If that title threw you off, then we’re on the same page.
Last week, while I was doing some research on music and theology, I came across a term that has come into use lately. It describes a good portion of modern Christian popular music that is being referred to as “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs.
It really surprised me, as I hadn’t considered it before, but now I can’t get it out of my head, because this music is everywhere!
The “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs, as if they need more explanation, are songs with lyrics that describe or engage with God in an almost romantic way. Some of these songs only require one or two changes to turn them into regular pop love songs about a significant other. A lot of these songs talk about "the way [He] holds me," "my heart is Yours," and even the ever-controversial "unforeseen kiss."
That doesn’t seem right, does it? It certainly freaked me out a bit.
But maybe it’s not so bad.
This music itself is fine on the surface level, and is used all over the world in places of corporate worship. I have seen with my own eyes the looks on people’s faces as they engage with God directly through this type of music. These people are clearly worshiping God and feeling His (metaphorical) embrace in those moments - and they’re certainly not interpreting the music in the context of a romantic relationship. God can and does use this music to relate with people who are lost and in need of a Savior.
But before we get up on our collective soap boxes and start talking about the hymnals from the good ol’ days, let’s take a closer look. According to a recent study, the nature of religious music hasn’t changed all that much, even going back hundreds of years. In fact, “traditional hymns and contemporary worship are more similar in describing the Trinity than is widely believed.” And, according to a different source, some older hymnal cultures were actually even more explicit in the sensual nature in which they described their relationship with Jesus.
The problem, as it is with everything, is motivation (Hebrews 4:12). When we are engaging with the Lord through music, thus fulfilling our earthly destiny to worship Him, we must make sure that we have our hearts in the right place.
It’s so easy to get off track. With lyrics that don’t always point directly to God, it can be confusing - especially for those who are new to the faith, or are not familiar with the language and lexicon associated with the church.
Additionally, we need to be aware whether or not we’re simply engaging with the awesome power of music. Music is a gift from God, but it is not God to be worshiped; rather, it is a means to an end - and a very powerful means at that, with the power to draw us in the wrong direction.
As lyricists, church musicians, and congregants, we also need to make sure that the music we create or select has strong foundations in theology. We must not limit ourselves to describing the sensation of engaging with God. We should try to avoid solely expounding on a sense of adoration that could be misconstrued as romantic. Even simply setting the Gospel message to a catchy tune is not strict enough of a requirement to curate quality religious music.
The reason it is so easy to slip up on this important topic is simply the unknowable nature of God. He is not of this world, but we are, and we tend to relate God to earthly things so that we can try and wrap our minds around Him. Romantic love is often so strong and overpowering that we equate this with the unknowable, omnipotent, and unbounded love of God - but it’s not the same! We can’t try to reduce God to the things of this world, because He is the Creator, and is therefore so much bigger than this world and our minuscule understanding.
So the next time your ear catches on a new song on the Christian radio station, but it sounds like it could almost describe a fledgling romance, remember to put God in the center of your heart and point your worship at Him.
Annie M. Pasquinelli
Worship & Media Director
Riviera Baptist Church