KP asked me to comment on the difference between intensely personal and intensely individualistic. I may have answered the question briefly already, but I want to be sure I answer it more fully. And for those of you who have been commenting on all this stuff lately, thank you. I'm sorry I haven't been able to respond to everything. The blog has been busy, but my life has been busier.
The best I can manage on this is some sort of stream of consciousness screed as I've not really thought it through completely. The question arose in the comments in the second We End Up Being... post. I said that worship music that is intensely personal is fine (as we see in the Psalms) but I object to intensely individualistic music. First, this idea is predicated on my belief that worship is not about me; it's about God, or rather it's directed God-ward. This does not automatically exclude songs that feature the first person singular pronoun. It's probably better to use first person plural more often in worship, as we're supposed to be a community, but I don't want anyone thinking I believe all "I" songs are out.
This link is to the top 25 worship songs for North America as reported in February of 2005. That means the songs were reported from April to September of last year. For those of you familiar with "contemporary" worship, you'll notice the majority of the songs have a first person perspective. That's not altogether fair, as Here I am to Worship is primarily about the Christ event, and not about me. But there is a great deal of I, me, my, and mine involved. Shout to the Lord starts: My Jesus, my savior... Google the lyrics if you're curious, but you can trust me that damn few of these songs focus on much of anything except a personal response to what Jesus has done or on a request for Jesus to do something for me—"Open the eyes of my heart, Lord...I want to see you...
I want to pick on one in particular to make my point though, and it's the theologically questionable and sonically annoying Lord, I Lift Your Name on High. First, the lyrics:
Lord, I lift your name on high
Lord, I love to sing your praises
I'm so glad you're in my life
I'm so glad you came to save us
At the risk of making an absurd statement, that's like the verse. The chorus in a minute. I lift your name. I love to sing. I'm so glad. You're in my life. You came to save us (finally, a corporate pronoun). This isn't praise, and it's barely worship. This is me telling God how much I like praise and/or worship.
You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky
Lord, I lift your name on high.
Yeesh. Now, if the way is taken in the Anabaptist sense of a way to live, then this song is marginally okay, and Rick Founds may well have intended it that way when he wrote it. However, in the parlance of evangelicalism, the way that Jesus shows is the way to salvation, which is to say, himself on the cross and the necessity of a "born-again experience." And you'll notice it's my debt he's paying. Not the sins of the world. Not the redemption of the creation. Not the restoration of all things. (Behold, I make all things new. One of my favorite Jesusisms.) It's a personal transaction, just as salvation is a personal transaction. I say the prayer; God forgives me; Jesus lives in my heart, whatever the hell that means. No notion of being saved INTO something, just out of or from something. And it closes with me lifting the Lord's name on high again. Whatever that means. And I'm pretty sure that's an action that doesn't require me to announce that I'm doing it. Think of it like having sex. It's something I do, and the person I'm doing it with knows I'm doing it, and unless I'm really confused about what talking dirty in bed is all about, I don't sporadically proclaim, "I'm having sex with you, baby," in flagrante dilecto.
Contrast that with Matt Redman's song The Heart of Worship. Lyrics like, "I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it..." seem to be too oriented to a first person perspective. However, when the background is understood as recognizing that worship had become a performance and the songwriter is genuinely repenting, then the intensely personal nature of the confession does reach the status of worship. The repentance is followed by the confession "it's all about you, all about you, Jesus." The idea is that I'm repenting, confessing, and affirming my faith, as well as vocalizing my intention to be a genuine worshipper. That seems fine to me. The other is a song about what Jesus has done for me, and how I feel about it that ignores the larger work that Jesus has done and never considers the Christ event in its broader terms. Now, you can fairly argue that the song is intentionally ad hoc, and I won't dispute it completely, but how many of those should we sing in a service before people start to get the point that the Christ event is about me. It's the musical equivalent of "If you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died for you." No. I would have killed him.
Worship shapes us in many ways. And music sticks with us and informs us in ways that preaching never will. We either sing songs that open our eyes to the vastness of the Christ event and our responsibilities to the rest of the world in light of that event, or we sing songs that affirm for me that Jesus did things for me. He did, and does, but that's a little too much dessert. You need the main course too.