Songs for Summer 2019

Theology in Popular Music: Good, Bad and Truly Weird

Genesis 1:1-27, "Father of Night" (1970)

Genesis 2:5-23, "The purpose of a man is to love a woman." (1965)

Angels - Mostly Badly Represented

Hebrews 1:1 2:1-8a, "Johnny Angel" (1962)

1 Corinthians 15:35-57, "Teen Angel" (1960)

Hebrews 13:2; Genesis 18:1-16, "Feathery Wings" (2000)

Job 1:6-12; 2 Corinthians 11:5-15, "Almost Human" (2000)

Luke 4:1-13, "Loves Me Like a Rock" (1973)

John 1:1-10; Isaiah 45:11-12, "Close to You" (1963)

Colossians 2:18-23; 1 Timothy 1:11-17, "Angel" (2014)

1 Kings 19:1-18, "Angel" (1997)


Psalms 62:1-12, "I Go to the Rock" (1995)

Psalms 47:1-9, 98:1-9, "Church Clap" (2012)

1 John 1:1 2:11, "Margaritaville" (1976)

John 21:1-13, Phil.3:20-21, "Tears in Heaven" (1991)

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Isa. 11:1-9, "When I Get Where I'm Going" (2005)

1 Kings 18:25-29; Matthew 23:13-26, "Jesus He Knows Me" (satire, 1992)

Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:41, 46-47, 5:14, 11:24, "After the Music Stops" (2006)

Romans 15:30-33; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Hebrews 4:12-16, "Little Altar Boy" (1978)

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, "Turn Turn Turn" (1950s)

Isaiah 44:6-20; Jeremiah 2:26-28, 10:2-5, Judges 6:30-31, "Plastic Jesus" (satire, 1957)

Romans 10:1-17, "Jesus Muzik" (2006)

Psalms 40:1-17, "40" (1983)

More Songs for Summer

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The Picnic, by Thomas Cole, 1846. Click for full image.
The Picnic, by Thomas Cole, 1846. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Click for full image.
Genesis 1:1-27, "Father of Night" (1970) Matt should use this Dylan song as an invocation! (07/29/19)

We're going to take a little break from our study of salvation and listen to some music. Remember our Christmas IQ Test? We saw that most of what we have learned about Christmas from our culture is wrong. I suspect that most of us are also exposed to more theology good, bad, and truly weird in popular culture than we are in church. On your behalf, I have listened to popular music for about 5 days straight for theological themes. The music ranges from several songs that I like very much to one that I wish I could delete from my brain like a computer file (you won't get that one from me). I urge you to read the scripture and listen to all the songs, although I will try to warn you about songs that are going to bore themselves into your brain and stay there for days.

We will begin our musical study with an invocation, "Father of Night," by one of my favorite artists, Bob Dylan. This song doesn't ask for anything, doesn't complain about anything, and isn't even talking to me: it's addressing God and recognizing him as the all-powerful creator of everything, which is excellent theology.

Genesis 2:5-23, "The purpose of a man is to love a woman." (1965) One purpose, certainly. (07/30/19)

I've always loved "The Game of Love" by Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders, and as it happens, it's scripturally very accurate. Although the original purpose of the man was to tend God's garden (vs. 15), the second purpose assigned to him was to love a woman (vs. 18). The song says, And that's almost exactly what Adam said.

Here's a similar translation of what Adam said, which I did for you a few years ago. If you've got a minute, read that study tip also, because it clarifies the difference between the "human being" that lived before the deep sleep and the "man" and "woman" that lived afterwards. I have no idea why so many translation teams use "man" both before and after, because the words are different in both the Greek and the Hebrew. But this is one of those places where you don't have to agree with me.

This song has some potential for being in your head for days, so be warned.

Hebrews 1:1 2:1-8a, "Johnny Angel" (1962) Your beloved is not an angel. (07/31/19)

There's a lot of popular music is about angels, and most of it is dead wrong. (MWAHaHahaha!) "Johnny Angel" is another song from my youth, but this one is not scriptural at all. Your beloved is not an angel. The first century, like our own time, had trouble with people paying more attention to angels than they did to God, and the writer of Hebrews takes great pains to show the superiority of Jesus Christ to the angels. He does so in part by quoting from Psalms 8 (Hebrews 2:6b-8), which distinguishes clearly between humankind and angels. Angels are a different kind of intelligent creature, neither human nor God.

1 Corinthians 15:35-57, "Teen Angel" (1960) Your beloved isn't going to turn into an angel. (08/01/19)

Even when I was a teenager, I thought "Teen Angel" was sappy, and I still do. Moreover, the theology is bad. As we saw yesterday, your beloved is not an angel now, and furthermore, he or she is not going to turn into an angel after death. We've been talking in Sunday School about the nature of the glorified body, and the fact is that the Bible doesn't describe it very well. (This means that we don't need to know.) One thing is clear: your body will be imperishable and immortal, but it won't be an angel, because angels are something else entirely.

Whether your loved one is able to hear or see you here among the living is a question that I don't think is answered anywhere in scripture. (Some people think it is; they could be right.) The doctrine of at least some denominations, e.g., Roman Catholicism, supports the idea of asking angels and canonized saints for intercessory prayer or action, which implies that the answer is yes. Protestant churches tend to think that asking for intercession is a bad idea that comes perilously close to worshipping someone other than God, but that still begs the question of whether the saints see and hear us. Judaism seems to be divided along the same lines.

Hebrews 13:2; Genesis 18:1-16, "Feathery Wings" (2000) Not all angels have wings, and they don't "earn" them. (08/02/19)

Okay, enough of my youth for now. "Feathery Wings" is a more modern, satirical song suggested by a non-fellow-reader; I had never heard it before. The idea seems to be that this angel is supposed to help people here on earth in order to "earn a set of feathery wings." As I hear it, he gets pretty sick of the whole assignment, blames the people for his lack of success, and just wants to go home.

My problem is not the idea of a narcissistic angel Satan shows us that this is within the realm of possibility. My problem with this song is that some angels have wings, and some don't, but that's just the way they are. Nothing in scripture suggests that the ones with wings had to earn them, like some sort of air force ROTC for the LORD of Hosts. On the other hand, if all angels had wings, it would be difficult to entertain them without knowing it. Abraham at first thought his visitors were ordinary men (vs. 2), and the angels also look like ordinary men when they all head for Sodom (vs. 13). Only around vs. 22 does Abraham eventually figure out that he is speaking to the Angel of the LORD (vs. 22). No wings on these angels.

Job 1:6-12; 2 Corinthians 11:5-15, "Almost Human" (2000) The Devil isn't going to turn into a human being. (08/05/19)

Apparently a few readers are less addicted to computers than I am (good job!) and didn't notice that the study tips provide a link to a YouTube performances of each song. Usually the link will be the name of the song. The song is part of the study tip, although sometimes it is sort of a anti-tip.

Anyway. In "Almost Human", another satire by Voltaire, the Devil is crying the blues telling us that he was wronged in being cast out of heaven, and in fact he is just like you and me. My first reaction to this song is that it's unscriptural, because the Devil isn't anything like a human being, and that reaction was correct, as far as it went. Notice in Job that Satan is right there with the sons of God, i.e., the angels; he's much more like an angel than like a human being (and may even have been an angel of God at one time).

But as I listened to the song several times, it dawned on me that it's actually a fairly accurate depiction of Satan. Now stay with me here. What do we know for sure about the Devil? We know that he is a liar and a cheat and a tempter! Of course he's going to say that God wronged him! Of course he's going to say that he's just like you and me! How else is he going to get a sympathetic ear that will listen to all his little whispers of temptation? "Poor baby!" we say. "Is there anything I can do to help?" And then he tells us what one little sin we can commit to make his life a whole lot easier. Don't fall for his lie! Instead of "Poor baby," say "You rascal! I'm onto your tricks, so don't let the door hit you in the fanny on your way out!"

By the way, this song also suggests that we can recognize Satan by his lousy grammar. I'm just saying.

Luke 4:1-13, "Loves Me Like a Rock" (1973) The Devil can only call your name, not force you into sin. (08/06/19)

In "Loves Me Like a Rock", the Devil calls the singer's name twice, and Congress calls his name once. Each time the singer asks, "Who do you think you're fooling?" In the wilderness, the Devil calls Jesus' name the Son of God twice, and offers him great political power once. Each time, Jesus answers, "Who do you think you're fooling?" Well, actually, Jesus quotes scripture showing that the Devil isn't fooling him at all, but the idea is exactly the same. The Devil can only call your name, not force you into sin; one reason for studying scripture is to be armed against the Devil.

By the way, note that a better translation of vss. 3 and 9 would say "Assuming for the sake of argument that you are the Son of God...." Most English translations have "If you are ...," which is literally correct, except that the construction of the Greek uses "if" in a way that grants the truth of the statement for the sake of discussion. Luke 4:3, 9, Matthew 12:28, and Galatians 5:18, 25 are cases in which we believe that what is being granted is also true. Matthew 12:27 and 1 Corinthians 15:14 are cases in which we believe that what is being granted is not true. So "since," as in the International Standard Version, is not exactly a correct translation, either. The thing about languages is that it isn't always possible to completely and accurately represent one with another; read more than one translation.

John 1:1-10; Isaiah 45:11-12, "Close to You" (1963) Angels didn't create you; God did. (08/07/19)

I actually like "Close to You" very much, and I think Karen Carpenter is one of the great contraltos of our time. Nevertheless it is just not true that because angels don't create human beings or anything else. God created everything, specifically including you.

Colossians 2:18-23; 1 Timothy 1:11-17, "Angel" (2014) Angels don't save you; God does. (08/08/19)

Here's a third song about angels from a non-reader contributor. This particular song, "Angel," is exactly what Paul warned the Colossians about. There are several things wrong with this. Principally, angels don't save you! Jesus does. Second, looking for an angel distracts you from the pursuit of the kingdom of God, which as you know should be the first thing we look for. Third, angels are messengers; they are sent, not summoned. And finally, angels don't want to be worshiped (Judges 13:16). If you want salvation, call upon God, who will be happy to give it to you (Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21).

1 Kings 19:1-18, "Angel" (1997) Even so, when you're really down, God may send an angel. (08/09/19)

So far we've heard several songs about angels and learned that most of them are wrong, because We did hear one lively song telling us that we can resist the Devil, and that's true. We'll finish up with "Angel," a lovely, gentle song almost a prayer about the care and compassion that God may send by means of an angel when you're at the end of your rope. Elijah was on the run with a price on his head, and he just wanted to give up and die. The angel didn't save him; it just gave him some food, water, and a safe place to sleep.
Psalms 62:1-12, "I Go to the Rock" (1995) Right on. (08/15/19)

"I Go to the Rock," which has been recorded by several different artists, is intended to be a Gospel song, and it succeeds. The images of the rock of salvation, the stone rejected by the builders, the refuge, and so on are mostly straight out of the Old Testament, with stops in the New Testament (e.g., Matthew 7:24-27, 1 Corinthians 10:4). Once in a while you find some good theology in popular music.

The introduction to this psalm is "To the choirmaster: according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David." "Jeduthun" may be a particular hymn tune, a style of music, an instrument, or a kind of choir. You remember from our study of the Psalms that often we don't have enough context for these instructions to know what they meant; this one is only used three times.

Psalms 47:1-9, 98:1-9, "Church Clap" (2012) You preach it, brother, and I'll clap! (08/16/19)

A friend was working in the garden and listening to "gutter-free music" on YouTube. When I heard "Church Clap," I about fell over! I said, "Who is that?? I have got to have that for my Bible study!!" It's a hip hop tune by Lecrae, and it instantly made me into a Lecrae fan girl.

Now, I have to admit that the first time I ever heard clapping in church, I was a bit taken aback, because it's not the way I was raised. One of the pastors eventually convinced me that it's okay, however, when he said to the congregation, "It's all right to applaud. That's how Methodists say 'Amen.'" And as it turns out, there's plenty of scriptural support for the idea of singing and clapping in church.

Nobody is absolutely certain how to translate "selah," which sometimes comes into English as "selah," or "pause," or "interlude." When you get to that part of the psalm, Or dance! (Like David, 2 Sam. 6:14.)

1 John 1:1 2:11, "Margaritaville" (1976) Forgiveness requires repentance, in turn requiring an acknowledgement of our sin. (08/19/19)

You may wonder why a song about tequila cocktails has made it into a Bible study, but "Margaritaville" has more practical application to our daily walk with God than any other tune we're looking at. Look at the progression here: When I commit a sin, isn't my first inclination to blame somebody else, like Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:12-13)? Then, maybe I decide that it was an accident, like Aaron when the golden calf "just came out of the fire" (Exodus 32:24) how on earth did that happen? Eventually I might be willing to admit that I committed a sin, but hey, that's less important than my reputation, like Saul (1 Samuel 15:30). Only when I acknowledge that my sin is my own fault am I able to repent and be forgiven (1 John 1:8-10, below).

By the way, do you have time for a bilingual pun? Of course you do. Margarites is Greek for pearl, so once when we were reading Matthew 13 in Greek class, I asked all wide-eyed innocence "Teacher, why does Jesus say that the kingdom of heaven is like a good margarita?" He thought that over and answered, perfectly deadpan, that heaven might just be like a good margarita! We were amused, although I don't remember that anyone else was.

John 21:1-13, Phil.3:20-21, "Tears in Heaven" (1991) Meet me in heaven! I think we'll know each other. (08/20/19)

We're reading a book about heaven in Sunday school, in which the authors asserts that we'll see and recognize our loved ones in heaven. So I did a pretty thorough search on that topic, and I can find no direct scriptural support for the idea. I agree with it, but obviously my agreement with an idea doesn't necessarily make it true, so you can think what you want about it.

"Tears in Heaven" discusses the same topic, but poses it as a question: The only pertinent scripture I can find is about Jesus after his own resurrection: John says his disciples knew exactly who he was, and since John was there, he should know. Then Paul says that our own glorified bodies will be just like Jesus' body, which presumably means that our loved ones will know exactly who we are. All in all, however, the question posed in the song is an accurate reflection of the scripture, because the scripture doesn't really say.

Naturally, our Sunday school class being what it is, our discussion of the book raised the follow-up question of whether we'd recognize, say, our grandfather, whom we knew as an old man, but who will probably look much younger in the glorified body. One of the members made a brilliant suggestion that I immediately adopted: in heaven we won't always look the same to everybody. Instead, my grandfather will look to me like himself as I knew him, but he'll look to my grandmother like himself as a young, vigorous man.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Isa. 11:1-9, "When I Get Where I'm Going" (2005) An excellent song about heaven except for the wings. (08/23/19)

When I Get Where I'm Going...
Don't cry for me down here.

Paul says exactly the same thing. The song gives a number of reasons for that, all of which I presume to be correct based on what little we know about heaven, with one exception. You probably won't have wings. But running your fingers through a lion's mane, crying only happy tears, shedding your sins and struggles, seeing your Maker's face, and so on, yes, that's exactly what we expect. I'm not much of a country music listener, but this is a great song no matter what you usually listen to.

1 Kings 18:25-29; Matthew 23:13-26, "Jesus He Knows Me" (satire, 1992) Beware of false prophets and preachers. (08/26/19)

"Jesus He Knows Me" is a satirical song that attacks false preachers, exposing their foolishness and vice by making fun of them. The song and video pay special attention to what false television preachers do when they're off-camera. It's satire, and if you think that satire about preachers doesn't have a place in Bible study, then I recommended that you read the book of Jonah! Jonah is too long for one email, so instead we're going to read some read scathing satirical comments about preachers from Elijah ("Pray louder! Maybe your god is in the bathroom.") and Jesus ("You're so careful not to eat a fly, but you swallow a camel whole! What??"). Remember that you have to read the Bible the way it's written. When the Holy Word starts sounding like dialogue from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you're probably reading a passage that's intended to be humorous or satirical. Take the message seriously, but feel free to laugh heartily while you're at it.

Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:41, 46-47, 5:14, 11:24, "After the Music Stops" (2006) This is not a suggestion: create disciples. (08/27/19)

Yesterday we heard a song ridiculing television preachers who chase money, women, and alcohol after they finish their show. "After the Music Stops" is exactly the opposite: This is a good question, not just for preachers but for all of us. Once the postlude is over, do we ignore God until the next Sunday, or do we follow the commandments all throughout the week? My favorite line in this song is After the ascension, Jesus' disciples didn't go back to their old jobs. They set out to make disciples in "disciple cycles." "After the Music Stops" is a terrific sermon as well as a terrific song.

Romans 15:30-33; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Hebrews 4:12-16, "Little Altar Boy" (1978) It's okay to ask for intercessory prayer, but it's also okay to approach God directly. (08/28/19)

"Little Altar Boy" asks for information about how to repent and be forgiven: "What must I do to be holy like you?"

And the singer asks for intercessory prayer: That's fine. We should never be reluctant to ask for intercessory prayer; for example, I ask that you pray for me and your fellow-readers. And specific requests are also in order; for example, I ask that you pray that I do not mislead you and your fellow-readers. We see both of these types of requests in Paul's letters, when he asks his readers to pray for the spread of the Gospel and for his personal safety.

Another kind of prayer is missing from the song. The singer is ready to repent "I'm gonna change my way today" but isn't saying that to God. Apparently the singer doesn't feel "holy" enough to approach God. The writer of Hebrews says that when we are ready to repent, we can approach God directly and confidently, because our High Priest who goes before us and who has been in our position and feels sympathy for our weaknesses.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, "Turn Turn Turn" (1950s) The oldest song lyrics ever to hit #1 on the pop charts. (08/29/19)

In one of the Harry Dresden novels, Harry is dying or something when he says to his apprentice, "For everything there is a season," and she says, "Don't you dare quote the Bible at me" [about this]. Harry responds, "Bible? I was quoting the Byrds." "Turn Turn Turn" quotes Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 almost word for word from the Kings James Version of the Bible, and it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. That no doubt makes the lyrics the oldest song ever to achieve that position.

Spoiler alert: He didn't die.

Further Spoiler: At least not permanently.

By the way, there's more good theology in the Harry Dresden series (books, not TV) than in a lot of sermons, but that's a topic for another study.

Isaiah 44:6-20; Jeremiah 2:26-28, 10:2-5, Judges 6:30-31, "Plastic Jesus" (satire, 1957) Traveling music originally written by the Goldcoast Singers (09/02/19)

Summer is a time for travel, so we're going to start the week with a couple pieces of traveling music.

"Plastic Jesus" started out as a few satirical bars of song, originally written by the Goldcoast Singers and recorded as a short part of a longer comedy routine. Many other artists have picked it up and added assorted verses to make a little traveling ditty. We saw last week that scripture uses satire to ridicule false preachers, and we see today that scripture also uses satire to ridicule people who worship gods made by human beings. (I especially like God's question: "Is there some powerful god I never heard of?") These inert pieces of wood, metal or plastic can't even take care of themselves, let alone take care of the people who made them. You could plunk "Plastic Jesus," especially the Goldcoast version, into the middle of the prophets, and you'd hardly be able to tell it from real scripture. Well, except for the car.

Romans 10:1-17, "Jesus Muzik" (2006) Traveling music that wraps the Gospel in rap. (09/03/19)

Today we have non-satirical traveling music. Warning: If you have a job interview or important meeting coming up in the next few days, do not listen to "Jesus Muzik" until after that's done. Because I can almost guarantee that you will spend the next three days chanting The official video is funny, but the lyrics might be a little harder to understand.

It's all about evangelism, folks. How can the message be proclaimed if we don't get out there in the neighborhood with our tops down? And how can people hear if the message isn't proclaimed? And how can they believe if they haven't heard the message? And how can they call to God for help if they haven't believed? Because "Everyone who calls out to the Lord for help will be saved," and God wants to save everybody.

Put your top down and turn the volume up!

Psalms 40:1-17, "40" (1983) King David hits the pop charts. (09/04/19)

U2 based their song "40" on Psalms 40, hence the name. Apparently they use it to close all their concerts, but it doesn't seem to have hit the Top 40. ("Turn Turn Turn's" position as the oldest lyrics is safe for now.)

By the way, take special note of the similarity between U2's use of a psalm in concerts, vss. 3, 5, 9-10 of David's song, and the theme of "Jesus Muzik" from Lecrae. If you are a regular church-goer, you might eventually conclude that all good sermons sound alike. That's because God's message of salvation doesn't change, and neither does the importance of spreading the word!

More Songs for Summer

Songs for Summer, 2019
Invocation, Angels (mostly badly represented), and Good theology
Mixed, Bad, and Truly Weird theology and My Favorites

Songs for a Summer Pandemic, 2020
We're All In This Together, the Great Physician, and more Good theology
The Devil, Bluegrass and Country, Show Tunes, and Our Future

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