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Saturday, September 05, 2009 

Song Review: What A Friend I've Found

In a comment on a recent post I was asked by someone new to POTF to give my thoughts on a particular song. I think this song would qualify as a praise song as I’ve heard similar lyrics sung in Sunday worship services of friends of mine who do not share my traditional Lutheran sensibilities. I’ve always taken requests here at POTF so there was no reason at all to not accepted the challenge.

Since “What a friend I've found” isn’t a traditional hymn I’ll be using a shorter but succinct method that I use to judge not only hymnody but sermons as well: the Wilken Diagnostic. The Wilken Diagnostic is a three step evaluation popularized on my favorite radio program Issues, Etc. by host Pr. Todd Wilken that goes like this:

1. How often is Jesus mentioned?

2. Is Jesus the subject of the verbs? Is Jesus the one who acts, or are you?

3. What are the verbs? What has Jesus done and what is He doing?

Now, keeping the Wilken Diagnostic in the back of our minds as we read “What a friend I've found” written by Martin Smith; here’s the lyrics:

What a friend I've found, Closer than a brother

I have felt your touch, More intimate than lovers

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, friend forever

What a hope I've found, More faithful than a mother

It would break my heart, To ever lose each other

chorus repeat until end

So, using the Wilken Diagnostic, let’s start answering the questions.

1. How often is Jesus mentioned? Well, Jesus does get mentioned in the chorus and that’s a lot more than some songs I’ve heard that purport to be Christian. It’s true that Jesus is our friend and that will indeed last an eternity but He’s a bit more than that, isn’t He. I just think “Jesus, friend forever” leaves out nearly everything about who Jesus is and what he does which is a nice segue into our next diagnostic question.

2. Is Jesus the subject of the verbs? Is Jesus the one who acts, or are you? This question is a crucial one because if Jesus isn’t doing the doing, He’s not doing anything at all. The first line the song seems to fail this particular test. Do we as poor sinful creatures really find Jesus? Are we capable of coming to know anything about Jesus on our own? Let’s see what Scripture says about our own ability; let’s look at what St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1-8;

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God

So, we are indeed dead in our sins and can only receive faith as a gift from God. In the above text, who is running the verbs? It’s God ain’t it? Yep, and thanks be to God that by grace He does this even though we don’t deserve it. The Lord looks at us and sees, not fallen creatures, but His only begotten Son’s blood drenched robes and declares us righteous on the account of Christ. All that sin that we carry with us is atoned for at Calvary. If we are to be honest about it, we could say we had a part only in the fact that it was our sin that caused Him to be nailed to the cursed tree.

Now let’s also look at the words of Jesus in John 15:1-6;

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

The key phrase here is Jesus saying “for apart from me you can do nothing.” Here Jesus reminds us that everything is dependent on God’s grace, even the good works that bear fruit are gifts from the Spirit! All the doing is God doing the doing. All our lives, whether we talk of faith or works it is God running the verbs.

So can we “find” Jesus? Not on our own we can’t. To say or even think that we run the verbs goes against what Scripture proclaims! The song “What a friend I've found” doesn’t have Jesus doing the doing but rather it has us and what we do and what we think and what we feel as the subject of the verbs.

This brings to our last question;

3. What are the verbs? What has Jesus done and what is He doing? If Jesus isn’t the subject of the verbs, this question must simply be left blank. Not much more to say than that other than to lament the fact that the song fails to mention what Jesus did out of love for all His poor miserable creature! The story of Jesus’ work at the cross is called good news for a reason! If I’m gonna sing about Jesus, I sorta want to sing about the evangel, the good news. If that wonderful story isn’t at the center of your song… I really don’t feel comfortable singing it because it doesn't say anything that offers me any hope for the sin which infects all of us to core; Jesus’ atonement on the cross which allows me, through no work of my own, be declared righteous before the Lord God almighty.

Lastly, while this thought doesn’t fall under the Wilken Diagnostic, I still feel it needs to be said; I would be really uncomfortable singing the first stanza with a line like “I have felt your touch, More intimate than lovers” in any setting. We often speak of Christ as the Bridegroom and His Church as the bride but in the last few years there has been an explosion of songs that seem to use erotic language when referring to our Lord. I fail to see how Christ’s Church is edified with such language.

It’s true that the Song of Songs has some imagery that describes a very intimate relationship (this book of Scripture in particular is often sited as an excuses for the sexualization of both hymnody and preaching) but texts of this sort do not give us license to turn our songs into soft core porn ditties that resemble hits(?) sung by so many over sexualized pop stars seen on stations that still play music videos. Sorry, but I still get creeped out every time I hear a song that requires me to constantly remind myself it supposed to be about our Lord!

Ask yourself this; if you scratched out the name Jesus and wrote in either the name Andy or Andrea into the chorus, does the song still work if you sing it as a love song to your respective boyfriend or girlfriend? If you answer in the affirmative, I fail to see how anybody can enjoy singing such a song.

I’m afraid I can’t give my approval to the song “What a friend I've found”. With so many good hymns out there, both ancient and modern, that are able to speak of Christ’s salvific work and even our response, why sing a song that falls so short of confessing how God expresses love and our response?

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Since there are many lovely Christian people out there who, I take it, really like this song, I'd be curious to know: why? Just an honest inquiry, what's your reason?

I'll throw out some theories, since I used to be all about this sort of worship music. It only has a couple notes so it's easy to sing, and only has a couple of chords so it would be a piece of cake to play; even the most mediocre worship leader with a guitar can pull it off. The music sounds quiet, simple, and contemplative, and repeats like a mantra. The words express a fervent desire among Christians today to experience Jesus in some kind of tangible way, and many believe that the only way he can really be experienced is through emotions and feelings. This is why millions have been spent on the latest technology in churches, utilizing the same man-made techniques to arouse the emotions that we use to stimulate us through movies, pop music, and other sensationalistic areas of pop culture. A lot of Christians have been taught that music that makes us feel warm deep down inside is the only kind of worship that is "sincere" or "heartfelt," and that worship music is defined by telling Jesus how we feel about him. Did I mention that everything about the song is dead easy?

I guess the reasons I don't like the song are kind of the opposite. I believe that to sing in worship is to confess the faith, and there are ways of doing that which are accessible yet actually say something of substance, which this song really doesn't. I believe that worship is first and foremost about what Jesus has done for me, not how I feel about him. (How do I really know if I've "felt his touch"? What if I haven't? What does it all mean?) I believe that we know and experience God through objective means like his Word and his Supper, where we literally do get to hear the real voice and touch the real body of our Savior-- so we don't need loads of subjective emotional manipulation thrown at us at church in order to have an "experience." Not that worship can't be emotional of course, but that my experience of God isn't dependent on such things. Many churches are *replacing* God's Word and his real, promised and guaranteed, tangible means of coming to us with man-made means which are no means at all, so that makes me sad.

Random question as an honest theological inquiry: now, it would obviously do a heck of a lot worse than "break your heart" if you and Jesus really did lose each other (again, what is that supposed to mean?). But if you're a Christian and fall away from faith, is it really going to break your heart and make you feel bad? I mean, isn't falling away about completely hardening your heart against the love and forgiveness that you've already received from Jesus?

Kelly, I’ve had little success getting the very answers you ask in your comment from my more evangelical leaning friends who like such music. I’ve asked these friends to give a defense of emotive praise songs without using the word feeling and have come up empty. The answer I keep getting is that there is so much joy in the heart that such songs of love can’t be help but be sung.
I’ve asked myself what happens if I just don’t “feel” Jesus and I was told that I just need to give myself to the Lord completely. The problem with that answer for me is that this very thing is what led me to leave the faith for 15 years after I had an emotional “event” and looking to repeat the event with no success.
“This is why millions have been spent on the latest technology in churches, utilizing the same man-made techniques to arouse the emotions” I’m not so sure people really understand how this technology can be used to manipulate emotions. I had a friend that ran the sound board at his church, who once bragged to me that he used the sound system to get people to sing louder during a worship service. He claimed that they often didn’t sing loud enough for his taste and if he had his way that they would be shouting by the end of the service. So, through the use of a sound board he manipulated them to sing louder and louder and louder! If I had not heard this coming from a friend, I’m not sure I would have believed that anyone but a member of a cult would do such a thing. I’ve come to understand that this is a tactic that can be used in both large as well as small venues.

You're a better man than I, Frank.

I could not get past the intoductory cheering and mush mouthed few words at the start, and the ampitheater setting.

Those people weren't getting anything counter-cultural there. They were having themselves handed back to themselves.

That is the last thing that I need when I go to church.

I can give another couple of reasons (from my own experience) why songs like this are liked. I don't think anyone will like what I have to say, though, because it's troublesome. Keeping in mind that different people have different reasons for liking things. But you will find a trend here.

Besides the fact that this song is just a couple notes, a couple chords, and a couple words and so is incredibly easy (making it more likely to be prevalent in many places where musicianship is low)... besides the quiet and contemplative nature of it... besides the fact that so many Christians have been told their whole lives that to really worship is to have an emotional experience with Jesus and to sing to him like a lover...

The worship scene in the contemporary church is, frankly, a market. And we as Americans-- perhaps we as humans-- have bought into the idea that if a lot of people are doing it, it must be good (the Christian version of this is "if a lot of Christians are doing it, it must be of God"). Christians in America have grown worried over recent years that we have been losing power and influence in our nation, and creating the "Christian subculture" was a reaction against this. This is where Christians huddle together, us against them, and have our own brand of pop culture, our own celebrities and idols, our own top ten, our own fashions and market trends, and so on. Not to suggest anything negative about him, but Martin Smith is a celebrity created by this subculture. The teen idol nature of Christian stars is perhaps even more stronger than in the secular market, because kids are encouraged to look to their pop singers as spiritual role models as well and to hold to their words as gospel truth in the most literal way. And like the secular teen idol culture, if you're a Christian up there "performing worship," you're expected to be not only charismatic but physically attractive as well. The pop worship scene is a market, an industry, which relies on feel-good and look-good tactics as much as any popular and successful secular pursuit.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kelly's comments, as one who used to be into this type of worship music as well.

Regarding "not feeling Jesus because you haven't given yourself to the Lord completely" ... this is on par with "You can have peace, joy and happiness if you just surrender everything to the Lord." This sort of thing is deadly, deadly stuff. It was this sort of thing that contributed to the deepening despair that I felt as an evangelical. I really feared that there was no hope for me - that God had rejected me - because I was not able to surrender myself completely (and not for lack of trying).

When I discovered that God had NOT rejected me - that, in fact, He had reached down and saved me through the hearing of His Word and the objective, external means of Baptism - it was like coming back from death. As was coming to the understanding of what it really meant for Christ to have lived a perfect (read "perfectly surrendered") life in my place. When I heard Todd Wilken on Issues, Etc. say something to the effect of "Jesus lived the victorious Christian life FOR you" it completely rocked my world.

Sorry if I've hijacked your thread, Frank.

One of my last young adult Bible studies at my Baptist church (official SS material, mind you) involved a lesson on worship. The center of the material featured a complete article *sponsored by CCM magazine* and featuring a number of quotes and definitions of worship offered by popular worship leaders. Can you say "conflict of interests"???

In the interest of full disclosure, I've met the guys from Delirious? (have a complete set of autographs too, haha) and I don't write all this to judge the sincerity of their faith or anything of the sort. There are some groups known as "Christian" bands which I still like. It's due to a couple of them that I met my husband. But if it weren't for the fact that I've met a number of people in the industry and also heard stuff on the inside, I wouldn't be sharing my trepidation about it all. It's just always a good idea to remember that industries are industries and they are there to sell you something, be they "Christian" or no.

Kelly, not to worry about hijacking anything, you just smarten the place up!

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  • I'm Frank Gillespie
  • From The Haut South
  • Confessional Lutheran
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