It’s easy to find Christians despising the “Jesus is my boyfriend” motif in worship music. I’ve usually mocked it myself, but something I read in James K.A. Smith’s recent book Desiring the Kingdom made me think about this from another angle.
In order to understand Smith’s defense of erotically-charged worship, we must first understand the basic question animating his book: “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?” (18) In other words, Smith is arguing that the affective and erotic are more basic and fundamental than the cognitive. We are lovers before we’re ever thinkers.
If we grant Smith this point (and I do, although there’s an enormous and tantalizing philosophical debate lurking around precisely that point), then criticisms of “Jesus is my boyfriend”-type worship songs are not as easy as they seem. In a lengthy footnote, Smith has the following to say on the topic:
I think a philosophical anthropology centered around affectivity, love, or desire might also be an occasion to somewhat reevaluate our criticisms of “mushy” worship choruses that seem to confuse God with our boyfriend. While we might be rightly critical of the self-centered grammar of such choruses (which, when parsed, often turn out to be more about “me” than God, and “I” more than us), I don’t think we should so quickly write off their “romantic” or even “erotic” elements (the Song of Songs comes to mind in this context). This, too, is testimony to why and how so many are deeply moved in worship by such singing. While this can slide into an emotionalism and a certain kind of domestication of God’s transcendence, there remains a kernel of “fittingness” about such worship. While opening such doors is dangerous, I’m not sure that the primary goal of worship or discipleship is safety. Catholic novelists such as Graham Greene, Walker Percy and Evelyn Waugh recognize this thin fulcrum that tips from sexual desire to desire for God—that on the cusp of this teetering, “dangerous” fulcrum, one is closest to God. The quasi-rationalism that sneers at such erotic elements in worship and is concerned to keep worship “safe” from such threats is the same rationalism that has consistently marginalized the religious experience of women—and women mystics in particular
James K.A. Smith, Desiring The Kingdom, 79.
2 responses to “Jesus Is My Boyfriend”
so, I found your blog. I have been here before, can’t remember how I linked to it. But, I’m going to link you over on mine if that is okay.
interesting post by the way, i’d like to hear more about that book.
I have no problem with elements of the erotic in our worship and I agree that we do encounter God and know God sensually (through our senses). I simply don’t see Jesus is my boyfriend songs as erotically-charged worship though, that is, it doesn’t even come close to Song of Songs is for example; rather, it’s most often sentimental and emotionalism (which Smith does note). Now, if I agree with Smith for a moment here (my decision is still ambiguous), the problem is not with erotically-charged worship as such but that the places that worship this way usually only worship this way. Essentially what bothers me as that an argument for Jesus is my boyfriend songs (or erotically-charged worship) sets up the sensual against the cognitive. I disagree with Smith’s comment “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?” (18) as well as your addition “In other words, Smith is arguing that the affective and erotic are more basic and fundamental than the cognitive. We are lovers before we’re ever thinkers.” I see in this kind of logic or theology a conflict between body and mind, the sensual and the cognitive, as if knowledge belongs in the realm of the latter and love in that of the former. This dualism is a problem and it looks like some sort of inverted Gnosticism. Encounter, love, knowledge, of God are not separately defined experiences. One of my favourite maxims comes from St.Augustine: “You cannot love what you do not know; you cannot know what you do not love.” In other words, it’s not a matter of whether we are lovers before we are thinkers or thinkers before we are lovers; but rather how adequately (for lack of better word) that kind of frame describes the relationship between God and God’s people in worship. Which I don’t think it does.