Archives For Theology

In Christ Alone wordleIt’s likely that Stuart Townend and Keith Getty would have made some coin if their hymn “In Christ Alone” had been included in the new hymn book being produced by the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church) but they turned down the offer for it to be included. Why? The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song could not abide the reference to God’s wrath in the song’s second stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied.”  They requested that the line be amended to:  “and on that cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified.”  Getty and Townend refused. The committee voted on the song with the original stanzas intact and by a vote of nine to six ejected it from consideration.

I’m grateful.

Like a number of other denominations, the PCUSA is liberal in their theological teaching and the doctrine of Christ’s propitiation of God’s wrath finds no welcome. In a post on the Christian Century, committee member Mary Louise Bringle reports the process as follows:

“People making a case to retain the text with the authors’ original lines spoke of the fact that the words expressed one view of God’s saving work in Christ that has been prevalent in Christian history: the view of Anselm and Calvin, among others, that God’s honor was violated by human sin and that God’s justice could only be satisfied by the atoning death of a sinless victim. While this might not be our personal view, it was argued, it is nonetheless a view held by some members of our family of faith; the hymnal is not a vehicle for one group’s perspective but rather a collection for use by a diverse body.

Arguments on the other side pointed out that a hymnal does not simply collect diverse views, but also selects to emphasize some over others as part of its mission to form the faith of coming generations; it would do a disservice to this educational mission, the argument ran, to perpetuate by way of a new (second) text the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger.

Obviously the committee understands the power of song in the church to inform and shape Christian faith and understanding. While it was noted that some of the less enlightened held the views of “Anselm and Calvin” it would be a terrible disservice to future generations to perpetuate such a crude way of thinking.

How tragic.

The problem is that the gospel presented without God’s wrath is a gospel half told. The late Francis Schaeffer said, “There is no real preaching of the Christian gospel except in the light of the fact that man is under the wrath of God, the moral wrath of God.”* It is in light of that great and terrible reality that God’s love shines with blazing light! Certainly the love of God was magnified by the death of Christ on the cross and that magnification becomes it’s most radiant when seen against the backdrop of God’s settled wrath against all that falls short of His glory. An astounding thing indeed! A Holy God, bearing just wrath against rebel man, makes a way to remain just and yet be man’s justifier! Never shrink from the cross! Never minimize God’s wrath! Go deep into that awful darkness and there discover the diamond of redeeming love in the face of our suffering Savior and let our songs exalt God in the fullness of all that He is and the wonder of all He has done.


* Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press: 1969) 93


“Proper worship in any age is critically predicated upon adequate and accurate knowledge of the God worshiped. No matter how ceremonially elaborate, emotionally rousing, or sermonically eloquent, worship that is not offered from a proper understanding of who God is falls short.” – Andreas J. Kostenberger


Psalm 96:9 Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

Ask God for a greater vision of Himself! If there is no trembling in your soul, if there is no splendor before your eyes, if there is no anticipation of His worldwide reign, if there is no growing regard for His holiness, then cry out to the Lord for new eyes and a heart freshly captured by His glory!

“The more we enjoy of God, the more we are ravished with delight.”
Thomas Watson
“He cannot ravish; He can only woo.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

In my post on Tuesday I raised the question of using the word “ravish” in a worship song. It’s a word that is “in vogue” these days.  There are many current Christian songwriters who refer often to our being ravished by the love of God or of God being ravished with love for us. A search on Song Select pulled up almost 40 songs that orbit around two ideas; we desire to be or have been ravished by God or God is ravished by desire for us.

Yesterday I mentioned the word ravish is used only twice in scripture.  Once in Song of Solomon 4:9 and once in Proverbs 5:19. Both times this word is referring to overwhelming romantic love The Hebrew words here suggest intoxication or excitement. (The NAS translates the word as exhilarate in Proverbs.)  While there are different words in Hebrew for rape, unfortunately the most commonly used translations alternate between rape and ravish which can be found in Jud. 20:5; Is. 13:16; Lam. 5:11; Zec. 14:2.  One thing is certain, the word as we have it in our language is rooted in sexual violence:

ravish (v.) Look up ravish at Dictionary.comc.1300, “to seize (someone) by violence, carry (a person, especially a woman) away,” from O.Fr. raviss-, prp. stem of ravir “to seize, take away hastily,” from V.L. *rapire, from L.rapere “to seize, hurry away”  Meaning “to commit rape upon” is recorded from mid-15c. – Online Etymology Dictionary  (See also Merriam-Webster)

While no songwriter within the church would be using this word in that sense, a poet doesn’t have to go far to get there. Consider John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV:

Yet dearly’ I love You,’and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto Your enemy.
Divorce me,’untie or break that knot again;
Take me to You, imprison me, for I
Except You ‘enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.

Donne reaches for the idea, be it ever so poetically, that unless forcibly carried off he will never be free from his bondage. The illusion to rape here is not forced on the text. The word play between “chaste” and “ravish” is obvious. English Professor Craig Payne says of the sonnet:

“So the strategy of the poem appears to be that of approaching a dangerous, blasphemous anthropomorphism in the heat of devotion, but deflecting that danger, just in time, by the equation of sensual passion to spiritual virtue…  By the poem’s conclusion, the conceit of the rape which ensures chastity no longer skirts blasphemy. In fact, in Donne’s hands, it even becomes orthodox, an ideal of devotion worthy of emulation.”

The fine line that often gets blurred between spirituality and sensuality is one that we need to be aware of. When deception is the key component of Satan’s attack against believers, the admonition to be sober-minded needs to be sounded. There is a dark thread that runs through our fallen world in regards to sexuality. Pornographers rake in millions by catering to the rape fantasies of men but before we utter “duh”, as if it’s peculiar to them, consider that currently the top three fiction best sellers in the New York Times are the Darker Shade trilogy of books by E. L. James. Highly erotic and focused on dominance and control, booksellers can’t keep them in stock and women are the primary readers by far.

While the origin of the word ”ravish” and it’s current usage frequently align depending on the ”literature” you read, it is fair to admit that over the years the word has come to be associated with over whelming desire, delight and passion. You find it in writings by R.C. Sproul, John Piper and Martyn Lloyd-Jones as well as many Puritan authors including Thomas Watson and Jonathan Edwards. Indeed the word seems to be a favorite of Spurgeon! It’s understandable why it’s popular in songs. Great hymn writers of the past such as Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley have incorporated it. The word is used in one of my favorite hymns, ”Come and Welcome Sinners.” The words were written by Thomas Haweis in 1792. Matthew Perryman Jones set it to new music and it was included on the Indelible Grace CD, “Beams of Heaven.”

So why make a deal about it at all? Simply because the fine line exists.  Because we live in a day when experience is worshiped over truth, in a society that is overwhelmingly preoccupied with eroticism, where gender lines are being obliterated and where wolves are on the prowl to exploit the vulnerable. I’m simply advocating that we be careful, thoughtful and aware that we cannot simply plumb the depths of the heart without firmly rooting the mind in God’s unchanging truth. As I said in the previous post: “It’s current usage in our dictionaries (and I will include here, “romantic” literature)  is overwhelmingly negative and should at least cause us to consider our use of it.”