In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Chuck Colson has an article entitled “Soothing Ourselves to Death.” He begins with this paragraph:
When church music directors lead congregations in singing contemporary Christian music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We’d been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called “Draw Me Close to You,” which has zero theological content and could just as easily be sung in any nightclub. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed. “Let’s sing that again, shall we?” he asked. “No!” I shouted, loudly enough to send heads all around me spinning while my wife, Patty, cringed.
He goes on to say that much of the music written for the church has moved from worship to entertainment, especially when you consider what’s being played on the radio. He shares anecdotal evidence to suggest that the motive behind the use of shallow, appealing worship songs is giving people what they want rather than what they need. His commentary on Kelly Carpenter’s song, “Draw Me Close to You,” has prompted much discussion on numerous blogs. (I’ve listed some of them at the end of this post).
Here are the lyrics of the song in question:
Draw me close to you, never let me go.
I lay it all down again, to hear you say that I’m your friend.
You are my desire, no one else will do.
No one else can take your place, to feel the warmth of your embrace.
Help me find the way, bring me back to you.
You’re all I want. You’re all I’ve ever needed.
You’re all I want. Help me know you are near.
Copyright 1994 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing.
This is what’s been running through my mind during this discussion.
First, it’s a good sign that people feel strongly about these issues. We should be concerned with how we worship God, careful about what songs we sing and listen to, and discerning about our motives. I thank God that Colson’s article encourages us to think about all three.
Second, while I deeply respect Chuck Colson, I’m not sure this illustration was the best way to set up the points he was attempting to make. Beginning the article with his utter disdain for “Draw Me Close” and then describing his spontaneous response to the worship leader probably didn’t open the hearts of those I presume he hopes to influence. Of course, if you agree with Mr. Colson, you probably thought, “Finally!”
Third, as many have pointed out, Mr. Colson’s illustration involves a number of factors, not just the quality of a song. Other areas that come to mind are what precede and follow a song, the skill of the leader (or lack thereof), and the focus of the worshipper’s heart.
My personal history with this song goes back to the mid-90’s, when I used it quite frequently. I specifically remember two times I was deeply affected by the song. In one instance, while leading worship at a large conference, I remember singing, “You’re all I want, You’re all I’ve ever needed,” with great fervor, faith, and conviction. Those words truly expressed the reality in my heart. On another occasion, my wife and I were both moved to tears as we listened to the CD and were reminded how futile it is to seek joy in anything other than God Himself.
But over time, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the song, and haven’t used it for years in corporate worship. That doesn’t make me any more spiritual than anyone else. It’s just a choice I’ve made based on what I’ll share in a moment. The strengths of the song, I think, are evident. It expresses a longing for God’s nearness and confirms that “there is nothing on earth I desire besides you.” (Ps. 73:25) The music also allows appropriate time for reflection.
However, the song is intensely personal and allows room for different interpretations, not all of them helpful. The overall impression of the song is one of uncertainty rather than faith. “No one else will do” can come across as too casual, as though I could pursue other legitimate options to fulfill my emotional desires. Because nothing else in the song balances it out, “to feel the warmth of your embrace” can sound as though God simply wants me to feel soft, warm, and cozy. Others have alluded to the potentially sensual overtones of the words and music. I say “potential” because the song doesn’t affect everyone the same way. But, the primary problem I had with the song was that it never references what God has done to bring us near through the atoning sacrifice of His Son. (Heb. 10:19-22) In fact, I began to change the last line of the song to, “I know that You are near.” Eventually, I decided to use other songs that still expressed strong desire for God, but in a clearer way.
So if I were to use this song, I’d make sure it was preceded and followed by solid expressions of all God has done for us in Christ. I also wouldn’t spend time repeating it because I want to build people’s confidence that God is near, not diminish it. And if I’m following someone else who’s leading a song like this, I want to be more conscious of my responsibility to give glory to God than to critique the leader.
Is Draw Me Close symptomatic of a larger problem in Christian hymnody? I think so. For more than a hundred years we’ve favored emotional, response-type songs over songs that magnify the nature, attributes, and works of God. We need both, and more songs that help us do both at the same time. We tend to pit doctrine against devotion and both camps end up the worse for it. Is singing this song proof that a particular church has gone off the deep end into subjectivism and man-centered emotion? No. Are there better songs to sing in congregational worship? I believe so.
This is far more than an issue of hymns vs. contemporary choruses. There are sentimental, feeling oriented hymns, as well as contemporary songs with rich theological content. It’s an issue of pastors taking responsibility for what their churches are singing, leading them wisely into truth-based affections, and making sure that good fruit is being produced in their lives. It’s also an issue of all of us making sure that we’re not taking pride in the particular songs we sing or don’t sing.
May we all proclaim the beauty, authority, and truth of Jesus Christ with our lives, remembering that neither passion nor propositional truth is out of place when we worship God. They were meant to go together.
Sam Storms, whose comments you can read here, registers his respect for Colson, and agrees with him on some issues. But he disagrees with Colson’s assessment of the song. He says that while not lyrically complex or theologically deep, it reflects much of the longing for God expressed in the Psalms (73:28, 84:2, 16:2, 16:11, 42:1-2, 63:1, 73:25).