Monday, February 18, 2013

The Proclaimers' "I Want To Be a Christian"



Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart
In my heart
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart


Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart
In my heart
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart


In my heart
In my heart
Lord, I want to be a Christian
In my heart

(image at guardian.co.uk)

Craig and Charlie Reid, the bespectacled identical twins most famous for the delightful 1988 song, "(I'm Gonna Be) 500 Miles," are not your average, run-of-the-mill, country- and soul-drenched post-punk pop-rockers. Beyond the earnestness of their delivery and the tunefulness of their repertoire lies an honest, searching intelligence and inchoate spirituality. Nowhere is this more evident than in this remarkable cover of a song written back in the 1950s by the late American gospel artist, Sullivan Pugh.



Craig Reid has gone on record to say, "I don't see myself as a particularly religious person, and I wouldn't call myself a Christian. I am almost convinced by Christianity, but I have too much doubt to call myself a Christian." Such candor is as refreshing as it is unexpected in the world of popular music. What holds the brothers Reid back? Craig didn't say, but I suspect that at least part of the answer may be found in their powerful song, "The Light" (for my discussion of that song, see here). Yet, behind the doubts and the perceptive observations lies the desire that one could be a Christian. And that in itself is newsworthy in the present cultural climate.

What strikes me about this song are the title and the simplicity of its lyrics: no theology to speak of; the only distinctively "Christian" feature is the religion's defining characteristic of "loving everybody." At first this struck me (I am a New Testament scholar, after all) as somewhat odd. I immediately reacted, "Doesn't the lyricist know that becoming a Christian entails believing the gospel message of Christ's atoning death and bodily resurrection, and committing oneself in faith to the risen Lord?" It didn't take too much reflection to realize that I had made a fundamental lexical mistake: I had confused the notion of being a Christian with that of becoming a Christian. And that is a confusion of which I am hardly the only one guilty. Indeed, when performing a Google search this morning on "I want to be a Christian," the first entry, found on the Southern Baptist Convention website, was an answer to the question, "How to Become a Christian."

Now there is, of course, a necessary connection between becoming and being a Christian. The latter is impossible, after all, when the former has never happened. Being a Christian necessary entails adherence to a set of nonnegotiable theological propositions: the Lordship (involving the Deity) of Christ, his atoning death, and his bodily resurrection. And, as a Protestant, I wholeheartedly affirm that it is solely through faith in Christ that a person becomes a Christian and, hence, is—to use the biblical parlance—"saved." The theological battles of the 16th century had to be waged, and the followers of Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and Knox were brothers in arms fighting on the right side. But—and this is a big "but"—far too many of the Reformers' theological heirs now act as if the question of what it means to be a Christian is coterminous with the issue of how a person becomes one. From personal experience I can attest to the almost single-minded fervor in many evangelical circles to evangelize and hence "get people (some still unfortunately use the word "souls" in this context, but that's another matter) saved." What really matters, by implication, is whether or not someone is "in" the "saved" group. This attitude, when married to the bastard Calvinist notion of "eternal security" (as opposed to the authentically Calvinist "perseverance of the saints"), often bears unfortunate fruit: one is assumed to be "saved" and, hence, a Christian, if one has walked the aisle, said the "sinner's prayer," and been baptized. Well, maybe so, maybe not. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. What may appear, at first sight, to be a delicious dessert, may prove itself, upon testing, to be nothing of the sort.

This is why the disarming simplicity of the song's lyrics appeals to me. My background may have predisposed me to want mention of such truths as are found in John 3:16 or Ephesians 2:8-9. Then again, my background always led me to perplexity when reading the Gospel accounts of so many of Jesus' encounters with the Jews of his day. When the "rich young ruler" (Mark 10:17-31 et par.) asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responded by rattling off six of the 10 commandments. When the young man claimed he had met those qualifications, Jesus responded, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Elsewhere he made a point to turn prospective followers away—Jesus was no American!—by exhorting them to count the cost of discipleship: following Jesus means "hating" one's earthly family. Even more shocking: following Jesus means "hating" one's very life! The disciple—and we must remember that "Christian" is but another name for a "disciple" of Jesus (Acts 11:26)—must take up his or her "cross" daily to follow him (Luke 14:25-33). That is but a pictorial way of saying that the way of discipleship is the way of self-abnegation, even to the point of being willing to die for the cause of Christ. The rub is this: being a Christian means accepting both what Christ offers and what he demands. Being a Christian, in other words, is as much a matter of loving one's enemies as it is trusting in the crucified and risen Lord for one's eternal salvation. The two go hand in glove. They are, in other words, a package deal. 

"Lord, I want to be a Christian." That is a prayer I—a person who has been a Christian for as long as I can consciously remember—pray each and every day.

7 comments:

  1. Great writing. Wonderful.

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  2. 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me'

    We are as you suggest all 'becomers'

    Funnily enough I found this blog as I was looking up the song as a resource for teaching the Jesus prayer

    I suspect many of us have fallen prey to a gospel which denies our fullest Salvation, the restoration of bothe the image and likeness of the Living God, becoming Christians in the most profound depths of our being

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  3. Great insights. Came here by accident looking for insights on the beliefs of The Proclaimers. Got more than I bargained for. I'll be visiting again.

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  4. Likewise - The same as Jerry. Great insights indeed.

    ReplyDelete