Someone commented that it is a sad day when there is so much the Church should take care of and yet here we are, debating over a lyric. I agree. I just wrote this I can continue to sing this song without feeling condemned. Some people against the song wrote, “Doctrine matters.” and I agree, too, thinking that God does not need us and yet wants us is a beautiful doctrine.
I love singing Hillsong’s “What A Beautiful Name”. Among all the lines, “You didn’t want heaven without us, so Jesus you brought heaven down.” is my favourite.
Yet this lyric has sparked so much controversy. Many raised their concern and a few leaders responded. For example, Sam Storms, whom I deeply respect, wrote that even though he finds this lyric ambiguous, he will continue to sing it with a proper understanding of God’s glory.
John Piper, on the other hand, stated recently that this song should not be sung, because worship songs should express our need for Him and not His need for us. As much as I love Piper and agree with his reasoning, I believe this reason doesn’t apply to this song, as there is a difference between want and need.
Long before these two responded in grace, however, John MacArthur’s GTY had already roasted the song long ago (not with strange fire I suppose). Although I knew they never liked Hillsong, Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle, N.T. Wright, Francis Chan, Rick Warren, etc, and even Tim Keller and John Piper, I am still quite shocked by the critique itself.
The problem they had with Hillsong is that “God’s wrath, repentance, judgment, and depravity are absent from the entire Hillsong catalog.” and all Hillsong sings about are “grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.” In my humble opinion, I think if this is a problem, then Hillsong is not the only one “guilty” of it. (Although to say these topics are “absent from the entire Hillsong catalog” is not true at all). Personally though, I do not like songs that talk about how depraved I am all day. For one, we sing to praise: to celebrate not our shame but our life in Christ. I understand, too, that songs should be used for teaching. Still, singing songs on wrath, repentance, judgment, and depravity will leave me condemned enough to live a legalistic life. Kindness (grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation), not guilt, leads people back to repentance (Romans 2:4).
The critique ended with this statement, “What you are going to see – as we have seen firsthand – is that significant influence Hillsong wields is sowing confusion and corruption into the next generation of the church.” While I don’t agree with every approach that Hillsong has taken to advance God’s Kingdom, I think they have done more to build up than to “confuse and corrupt”.
But let’s get to the point: what about the line “You didn’t want heaven without us, so Jesus you brought heaven down.”? GTY answers, “Nowhere does the Bible state that an unsatisfying solitude in heaven was God’s reason for redeeming people. Rather, the theme that resounds throughout Scripture is God’s desire to glorify Himself by redeeming sinners. “
I don’t know where the idea of “unsatisfying solitude” is from. Perhaps it is a mix-up of need and want again?
There is no doubt God is self-sufficient. He needs nothing (Acts 17:24-25). But that’s what the amazing part comes in: He does not need us, yet He wants us. Nowhere in this song states that God needs us. “You didn’t want heaven without us, so Jesus you brought heaven down.”, to me, captures how much He wants us. God wants us so much that He emptied Himself to take the form of humanity to meet us. Humanity meets divinity. Heaven meets earth. God even uses the mystery of marriage – two become one – to expresses His love for us. If we only knew how much He wants that.
“God doesn’t want something from us, He simply wants us.” – C.S. Lewis
“We are made for his pleasure. no reason for his love can be given except his own sovereign good pleasure. In all eternity past, He felt no loneliness, so He was not looking for a “friend.” He loves us, but this is not the same as needing us.” – J.I. Packer
“From the beginning, God decided to make His wisdom known through humanity. God wanted His wisdom known and He wanted it known in partnership. He wanted to share the most pleasurable thing in the universe – the revelation of Himself – with another creature. That is His eternal purpose for man.” – Samuel Whitefield
Furthermore, to say “the theme that resounds throughout Scripture is God’s desire to glorify Himself by redeeming sinners” seems to have missed the point of both God’s creation and the Bible. God’s redemption is to recover His original plan to set forth a people the share in His divine life and joy to image forth God’s glory as His representatives of the earth. Rescuing us is not the end but a part of this bigger story. The Bible ended with a wedding: Christ and the Church becoming one.
Scholars like Graeme Goldsworthy and Vaughan Roberts would even argue the resounding theme of the Bible is nothing else but the Kingdom of God – that God reigns and rules as King over His people at His place. According to Christopher Wright, too, redeeming sinners is not the end itself: the redemption of sinners is for His grand mission of reclaiming the entire world with the elect as agents.
I love how Hank Hanegraff puts it: “Human history is a shipwreck awaiting rescue: but the port of salvation is not the goal; it’s to resume the journey toward union with God.”
In the heaven – new heaven and new earth – which Randy Alcorn once defined as “Resurrected People Ruling His Resurrected Earth”, we will be shining with His light to the fullest (Matthew 13:43). Those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30). MacArthur himself once wrote, “God’s glory is the radiance of all He is.” He will be glorified by our glorification, not just individual redemption.
One of the most famous quotes by Phil Johnson is this: “Agree to disagree? How about we just argue until one of us actually refutes the other and we come to a common understanding of God’s Word?” It is even made into t-shirts for sale now. I prefer “agree to disagree” instead arguing, however. Do give me grace and feel free to disagree 🙂