On a recent Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were having lunch, with the radio playing in the background. The song “Close to You” came on, performed by the Carpenters. It’s a lovely tune and was one of the biggest hits for Karen and Richard Carpenter in the 1970s. I’m familiar with the song, since the ‘70s were my formative years for popular music, but I’m not THAT familiar with it. It’s not on any of my playlists and I never paid attention to the lyrics.
I did a double-take, and said to my wife, “Hey, that is really bad theology. Angels don’t create humans. Only God is the Creator.”
My wife replied, “Well, they probably were so focused on making a hit song, they forgot to send the lyrics to the Vatican to be reviewed by a team of theologians.”
“Oh, hon,” I said. “Everyone knows that pop singers never have their lyrics reviewed by theologians — except, of course, for Madonna, Lady Gaga, and John Lennon’s classic song ‘Imagine’.”
I was curious whether someone had compiled a list of songs with bad theology — songs like the Carpenters’ “Close to You.” So, I did a search online, and it turns out I could not find a single website that listed pop songs with questionable theology. But I did find many websites with articles that had headlines like these: “Hymns that are teaching bad theology,” and, “When worship lyrics miss the mark.” These websites weren’t complaining about pop songs; instead, they took serious umbrage with church songs. (By the way, Serious Umbrage would be a great name for a rock band.)
The hymns on these various lists fell into three basic categories: 1. Heretical, 2. Man-centered rather than God-centered, and 3. Impossible to sing.
I wasn’t familiar with any of the songs labeled heretical, but the main complaints seemed to focus on minor disagreements about biblical interpretation. In general, the Baptists were upset with Methodist songs, and vice versa.
The man-centered worship songs are just that: the lyrics are filled with “I” and “me” and “we,” but hardly ever mention the words “Jesus” or “Lord” or “God.”
The song most often mentioned as impossible to sing, and therefore one that ought to be expunged from all hymnals, is that old favorite, “On Eagle’s Wings.” The first verse begins with the words, “You who dwell…” and the first note is a high D, and it soon goes to an ever higher E-flat. No one but the best soprano in the church choir can hope to hit that first note cleanly, and when the entire congregation tries to sing it, the sound is like a bunch of eagle wings all right, flying directly into high-voltage power lines.
But I never knew there was so much turmoil in the church music world. It reminds me of my favorite religious hymn: “Imagine there’s a church song / It’s easy to sing along / No notes below us / Above us a simple song / Imagine all the lyrics / mention God not me / You may say I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one / I hope someone writes a song / To make church folks be as one.”