Is God's Love Really 'Reckless'?


(Prashanth Daniel) #1

In the fall of 2017, Bethel Music’s Cory Asbury released his lead single (with the same name as the album) titled, ‘Reckless Love’. The song was first performed at a live worship service at Bethel’s campus in Redding, California and very quickly became popular on YouTube, garnering over 6 million views by January 2018. The song quickly rose to the top ten ‘Hot Christian Songs’ list by BillBoard and rose to the number one spot for 18 non-consecutive weeks, with tons of radio play all over the country. The song went on to win the K-Love fan Awards for ‘breakout single of the year’ and ‘worship song of the year’ and has been nominated for the GMA Dove Awards for ‘song of the year’ and ‘worship song of the year’. Needless to say, the song was a phenomenal hit across the US and even prompted Justin Bieber to perform the song recently at a live event.

Despite the song’s enormous public and commercial success, it did draw some negative publicity from several churches and leaders, mostly targeting it’s title and lyrics that described God’s love as ‘reckless’. The most common criticisms that were leveled against the song was that it skewed God’s character attribute of Love by calling it ‘reckless’, thereby indirectly insinuating God Himself to be reckless. Another common approach was to look up synonyms of the word ‘reckless’, such as ‘rash’, ‘careless’, ‘thoughtless’, ‘impetuous’ or ‘impulsive’ and making the case that God’s love was not synonymous with any of these words. According to the critics, the song irresponsibly mischaracterized a key character attribute of God, which is a theological distortion and for this reason should not be sung or used by Christians to worship.

Now I must state at the outset that as a Christian apologist, I hold dearly to theological and doctrinal integrity and certainly would propose that all Christian media, whether movies or music, should be scrutinized for it’s steadfastness to Christian truths and values. Any material that engages in ‘creative liberty’ must be assessed against the backdrop of scripture and evaluated for theological inconsistencies or inadvertent heterodoxy. And the litmus test question that needs to be asked is, “Has this material violated any parameter of Christian orthodoxy?” Let me point out that this is after all an ‘op-ed’ piece that several of my faithful brothers and sisters may disagree with, which I understand and expect. Having said all that, here are some reasons why I personally don’t have a problem with this song:

Much Ado About One Word

One hermeneutical principle that Christians are encouraged to practice is to always study scripture in context. We are advised to never isolate one verse or even word out of the context of surrounding verses. Other parameters to keep in mind are the general narrative surrounding the passage, the audience, the issue being addressed and the intent of the author. But not taking things out of context is a principle that applies to disciplines outside of scripture as well. For example, I would not appreciate it if a solitary line was taken from my speech and misconstrued to mean something I didn’t intend to say. My entire speech needs to be evaluated as a whole to understand what I was trying to convey. Yet it seems this is precisely what a lot of the critics of this song are engaging in – ignoring everything else the artist is singing about and getting hung up on one solitary word – ‘reckless’. If the song repeatedly mentioned things that were theologically aberrant, certainly the outrage could be understandable. But to hang the entire indictment on one word while ignoring the context of everything else the song is saying, seems to me a one-dimensional perspective on the issue.

The Glory of Divine ‘Recklessness’

In the chorus of the song, Asbury sings (referring to the love of God), “Oh it chases me down, fights till I’m found, leaves the ninety nine.” This is of course a reference to what Jesus mentions in Luke 15:4, regarding the parable of the lost sheep. The parable is precisely that – an exercise in demonstrating the lengths to which a true shepherd might go to, in order to find and retrieve that one lost sheep. The conventional wisdom of culture is not lost in this anecdote though – after all, if we were to analyze the scenario in a literal sense, the act of going after the one lost sheep does seem rather ridiculous. A shepherd who follows the one sheep that has gone astray, is by any natural means, leaving the safety of the pastures and venturing into possibly dangerous territory – hazardous terrain, the possibility of losing his way and the risk of encountering wild animals, are all very real dangers that the shepherd might encounter. So in doing such, the shepherd is doing something that is actually risky, or dangerous or ‘reckless’. Conventional wisdom might say that the ‘cost-benefit’ of going after the one lost sheep is simply not worth it. While there is the very real danger that the shepherd might be endangering his own life by going after the one lost sheep, it is also entirely possible that the ninety-nine he leaves behind might be vulnerable to other dangers that become potential by his absence. A pedantic counter-argument could be made that the parallelism breaks down because the ninety-nine refers to those whose salvation is secure in God. Of course, I see the breakdown. But the point of the parallelism doesn’t have to do with the ninety-nine but instead has to do with the one lost sheep.

The parable of the lost sheep demonstrates that God in fact did consider the ‘cost-benefit’ worthy of leaving the glory of his dwelling place and instead was willing to enter into hostile territory for the sake of those He desired to save. This act did in fact result in the gory torture and execution of His Son, at the hands of those who mocked and spat on him, for the sake of those who rebelliously ran away from him. If this is the great lengths that God chose to go to for the sake of love, then this ‘reckless’ act demonstrates not the naiveté of Divine love but the glory of it.

Human Perspective vs. Divine Wisdom

There are several aspects of Christian theology and apologetics where even seasoned believers struggle to wrap their heads around the modus or the methodology of God’s sovereignty. Key doctrines like ‘justification by grace’ or the ‘providence of the God’ or the nature of ‘theodicy’, all have elements of mystery in them that human intelligence is unable to account for. But God says so Himself in Isaiah 55:8-9 that we are, by virtue of being the creation, unable to understand the mind of our Creator. And if Isaiah 64:6 is a reliable indicator, then even our righteous acts are like ‘filthy rags’ to the Lord. Given this chasm between us and God, why would we assume that His love should be completely comprehensible? It was after all, a ‘stumbling block’ to the Jews and ‘foolishness’ to the Gentiles. Is it any wonder than, that it seems ‘reckless’ to us!? Of course it is reckless, because it is Divine and not human.

I think sometimes as Christians, in our zeal to hold to theological integrity or our wariness of theological heterodoxy, we can develop the tendency to nit-pick and come across as spiritual cranks. Not all creative liberty needs to be frowned upon; after all there is plenty of that in the wisdom literature and common sense helps us discern the usefulness of hyperbole versus the nuance of metaphors or symbols. We must remember that when we speak of the theology of the Cross, what was accomplished on it, runs counter to any and every philosophy that has ever existed or continues to exist today. Jesus’ message to the world was scandalous to the culture and time that he lived in. And it cost him his life and put him on the Cross. Yet we don’t complain about the song, ‘Scandal of Grace’. Because we recognize that the message of the Cross is scandalous. But that is precisely the point, isn’t it? Christian grace is scandalous to the world because God’s love is gloriously reckless! In the end, it was this very ‘kind’ of love that saved you and me. And that’s all that should matter.


(SeanO) #2

@prashanthdaniel Christianity Today put out an article on the topic of the song ‘Reckless Love’ and how to understand the word reckless. Some of the perspectives are outlined below the article. I think you would find it an interesting read.

I think there are a few points that were very intriguing:

In Context, Reckless Could Mean ‘Foolish in the World’s Eyes’

Wen Reagan said - “Reckless could be taken two ways here. One is with its common implication of “thoughtlessness” or “carelessness.” I think we can all agree that’s not a very accurate description of God’s love for us, and if that was the association here, then the song would be problematic. But I think there’s a second connotation, and one better supported by the lyrical context. We might call it “foolishness,” and I think that’s spot-on.”

Perhaps Churches Could Write Their Own Music

Joel Hartse - “In theory, if your worship is an organic process emerging from who you are as a particular body of believers, you’d be less likely to get wrapped up in larger cultural disputes and be able to focus on what is being produced in your own church and whether it is an accurate reflection of that particular body’s expression of devotion, worship, praise, lament, what have you.”

I think this is a good point because context and culture determine meaning. If you write your own songs, you know what you meant and there is no need for an argument about it.

The Focus on ‘me’ in Worship Songs is an Issue

One of the contributors said they do not like how often worship songs use ‘me’ instead of ‘us’. Personally I think using ‘we’ and ‘us’ could help us turn our worship into intercessory prayer - where we as a body pray for the Body and for those in our Churches.

What are your thoughts on these perspectives?


(Jimmy Sellers) #3

I like the song. It speaks to my heart not about a God that is “not reckless like a bull in a china shop” but like the Good Shepard that left the 99 in search of that lost “one” (not just me but any me).
When ever I read about song lyrics I can’t help but think about the controversy in the 60 and 70 that surrounded the Beatles and other rock bands lyrics as people would argue about what was meant by their songs only to find out that they (the fans) where totally off base when the artist would explain what inspired the lyric. As I recall these revelations never seem to change what and how the fan base understood the lyrics.

Here is an article from Patheos by Jonathan Aigner. As I see it Jonathan generally does not like Mega Churches and the style of worship that is encouraged. His concern are summarized in his last sentence.

Worship matters.
Words matter.
Truth matters.
Language matters.

Here is a link to the full article.


(Prashanth Daniel) #4

Hi SeanO,

Thanks for your thoughts!

Yes, I read the CT article several weeks ago and found it interesting. I agree with the premise of it being ‘foolish’ in the world’s eyes.

I must also clarify that my being okay with this specific song is not necessarily an endorsement of Bethel or everything they put out. I certainly take some issues with some of their lyrical content in particular and also some of their theology as a church in general.

I do think the self-centric focus of worship is problematic and is a direct result of a self-centric worldview of the culture we live in today. The historic Christian faith has always been a communal faith and the modern proclivity toward a ‘just me and Jesus’ sentiment is far from the NT model that we are supposed to emulate.


(SeanO) #5

@prashanthdaniel Yes - my concern with Bethel is that some of the songs indicate an orthopraxis rooted in emotional ecstasy - where an emotional sense that God is present almost replaces God. I think they are in danger of doing the same thing with the gift of healing, prophetic words and their eschatology. God becomes present not in spirit but through these experiences / gifts - it may actually create a barrier that prevents a person from knowing God in spirit and truth. That said, I really like some of Jeremy Riddle’s songs and I do prefer music sung with an emotive bent that is theologically true. It breaks my heart to see people sing something that is theologically true as if they were singing a funeral dirge.

Part of the problem is that there is so much false teaching that a common person really struggles to figure out which voices to listen to and may revert to what they grew up on. It is rare for me to encounter a person at Church who knows their Bible well enough to accurately distinguish truth from error with any degree of subtlety and I think the chaotic state of Christian teaching in the West is part of the problem. We really have to be Bereans. Jesus could say to do as the Pharisees say but not as they do - we cannot even say so much as that… There are so many people saying so many things. May the Lord raise up more fair minded, good teachers to feed the sheep!


(Prashanth Daniel) #6

Agreed. I have members in extended family who came from the ‘milder’ end of the Word-Faith spectrum and am certainly familiar with the orthopraxy you mentioned above. I’ve had to have some conversations with several of these members and what has always bothered me is this persistent bent toward signs/wonders, divine revelation and prophecy. Not that any of those things are problematic in themselves. But the fascination with those things always superceded the fundamentals such as the authority of scripture or the sovereignty of God.


(SeanO) #7

@prashanthdaniel Yes - what concerns me the most is when emotions, signs and wonders or eschatology supersede the Gospel itself or a sincere desire to be fed on the milk of God’s Word. Now - no one would ever say that they have allowed these things to supersede the Gospel, but in practice I think these movements have a tendency to allow it to happen.