Monday, January 14, 2013

Taking Every Tune Captive

Born To Be Wild  
Claimed for the Kingdom

When the kids at a Christian school in the Washington, D.C, area got to pick songs they wanted to sing in chapel, there was one kid who invariably chose Pharaoh, Pharaoh sung to the tune of Louie Louie.  In case you never encountered the “Christian” version of this song, the chorus goes,

Pharaoh, Pharaoh, whoa baby,
Let my people go, (optional here is a guttural Unh!)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

As I recall, for that boy the Unh!  was not optional. He always grunted it with much enthusiasm. If you’re up to it, you  can listen to the whole sung by kids here:

 I was much younger and more tolerant in those days, but even then there was something disconcerting about the combination of words and tune. Though there were many covers of Louie, Louie my primary experience of it was in high school with the Kingsmen’s version, an anthem of hormone-driven-teenage-rebellion. Everybody tried to decipher what the words really were and just how dirty they might be. When I hear the Kingsmen sing it today, I can almost feel like my repressed 16 year old self again, intensely interested in girls and under the thumbs of parents. Hence, I find it impossible to think about redemptive history to the tune of Louie, Louie.

Lately I have come across a better example of this joining of a “secular” tune to words about redemption, yet not without problems. I came across singer, song-writer Jamey Johnson, singing John Newton’s Amazing Grace to the tune of The House of the Rising Sun. It is well worth your time to listen to it here: (Jamey Johnson is my new most favorite country singer.)

I do not know if Jamey Johnson has found saving grace, but I think he sings about being “a wretched man’ (he changes “a wretch like me” to “a wretched man like me”) with a gritty reality that goes beyond the understanding of the average clean-cut Presbyterian in church on Sunday morning. He may understand both John Newton and the Apostle Paul ("O wretched man that I am”) better than they. Yet, I am not sure how “redeemable” that tune is. I, for one, cannot hear with any words without hearing Eric Burdon and the Animals singing about a questionable address in New Orleans.

What got me thinking about the marriage of words and tunes to serve spiritual purposes is a column in World  by its editor, my old friend from Washington days (our kids sang Pharaoh, Pharaoh together in chapel), Marvin Olasky. Find it here:

Marvin offers in Take Every Song Captive his revision of the words of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Both sets of lyrics are based upon David’s sin with Bathsheba, Olasky’s more directly than Cohen’s. I quote here only Olasky’s though you can find Cohen’s lyrics here: ttp:// You can catch a performance here: 

Olasky's Halllelujah:

I’ve heard there was a secret chord 
That David played, it pleased the Lord.  
But You don’t love us for our music, do You? 
Sin goes like this: The fourth, the fifth, 
Adam’s fall, the major rift,
The baffled king neglecting Hallelujah. 

Chorus: Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

Nathan said, “I see your lust.
You violate a soldier’s trust.
Your pride, your pomp, at night they overthrew you.
You steal, you kill, you get your way,
But God has said, your child will pay,
And from your li
He’ll draw the Hallelujah.” 

Chorus: 4X Hallelujah

David prayed, “Have mercy, Lord,
You saved me from Goliath’s sword.
Yes, I lived for self before I knew you.
Now, more evil in your sight,
So I give up, I cannot fight.
Mine’s a cold and broken Hallelujah.” 

Chorus: 4X Hallelujah

“Blood your hyssop, I’ll be clean. e
Wash me so my sin’s not seen.
Give me of your Holy Spirit, will you?
Create in me a new, clean heart.
Give me now a strong, fresh start,
So every breath I draw is Hallelujah.” 

Chorus: 4X Hallelujah

“You don’t delight in sacrifice.
You don’t excuse our secret vice.
You want from us a broken spirit, do you?
You’ve shown me what I did was wrong.
I’ll stand before You, Lord of song,
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” 

Chorus: 8X Hallelujah

Marvin bases his revision of Hallelujah and his urging of others to claim other songs for Christ on the Pauline text so often quoted by so many advocates of Reformed apologetics and a Reformed world and life view: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and ever lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3 – 6).

The problem with appealing to this text for taking tunes captive is that Paul does not have in view the pagan, secular world but the arrogant super-apostles who have sought to undermine his apostolic authority within the church at Corinth. Paul’s concerns are with (1) the errant teaching, unjustified claims, and overheated spirituality of these so-called apostles and (2) those in the Corinthian congregation who find the claims of these apostles plausible. Paul is saddened but not intimidated. He knows that his teaching is true and his authority valid. He will not make war with the fleshly weapons of his opponents but with the spiritual weapons God has given him and the church. He is ready to destroy the strongholds, arguments, and lofty opinions of the super-apostles.

As I compare the Cohen and Olasky lyrics, while I know that Olasky’s are the more spiritually edifying, I am not so sure I like the messing with Cohen’s. I wonder if we would not do better to let the “truth” of Cohen’s lyrics speak as they describe sexual desire, corruption, power, alienation, and disillusionment all without escaping the compulsion to acknowledge and even praise the Lord. Besides, to serve the purposes of spiritual edification from the event we've already got Psalms 32 and 51 to sing.

But,  to show that I am a  good sport and would not criticize that which I hav not tried, I myself have made an attempt to take a song captive, Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild:

Get your mind a’runnin’
Thinkin’ ‘bout your worldview
Readin’ up on  Kuyper,
And yo’ Rushdoony, too.

Yeah darlin, ev’ry thought a captive,
Wrestlin’ down with ev;ry sphere
Don’t concede a single inch.
There’s one kingdom here.

You are called, called to rule
You must conquer the fool,
You can take all things
Even what he sings.

Get yourself a worldview,
‘bout politics and art now,
Thinkin’ bout ever’thin’
Even milkin’ the cow.

Yeah darlin’ go make it happen,
Take the world in a strong embrace,
Fire all of your guns at pagans,
Don’t give them no space.

Like a dominion child
You’re not ‘sposed to be mild.
You can rule it all,
On this terrestrial ball

I think, however, that when Olasky and I have done our best, and I concede the total superiority of his effort to mine, the guy at Things Your Lutheran Pastor Totally Loves ( still say to us both he said when offered a chance to buy for his youth group a CD with words of Dave Matthew’s songs changed to make them about the Christian life: “I quite literally would  rather have Texas fire ants lay eggs on my eyeballs than have my youth listen to that.”


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