Throughout the history of His people first in terms of pre-Messianic Israel in the form of the Psalms and then ultimately in terms of the Church following the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, music has played a crucial role in conveying the great truths of doctrine and teaching to the faithful. As such, many of these lyrical works referred to as hymns have endured for decades and in some instances even for centuries.
The Emergent Church movement is a philosophy of ecclesiology holding that much of what Christendom professed throughout the modern era was either in error or in needs of being reformulated as society transitionally progresses into an epoch more postmodern in orientation. However, given that its musical tastes have apparently found it difficult to expand beyond so-called “Seven Eleven Choruses” where songs composed of a mere seven words are sung over and over for what seems like eleven times in a row, this methodology of ministry might have hit something of a roadblock in terms of didactic lyricism.
Emergent Church poobah Brian McLaren announced that he thinks he may have found a way around this formidable impasse. He contends that, if generations of Christians have enjoyed classic songs to such a noticeable extent, why throw out the baby with the bathwater? That might happen more often in a literal sense than you think given the support for the deliberative neo-natal infanticide epidemic throughout the circles of religious leftism.
Instead of composing entirely new songs that may or may not catch on, according to an article published at Christianpost.com, Mclaren has decided to simply formulate new lyrics in compliance with his doctrinal preferences and peculiarities to those tunes that have stood the test of time. It also probably doesn't hurt that most are probably so old that they have also passed into the public domain in terms of copyright status.
The first released by McLaren bastardized in this fashion is “Onward Christian Soldiers”. That particular hymn wasn't good enough to be left alone, in McLaren's view, because of its emphasis of warfare against “the foe”.
According to McLaren, his sensibilities were unsettled by the original version because “the foe” could be interpreted to mean “our neighbors outside of the Church”. McLaren further insists that metaphors of warfare were not in accord with Jesus' and Paul's program of peacemaking.
So once this apostate is finished, will he next turn his cross hairs to explicitly rewriting the Bible? The argument could be made that McLaren is already well down that path in terms of the warped practices he advocates as evidenced by his co-officiating at his son's homosexual wedding.
Like it or not, the Bible is already full of war metaphors. For example, at His Second Advent, Christ does not intend to return as the friend the lowly Jesus, but instead upon a white steed amidst a battle where the blood is prophesied to flow up to the bridals of the horses.
The timid will respond that is merely a metaphor for the ultimate triumph over evil. Maybe so, as the interpretation of eschatological motifs is not the point of this particular analytical exposition.
As such, even if one wants to go that interpretative route, that does not take away from the truth that the Messiah proclaimed in the pages of Holy Writ is not one that turns away from conflict at all costs.
Jesus says in Matthew 10:34-35 that He has not come to bring peace but rather to set son against father and daughter against mother.
McLaren assures that he would not have as much of a problem with the song if “the foe” had been identified with his own preferred bogeymen such as greed, racism, domestic violence, or apathy. But aren't those things that nearly all Christians oppose when these evils are defined in a traditional sense irrespective of whether one views oneself closer to one of the primary dichotomies of either Fundamentalism or Progressivism?
A primary danger of the Emergent Church movement is how it often defines terms in ways that catch the unsuspecting off guard. For example, corporate greed is often defined as little as simply making a profit or those participating in a business undertaking keeping most of their financial reward for themselves without most of it siphoned off in taxes or in the form of assorted bribes more commonly referred to as contributions to mollify an assortment of radical activist groups.
Likewise, “racism” becomes little more than failing to blame Whitey for the preponderance of problems gripping the contemporary world and that certain minorities should be excused for their substandard behavior. Domestic violence is downgraded simply to mean raising your voice in response to a nagging banshee that first raised her voice at you.
Nearly all rational Christians deep down want to diminish the impact of these evils when they actually exist in the world in order to make it a better place the few short years we reside here in comparison to the eons of pending eternity. However, from McLaren's emphasis for a number of years now, one has to stop and wonder if this particular thinker actually believes that this world is all that exists.
For along with “Onward Christian Soldiers”, it seems that Brian McLaren has a particular disdain regarding hymns emphasizing and teaching about Heaven. This vehemence runs so deep that, in this article, McLaren admits that the first lyrics he mangled in the name of propaganda were actually to “I'll Fly Away”.
In that particular song, the composer says that, in a few short days when his life on Earth is through, he'll be flying away to Glory. In the McLarenite reworking, the emphasis is instead placed upon how “I'll Get Involved” in which the theologian urges the faithful “not to evacuate but to engage and transform”. “Transform” is usually a euphemism how everyone else (with the exception of the religious and cultural elites who will continue to enjoy their posh lifestyles as vanguards of the proletariat in classic Soviet tradition) ought to have what they've worked to accumulate redistributed largely to those that often did not toil away in a similar manner.
Admittedly, there are a number of Christians that are, as is said, so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. However, one must ask is McLaren's problem with songs that misinterpret Biblical doctrine sound teaching and theology itself?
When “I'll Fly Away” says that when life on Earth is through that the composer will fly away, such a declaration is not a call for the passive resignation and detachment of the Eastern mystics. McLaren would probably have little problem with that spiritual methodology when it came to emphasizing existential inwardness over objective creedal dogma or when the time came to separate people from their possessions during the great redistributive upheaval advocated by religious leftists.
Instead, the song is a realization that life here is short at its longest but that we at least have somewhere else worthwhile to go if we profess Christ as Lord and Savior. That is the essence of divine revelation.
James 4:14 reminds that life is but a vapor. Job 14:1 laments, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” Psalm 90:10 establishes that the average lifespan is three score and ten years and four with sorrow and suffering.
Yet Jesus assures in John 14:2-3 that He goes to prepare a place for us and that in His Father's house there are many mansions. If, as McLaren seems to teach and imply, the fullness of Christ's kingdom is in the here and now of this world rather than in the future glory of the Celestial City, we had better see what we can do about getting a refund from the Almighty.
To those steeped and even mired in pious verbal formulations, such a sentiment might sound overly blunt as they claim to be satisfied with a Jesus they perceive to be primarily about tender moral axioms. However, I Corinthians 15:19 boldly declares that, if only in this life we have hope, of all those in the world we are the most miserable and pathetic.
McLaren further conveyed that many of these songs that emphasize the transient nature of this temporal existence plant the worldview presuppositions that lead to the environmental abuse that put the planet in peril. But what about McLaren's own globetrotting lifestyle as he hops from location to location spreading his borderline apostasy?
McLaren doesn't simply sit at home writing books or Internet postings to advance his ideology. An inordinate amount of fossil fuels are consumed to enable him to speak at venues as divergent from one another as Australia and Great Britian.
Nor in his days of pastoral ministry was McLaren merely a humble storefront or country preacher. McLaren's suburban Washington congregation (interesting how suburbs are evil when inhabited by those valuing free market exchange but perfectly acceptable when inhabited by Rolls Royce revolutionaries) took what was once a productive farm and converted it into a religious entertainment complex. Yet, in a podcast a few years ago addressing environmental issues, McLaren lamented how it was somehow an abomination in the eyes of God that people live within four square walls.
Every movement that wants to persuade others as to the superiority of a particular set of values at one point or another utilizes music in order to do so. Perhaps it is a sign of the theological bankruptcy of the Emergent Church that its foremost spokesman feels that the only way to do so is to hijack the joyful noise of a tradition on surer dogmatic footing.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.