Sunday, June 2, 2013

"I Then Shall Live"

You may be surprised to learn this, but I watched a Gaither Vocal Band special on CBN last night.  I was attempting to find the Washington Nationals vs. Atlanta Braves game, but I stayed with CBN for a while.  Normally, I'm a church snob of the highest order, preferring ordered, liturgical worship with sacred choral music.  So it would be easy to look down my nose at Southern Gospel music in the white or black American fundamentalist traditions.

But I don't.  I really like a lot of the music, especially when it is done well.  One of the biggest problems moderates have with gospel music is the fundamentalist theology that pervades most of the well-loved songs.  The lyrics tend to emphasize that the focus of the Christian experience is in the hereafter, not the here-and-now.  Jesus' death is usually emphasized and glorified to the point where one wonders if his life and teaching meant anything at all.  Theologically, the songs not only take penal substitutionary atonement for granted, they describe it in vivid detail.  Washed-in-the-blood-of-the-lamb metaphors are common.

Even so, the Gaithier Vocal Band has been producing top-quality gospel music for decades.  Last night on CBN, I came across these lyrics for the first time:

The tune is Jean Sibelius's familiar FINLANDIA.  Most Protestants will know it as the tune for the hymn "Be Still My Soul," a hymn that is particularly meaningful to me because it was sung at my grandfather's funeral.  Liberal Protestants may also know the hymn "This Is My Song," which uses the same tune and can be found in most mainline church hymnals.

Though the clip above does not show it, the CBN program I watched last night featured an interview with Gloria Gaither.  She explained that the inspiration for the song came from Francis Schaeffer's 1976 book, How Then Should We Live?  Schaeffer provided much of the intellectual leadership for the formation of the Religious Right political movement.

Personally, I like Gloria Gaither's theology a lot better than Francis Schaeffer's.  But, being a woman, she is of course useless and unwanted to fundamentalists as a theologian.  Still, I think she has done a masterful job of articulating a positive, active vision of the Christian life.  The last few lines, italicized in the text below, will be particularly meaningful to the men (and yes, women) who are called to full-time vocational Christian ministry.

Blessings to all of you, this Lord's Day and always.

I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven;
I’ll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my Father;
I am His child, and I am not afraid.
So greatly pardoned, I’ll forgive my brother,
The law of love I gladly will obey.  
I then shall live as one who’s learned compassion;
I’ve been so loved that I’ll risk loving too.
I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges;
I’ll dare to see another’s point of view.
And when relationship demand commitment,
Then I’ll be there to care and follow through.  
Your kingdom come around and through and in me;
Your power and glory, let them shine through me;
Your Hallowed name, O may I bear with honor,
And may You living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,
And may You feed a hungry world through me. 

Amen. Amen. Amen.  
Text © 1981 Gaither Music Company. Music © Breitkopf & Hartel (Outside U.S.
only). All rights reserved. 


  1. To have your sins paid requires penal substitution

    1. I agree that it's implied in the hymn. But I like the sentiment overall.


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