I love people who live at the intersection of faith and culture. When others reach people with the message of Christ using non-traditional methods I usually rejoice. That’s part of what I think God has called me to do. But living there means navigating some very murky waters—sometime characterized by low visibility and the potential for the message to be lost. Today, it looks like Beyonce’s “surfboard” has made it to the church—with some very interesting results. Check it out:
First, I love this young lady’s voice. It’s nice. A lot of people who remake hot cultural songs don’t sound good. At all. She’s an exception. I appreciate her tone and sound. I don’t question her motives or her sincerity. She seems serious about reaching a culture devoid of Jesus with good music. But I’m not so sure this was a remix that needed to leave the vault. A few parallel verses from the remix and Beyonce’s original:
Remix: We woke up out of Eden asking how did we allow this to happen, oh Jesus.
Bey: We woke up in the kitchen asking how did we allow this to happen, oh baby.
Remix: Last thing I remember is your innocent body suffering on that cross. Yet you chose to love.
Bey: Last thing I remember is our beautiful bodies grinding in the club. Drunk in love.
Remix: God fill me up all the way, then use me for your purpose. Purpose. Purpose.
Bey: Then I fill the tub halfway up and ride it with my surf board. Surfboard. Surfboard.
Here’s the thing about Gospel remixes. They presuppose that listeners have heard the original. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a remix. And since Bey’s original, at the time of this writing, has garnered over 93 million views, it might be safe to say that it’s very popular—even in the Christian space.
When the beat drops, does the fact that this young lady is in a church, sitting in pews, remove the original composition from the listeners’ memory? Probably not. It might be safe to assume that some listeners aren’t thinking about purpose, but riding “wood” with their surfboards. We underestimate culture’s impact when we take a song, slap some Jesus on it, and think people will forget about the intended meaning of the original.
Bump ‘N Climax
I tend to have mixed feelings when there are Gospel remakes of popular songs. Like the dude who decided it was a great idea to remix R. Kelly’s Bump N’ Grind. You know I don’t see nothing wrong with living for Jesus Christ, saints.
The brother just wanted to engage culture. He just wanted to take something familiar and point people to the cross. No way we can judge his motives. Here’s what I do want us to think about—exercising wisdom when engaging culture.
I’m sorry. I can’t listen to any Gospel remix of R. Kelly’s Bump N’ Grind without imagining myself in high school at some dark house party trying to push up on a female. That was a time when I COULD see something wrong with living for Jesus Christ.
His rationale? You can find it in Haddon’s words before the opening verse. Usher, I like your song. But when I think of climax I think of the highest place you can reach. And that’s God’s presence. *drops the beat*.
Okay guys, if you ever needed a course in bad theology, the last couple of sentences are a great case study. It’s hard for the listener to find the distinction between Usher’s Climax and Haddon’s Climax—remixed for Jesus. Because the original song makes innuendos that the listener just won’t be able to separate when listening to the remix.
In a follow up post, Haddon compared it to removing bones from a fish. For me, his filet version of Climax is still a choking hazard. Because some fish—as much as you try to get all of the bones out of them—still has some stragglers. Taking his illustration to its logical end, the song makes you want to grab some white bread and glass of water. Just in case one of those bones show up again.
Paul and Culture
These people aren’t the first to use cultural references in ministry. Pastors frequently use sermon titles and illustrations that make cultural references. And I’m not an outsider here. I’ve done short videos that encounter culture. The Gospel of Lil’ Wayne and Jesus, Don’t Kill My Vibe are two that come to mind immediately. So maybe I’m not above reproach. But, in my defense, both offer a direct scriptural critique of both songs and invite listeners to the cross of Christ.
I think it would serve us all well to closely mirror Paul’s approach in appropriating cultural references in ministry. In Acts, Paul decided to take a quote from a group of Greek poets to reach people who were adverse to the Gospel. These were people who were fed up with church. This is the model of most who want to reach a culture fed up with church.
But Paul’s quote from the poets had nothing to do with the sexual imagery we find in the above three examples. Paul doesn’t use “the most x rated pop album since Madonna’s Erotica“—as one magazine called Beyonce’s visual album—to present the message of the cross. What he used had more to do with the identity of God. Who is this unknown God? Throughout Scripture, Paul exercised wisdom whenever he used any cultural imagery or icons and always wound up preaching the Gospel.
Here’s the distinction I’m trying to make. Because there are music videos and strongly suggestive language incorporated in the original songs for each of these remixes, we have to be mindful of the listeners’ mental map as we attempt to move them from culture to cross. Paul didn’t just add Jesus lyrics to the Greek poets, he preached the Gospel to these outsiders.
I think there’s an underlying human flaw here too—beneath the music. We like to fix people. Maybe that’s why Scandal is so popular. We clean up songs in an attempt to clean up people. Our rationale is that remixed, clean lyrics on a track will help people clean up their lives. It will redirect their attention. You used to like Beyonce? Well I have the song for you! Filet the song, filet the person. But Jesus asked us to fish, not clean those fish. Maybe it’s time to stop trying to filet the fish and bring folks to Jesus—bones and all. And let him do the cleaning.