Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Reckless Love and Emotional Faith

It’s funny, I wrote something similar to this a few years ago. Or at least, I wrote about the fact that I do not pay careful attention to trends in the Christian music industry. Some controversial things occasionally happen in it, but I am lucky to ever hear about them. This is another example of me being late to the party.

Most of you who listen to Christian music have probably heard the song “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. It has been fairly popular during the almost two years since its release. The song has a powerful message. In spite of our unworthiness, even our animosity, God loved us enough pay for our sins. There were no lengths to which He would not go to reconcile us to Himself.

Criticisms of "Reckless Love"

Some feel there is a problem with this message, though. In particular, they feel there is a problem with the title refrain. Can God’s love be described as “reckless?” Technically, no. Recklessness, after all, is a vice. It means doing something without giving any thought to its consequences, i.e., without reckoning with them. The song can be seen as implying, then, that God sent His Son to die without thinking it through. That, obviously, would be absurd.

I have no idea if Asbury actually takes that position. I have never heard one of his critics say that. Usually, the most they seem to accuse him of is being reckless in his word choice. But even so, they say he has lied about God and encouraged sloppy theology to a very wide audience. They feel a need to hold him responsible and correct the error.

Even for me, that is a bit pedantic. I do get it. There is a lot of bad theology in the world, and as the Apostle Paul says, “A little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough” (Gal. 5:9). Small errors can have big impacts. Still, do we have to look so close? The song’s primary message is orthodox. Why choose this battle?

Having happened upon the conflict late, it seems to me it has less to do with the lyrics and more to do with the production company. Asbury is an artist signed with Bethel Music, and Bethel Music is a subsidiary of Bethel Church, a charismatic church in Redding, CA. Most of the critics of this song, and of the Bethel movement, are cessationists. They do not believe the phenomenological spiritual gifts (speaking in tongues, laying on hands for healing, prophecy, etc.) continued after the apostolic age.

I am essentially a cessationist myself (for reasons that I will undoubtedly explain in later posts), so I understand the wariness toward anything coming from Bethel. Bethel spews out enough dangerous nonsense to deserve it. Other churches really should be more careful about using Bethel materials, too. The uncritical acceptance of them gives them unfortunate validity.

Encouraging Christian Emotion

I don’t exactly want to focus on Bethel, though. I’d rather do some introspection at the moment. There is a reason that Bethel Church and Hillsong Church (a charismatic congregation in Sydney, Australia) are so influential and are producing so much of the popular Christian music of today. It is because charismaticism depends heavily on emotionalism, and music is very emotional. Charismatic Christianity therefore has strong appeal to those for whom music is a vital element of their faith, including songwriters and performing artists.

This is not to say that all Christian musicians are charismatics. Plenty aren’t. But we have to recognize that there is a natural connection, and I feel we need to discourage that connection by encouraging the emotional aspect of faith in cessationist circles.

It is not an easy thing to do. I’ve written before about the fact that I tend more toward the rational than the emotional. That seems to be the case with most cessationists. We generally have an emphasis on accuracy, and the incongruence between charismatic expression and biblical revelation is what puts us in opposition to the former. We think our faith more than we feel it. Not that we are robots, but everyone leans more one way than the other and we lean toward the reasoning side of the scale.

That is not a bad thing, but it becomes a bad thing if we go the extra step of attempting to quash those with opposite personalities. If we do that, we do not change them. We just drive them to the places where their emotions will be validated, and usually to the extreme.

A Place for Christian Mysticism

There is something we need to rediscover, but I am not even sure of its name. The best I can do is to call it Christian mysticism, but I know that is not quite right. Mysticism is related more to contemplation than to music. Still, I think it works. Conservative Christians tend to worry as much about mysticism as we do about charismaticism, but we shouldn’t. Not if we understand it correctly.

Christian mysticism, properly defined, is completely orthodox. It is not a “New Age” faith, all mindless meditation and empty categories. Rather, it is understanding “mystery” as Paul used it in his epistles. Not secret knowledge only for the few, but knowledge that God has revealed in His own timing apart from our ability to fully comprehend it. Mysticism of this kind relishes in what can be known without being explained. It is the celebration of wonder.

Mysticism of this kind is also truly biblical. A few passages include Eph. 3:17–19, where Paul says,

I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

This is actually a vital piece of scripture for making my case because it points to both aspects of faith. In the same breath, Paul says to seek to understand God’s love while simultaneously explaining that the dimensions of this love are beyond knowing.

Related to this is 1 John 3:1–3, where the apostle John writes,

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children—and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know Him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure.

Here we have a double invocation of mysticism as I’m describing it. First, our knowledge that we are the children of God is a mystery. Revealed in Christ, it is unknowable to the purely natural mind. Second is the question of what we will be. We only know that we do not know it, and that it will be glorious because it will reflect the Lord Jesus. But our future form is beyond our current grasp.

Speaking the Truth in Love

I hope my choice of these verses seem appropriate, because they take us right back to “Reckless Love.” Again, I don’t know anything about Cory Asbury. But I can see many people in our churches producing similar devotional artwork and presenting it to their pastors. If there is a minor error in them, should we guide them to the truth or beat them with it? Should we focus on the shadows, or revel in the light it contains? Do we want to encourage them to remain with us and share their perspective, or drive them out so that only one view of God remains?

Looking too hard at “reckless” sends the message that we are unwilling to feel the awesomeness of God. And after all, does His love not appear reckless from our point of view? He surely was not thoughtless, but I cannot understand a reason why He would be willing to die for me. Do you think you are worth it? Do you know why He did it for you? All we can do is know that He did. Then we respond by loving Him in return.

There needs to be a balance between what we think and what we feel. No person is balanced in that way, which is why we need each other in the church. I can never be a mystic, but I want to appreciate the type of mysticism that Scripture recommends. I want to know the need for my opposite so we can balance one other. If we throw out the good with the bad, we will only be strengthening error by sending it reinforcements. We must be intentional to keep that from happening.

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