Fault lines (II of II)

Now, to the matter of lyrics and theology and why there aren’t more obvious disputes within inter-faith groups (which I gather most are) about the theological implications of lyrics. In one sense, it is surprising to me that there aren’t more open doctrinal disagreements about lyrics. But I think two factors are at work that help explain things: first, in order to survive and succeed, groups have to be pretty ecumenical in public and on stage if they want to keep fans. After all, you can’t be splitting hairs over eternal security if you want to sing for General Baptists and Southern Baptists. And, too, group members of disparate faiths have to live together in pretty tight quarters privately, and so have a vested interest in keeping theological (not to mention, domestic) peace. I don’t really think this is a bad thing. It is, it seems to me, better for a group to absorb and let go of an occasional disagreement about a lyric’s theology here and there than to break up an otherwise workable professional relationship and send fault lines through the group’s fan base, which would inevitably be inclined to choose up sides in the dispute and get miffed by proxy. Second, sg songwriters tend to follow Bill Gaither’s lead and gloss particularities of sectarian theology in lyrics. That’s why you rarely (though there are exceptions) hear sg groups singing songs like the old hard-core Calvinist church-camp tune of my youth: “Not by works of righteousness that we have done / Not by works of righteousness that we have done / Not by works of righteousness that we have done / But BYYYYY his mercy he has saaaaved us” (the title might as well have been “WE’RE NOT ARMENIANS!”). And that reminds me how much my father hated the line, “While on others thou art calling / Do not pass me by.” “God doesn’t pass anyone by who asks to be saved,” my father would often complain after “Do Not Pass Me By” was played for the invitation. Such lyrical Puritanism seems antithetical to the multi-faith nature of sg. Have you had an experience in which theology and lyrics collided? Let me know.

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