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.