Sober Joy

I seem to be writing a decent amount about current Christian music and the attitudes it contains. Here’s some more. Elizabeth gave me Indelible Grace III (For All The Saints) for my birthday, and it’s my third IG album (of their five). Indelible Grace’s goal is to “help the church recover the tradition of putting old hymns to new music for each generation, and to enrich our worship with a huge view of God and His indelible grace.” In the liner notes of For All the Saints, writer and producer Kevin Twit notes this big-picture mentality that they try to accomplish through their music:

This [album] has a mood of sober joy. I think reality is just sinking in a little more. The Christian life is not about closing our eyes and pretending Jesus turns all of our lemons into lemonade, and worship music should never be about helping us live out of touch with reality. Rather, worship music should deepen our gaze of Jesus and his beauty and at the same time, open our eyes to the brokenness in ourselves and our world. It should compel us to take up our cross and follow Him. We have been “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” – and that changes everything!

I think there seems to be a spectrum in the evangelical Protestant world related to sin and the gospel, especially as it manifests itself in “worship music.” On one end, there are those who are so focused on and torn up about their own sin that they may seem to engage in self-inflicted punishment and also lose sight of the joy that bounds forth from the forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ. The other end seems to have no concern for or realization of their own sin, and live as if their sin doesn’t really matter
(“happy-clappy” worship). When I’m “out of balance” on the spectrum, I typically fall toward the former, and focus on my own sin, often to a fault. I believe the right balance is the “sober joy” found somewhere in the middle, which Twit notes should be evident in our worship. Our worship (not only singing, but praying, studying, etc.) should make us more aware of our sin, more reliant on the Holy Spirit for sanctification, all the while focusing our eyes and our joy ever more on Christ. Yes, I am a great sinner, and a solemn realization of sin is of utmost importance in the Christian life (David’s Psalm 51 for example), but without going to Christ for assurance of forgiveness, this mindset can be mundane or depressing.

But on the other hand, there are some songs that totally miss the picture – I’m thinking of the “I will” songs that Michael Horton often uses as examples of the watered-down, individual-focused worship songs so popular in the Christian sphere today. Songs that just proclaim the singer’s intentions of “I will worship…I will bow…I will praise….I will sing…I will I will I will” without any context of why or without the focus on God totally miss the point by putting the attention on the singer (“look at me, here’s what I’m doing”). We aren’t doing God a favor by going to church once a week and worshiping on our own terms. On the contrary, we can only worship because through His infinite grace and mercy, God allows us to approach His holy throne in worship – worship isn’t our right, it is our privilege. One popular worship song that is a prime example of this “I will” attitude doesn’t even mention God by name – only by second person personal pronoun. I wonder what an unbelieving visitor would think if he heard that song being sung?. “Who are these people saying they will bow to? The pastor? The song leader?”

As a stark contrast, Indelible Grace’s music has the sincere, deep texts of older hymns (often taken right from Scripture), but set to quality (and original) modern music. Examples on this album in particular include “Not What My Hands Have Done” and”Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven.” The first track, “Jesus, I Come” might hint at the “I will” attitude through its title, but its lyrics are an example of coming to Christ out of our bondage and sin, recognizing that it’s only through Christ that we have hope:

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night,
Jesus, I come; Jesus I come.
Into Thy freedom, gladness and light,
Jesus, I come to Thee.
Out of my sickness into Thy health,
Out of my wanting and into Thy wealth,
Out of my sin and into Thyself,
Jesus, I come to Thee. [verse 1]

I freely admit that there are many great modern worship songs that are Christ-centered.
There are also some old hymns that are of the “I will” variety. I also know that music often seems to be a polarizing, emotionally-charged topic. But my point is that there is a balance to be found in our worship between increasing our awareness of our own sin and the sin in the world (Twit uses the euphemism “brokenness”), while deepening our faith and love in Christ for His work for us. I still have much to learn about exactly what this means and looks like in a worship context, and I don’t think I’ll ever fully know until I worship perfectly in glory.

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One thought on “Sober Joy

  1. Joel -Several comments.First, Happy Birthday (once again)! Second, you are welcome to cross-post that on the church site. Good thoughts there.Third, I like your thoughts about the “spectrum.” You certainly see fewer examples these days of those cultivating a healthy balance of sobriety and joy, but hopefully God will move us in that direction more and more. Ken

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