Worship Song Theological Review
Reckless love, or reckless theology?
We at Ratio Christi are more than just apologists and evangelists. We are Christians who enjoy our church families and worship services. Sometimes a worship song will raise some red flags and warrant further analysis. Read on for a Ratio Christi team member’s review of the theology of Cory Asbury’s worship song, “Reckless Love.”
It is my intention to demonstrate, in a brief manner, a serious problem with a popular song called “Reckless Love.” I think there are several problems with this song, but I want to draw attention to what I think is the most problematic part of the song: (1) the usage of the word “reckless” and; (2) the incorrect theology the song implies. The way we think about God and worship Him matters. The way we worship Him demonstrates our understanding of Him and bears witness to everyone else. Worshiping God correctly matters because incorrect worship is heretical and idolatrous.
Thus, words and theology matters. Imagine if I told you that God’s love is reckless. Meaning, “He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being. His love isn’t crafty or slick. It’s not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, it’s quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous.” If I told you this about God’s love, to include perceiving God’s love as childish and downright ridiculous, then you ought to be concerned.
That definition of reckless is what Cory Asbury meant when he penned the song, “Reckless Love.”
For years, radio stations and churches have been playing and singing this song as an act of worship. Worship to a God of reckless love; a God not in the Bible or of this world. Let’s start with the first problem: usage of the word “reckless.”
Musicians love to use words creatively, so they can entertain and touch people in new ways. Think about the lyrics, “the heart wants what it wants,” by Selena Gomez. To be honest, I do not think those lyrics are sensical; however, the lyrics are sensical if we think creatively and within the context of the song. Thus, a likely interpretation of those lyrics is that our emotions to love, and not to love, are not in our control.
Likewise, when someone hears the song, “Reckless Love,” that person might interpret the lyrics “reckless love” as meaning, “selfless love” or even “unconditional love.” However, that is not what the word “reckless” means, and Asbury’s definition entails he is not using a literary device (see the above definition).
Word usage matters. Creativity is a gift from God, and Christians need to be careful to use words correctly; especially when speaking of God.
Is God’s love reckless? Asbury claims, “He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being.” It seems hard to believe that God is unconcerned with the consequences of his actions (e.g., does God not do things for certain outcomes?), and it seems odd to think that God would even have to consider his own safety and well-being in his decision making. God is omniscient; he does not think or act recklessly. Moreover, since God is love (1 John 4:8), then love is His essence. If God’s love is reckless, what does this imply of God himself and how He manifest His love to us? Stated clearly, if God’s love is reckless, then the Christian concept of God would be problematic. If God’s love is not reckless, then why are we singing and speaking falsely of Him?
Complaining just to complain?
Some people might think I am being a Pharisee (legalistic), or have a wooden view of the song. People may claim this in spite of what I have already presented. So, let’s look at the larger context of the song—the immediate context which entails the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The song states:
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
What is an exegesis of Parable of the Lost Sheep? Would a theologian conclude that God’s love is reckless? Will a good exegesis of the passages conclude that God’s love is reckless, or something else?
The Parable of the Lost Sheep is found in the Gospels of Matthew 18:10-14 and Luke 15:1-7. Since the parables are different and the context in which Christ teaches them is different, then they are probably two different messages being presented. Matthew’s passage, being taught while speaking of children, seems to be speaking of how He does not want the saved to stumble (sin). This exegesis seems likely, especially when one continues reading to the next passage (Matthew 18:15, Dealing With Sin in the Church) and notices the following teaching has a similar theme. Luke’s passage is about the unsaved: the lost sheep indicates how God seeks out the sinner, joyfully carries him back when he repents, and calls for His friends to rejoice. Christ concludes that the rejoicing of a person repenting exceeds that of the ninety-nine individuals who have already repented. This interpretation seems to work, too, since the following two parables echo the same theme (Parable of the Lost Coin and Parable of the Prodigal Son), and the fact that Christ spoke this passage when He was questioned for eating with sinners.
Overall, both of these parables are about a form of loss, repentance, redemption, and God’s love.
But is He reckless?
If anyone reads these passages and thinks the shepherd (who represents God) is being reckless by leaving the ninety-nine, or that the passage would convince sinners to think of God’s love as being reckless, then they have misunderstood the passage. There is nothing reckless about what the shepherd did. The shepherd, with his foreknowledge, acted deliberately. Thus, we have good reasons for believing that exegeting the Lost Sheep as teaching that God’s love is reckless is incorrect.
The importance of good theology
Lastly, I want to speak about the importance of good theology. Not only will good theology allow for good understanding of scripture, but it also will allow for proper understanding of God. Bad theology will lead to falsehood about God.
Worshipping God incorrectly is a form of idolatry. Aaron made a calf idol and the people responded “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” This was idolatry because the calf was associated as the true God who freed the Israelites. When we sing songs about God that are not true, is this not also idolatry? Singing about God’s love being reckless as an act of worship is idolatry, and the church has been doing this for years. There is irony when the church sings this song and thinks they are not lost.
Good sounding song… unsound theology?
Despite the fact I am not a fan of this specific genre of music, I do think the song is rather catchy, and the song can sound powerful when sang in a group. However, catchy and powerful sounding music is not qualifying factors for why a song ought to be sung or used in worship. Additionally, songs that incorporate scripture need to maintain sound theology and context of biblical passages. Lead pastors and worship leaders need to lead worship with songs that are theologically sound and true. They also need to be bold and say “no” to popular and catchy songs like “Reckless Love.”
I understand that people really like this song, and Asbury has even defended himself because of prior criticism he has received. However, his defense of the song and Christians using this song as worship is still wrong. We all need to understand that the biblical doctrine of God is a first-order doctrine, and that falsehood about God heretical. The worship of that falsehood is idolatrous. Church let’s stop singing this never-ending, reckless song about God. Christ commanded to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).
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Joshua was introduced to a book called “On Guard”, by Dr. William Lane Craig. Through this book, he became in love with apologetics, because of its intellectual reasoning. Joshua noticed the importance of apologetics and prayed to the LORD that he would dedicate his career to ministry and asked Him to open the door for an apologetics-related ministry. Joshua’s prayers were answered.
Today, Joshua regularly leads and directs apologetic discussions to high school and college students. He also serves in churches where he teaches apologetics.