it is talking to his horse. 

Apart from that, the song does contain some surprisingly deep creation theology, but it goes downhill from there and turns into a musical security blanket of the sort more frequently found in Christian music: 

And right now
In the good times and bad
You are on Your throne
You are God alone
Your the only God
Whose power none can contend
Your the only God
Whose name and praise will never end
Your the only God
Whose worthy of everything we can give
You are God
And that's just the way it is
Unchangeable
Unshakable
Unstoppable
That's what You are 

These include accurate descriptions of the attributes of God, but the uneasy sense of this is that they are listed more for personal reassurance ("my Dad is big and strong") than out of any desire to honor God. I could be wrong, but other songs tend to indicate not, such as this one: 

Father I see that you are drawing a line in the sand
And I want to be standing on your side, holding your hand
So let your kingdom come, let it live in me
This is my prayer, this is my plea

Hand holding? With God? It is but one indignity in song that is otherwise acceptable (even if devoid of signifying content). In this case, though, the indignity is at a fever pitch: 

I don't know how to say exactly how I feel
And I can't begin to tell you what your love has meant
I'm lost for words
Is there a way to show the passion in my heart
Can I express how truly great I think you are
My dearest friend
Lord, this is my desire
To pour my love on You
Like oil upon your feet
Like wine for you to drink
Like water from my heart
I pour my love on you
If praise is like perfume
I'll lavish mine on you
Till every drop is gone
I'll pour my love on you

This picture of God -- a combination of personal psychological counselor and BFF -- is something we've addressed as inappropriate more than enough times little else need be said.

On the other hand, this represents something I have not seen yet:

I feel quite sure if I did my best
I could maybe impress you
With tender words and a harmony
A clever rhyme or two
But if all I've done in the time we've shared
Is turn your eyes on me
Then I've failed at what I've been called to do
There's someone else I want you to see
Will you love Jesus more
When we go our different ways
When this moment is a memory
Will you remember His face
Will you look back and realize
You sensed His love more than you did before
I'd pray for nothing less
Than for you to love Jesus more
I'd like to keep these memories
In frames of gold and silver
And reminisce a year from now
About the smiles we've shared
But above all else I hope you will come
To know the Father's love
When you see the Lord face to face
You'll hear Him say "well done"

It is not clear what the nature of the relationship between the two persons in this song is, and perhaps it makes no difference. However, it is the first time I have seen a song posed as dialogue between two persons, in which it is made explicit that the "relationship" between a person and Jesus is markedly undifferentiated from any between person and person. So the indignity is not new; but the way of explaining it is.

PCD is a group I know well (better than I'd like) because they seem to have become a favorite of music ministers. Perhaps this is because the "praise chorus" is one of their specialties, and it would be good to close with commentary on that aspect of performance, with examples such as:

Who am I that You are mindful of me?
That you hear me
When I call
Is it true that You are thinking of me?
How You love me
It's amazing
(Repeat)
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend
Who am I that You are mindful of me?
That you hear me
When I call, yeah
Is it true that You are thinking of me?
How You love me
It's amazing, so amazing, it's amazing

And:

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You
I want to see You
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You
I want to see You
To see You high and lifted up
Shining in the light of Your glory
As we sing holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy

The unique convenience of the praise chorus (if I may be facetious) is that it enables performers to fill three minutes of time with 30 seconds' worth of words. Now the lack of taxing on creativity is bad enough, but it is a matter of psychological truth that the effect of repetition like this is to dull the senses and (if it gets far enough) alter one's state of consciousness. Comparison has been made before between such choruses and the repeating of mantras in Eastern faiths.

To conclude this evaluation: While I didn't find much in the way of Oneness theology in PCD's material, I did find much the same unfortunate sentimentalism we have seen elsewhere. It'd hard to say which would have been worse to find at this stage.

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