Wednesday, April 16, 2008

American Idol - Shout To The Lord

I know that if you have wandered onto this blog, you have already been overwhelmed by this subject line, but I would encourage you to read this in its entirety. I hope to get to meet Josh Harris one day - this whole blog entry of his just confirms my respect for him, and deepens my desire to meet this man and hear him speak to me in person.

This is very powerful stuff, and yes, it is long, so just deal with it....
I wanted to highlight a few interesting comments that have been left on my first and second American Idol posts this past week. I was glad that several people with more "inside" information stopped by to share. So here are their remarks followed by a few closing thoughts from me...

Christians Inside Fox
A Christian woman named Beverly posted what I thought was a helpful inside perspective from Fox. It helped me to see that, for Christians who work at Fox, having the song played was a triumph. It's easy for me to be cynical as I watch and forget that there are believers working at this network who are looking for any chance to shine the light of the gospel. She goes on to share that positive feedback from Christians would be helpful. Thanks for taking the time to post, Beverly.

I work on one of the "sister shows" of American picture an office, with all of the producers, crew, etc. gathered in watching the live feed at our CBS offices, then this song comes office filled with a few Christians....atheists and agnostic Jews. You could hear a pin was awesome.....the power that came through....nothing had to be debates....just people being touched more than they realized...producers, writers...crew that had never darkened a church door in their lives, or their only experience with Christians was a negative one. You don't always see the workings of us Christians that are behind the don't know how much prayer went into getting a song with that message on a, let us not forget, a SECULAR show. So, from someone behind the scenes, the best thing you can do is write to the producer of Am. Idol and simply state how much you appreciate the diversity they showed in having an very inspirational song in their program. Period. No criticizing. This will go farther than you realize. Also, pray, pray, pray for us Christians that have chosen Hollywood as our vocation, career and our mission field.

The Folks at Hillsong
I expressed curiosity about how the process for rights to use the song worked. This person has some knowledge of it and about Christians in the Idol band. I appreciated her comment that we should "reserve our outrage for the real tragedies of this world." Well said.
I know the people from Hillsong who negotiated this deal thru Integrity Music, and the word change wasn't approved, but while they deal with that, they are quite happy the song was song used.

There are also very strong Christians in the American idol band, who are witnesses in places most of us don't have influence—let's rejoice that He is praised, even if by 'indifferent' vessels—let the fruit of our ministry be heard in our churches and in the churches of pop culture.

Let's reserve our 'outrage' for the real tragedies in this world...Let his praises rise... Even from hearts as cold as stones... God can command praise from stones—not just the redeemed.

Jason Castro's Church
A girl named Leslie attends the church that Jason is from. She writes,
Jason Castro and his family attend my church in Rockwall, Texas. He is a Christian and has asked for prayer because one of the other contestants is either an atheist or agnostic. I was told that Jason Castro encouraged a few of the others to sing "Shout to the Lord" after they at first balked at the lyrics. Just FYI: Jason's mother gave him the idea to get dreadlocks, and he now uses his look as a way to be able to witness to teens that normally wouldn't listen. Way to go, Jason!
Sharing the Gospel
I was inspired by this youth pastor who instead of merely hanging out on Christian blogs like this one used this whole discussion as an opportunity to try and share the gospel on secular blogs. Here's a portion of his post...
Well, I can see why some people would be offended by there being a worship song in American Idol. But, at the same time, if all of the singers didn't mind singing it, I don't see why it's a big deal.

The connection between helping the world and praising Jesus go hand in hand. Not to sound like a "Jesus freak" or anything (but I am a youth pastor), but you simply can't love God without loving your neighbor. So, a worship song to the Christian God (even if they left out his name on Wednesday night...but, incidentally, they did say "Jesus" on Thursday night) should almost be like a rallying cry for Christians to do something about all the injustice in the world.

If Christians did more loving in the name of Jesus than judging in the name of Jesus, His name would be much sweeter to the world.

Anyway, I try my best to do this. And I hope that others will be inspired by that song to honor Jesus with their lives and not just with songs.

If you want to discover who this Jesus is, then come check out my blog where I am going through the Bible trying to read it without any preconceived ideas, reading it for what it is. I'm open for discussion too. So, please, if you are wondering WHY people make such a big deal about God, I'd encourage you to check it out.

No Hellfire and Damnation
And finally, Michael Glitz, the columnist at the Huffington Post who I joked with in my post was kind enough to drop by and share the following comment. His words remind me how silly all the ranting over this fiasco must appear to people outside the evangelical Christian subculture.
Hey Josh, Thanks for taking my link in the spirit of positive discussion in which it was meant. My reference to the fact that some evangelical Christians were annoyed included everyone in your community who weighed in on this post, a fair number of whom were annoyed more than "curious" about whether the composer could sue, as you were. Hey I thought that was "annoyed" too to be honest (grin). Others on Huffington have pointed out what carol said that a further reason the group sing-along was inappropriate was the simple fact that not all of them are presumably evangelical Christians and so singing that song without it coming from your heart is at the very least troubling. Thanks for weighing in without hellfire and damnation.
Closing Thoughts
So far, my two posts about the song have been more humorous than serious. I wasn't outraged when they edited the lyrics. I was surprised when they did the song again and included Jesus' name, but I didn't think it was a major triumph of God's kingdom.

As I've read various comments people seem to fall into two different camps. Some Christians are upset—because they left out Jesus, because non-Christians were singing a song of "praise", because it was all about money, because it's another example of Christianity being "censored." Other Christians are elated—because they put Jesus back in, because a praise song was heard by millions of people, because they see this as incredible evangelistic platform.

I guess I'm not really at home with either group. With all due respect, I don't think that having a song like Shout to the Lord sung (even though I like it) is going to usher in revival. This reminds me of the fervor before the movie The Passion of the Christ was released. People spoke about this movie as if it was the ultimate opportunity for the gospel to advance. I don't think it was. Was I glad that it was released? Sure. But I think that it's too easy for Christians to think that any moment in the media spotlight on TV or in film is a bigger deal than it really is. We should welcome any opportunity for media to help spread the good news about Jesus, but I don't think we should put too much stock in that vehicle. The gospel is going to advance as it always has—steadily as it is clearly proclaimed by believers in their words and modeled by their lives and actions. The gospel advances as local congregations receive and live God's word for their neighbors to see.

So I'm more excited about Christians inviting their unbelieving friends over to watch American Idol together so they can build friendships and establish a platform for sharing the gospel in that relationship than I'm excited about an occasional worship song being sung on the show. If both happen, that's cool, too.

Oh, and let me gently disagree with people who are upset about the song being sung, edited or not. Don't get so worked up about unsaved people singing songs of praise to Jesus. It happens every Sunday in churches around the world. It happens in my church every Sunday. Thankfully, a large portion of people at our church are Christians. But there are many people who claim to know Christ that don't. And there are many unbelieving people who come who need to repent and believe.

Here's reality: we live in a secular, pluralistic society. We need to be good neighbors to agnostics and atheists and people of other religions. Christian faith and practice shouldn't be forced on others. And we shouldn't be overly surprised when "gospel" music that is very meaningful to believers is co-opted and used in secular settings by people who don't have personal faith in Jesus. How many times has Amazing Grace been sung and loved by people who don't really grasp its truth? Like it or not we live in a culture where many people view gospel music as merely a style that is part of a cultural tradition. That's all it means to them.

Moments like this are reminders for me that the songs and trappings of Christian culture are not the hope of the world—Jesus is! We need to make him known. We need to love and seek to serve the world around us through prayer, through faithful evangelism, and through Christ-like service of those in need. Our goal is not building a more air-tight evangelical bubble. Neither should our goal be hoping that our subculture will burst out into the broader culture to great acclaim.

Instead, our goal should be to proclaim Christ and him crucified to the people we go to the school with, work with, and live next door to. Our goal should be to preach the gospel and live lives worthy of that gospel. Our goal should be to use our gifts in every sector of society so that God is glorified. I'm grateful there are Christians at Fox attempting to do that. I'm going to try to be more faithful to pray for them and all the rest of us, that we'd be busy making Jesus known.

Long after American Idol airs its final show, Jesus will still be on his throne. Isn't that a comforting thought? Let's seek to make him known right where we are.