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Jesus Is Not Your Boyfriend

November 25, 2009

In the past you may have seen me, or others in the comments, suggest that a song was characteristic of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” style of worship [here].

Well in case you were left wondering exactly what I meant by such an assertion James McGrath has left me a link to the champion of champions of the Jesus is my boyfriend worship movement (JIMBWM).

And let me tell you this song is a “movement” all right… a bowel movement.

Does anyone really think the Jesus of this song is the apocalyptic Galilean radical that was crucified by the cultural elite and powerful?

I was hung naked on a cross for you baby... mmm, let that visual sink in. You know you love me.

I’m fairly certain that if we could somehow have the historical Jesus travel through time he would detest many of his own modern followers, and he would fashion a whole lot of whips to disturb a whole lot of churches purportedly “following” him. Especially ones singing songs like this.

In this song Jesus loves you. I mean, he really loves you. He loves you so much it gets awkward… and hot. Jesus gets to first base he loves you so much. Who knew the son of God was such a player?

“So we are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking
So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way”

“That he loves us…”

Ugghhh. If what you need to create meaning in your life is an ecstatic worship experience: have at it. But I’m not sure that the point of the Christian experience is to be loved by Jesus in this way. I’m fairly certain that most theologians would agree with me that your boyfriend is supposed to be another human being, and not a 2000 year old Galilean male.

But maybe this is just the Twilight saga syncretistically influencing the church? The girl from Twilight has immortal vampires and werewolves, but we have immortal Jesus as a boyfriend. The thought of a 40 year old divorced mother of two having her boyfriend relationship needs met while singing this song makes my brain hurt.

“So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets…”

I realize that the bar keeps getting dropped here for bad lyrics in songs, but that might be the worst, most inappropriate line ever composed and sung in a “worship” song.

But ultimately, the point is that this is not a worship song it’s a romance song, so really what we have here is generic confusion. Romance songs express a certain kind of love, and worship songs express a certain kind of love. This is where Greek is useful as it has more than one word for love. Romance songs express eros love: it’s where we get the word erotic from. It’s sexual. Worship songs should express agape love. Big hint: it’s non-sexual!

This song really confuses eros and agape. And just because eros love is over-prevalent in our culture it doesn’t make it appropriate to incorporate into “worship” songs.

And just in case you are still wondering at this point what I think about this: Jesus is not your boyfriend.

Now I have to plan a way to psychologically get McGrath back for making me watch this. Vengeance will be mine. Oh yes. Vengeance… will… be… mine.

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45 Comments leave one →
  1. Dennis Gray permalink
    November 25, 2009 12:04 pm

    I find it interesting that you say, “If what you need to create meaning in your life is an ecstatic worship experience: have at it” and then criticize the attitude that has formed a very large part of the ecstatic experience for centuries. Is the example you have cited all that different from these words written by Claire of Assisi in the early 13th century?

    Draw me after You!
    We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
    O heavenly Spouse!
    I will run and not tire,
    until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
    until Your left hand is under my head
    and Your right hand will embrace me happily
    and You will kiss me with the happiest kiss of Your mouth.

    When you consider the example of the Song of Solomon and the exhortation from scripture that we are “the Bride of Christ” then such expressions of worship should be expected.

    What surprises me is that in a day and age where Christian expression has become all too cerebral such ecstatic expressions exist at all.

  2. November 25, 2009 2:02 pm

    Hmm… if Claire said it, it must be true.

    When I say ecstatic, I’m more intending songs like “Open the Eyes of My Heart” or “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.”

    I think this song goes too far, confuses eros and agape. That does not make one “too cerebral,” it just means that this song is really, really bad.

    If you need to sexualize the bride of Christ have at it, but I for one think it is improper as the metaphors could easily get ridiculous.

    Proverbs 5:16 reads “May her breasts satisfy you at all times; may you be intoxicated always by her love.” Should we write songs hoping our breasts as the bride of Christ satisfies him at all times?

    How far is too far? Jesus can get to first base with us in a song, but he better keep his hands to himself after that? Is a little rubbing OK?

  3. November 25, 2009 2:34 pm

    This is an interesting post following up the Christian Side Hug. You criticize Christians for overly-prudish sexual ethics. Next you criticize them for over-sexualizing worship.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending the song. Perhaps the two are connected. It make sense how a song like this could happen in such an environment. What with all that pent up sexual tension, pretending to be asexual until marriage, being disappointed when it’s not a wild and crazy sexual utopia… you gotta let off steam somehow. And a worship song is definitely more holy than porn.

    It’s an interesting thought, people’s emotional needs are being met through an intangible relationship. How does that work? Is it legitimately fulfilling? Or does it just momentarily satisfy a craving, deepening one’s need and reinforcing one’s dependency on such experiences?

    • November 25, 2009 2:57 pm

      Actually I don’t think I criticized anyone for overly prudish behaviour–that was in the article I quoted–I was more going after just how bad the medium was in Christian Side Hug.

      Good questions. My guess is that it is fulfilling. I mean if people continue doing it, it must be meaningful. The length of the meaning however I wouldn’t be able to say.

      It would definitely be an interesting sociological study.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy permalink
      June 11, 2010 11:00 am

      You criticize Christians for overly-prudish sexual ethics. Next you criticize them for over-sexualizing worship.

      Because both are badly out-of-balance, just in opposite directions.

  4. November 25, 2009 2:59 pm

    I don’t know if what I’m about to tell you will persuade you that I’ve already suffered (or am scheduled to suffer) enough, or make me seem all the more deserving of vengeance, but the way I found out about this song in the first place is because I and the other musicians in our church ‘praise team’ were asked to provide accompaniment for someone who wants to sing this in church. So my penance is to have to play the music, which will remind me of this blog post, and so I will have to struggle to keep a straight face…

    • November 25, 2009 3:21 pm

      I would never, ever take my vengeance that fully. The punishment does not fit the crime. It’s too harsh. I had to listen to this song once. On the other hand you have to learn the music, practice it, and perform it.

      I weep for your soul… consider my threat deactivated, and my compassion and empathy activated.

      • November 25, 2009 8:22 pm

        Do you know this one by Chris Tomlin? It includes the lines:

        “How can I keep from shouting Your name
        I know I am loved by the King “.

        • November 25, 2009 8:50 pm

          And James officially wins the award for most inappropriate comment so far.

          Well played sir.

  5. November 25, 2009 3:09 pm

    It would be interesting to do some brain scans of people worshipping like this. How similar is the brain activity during this worship to brain activity during sex? Judging from both some of the lyrics and the semi-orgasmic rant in the end, it’s must be pretty similar.

    • November 25, 2009 3:19 pm

      “If you’ve never encountered the love of God, you better just brace yourself, because he is about to blow in this place… a love encounter, a love encounter from you tonight…”

      Seriously, how juvenile could I be with that rant? I will leave it alone.

      However, orgasmic is the correct way to describe the rant. I’m just not sure about the semi part. I think she is at full emotional climax.

      I’m actually shocked that someone made it that far in the video. You obviously don’t like yourself very much today.

      • November 25, 2009 4:08 pm

        You said “semi”! Tee-hee!!

        (I had to!)

  6. Michael B permalink
    November 25, 2009 3:30 pm

    You talk “Jesus is my boyfriend” music, but it’s not that far off from the truth. I know some people who went to Liberty University (Jerry Falwell’s place), and they knew girls who refused to date because they were “dating Jesus.” I’m always tempted to say, “Really? Is his wife Mary Magdalene okay with that?”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy permalink
      July 22, 2010 2:17 pm

      It’s worse in Christian dating services, and only with Twilight Mania have I been able to find the words to describe it:

      “JEESUS IS MY EDWARD CULLEN! SPARKLE SPARKLE SPARKLE SQUEEEEEE!”

  7. Chris E permalink
    November 25, 2009 3:51 pm

    “If what you need to create meaning in your life is an ecstatic worship experience: have at it”

    I’m sure this is even possible without the sort of wierdness noticed in this video – given how little we know about the glory of God, we’d always be tempted to mentally make this measure up to some other ecstatic experience, be it sex or drugs or food or something else.

  8. Dennis Gray permalink
    November 25, 2009 6:10 pm

    If there is confusion between ‘eros’ and ‘agape’ it is because society, in fact humanity as a whole, confuses the two on a daily basis. And quite frankly Christian theology has not helped with the way it has treated the word ‘agape’ down through the years.

    What we often forget is that before the writers of the New Testament appropriated the word it was commonly used in Greek literature to describe, among other things, the love a person would have for their spouse. It was a word used to describe the love relationship between a husband and wife uncluttered by the trappings of sexuality. And I put it to you that this word was chosen by the writers of the New Testament specifically to describe the love that Christ has for his Bride – the church in just that context.

    However, I believe many scholars had difficulty with this imagery, (I will admit that as a young man I had a hard time with the ‘bride’ thing for quite a while) so ‘agape’ was elevated to a higher level of meaninig that has little or nothing to do with human emotion at all, as if the word was invented for use in the New Testament. But it wasn’t, it was a perfectly good word with a perfectly good meaning long before Paul and the others even learned to write.

    It happened our because our feeble, human, hormone-addled brains muddle to the two (eros & agape) together all the time. We are generally unable to separate the stirrings of the heart from the stirrings of the loins. It’s no wonder song writers have just as hard a time with it.

    Now, that said, you are absolutely right when you say that there is a very real danger in having the metaphor go too far. But I would suggest that does not mean the imagery is entirely inappropriate. Rather, it puts upon us the responsibility to make sure that our children understand where the line is drawn between our love for our spouses and our desire for them. To ban the metaphor is the easy solution, to properly define it is far more work, and I think would ultimately be far more beneficial.

    • November 25, 2009 9:01 pm

      That’s a good point. Very much like how we just use parental controls (banning) instead of actually sitting down with children and (gasp!) teaching them!

      Of course we make the same mistakes for worship…

  9. November 25, 2009 10:51 pm

    An interesting study on this topic is a particularly uncomfortable period of Moravian history under the leadership of Zinzendorf. There are extremes in the pietist rejection of stuffy intellectual religion, as is evidenced in this song. But there is also a disconnection songs devoid of emotion or the language of intimacy. It’s a bit of a struggle and what is needed really a partnering of theologians and songwriters.

    I blogged a bit on this, riffing on your post. I must admit that the whole way you critique modern worship is uncomfortable for me – I love intimate worship. But I’m also uncomfortable with a lot of what passes for worship songs these days. My big contention with this song is trying to express intimacy yet referencing God in a gendered third person – that doesn’t work for me. I’d be the one singing she half the time (but I’d probably not sing this song, I’m picky about what songs I sing in congregational settings – which is probably why I am most comfortable with a guitar strapped on).

  10. Jake permalink
    November 25, 2009 10:56 pm

    This is why I am adamant that the church needs fewer artists and poets writing our words of worship and more educated and passionate theologians.

    I also think some people need to get laid more often… [/tongue in cheek]

  11. Jake permalink
    November 25, 2009 10:59 pm

    Hmmm, Frank, I like the cut of your jib…

  12. liza permalink
    November 26, 2009 12:34 pm

    Yeah. Theologians writing worship songs. I can just imagine how incredible that would be.

    *yawn*

    There must be a certain amount of emotion accessible in worship. Perhaps this song goes to far. I wonder if the sexualizing of the lyrics is done on the part of the listener instead of on the part of the writer.

    • Michael B permalink
      November 26, 2009 1:02 pm

      What are you thinking of when you say theologian? I’m assuming a dusty old bearded man who reads dusty old books in foreign languages by dusty old bearded men who died hundreds of years ago. A very boring academic, in other words. (With apologies to all of the readers of this blog within academia.) I’m not sure I’d want to listen something someone like that wrote, either.

      But here’s the thing: everyone’s a theologian. It’s just that a lot of people have really crappy theology. Artists and songwriters just need to have better theology, and a lot of them don’t. And that’s not necessarily their fault. The church as a whole just needs to do a better job teaching theology to laypeople.

  13. November 28, 2009 1:12 pm

    Wow. That was like worship porn. After her “semi-orgasmic” rant at the end, I think I need to take a shower as I feel all dirty now. “God want to encounter you with his love..” Unreal.

  14. Margaret Hebron permalink
    November 28, 2009 10:50 pm

    I didn’t mind the song too much, up until the end at least. But I’m certainly not defending it.

    As for the ‘bride of Christ’ imagery in the Bible, I think it’s important to remember that that metaphor is applied to the Church as a whole, not to individuals. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t think of any romantic imagery between God and humans that is applied at an individual level.

    As for theologians writing worship songs, I couldn’t agree more. Too often in worship I feel like I’m worshiping myself more than God. Like, how amazing is it that Jesus loves ME. He died for ME. Well, I must be pretty special. Forget about the glory of God.

    Usually the only songs I can really appreciate are the old Hymns which usually only speak in the first person in a passing way, if at all. When I visited my sister’s Southern Baptist church in Virginia this summer, I could barely stand to listen to the visiting speaker, he offended me on so many levels. But I absolutely loved the music, which consisted of all hymns, a piano, no worship leader, and actual theological depth in every song. Imagine!

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love modern worship songs too, if only they had something to say other than how awesome I am.

  15. November 30, 2009 9:10 pm

    I was trying to explain the boyfriend problem with Christian music to my friend. To set up my argument, I quoted some of the lyrics to a fake South Park song… (Didn’t tell her where it came from)

    “I wanna get down on my knees and start pleasing Jesus! I wanna feel his salvation all over my face!”

    Now… you’d think this would have registered to her as outrageously offensive/wrong/fake to her… but… IT DIDN’T!! She didn’t bat an eyelash… just thought it was a poorly written new worship song! That’s how bad worship music has gotten!

    If you have the stomach for South Park… Catch Season 7 Episode 09 at http://www.southparkstudios.com. It’s the Christian Rock episode… The boys scheme to gain fame by becoming a Christian Rock band (Faith +1) and they take the words “baby” and the like out of romantic/sexual songs to make their CD. It’s (sadly) spot on…

    The transcript is also available here… http://www.spscriptorium.com/Season7/E709script.htm

  16. Andy permalink
    December 1, 2009 12:17 pm

    Has anyone even taken the time to find out why that line is used in that song?
    If you’ve ever taken any kind of English class you have more than likely learned that whats on the surface should not always be taken at face value. Kinda like looking at a cake and determining that the whole thing must be made of icing, you know?

    Anyways. The writer of the song, John Mark McMillan, described his meaning of those lyrics in a blog he wrote a while back ago.
    “The idea behind the lyric is that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth converge in a way that is both beautiful and awkwardly messy. Think about the birth of a child, or even the death of Jesus himself. These miracles are both incredibly beautiful and incredibly sloppy (“gory” may be more realistic, but “Heaven meets earth like a gory mess” didn’t seem to have the same ring).”

    you can read the whole things here
    http://johnmarkmcmillan.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2009-10-05T17:03:00-04:00&max-results=7

  17. Andy permalink
    December 1, 2009 12:20 pm

    By the way, i’m in no way disagreeing with you that some songs are just ridiculous. I was just stating my opinion about the one song you used as an example.

    • December 1, 2009 12:28 pm

      As a writer you are responsible for not only what you think your writing means, but also for what your audience will think your writing means.

      • liza permalink
        December 2, 2009 9:48 am

        How can a person be responsible for what a particular person thinks their writing means?

        In that case, I can think of several books of the Bible which should have been edited out of existence.

        • December 2, 2009 10:43 am

          Of course you can’t control the random thoughts of individuals, and you certainly can’t predict how people will interpret your work in a thousand years, but when the plain sense of your writing implies a sexual relationship with God, you must expect that that’s how people will interpret it. Remember, we are talking about this guy’s immediate audience.

  18. December 1, 2009 1:59 pm

    That’s just some bad singing from the get go. She sounds in pain. But that emotes passion. ugh.

    Of course it has the mandatory mid nineties Third Eye Blind sound, with some ebow. A little break down for some impassioned, pleading.

    I find many “worship” songs uncreative in their musical, and lyrical content. Bad rhymes, repeating themes of fire and water, asking God to show up. Definitely this song wins the worst simile award for “like a sloppy wet kiss”.

    Every thing the writer writes – they give “credit” to God and their “gift”. Then how can that ever be edited, or wrong? If God gave me a song, and making bad poetry is my gift – the song is immediately good and okay.

    Especially if it gets the fans – I mean, congregation to a high enough emotional level that the holy spirit snake charming works again, and He comes out of His basket, and we can “really feeeel His presence here right now”.

    Worship is confused with Sunday morning music time. And even then – most the songs aren’t written as praise, or worship.

    And people are scared that theologians may write songs?

    I think “don’t conflate first century Judaism with second temple belief systems” is super catchy. I just don’t know what rhymes with Judaism.

  19. December 1, 2009 6:01 pm

    I am a bit confused as to the problem here. I may just be wrong about this but it seems to me that there are plenty of examples of repressing sexuality and directing attention heavenward. Paul pretty much lays it out that way in 1 Corinthians 7. In Matthew (19) Jesus speaks about renouncing marriage (and presumably sexual experience, though perhaps not, I don’t really know) for the sake of the kingdom of God. Chastity was a pretty big value for a good long time in the Christian movement and, though I haven’t looked at the issue a whole lot, it seems to me that making a rigid contrast between “lively sexual relationship” and “living for the kingdom of God” is bound to cause an individual to direct some of his/her sexual attention toward God. Now, I’m no celibate and that’s for sure, but is a “Jesus-is-my-[spouse]” attitude really so far away from a valid expression of historical Christianity?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy permalink
      June 11, 2010 10:58 am

      It’s called Bridal Mysticism, and dates from the Middle Ages, when several female visionaries used highly-erotic imagery to describe religious ecstasy and experience with Christ, perhaps taking the phrase “Bride of Christ” a bit too far — “Thrust me through with Thy Divine Love! Fill me with Thy Holy Spirit as with child!”

      While this may have been a legit (if eccentric) choice of words for the original visionaries, it quickly decayed into “Pornography for Cloistered Nuns,” with Christ as the porn star.

      “Jesus is My Boyfriend” is just the latest incarnation of this, and is actually toned down from the original.

  20. Jake permalink
    December 1, 2009 8:01 pm

    Yes.

  21. Michael B permalink
    December 2, 2009 2:02 pm

    I’m beginning to think that if you need an explanation as to why this is just bad theology and songwriting, you won’t understand the explanation. Not because you’re stupid; there are just some assumptions that need to be in place about music and its place in worship.

    • December 2, 2009 9:22 pm

      Based on my one comment you’re beginning to think I won’t understand an explanation? Interesting.

      At any rate, I’m not even really referring to the song just the general attitude of “Jesus-is-my-[spouse]” which seems to me to have a pretty long tradition throughout church history. Criticizing something because it refers to Jesus and/or God using a romantic metaphor just doesn’t seem like a very strong criticism to me if one looks at how Jesus and/or God are portrayed in the Bible and throughout church history for guidance.

      • Michael B permalink
        December 3, 2009 4:11 am

        Sorry, that was meant to be a plural, generalized “you.” Not your comment. Everyone’s comments, and just about everyone that I have discussed this sort of thing with. I have never been able to persuade someone who thought that this sort of worship was okay, that it actually wasn’t. If people are inclined to accept your argument, they usually have already come to that conclusion on their own. That’s all I meant.

        • December 3, 2009 6:34 pm

          Fair enough. Sorry to be so touchy.

  22. John B Hodges permalink
    December 6, 2009 2:48 am

    Jesus recommended total celibacy to his followers as part of his larger theme of overfulfilling the Law, most clearly in Matthew chapter 5. Not only abstain from killing but also from anger. Not only abstain from swearing false oaths, abstain from swearing oaths at all. The Law says not to commit adultery. But “whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So, abstain from lust.

    http://atheisme.ca/repertoire/hodges_john_b/ethics_of_jesus_en.html

  23. December 14, 2009 9:42 am

    I love that picture of Jesus. That’s going on my desktop background. Cool.

  24. March 18, 2010 11:13 pm

    JOHN PIPER ON MARK DRISCOLL SERMON JAM

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy permalink
    June 11, 2010 10:53 am

    But maybe this is just the Twilight saga syncretistically influencing the church? The girl from Twilight has immortal vampires and werewolves, but we have immortal Jesus as a boyfriend. The thought of a 40 year old divorced mother of two having her boyfriend relationship needs met while singing this song makes my brain hurt.

    “JESUS IS MY EDWARD CULLEN (SHEKINAH *SPARKLES* AND ALL)!”

    SOMEBODY ELSE BESIDES ME NOTICED IT!!!!!

    I’d experienced the attitude while flushing $1000 down the toilet of Christian (TM) dating services, but it wasn’t until the rise of Twilight that I was able to put it into words.

  26. December 29, 2013 8:05 pm

    Thank you for saying this. Thank you for the eros and agape explanation. I am really tired of singing to Jesus/God like I’m a teenage girl in love for the first time. I respect God more than that, and His love for me is far greater and better than that also.

Trackbacks

  1. Jesus Is Not Your Boyfriend « Scotteriology - JacobMcDonald.net v6.0
  2. i need more than God | R3blog.net

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