Archive | January, 2013

Tomlin, “Glorious”, and the ‘Supreme Leader’ Test

30 Jan

So let’s talk about the ‘Supreme Leader’ Test. This is a test designed to see if a song is actually a Christian song. The test goes like this:

If the song in question was decontextualised from its provenance, could it be sung without adaption as a hymn of praise to the leader of North Korea?

Let’s talk a bit about the decontextualisation part and why that’s important. I understand the author-is-dead position and people who want to read as if authorial intention is irrelevant. But if a text is part of a communicative act, and you want to provide a different interpretation to that act, you are providing a different implied author in your reading. So the act of reading a text in a radically feminist manner, for example, often involves construction an implied author and setting that is, in some cases, radically feminist, in other cases, extremely patriarchal. In both cases, we may know that attributing such things to the author and setting is not fair, but death-of-author readings say this doesn’t matter. For this test we are doing a little bit of ignoring the possibility of authorial intent. We’re setting it aside a bit.

So this test involves some partial blinding of ourselves to the author and the provenance of the song. What if the lyrics just turned up on the internet with no author attributed? What if we thought they were translated out of Korean into English? Could this song be readily understood as song to a dictator, or another deity, etc..

There is a companion test along similar lines that we will probably meet, the ‘My Jesus, My Boyfriend’ test.

Okay, so let’s get to the song. Chris Tomlin, Glorious (links to lyrics), youtube performance.

There is nothing in this song that suggests the identity of the King in question.
There is nothing in this song that identifies any member of the Trinity.
There is nothing in this song that distinctly alludes to or employs Biblical language (The allusion criteria would at least give us a clue if we stripped the provenance of the song that it was still a song emerging out of a Christian-influenced or derived culture)

Members of other monotheistic faiths, and some polytheistic ones, could happily sing this song.
Members of devoted political parties could happily sing this song.
Members of the factions of deluded dictators of small nations could happily sing this song.

I don’t think Christian songs need to necessarily have deep exegesis, connect us to biblical texts in a redemptive historical paradigm, explicitly mention Jesus by name, in order to be good. But this one just does nothing, nothing to suggest I’m singing praise to the Triune God of the Bible. Generic praise is faint damning praise.

Write better songs Chris Tomlin.


Welcome to The Cranky Worshipper

30 Jan

So this is my new blog, and I thought I’d start of by introducing what it’s all about. Basically I’m not a fan of poor Christian worship songs, specifically lyrics, and so here I’m going to rant and rave in a considered manner about various songs, and why they are bad, and hopefully this will actually be a positive contribution because there are all sorts of songs we should stop singing, and there are lots of ways we could improve our lyricism.

I studied Literature, so you’re going to get a lot of critical commentary about lyrics.
I also studied/study Theology, so you’re going to get a lot of criticism about the theological content of songs.
I’m a musician, but not a theorist of any kind, so I’m going to avoid complaining and raving about the musical side of songs.

Coming up in my first actual post I’ll be discussing the song that finally kicked this blog off, and my “Supreme Leader” test for song lyrics…

Oh, I’m also open to writing posts on songs you nominate. Just be sure to send me a link to some lyrics and a link to a video or audio performance.