N.T. Wright on "me and Jesus being in love"

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

Earlier this year, renowned New Testament theologian N.T. Wright (Bishop in the Church of England, author of over 40 books) spoke at a public lecture at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena CA while in town to teach a DMin class at nearby Fuller Seminary.

 During the Q&A session following his lecture, Wright (pictured left) made the following insightful comments on what he refers to as the type of worship song that is basically about “me and Jesus being in love.”
Romance is wonderful, but a steady worked out relationship is better. Striking a match is very exciting, but its not going to last long. Use the match to light a candle and it will give a steady beautiful light to the room. You might say, let’s have more matches and sparklers too! But you can’t live on that. I really do worry about that. In my Diocese some of the young people sing those romantic songs all the time, and I don’t want to tell them to stop singing them and go back to singing “All People That On Earth Do Dwell” (though I would prefer they did), because if that’s where these young people are, then that’s fine.

But God takes us as we are in order to transform us and move us on. ….I agree that the language of romance is Biblical (with rabbinic traditions of interpreting the Song of Songs as romance between God and Israel, and the great patristic and medieval traditions of interpreting the Song of Songs as the romance between Jesus and the Soul) and not just late modern…..But mostly the Church speaks of marriage (of Christ and the Church), not the romance of Christ and the Church.
While N.T. Wright has said much more about worship elsewhere (for example see chapter eleven of his recent book “Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense”, 2006, HarperOne), I do appreciate the wisdom in his above comments.

We don’t know what specific songs N.T. Wright is referring to, but note that he says these songs about “me and Jesus being in love” are (1) biblical (2) and that although he would prefer that some young people in his church did not sing them “all the time”, he does not tell them to stop, because (3) those people are in a particular place in life in which those songs fit. (4) Wright goes on to imply that it could be better if those songs were part of a larger mix of songs expressing a variety of messages, experiences and feelings (including highs and lows) as part of an ongoing life-long relationship.

Of course it is not only young people that might like some of those songs. Regardless of age, we are all different, and some folks are just more passionate than others, and as Wright points out, people are in different places in their life’s journey with Jesus, and that’s fine. We should be graciously respectful of that fact. For that matter, later in life we occasionally need to revive and rekindle those fires of our “first love” as Christians.

Also at least some “me and Jesus in love” songs touch upon a lot more of the gospel story than might be indicated in the song’s title. For example we occasionally sing “My Beloved” by Chris Tomlin (pictured left). While the theme is that Jesus is my Beloved, and I am His, the song also testifies that because His precious blood was spilled, this Beloved has raised my life up from the dead, and that my eyes will see His face. It proclaims this Beloved as the Mighty God, Faithful One, Lamb of God and the Holy One. So while it’s a love song, the larger story of redemption is also touched upon. The full lyrics are:

My Beloved mine, I His, my Beloved mine, I His
My Beloved mine, I His, my Beloved mine, I His

His precious blood was spilled. His precious blood was spilled
His precious blood was spilled. My Beloved mine, I His

He raised my life up from the dead. He raised my life up from the dead
He raised my life up from the dead. My Beloved mine, I His

When my eyes shall see His face, when my eyes shall see His face
When my eyes shall see His face, my beloved mine, I His

Mighty God, Faithful One, my Beloved, my Beloved
You're the Lamb of God, You're the Holy One
My Beloved, my Beloved, my Beloved

My Beloved mine, I His, my Beloved mine, I His
My Beloved mine, I His, my Beloved mine, I His

We haven’t done the song often, but it adds variety in the midst of songs of praise and songs that speak of personal and collective needs, or that testify of God’s grace and mercy for all people—not just me, and not just our congregation.

I’d appreciate hearing your comments as well.