Does activist worship inspire “Fox Evangelicals?”

Evangelical worshipI don’t really know what’s going on in the minds of evangelicals when they sing along with worship songs. Its likely some are just thinking about lunch, the color of the carpet, the worship leader’s mannerisms, or wondering when that guy up front started doing the hand-raising thing. For many, though, worship songs no doubt help to re-center the minds and hearts of evangelicals around what really matters. But herein lies the root of my question about evangelicals, activism, and worship. When worship songs include an activist message, does it strengthen individuals’ resolve, at least implicitly, to engage in the culture wars or protect and defend what Kristin Kobes Du Mez has recently called “Hobby Lobby Evangelicalism” or what others have called “Fox Evangelicalism?”Kristin Kobes Du Mez twitter

I use “activist” in the sense that David Bebbington has written about it in his famous “quadrilateral:” those efforts by evangelicals to take the gospel (including whatever cultural elements they happen to attach to it) into society. Evangelical music has had an activist or even militant tone for centuries. Martin Luther’s famous “A Mighty Fortress is our God” speaks to a cosmic battle with Satan. The well-known nineteenth-century hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers was originally written for children and calls for the church to wage war with the forces of darkness (though its utility has been questioned in recent years.) Billy Sunday’s crusades used tabernacle songs to rally evangelicals onto the prohibition “water wagon.”Onward Christian Soldiers.jpg

And, as I wrote about in a previous post about Christian music and political conservatism, I am a child of 1980s Christian rock-and-roll, so I remember songs like Degarmo and Key’s “If God is For us (who can be against us),” Petra’s “The Battle Belongs to the Lord,” and Russ Taff’s “Not Gonna Bow.” I’m sure we could form a very long list of such activist songs from various eras. All of these songs, no matter when they’ve been popular, blend themes of spiritual warfare and Christian activism. Though some will argue that these songs are meant to be taken in purely spiritual terms and imply no message about waging actual or cultural wars, there’s no question the lines between spiritual warfare and earthly activism become blurry. After all, if God is on our side, then engaging in battles in this world is spiritual work and an act of worship. Consider the fact that Winston Churchill had “Onward Christian Soldiers” played for FDR when the two met on board the HMS Prince of Wales to craft what would become the Atlantic Charter during WWII. Churchill said,

We sang “Onward, Christian Soldiers” indeed, and I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we were serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high. When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals … it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation.

Prince_of_Wales-5Since many evangelicals continue to see support for President Trump’s actions and policies as an extension of their faith, I sometimes wonder what evangelicals are resolving in their hearts when they are led in activist worship songs. Whether it be the classic, “I have Decided to Follow Jesus,” or the Grammy award-winning artist Chris Tomlin’s version of “If God is for us,” are evangelicals being recharged to head back to  the front lines of the culture wars through worship? Worship songs are often generic enough to allow for a “reader response” mechanism – that is, with lyrics that have vague meanings and references to nondescript scriptural phrases, individuals can insert whatever notion of heart-felt commitment they feel is warranted. If evangelicals believe that to do God’s will is to wage cultural warfare and double down in protecting the Hobby Lobby subculture, then there’s a good chance that worship is serving as a time for them to renew their resolve in doing so.

Consider Tomlin’s lyrics:

Into the darkness you shine, out of the ashes we rise there’s no one like you, none like You!
Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer, Awesome in Power, Our God! Our God!
Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer, Awesome in Power, Our God! Our God!

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?
And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against?
Then what could stand against?

Regardless of the intention of Christian artists who pen these songs or the worship leaders who choose to use them, do activist songs like Tomlin’s serve a similar role for today’s evangelicals as “Onward Christian Soldiers” did for a previous generation?

2 thoughts on “Does activist worship inspire “Fox Evangelicals?”

  1. Wow. This is something I’ve been thinking for a while, as a former worship leader who felt ‘battle’ songs were important. While I saw those songs as spiritual warfare, I would wonder whether people would apply a cultural or political meaning to the songs which was through own spin on their narrow Christianity. You put into words well what I’ve thought but not been able to fully contextualise in my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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