More on JC and JW
Writing about Jesus and John Wayne, Daniel Mount says:
The problem with “Jesus and John Wayne” has nothing to do with the topic addressed or the
Hollywoodreference. The problem is that the song isn’t that clear whether we are fighting or accepting the fact that most days we’re not as close to conquering our sin nature as we should be.
I only post this as a reminder to Southern Gospel songwriter: Be clear. It’s what the genre requires.
This has it exactly backwards, it seems to me. The song is getting orthodox evangelical hackles up not because it’s theologically unclear, but because – hokey though it may be – it makes perfectly clear the unreality of all the pious fictions that have built up around evangelical depictions of religious living.
So many southern gospel songs are happy to talk about spiritual striving in the past tense (what Jesus brought me through) or conjure up the straw man of future struggle to preemptively defeat it in Christ’s name. But assert flat out that much of the time, the spiritual striver (and that’s most people) live in a middle-zone of ambiguity, ambivalence, and half-sighted searching after the mark of the soul’s high calling, and boy, howdy. It’s on.
I’m reminded in all this of the Puritan historian Edmund Morgan’s line about how there were, generally speaking, two kinds of Puritans in Early America: those who “enjoyed holy certainty and went their indomitable ways with never a look back,” and those who “lived in an agony of uncertainty wondering each day whether God had singled them out for eternal glory or eternal torment.”
That’s a pretty fair description of a lot of evangelicals. Most people tend to assume that it’s the self-assured types who come out railing against professions of uncertainty (like “Jesus and John”) and say oversimple, sanctimonious things like, “when you get saved, you get out of the sinning business,” as if it’s as simple as flipping a switch, nevermind that legalistic policing of behavior may not even be the point of salvation and grace, rightly understood.
But actually I suspect the people who make the most noise are probably just a subspecies of your garden variety strugglers and doubters who have to keep talking about how completely they’ve been redeemed to distract themselves from the nagging questions and insecurities and fallibilities and the general markers of honest to goodness humanity that threaten to shatter the delicate ideal of an exalted, beatific life in Christ.
Indeed, of all the people I’ve ever met who call to mind the phrase “holy certainty” (and the group is quite small), the emphasis in their personalities has been on the holy part (think humility and selflessness and the social implications of the gospel), not the certainty. Thus my own sense that the salvation-shouters and hell-fire hecklers and loud bible talkers are protesting rather too much.
It’s just too bad that a throwaway song like “Jesus and John Wayne” had to be the lightning rod for this discussion, which is one that isn’t had nearly enough in southern gospel. I guess we should take it where and how it comes, but you’d really rather have a more lyrically coherent and musically satisfying tune to rally round.Email this Post