Tuesday, April 04, 2006

'Draw Me Close to You' Under Fire Again ...

I receive Sam Storm's regular update emails quite regularly (they come once or twice a week) and out of all the email updates I receive, his are by far my favourite (I also receive John Piper, SGM's, Roberts Liardon's, Hillsongs and a couple of others). Dr Storms manages to mix news with theology. Today's caught my eye because it appears that one of my favourite "God is my boyfriend ... or girlfriend ... or whatever" choruses is under fire from Charles Colson. It's pretty serious stuff when a song of passion and devotion to God evokes such a response from a celebrated servant of God - or even when a church bans it from their song list. Anyhow Dr Storms defends it marvellously in a tone quite similar to that of John Owen. Here's the text of what he said:

Mr. Colson, I respectfully disagree
Sam Storms
Apr 3, 2006

I mean that seriously. I have the utmost respect for Chuck Colson. I've read several of his books and thank God for the remarkable impact of his life and ministry. But I strongly disagree with something he wrote in an editorial in the April, 2006, issue of Christianity Today. The article was entitled, "Soothing Ourselves to Death." I first read this article when it appeared on the internet and decided at that time to just let it go. But upon seeing it in print in CT, I had a change of heart. Colson testifies to listening "stoically with teeth clenched" whenever "church music directors lead congregations in singing contemporary Christian music." I, on the other hand, not only listen but sing robustly and passionately. Now, it must be said that worship leaders greatly vary in their ability to lead congregations, whether they are singing traditional hymns or the latest Chris Tomlin song. I've had the privilege of ministering together and worshipping side by side with some of the most gifted and anointed leaders in the body of Christ. Rarely have I had to "clinch my teeth".

But on this one occasion, Colson couldn't take it any longer. He says that one Sunday morning he finally 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." Colson proceeds to bemoan the anti-intellectual tendencies in much of evangelicalism as seen, for example, in the replacement of theologically oriented radio broadcasts with more music, no doubt the kind that makes Colson "clench his teeth." Yes, he has a point. Biblical illiteracy is rampant and people are all too easily drawn to what feels good or what "soothes" the soul rather than what instructs and edifies the mind. I agree. But Colson's assessment of this song is entirely out of order. I'm not sure what Colson has in mind by "endless repetitions" of the song. Does that mean they sang it twice or ten times or some number in between? Yes, some are inclined to repeat a song more than is needed or helpful. But repetition doesn't appear to be a problem for the four living creatures surrounding the throne of Christ (Revelation 4-5).

Aside from that, I'm concerned with Colson's caricature of the song. I happen to love "Draw Me Close to You"! Colson calls it a "meaningless ditty" with "zero theological content." That's a pretty serious charge, even if he's using hyperbole to make a point (which I doubt that he is). Personally, I'd be thrilled if it were sung in "nightclubs." Maybe then the inebriated and self-indulgent patrons would see an unashamed and extravagant passion for Jesus that would lead them to ask, "Who is it that inspires such love and devotion? Clearly people courageous and committed enough to sing in a nightclub of their personal yearning for this God and their intimate relationship with him have discovered something I have yet to find." But on to the song itself. Before I examine the lyrics, one other comment is in order. My intention isn't to judge anyone's motives, least of all Chuck Colson's. But my suspicion is that many who express their disdain for contemporary Christian worship do so less out of theological conviction or from an objection to its alleged aesthetical shortcomings and more from a discomfort with the way in which such songs call for and facilitate personal engagement with God. I love traditional hymns. But many of them, for lack of a better way of putting it, enable the soul to "keep God at arm's length." One can sing "about" God with theological precision and yet never engage the heart (see Mt. 15:8-9). There is a particular style of Christian music that never requires a person to honestly open their heart to God's presence and encounter him in a truly vulnerable and honest way. Singing descriptively is all well and good, even essential, but it isn't the same as singing "to" God in personal confession. In the latter we express our desire for him, our yearning for him, our thirst and longing and love and delight and joy in all that he is for us in Jesus. The fact is, the primary appeal of contemporary Christian worship is that its lyrics and melody have the capacity not merely to stimulate the mind but awaken the spirit and stir the affections and intensify the expression of our hunger for God and our satisfaction in him alone.

Permit me to cite something I said in Chapter Ten of my book Convergence. Jonathan Edwards, in his treatise on Religious Affections, argued that the singing of praises to God seem "to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned," said Edwards, "why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections" (Religious Affections, Yale:115). Some actually orchestrate worship in such a way that the affections of the heart are reined in and, in some cases, even suppressed. People often fear the external manifestation of internal zeal and love and desire and joy. Though they sing, they do so in a way that the end in view is the mere articulation of words and declaration of truths. But if that were what God intended, why did he not ordain that we recite, in prose, biblical truths about him? Why sing? It can't be simply for the aesthetic value of music or because of the pleasure it brings, for that would be to turn worship manward, as if we are now the focus rather than God. We sing because God has created not only our minds but also our hearts and souls, indeed our bodies as well, in such a way that music elicits and intensifies holy affections for God and facilitates their lively and vigorous _expression. The same may be said of how God operates on our souls in the preaching of his Word. Books and commentaries and the like provide us with "good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the things of the Word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men's hearts and affections" (115).

So, with a view to affecting sinners and not merely informing them, God has appointed that his Word be applied in a particularly lively way through preaching. Therefore, concludes Edwards, when we think of how public worship should be constructed and what methods should be employed in the praise of God and the edification of his people, "such means are to be desired, as have much of a tendency to move the affections. Such books, and such a way of preaching the Word, and administration of ordinances, and such a way of worshiping God in prayer, and singing praises, is much to be desired, as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means" (121). When people object that certain styles of public worship seem especially chosen for their capacity to awaken and intensify and express the affections of the heart, they should be told that such is precisely the God-ordained purpose of worship. What they fear, namely, the heightening and deepening of the heart's desire and love for God, and the expansion and increase of the soul's delight and joy in God, what they typically call "emotionalism" or even "manipulation", is the very goal of worship itself. For God is most glorified in his people when their hearts are most satisfied (i.e., when they are most "affected" with joy) in him (John Piper).

Now, what about the song in question? "Draw Me Close to You" was written by Kelly Carpenter. No, it isn't lyrically complex or theologically deep. Its musical simplicity is intentional. When I look my wife in the eyes and speak of my affection for her and my desire for her and how life would hold nothing for me apart from her presence, neither she nor I want it to be articulated in third person abstractions or in the prose I might employ in writing a scholarly paper or accompanied by a Gregorian chant. Here are the words that made Colson clinch his teeth.

"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."

The song is intentionally written to be an intercessory cry for the awareness of God's presence, a plea that his loving embrace (spiritually speaking, of course) and the security of his affection never end. It is an expression of personal consecration and commitment. It is a declaration of the all-satisfying love of God and the soul's delight in it. There isn't a sentiment or syllable in the song that isn't found somewhere in the Psalms as an _expression of legitimate, biblical, heartfelt worship. For example, "But for me it is good to be near God" (73:28a). "My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord" (84:2a). "I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you'" (Ps. 16:2). Why? Because "in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (16:11). "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (42:1-2a). "O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (63:1). "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (73:25). Perhaps it can best be summed up in the exhortation of James 4:8a, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." Again, I don't know Colson's heart or his desires or needs. I do know mine. Perhaps the worship leader that Sunday was singing off key or was conspicuously manipulative. Perhaps he had indeed repeated the song too many times. Perhaps Colson was in an extraordinarily theological frame of mind in which a hymn of more doctrinal depth and stately form would have served him better. But to call this song a "meaningless ditty" with "zero theological content" and use this as a platform from which to criticize contemporary Christian music as symptomatic of the anti-intellectual trend in the church at large, well, what more can I say?

In the final analysis, each individual must search his/her own heart and decide what form or style of music best facilitates what each believes is the aim of true biblical worship. I will continue to admire, read, and respect Chuck Colson. But I suspect when it comes to how we worship our great Triune God, I will also continue to disagree with him.

Longing for the nearness of God,


Anonymous said...

A fair and balanced response full of truth yet powerfully argued. I like you I think am a little incredulous that such a simple song of worship can stir up such dust among the People of God. I think Dr Storms has served us well by writing an apologetic of it's theological power as well as it's simple passion and lingering in the wonderful Presence of God.

I hope that Mr Colson has the grace to think this through and respond.

Dr S A J Burgess

Sheila said...

Where else can I go, and, almost every day I begin to read, I think to myself, "ooooh. this is gonna be GOOD."

Thanks, Dan! I, too, have enormous respect for Chuck Colson, and have read many of his commentaries. I own (and have READ, of course...tho' as a Bibliophile, I do own a few books I have not yet read.)two of his books. But, I swear...for all Colson's ecumenical grand standing, I am irked and awed that he'd take issue with the simplicity of some of our modern worship tunes.

(presupposing that simple does not always equal "simplisTIC".)

Some things are simple...they just are. God made no apologies for a certain amount of planned simplicity.

Baxter's Boy said...

Yep Sheila - you've got it spot on as usual! I think that the important thing here is "simple". Simple not meaning "stupid" as it is sometimes used here in the UK. But simple as in - not difficult. And Sam Storms has summed it up beautifully in his last sentence; "Longing for the nearness of God".

In the Psalms it says, "One thing have I desired of the Lord - that will I seek". What is that "one thing"??! To build a huge library? To get a doctorate in theology? To write a book? All those things aren't bad in and of themselves - but no! The "One thing" is that "I may dwell in the house of the Lord". Longing for the nearness of God? If that was the "one thing" that the Psalmist devoted his life to hunting and tracking down, then I think we are in good company if we sing with all our hearts; "Draw me close to You ... You're ALL I want, You're ALL I've ever needed".

So ... The Psalmist sought that "one thing" - the nearness of God. Sam Storms sought it. They sang it at Stoneleigh ... I think I, for my part, am happy with the simplistic "One thing" of crying out that He would draw me close to Him. ;)

Pirouette1196 said...

Honestly, I think Colson was miffed that that radio station wouldn't broadcast his 4 minute sermon and wrote his article as a rant of sorts.

Bella said...

I am getting really fed up of public figures using their platforms to invoke their private likes and dislikes. I still remember when I was at University CU and a friend of mine got elected President. He turned to me and said, "Great ... now I can ban that chorus I don't like from CU meetings". It was a harmless chorus - actually one I liked quite a bit - but he didn't like it because it was Restorationist. Or at least had Restorationist leanings.

We are talking about the worship of God here! The question is - is this song heretical? If not, then fine - dont sing it in your church, or in your private devotions. But don't behave in such a buffoon-ish manner like this. It reminds me of some of the transcript I read from "Life on Wings" - where Ern Baxter told of a pastor who had all of the audiotapes of the Shepherding brothers ERASED! Just because he didn't like them!

Surely this is authority gone heavy?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you realize how difficult your site is to read. The pastel font on a black background makes reading it torture for me. Sorry.

PastorMike said...

I have enjoyed reading the above comments and being provoked to think again about worship. Thanks for all of these articles.

I'd like to make a couple of comments on what has been said.

As Dr Storms rightly says, worship, and particularly singing is a powerful way of drawing us into God's presence and should involve our emotions. However, we need to be careful that worship does not simply degenerate into emotionalism and sentimentalism. Each of the Psalms which Dr Storms quotes has a context. They say something about who God is and what he has done - Psalm 73, especially, speaks of a journey from focussing on the world to coming home to God. It is these contexts which give meaning to the cry for God's nearness.

To be fair to Chuck Colson, the song in question has no context. It does not mention God's name, his character or any of his mighty deeds. In this respect, it is completely 'transportable.' It could be sung to a friend or a lover. It could be in the top ten and no one would ever know it was about God.

I am not against contemporary music. In fact there are some fantastic modern 'hymns' e.g. "In Christ Alone" by Stuart Townend (or "How Deep the Father's love" by the same author). But I do believe they should be firmly grounded in who God is and what he has done. It is this that should draw out of us an emotional response, a deep desire for God's closeness. Our worship of God should stimulate both our intellect and our emotions.


Anonymous said...

Having lead worship as a lay-leader in a very established church, I have dealt with the likes and dis-likes of all ages. Trying to achieve balance in a multi generational ministry is hard. I get rants from the over 50 set(I'm almost there myself), about 'those praise songs'.

Music has been a touchy subject long before CCM came along. The 1st hymnal was banned by many churchs in the early years. There are great hymns and there are loasy hymns from the perpective of content and singability. The same holds true for many of the new praise and worship songs.

I feel to much focus is on the music and not enough on the Word. Although music is a vital part of worship many churches make it into a production that entertains more than edifies. The church needs to concern itself more with preaching and teaching sound doctrine that changes lives rather than entertaining the masses to make church more appealing.

Where do we draw the line? Is the Holy Spirit truly in control of our worship services?

Anonymous said...

I share the sentiments of pastormike. I believe that songs written for Christian worship should have Jesus Christ as the forcus, thus leaving no room for questions about who the object of the song is. As pastormike has articulated so well"...I do believe they should be firmly grounded in who God is and what he has done."

thanks you,

Rhonda DuBose said...

As much as I respect the man and servant Chuck Colson, I must respectfully disagree as well. I have been singing for a number of years and know clearly that God has called me to this form of ministry as well as another. While I agree with some points brought to light, as it relates to radio programming changes, his argument for contemporary gospel/christian music is a little off base. I say that because I am a product of the type of music Mr. Colson is probably referring, as well as a lover of new gospel and christian music. There are styles of music that have spoken to my heart and in the early stages of my walk with God, they drew me into His presence and a true commitment with him. I say they drew me but, I first had to present myself as a willing participant and engage myself in the worship experience. In this country, so full of freedoms, we tend to blindly impose our on personal views or assessments on others without really taking time to examine our personal (heart) intent for my expression. Although, I know that most people go to church with different needs and in different emotional and spiritual states, the house of worship is not a place of clubs or intellectual/theological debates. I realize that when I come to the house of God I come to worship Him and Him alone. The church is the place of edification, exhortation, refreshing and equipping for the life we live for HIM. The worship experience can be shared by all who choose to engage and I have found that if I take my head out of the game (for the enemy to play with), and connect to the spirit of the living who is obviously present (since so many others are experiencing Him), then I might just be able to discover something new about God's love for me and the time of worship. Every generation of the past has had differences in how they deem "acceptable" worship styles. That will not change. However, I do believe it is time for the church to realize that any tool that divides the body of Christ and does not promote unity and love, is a deceptive tool of enemy. There are styles of music that still don't "do it" for me, but I defend their right to exhort and lift Him up. I may not be able to connect with the style of musical presentation, but no one can prevent me connecting with the Truth that is there and the Living God,(who has rendered the gift and talent to the worship leaders, choirs, praise teams or bands and the like), to enter His presence and glory in His anointing. I Love the Lord and He has made himself available to me at will; if I choose to stand in His presence and criticize the gate the entered by, then I may have the problem. In the words of Jaci Velasquez, "I fall on my knees..." Jesus came into the world at an appointed and eternally strategic time, for such a time. So it is today, David was before his time even in the old testament but, He was still honored by God as a man after His heart. This is what God needs today. We don't need more religion, we need a relationship with the God who sacrificed His only Son so that we could have that relationship and understand His heart toward us. Thank you Bro. Storms for your comments. Well said. It is time for the church to arise into the light of Christ and come forth in the glory of His anointing and power. We really don't have time for this type of "meaningless" dialogue. If it does not edify, what does it do? Let's be more careful how we use the gifts God has given us. The body should be working together and lifting one another.

Rhonda Du Bose

dave said...

excellent response, thank you.

Baxter's Boy said...

Thanks both Rhonda and Dave for your excellent comments. Dave - your letter is excellent and I do hope and pray that it gets published because I think it deserves a hearing.

Rhonda - you also have an excellent point! We are told that the greatest command is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts. That doesn't leave time for much else, especially meaningless dialogue! Lets get on and worship Him who is worthy of our worship.

BibleDude said...

I, sometimes, find it incredulous that we humans will line up to pounce on a fellow human, but fail to hold up a mirror and look inside ourselves.

First, I would like to thank you for providing a forum that has allowed a balanced rebuttal of the issue(s). I would like to point out that it takes intestinal fortitude to pick up pen (or computer) and respond in this forum. For every reply given, thank you.

I do wonder, aloud, if our motives are to beat our own drums and force others into submission by articulation of our viewpoints. The days of respectful debate and honest conversation about our Lord, seem to be gone.

I bemoan the loss.

We seem to be entrenched in a battle of words rather than engaged to our Lord. I find that regretful. I will continue in my attempts to rid myself of ego. A rather nasty piece of mentality and encourage others to look at theirs.

When we rid ourselves of pride and honesty ask ourselves, “How do I live my life, so that My Lord is in front of me, in me?”, then questions or statements about songs like Mr. Colsen’s or others (i.e. Wainscott’s above) become trivial.

I fail to see the point or arguments of God in making such comments. However, I know that until perfection comes again; we finites are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over.

Let me become foolish for God.. Like the fool, that Paul speaks of in 1 Corithians. Let me speak and listen to become wise in the Lord.

Allow me to see beyond the words of man and know God. Does that mean we are not to engage in dialogue? No!

Rather that lining up to trounce on Mr. Colsen… tell me how the song (issue) works in your life. Tell me how God uses that song to get you through the day. How you use it to help others know God.

If you read that paragraph to mean “speak only warm and fuzzy” Nope, not at all, I dislike most attempts to make God “all warm and fuzzy”, a person to place in my hip pocket and pull out just when I need him…

I desire relationship. I pray for community in God. A community that agrees that we are not the center point. A community that works together to Love God and Love neighbor.

Thanks for letting me respond here…

Ken Boyer said...

Well, I'm glad to finally see the lyrics to the song in question. Sounds like -- oh, I dunno -- poetry I wrote in 8th grade about girls I had crushes on. Sorry, but I simply had no idea that things have gotten this pathetic. To see people rushing to defend a mindless praise chorus (to be sung over and over in church, no less) is like not being able to wake up from some nightmare. Theology test: can anyone here articulate how a person is justified before God? I'll check back...

Has anyone here ever considered the possibility of singing the Psalms, which are meant to be sung and are straight out of God's inspired Word? Oh, but they would make us think, and that's just not acceptable anymore. We have to feel everything nowadays. It's no wonder that Os Guinness wrote a book about modern evangelicalism called Fit Bodies, Fat Minds. As was demonstrated by the mania surrounding The Passion of the Christ, it's just so much easier now to see the movie than read the book.

FYI, before anyone dismisses me as a complete ignoramus, I am a seminary graduate. And, that's my real name -- I don't seek anonymity or some alternate identity here, like so many others apparently do. So, go ahead and rip away at me for being mean-spirited and narrow-minded -- I can take it. I'll be waiting patiently for a clear and cogent answer to my question above, though I dread what most responses might look like.

Baxter's Boy said...

Thanks for your comment Mr Boyer. Firstly let me assure you that I for one never ever dismiss anyone as a 'complete ignoramus'. I appreciate every comment that is left and I read it carefully. I also highly appreciate the fact that you haven't indeed taken refuge behind anonymity.

You set a theology test as to articulate how a person is justified before God. I'm not quite sure of the context of your request and quite what answer you were looking for but I think that Romans 3:24 articulates it well enough. I hope this response won't justify your dread.

"Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."—Rom. 3:24.

I love Spurgeon's sermon on that very text and this quote in particular:

"The moment the man believes in Christ, he ceases to be guilty in God's esteem; but what is more, he becomes righteous, he becomes meritorious; for, in the moment when Christ takes his sins he takes Christ's righteousness; so that, when God looks upon the sinner who but an hour ago was dead in sins, he looks upon him with as much love and affection as he ever looked upon his Son. He himself has said it—"As the Father loved me, so have I loved you." He loves us as much as his Father loved him. Can you believe such a doctrine as that? Does it not pass all thought? Well, it is a doctrine of the Holy Spirit; the doctrine whereby we must hope to be saved.

Can I to any unenlightened person illustrate this thought better? I will give him the parable we have given to us in the prophets—the parable of Joshua the high-priest. Joshua comes in, clothed in filthy garments; those filthy garments representing his sins. Take away the filthy garments; that is pardon. Put a mitre on his head; clothe him in royal raiment; make him rich and fair; that is justification. But where do these garments come from? and where do those rags go to? Why, the rags that Joshua had on go to Christ, and the garments put on Joshua are the garments that Christ wore. The sinner and Christ do just what Jonathan and David did. Jonathan put his robes on David, David gave Jonathan his garments; so Christ takes our sins, we take Christ's righteousness; and it is by a glorious substitution and interchange of places that sinners go free and are justified by his grace".

NPSP - April 5th 1857.

As to your other comments, I am sorry if my defence of the song "Draw Me Close" left you with the impression that I am somehow against thinking or against weighty theological hymns or Psalms to be sung. That isn't so - I love them and appreciate what they can contribute to corporate worship.

Let me say again - I appreciate your comment and in no way think you are "mean-spirited and narrow-minded". I respect your opinion. But I am afraid I just have to differ with you. I don't think "Draw Me Close to You" is a 'mindless praise chorus'.

And FYI you can indeed dismiss me as a complete ignoramus if you want because I am not a seminary graduate. I have no theological qualifications whatsoever. I would just rather be singing a song of desire to be close to a God who has indeed justified me with all my heart, rather than standing resentfully with Charles Colson. That's just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I must say I do get rather concerned when people start name calling and saying that this situation "Colson and Kauflin vs Draw Me close" is pathetic. Or rather we who actually are defending the song are pathetic (and presumably Colson and Kauflin are not). Where is the respect for fellow opinion? You, Mr Boyer, ask by default for respect that you are a seminary graduate, yet are calling many of us here "pathetic". Why don't you show us the respect that you desire?

I would join Dan in echoing the fact that noone (bar maybe some very extreme charismaniacs) want to "think". That's an extreme caricature that has come straight from the heart of MacArthur's "Charismatic Chaos" and just simply isn't true.

Dr S A J Burgess