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Reckless Love: The Catechism

Introduction

I believe that Praise Songs have become the Catechism of the modern church, and while I am thankful that I attend a church that teaches catechisms, I still think it is helpful to examine songs in this light.  A catechism is a series of questions and answers that seek to teach the basic truths of the Scriptures.  They focus on who God is, who man is, what man’s position with God is, what the Law is, what the Gospel is, what the church is, what the sacraments are, as well as many other issues.  Each question and answer is accompanied with a Scripture proof text or texts, and this design is structured to help us know the Scripture, understand the Scripture, and apply the Scripture.  Also, the catechisms were created to be taught in both church as well as the home.

From time to time, I would like to look at a song as a catechism.  I will examine what each line of the song seeks to teach and/or apply and I will see how it is backed by Scripture (or not).  I will choose these songs based on their ranking in CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International - basically which songs are being played in churches around the world) as well as Billboard (radio play, online streaming, and digital downloads - basically which songs are being played in homes around the world).  Songs that rank high on both lists *are* the songs that have the most influence on our church, and the theology they teach will have the biggest impact on the church body.

I would like to note that the Bible does not command us to teach catechisms.  However, the Bible is clear that we are to teach our children, our churches, and our disciples the Truths of the Scripture; and using catechisms is a simple and systematic way to do this.  The Bible does offer songs as a way to do this as well.  In both Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 we are commanded to sing “Psalms, hymns, and Spiritual songs” in the context of “teaching one another”, “admonishing one another”, “addressing one another”, and “submitting to one another” while “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” and doing “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  I believe this allows and encourages the use of music to teach the Truths of the Gospel to our children, churches, and disciple; though the primary function of singing should be praising God.

Reckless Love

The song “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury of Bethel Music is a brilliantly, cleverly, and intentionally written song.  Every word in this song says exactly what Cory Asbury wants to say, and his message is loud and clear.  The song has gotten a lot of flack because of one word, but there are three words in this song that share a dangerous message.  The word that offends the least, however, is the word that gets the most intention; and I believe this is intentional.

1) I want to take some time and go through this song line by line, pointing out where the theology is good, where it is weak, and where it is outright dangerous.  I will include Scripture that supports the song and Scripture that opposes this song.  2) I will also talk about whether or not it was reckless to choose the word “Reckless”.  3) Finally, I will quote Asbury’s own response to the criticism of this song along with a video from Todd White, a street evangelist from Dallas, TX that explains some of the theology that went into the writing of this song.

1) Line by Line Review:

Verse 1:

Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me

Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

This passage is about the restoration of God’s people.  It is a joyous celebration where God’s people are called to sing, and God Himself joins in on the singing.  This line is about God singing over me, one of His chosen children, before I could even speak my first word.  This theology is supported elsewhere in Scripture in passages like Ephesians 2:3-6.

Check out more from the writer of this article on the Balm in Gilead podcast!

You have been so, so good to me

Psalm 119:68
You are good and do good;
teach me your statutes.

There are a plethora of verses about God’s goodness, but this one was the most straightforward.  God is good, and He does good.  The implication is that God, having chosen me and having sung over me is good.  This is a proper response to hearing Truth: worshiping the Lord, praising Him for His right attributes, namely His goodness.

Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me

Genesis 2:7
then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

This passage reflects God’s power over creation and solidifies the idea of me being twice owned by God: first through creation, second through redemption.  God made me, but he also elected me and bought me.  It is also worth noting that the Valley of Dry Bones from Ezekiel 37 involved the Spirit of God breathing new life into the dead, signifying the regeneration and new birth referenced in John 3.


You have been so, so kind to me

Romans 2:4
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

This passage reiterates that it is God’s right attributes that lead us to the repentance necessary for salvation.  So far, this song has a strong Reformed message of God’s goodness, God’s kindness, God’s choosing of us, and God’s creating of us that all work together for our salvation; and our right response is to worship God.

Chorus:


Oh, the overwhelming [love of God]

Ephesians 2:4-5
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved

There are many great passages to choose from describing God’s love.  To me, this one sums up the feeling of being overwhelmed.

never-ending [love of God]

Psalm 136
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

A central theme in the Psalms, and especially this Psalm which repeats the line in every verse, is that God’s love is steadfast and it endures forever.

reckless love of God

There is no Scripture to back up this word choice.  I will talk in great detail after the line by line review about how the definition of “reckless” carries zero connotation with the character of God.  I will also talk of how 1 Corinthians 1:25 has been suggested as the proof text for this line, and I will explain how a tweak in the lyrics *could* make it an accurate proof text, but as is, this is not a good proof text.


Oh, it chases me down

Luke 15:20,24
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him… ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

This refers to the father running to meet his son.

fights 'til I'm found

Luke 15:8-9
Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

This refers to the woman turning her house upside-down to find the coin.

leaves the ninety-nine

Luke 15:4-6
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

All of these references are from the group of parables about finding what was lost and celebrating that the lost was found.  In a vacuum this line is great and Biblical, but it has a strange feel to it seen through the lense of the driving force being the “reckless love of God”.

I couldn't earn it

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Salvation is not something we could ever earn.  Our good deeds are as filthy rags before the Lord (Isaiah 64:6) and only by God’s grace can we be reconciled to Him.

and I don't deserve it

Romans 3:23; 6:23
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Not only can we not earn salvation, we earn death for ourselves because of our sin (which, side note, “sin” is never mentioned in this song, it is only implied).

still, You give Yourself away

This is the second line in the song that carries a dangerous message, and only one letter change would fix it, but there is actually a stronger argument in the Scriptures against this line than for it.  Hebrews 6 is a warning passage for those who have once borne fruit but have fallen away from the faith (as described by the “rocky soil” in Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:1-15) and it likens these apostates as ones who would put Christ back on the cross over and over again.  However, Jesus died once and for all, never to suffer again.  The word “give” in this song implies this continued returning to the cross and the trickle down theology is that you can lose your salvation.  Those who believe you can lose your salvation also tend to preach Christ continually giving of himself over and over again, and I believe this word is intentional for this reason.  “Gave” would change this entire theology, and due to the simplicity of the solution, I believe Asbury had to have intentionally chosen the word “give” to fit his beliefs (of which I am assuming in this case, and I admit that I could be wrong in his intentionality).  This is all I am going to say on this matter.

Verse 2:


When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me

Romans 5:7-8
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This line is about our choice to rebel against God and God loving us despite our rebellion.  This is one of the strongest lines in the song about why we need to be saved and the closest the song gets to mentioning sin.

When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me

This is *by far* the most dangerous line in the song, it changes how everything else is interpreted, and I believe Cory Asbury intentionally waited until the end of the main body of the song to reveal this point of view.  The implication is that while I *felt* no worth, I was *actually* worth every drop of blood that Jesus shed.  It puts too much value on the individual over the corporate body of believers, and it ultimately redefines what my standing is before God.  I will post the evidence of this theology in section 3.


Bridge:


There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me

I am not going to tackle this line by line, as this is all Cory Asbury’s personal response to rest of the song.  I will say that it is very man/individual/”me” focused, and given the “worth” theology, this bridge supports a very dangerous view of the Gospel.

2) Is God “Reckless”?

I mentioned in the last section that the word “reckless” carries zero connotation with the character of God.  This is the definition of the word:

(of a person or their actions) without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.

synonyms: rash, careless, thoughtless, heedless, unheeding, hasty, overhasty, precipitate, precipitous, impetuous, impulsive, daredevil, devil-may-care

antonyms: careful

This definition does not accurately describe God at all.  In fact, it describes the opposite.  According to Ephesians 1 and Romans 9 (the admitted go-to chapters for Reformed theology), God had a plan for us to be His children before he laid the foundation of the world (see also Job 38:4) and God is a potter who expertly crafted us either for glory or for wrath (see also Isaiah 29:16, 64:8).  To even imply that God has acted without thinking or caring about the consequences of His actions is blasphemous at best.  In order to make peace with this word, we must either a) redefine the word or b) see the word in a different context.

a) A lot of the defenders of the song have approached the issue from the point of view that “God’s love *seems* reckless from an outside perspective”.  This is not false, but it isn’t exactly true either.  God’s love may seem reckless through the eyes of a sinner that cannot fathom the depth of unconditional love, but even a sinner can tell the difference between putting yourself in harm’s way to save a loved one (like stepping in front of a bus for your kid) and putting yourself in harm’s way for the thrill of it (like trying to spit off the edge of the Grand Canyon).

In light of this, it isn’t hard to understand that God isn’t being careless, he is being selfless.  But “selfless” is not a synonym of “reckless”.  Here is its definition:

concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one's own.

synonyms: unselfish, altruistic, self-sacrificing, self-denying

antonyms: inconsiderate

I could dig deeper into other words’ definitions, like “concern” but the point I want to make is this: “reckless” lacks thought while “selfless” requires thought.  So in order for “reckless” to make sense, it must take on the meaning of another word, like “selfless”.

The problem with this approach is that the song never redefines the word, so we do not have a unified new definition.  It puts all of the weight of redefining the word on the listener and the message will get muddled.  What will happen more often is that instead of the word getting redefined, the listener will redefine their view of God.

The trickle down with this problem is that redefining God makes a god in the image you desire (breaking the second commandment), does not hold true to the character and name of God (breaking the third commandment), and bears false witness against God (breaking the ninth commandment).  Also, believing that God is reckless gives one freedom to “be reckless as God is reckless”, encouraging people to make foolish choices in the name of the Kingdom (like starting a street corner preaching ministry in Pakistan).

b) I mentioned earlier about 1 Corinthians 1:25 being used as a proof text for the word “reckless”:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

If the Bible can call God “foolish” or “weak”, then “reckless” fits right in, right?  The problem with this line of thought is two fold.

First, the Bible is using comparative language.  It is not calling God foolish or weak, it is using satire to call men foolish and weak.  God is perfect and doesn’t have bad days, but men have days where their self control is better than other days.  This passage is saying something to the equivalent of “even if God could have a bad day, God at His least controlled is still better than man at His most controlled.

Second, the Bible doesn’t merely use that comparative language and hope we understand it.  The verse is surrounded by the truth that God is wise and God is strong.  Here is the whole passage:

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Now, if the song’s lyrics were something like “Oh Your reckless love is better shown than mine most carefully planned” then it would convey a proper message backed by 1 Corinthians 1:25. But it is not.  In fact, Cory Asbury himself said that he did not choose the word artistically or comparatively.  He chose it because he believes God’s love is reckless.  Here is a portion of his response to criticism for choosing the word:

When I use the phrase, “the reckless love of God”, I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless. I am, however, saying that the way He loves, is in many regards, quite so. What I mean is this: He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being. His love isn’t crafty or slick. It’s not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, it’s quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous. His love bankrupted heaven for you. His love doesn’t consider Himself first. His love isn’t selfish or self-serving. He doesn’t wonder what He’ll gain or lose by putting Himself out there. He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back at Him and offer ourselves in return.

See Facebook post

There is a lot to unpack in this quote, but pay close attention to what I have bolded.  He says God isn’t reckless, he is [definition of reckless].  Asbury truly believes that the way God loves is reckless, and this goes against what the Bible teaches concerning God’s love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

God’s love is intentional and calculated.  It is sober minded and gentle.  It is not reckless.  As I mentioned earlier, though, while this is the most glaring error, it is not the most grievous error in the song.

3) Am I worth it?

The third line in the second verse states “When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me”, and I believe this is where Cory Asbury strays from the true Gospel message most grievously.  Let’s return to his response to the criticism of the song:

When I use the phrase, “the reckless love of God”, I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless. I am, however, saying that the way He loves, is in many regards, quite so. What I mean is this: He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being. His love isn’t crafty or slick. It’s not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, it’s quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous. His love bankrupted heaven for you. His love doesn’t consider Himself first. His love isn’t selfish or self-serving. He doesn’t wonder what He’ll gain or lose by putting Himself out there. He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back at Him and offer ourselves in return.

See Facebook post

There is still a lot to digest in this quote, but I am not going to dig into too much of it.  Instead, I want to focus on that one sentenced I bolded: His love bankrupted heaven for you.  This is not grounded in Scripture, but is grounded in the false teachings of Todd White, a street evangelist from Dallas, TX:

The value that was placed on my life was determined by the cost that was paid for me. You see, the cost isn’t just the revelation of my sin, it’s the revealing of my value. Something underneath that sin must have been of great value for Heaven to go bankrupt to get me back. So Jesus paid such a high price for me on that tree, and when I see that, I see my value…Jesus was put on that cross, God determined my value, because all of that was my value.

See video

This presentation of the Gospel is as “me-centered” as you can get.  Instead of man’s chief end being to glorify God and enjoy him forever (which, by the way, is the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism), man’s chief end is to be glorified by God and to be enjoyed by Him forever.  

When Asbury says “When I felt no worth” he is *not* saying “though I was unworthy”, but rather “before my worth was revealed”.  According to this worth or value theology, the parables found in Matthew 13:44-46 are about God going bankrupt to purchase us:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

This is not how these parables are intended to be read.  Rather, just like Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything and come after him (Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30) it is the believer who is to give up everything to follow God.  

With this in mind, go look at the Bridge again.  This is all about how far God is willing to go for “me”.  Not for “the church”, “the bride”, or “the elect”; but for “me”.  This is a narcissistic, overly mystical type of theology that strays away from what is true.  Also, go back and read the verses through the lens of the value/worth theology.  God is singing over us and breathing life into us because we are the pearl of great price, and he must have us.

I want to be clear that we do have worth as image bearers of God.  This is part of common grace and is universal to all humans.  However, it is not enough to be declared worthy of salvation solely on being an image bearer.  This belief is called universalism and is heresy.

I also want to be clear that as believers we do have worth, though it is not innate and it is not the reason God saved us.  Rather, God has given us worth through His act of saving us.  Apart from God, however, we are not worthy of any good gift.  We do not even deserve our next breath.  But God is rich in love and mercy and lavishly pours these gifts on us anyway.

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t believe Cory Asbury was reckless when he chose the word “reckless”.  Rather, I believe he made some extremely intentional decisions in this song, namely the choice of the word “reckless” to be sensational and divisive.  This song has been #1 on Billboard’s charts for the better part of four months, and I believe this is largely due to the polarizing comments.  Whether you love the song or hate it, you are talking about it (I am well over 4000 words as we speak).  Corey spent a verse and half dropping some seriously Biblically grounded lines, and most of the chorus is strong as well.  This is just sheep’s clothing.  The wolf lies in the ideas that God is reckless (a distinctly human trait) and that I am the Pearl of Great Price (a distinctly divine trait).  This is a reversal of the Gospel.

If you have the power to choose the songs for your church, I greatly encourage you to avoid this song.  Though 75% of the song may have solid theology, it isn’t worth it to sing the 25% heterodoxy.  If you don’t have the power to choose the songs in your church, either don’t sing or meditate on the 75%.  I have found it helpful to rewrite the song, singing “selfless” instead of “reckless”, “give” instead of “gave”, “though I wasn’t worthy” instead of “when I felt no worth”, and “us” as often as I can instead of “me”.  This song does not contain any heresy (a complete rejection of the Truth) and the heterodoxy (“different” “thinking”) can be straightened into orthodoxy (“straight/right” “thinking”).

I have made my case and I am sure you are either ready to fist bump or punch me (with the polarizing nature of the song and all).  Before you do, I have one more section on Common Objections.  I hope they answer your questions or at least help you to voice them better.

Common Objections

There have been some common objections to this type of critique, and I want to address them now (and these are general responses to the common objections, not specific to the song in question).

1) “You shouldn’t stifle someone’s artistic liberties.”

As an artist myself, I understand this issue well.  If I have an artistic vision, I want to express myself according to the vision.  And if the vision aligns with Scripture, then I should be able to express myself according to the vision.  The linchpin in the argument, then, is that the artistic vision must align with Scripture.

Any artistic vision that goes against Scripture must be stifled.  This is to protect the church as well as the writer.  We don’t want the church to openly declare false doctrine.  Everyone would agree to that.  Also, when we see someone declaring false doctrine, we first confront them about it.  If, and only if, there is no correction, we warn those affected by it.  This is what Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos (Acts 18:24-26).  This is what Paul did with Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20).

2) “You shouldn’t judge someone else’s theology.”

Who am I to say my theology is right and your theology is wrong?  Ultimately, the Bible.  What I have done in my review is compare what the Bible says with what the song says.  If you believe me to be wrong, please use the Bible to back up your beliefs.  I admit that I do not have a 100% accurate understanding of every verse in the Bible.  There are passages I have struggled with for a long time, and there are others that I have recently come to understand.  But if you believe the Bible (and I hope that you do if you have made it this far into a long, Biblically grounded review of a song that is making theological claims), then you must see that the Bible itself cares that it is rightly divided (2 Timothy 2:15).

I am writing from the Reformed understanding of grace and atonement, which I believe to be the most accurate understanding of the Biblical texts.  However, I will not come out and say that a song from another understanding well within orthodox tradition has “bad theology”.  If I say anything, it will be backed with Scripture for why I believe it could be written better, but my aim when siding against a particular song will be to point out heterodoxical or heretical statements (those statements that go against what Scripture says).

The Bible is clear that people will teach false doctrine in the name of Christ, and that we are to be vigilant to test what we hear and compare it with the Truth of the Gospel.  1 John 4:1-6 gives a very good guide in doing this:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

3) “You are thinking too much into these things.”

This is probably what I hear most often, and I usually know the conversation is over; but that statement is an extremely subjective opinion.  If you believe that I am overthinking the issue, let me ask you in response: who decides where the line of “too much” is?  How far am I allowed to think about this issue?  Which of my beliefs must I ignore or write off as to not offend your beliefs?  Statements like “You are thinking too much into these things” are not helpful unless they are backed with alternative thinking.  I admit that I *do* overthink things very often, and I am willing to say that I *might* be overthinking some of these things (and have documented as such).  I only ask that any conversation stemming from my review be thought out, backed by Scripture, and civil.

Thank you for reading.  I plan to write more of these in the future as I find time.  If you are interested in reading more, feel free to leave a suggestion for other songs.  Also, all comments are encouraged, but please read the “Common Objections” portion before you do.  

Grace and peace,
Bryan J Emerson
From the Balm in Gilead podcast.



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