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.