Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Triumph or Triumphalism...

I play electric guitar in the band at my church. Yeah, I know, it kicks ass, but let's set that aside for a moment shall we? Just a little while ago our worship pastor introduced a new song to the congregation called My Savior Lives by the Desperation Band out of New Life Church. It's got this great little riff right at the beginning that I get to play very loud and very distorted, which is a lot of fun for me. The first time I really thought about the words of the song, however, I realized both the danger and the beauty available in the simple lyrics. I'll quote the meat here.

Our God will reign forever, and all the world will know his name.
Victory forever, is the song of the Redeemed.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and now I stand on what he did. My savior, my savior lives.
Everyday a brand new chance to say, Jesus you are the only way. My savior, my savior lives.

The king has come from heaven, and darkness trembles at his name.
Victory forever, is the song of the Redeemed.

Like all modern worship music the actual song goes on a good deal longer but it pretty much just repeats the above over and over again. As I'm sure you've noticed the theological...well I was going to say crux but I suppose that wouldn't be quite accurate. The theological key to this song is the resurrection. Though I tend to harp on the vital importance of the Cross in Christian theology, the empty tomb cannot be minimized. It is central to the Christology and to the anthropology of our faith. The most notable biblical argument concerning resurrection is of course Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15. This passage is also the inspiration for My Savior Lives (check out vv. 1-2). It's a beautiful passage about hope, meaning, drive, and finally triumph. When Paul co-opts Hosea 13:14 and turns it on its head saying "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (15:55 NASB) he reaches down to us struggling with our most basic fears and pulls us up out of the darkness to stand alongside Christ. Triumph is a wonderful thing, and as Christians we must embrace it.

But there is danger here. The danger is that we begin to sacrifice real triumph, the power and victory of the Cross and the empty tomb, for the emptiness of Christian triumphalism. What's the difference? Triumph is about grace and the gift of new life offered to all of humanity through Christ (1 Cor. 15:22). Triumphalism is about winning, about pushing an earthly agenda, a political agenda, a social agenda that raises up "Christians" while pushing down everyone else. I put the quotation marks around Christian in that sentence because this brand of church-ianity reminds me an awful lot of some things Jesus said about the Pharisees in Matthew 23.

When we sing songs like My Savior Lives we have an opportunity. We can set aside the temptation to think in terms of earthly victory, of political agendas, of the kinds of victory that can be measured in dollars or votes or asses in the pew. We can move beyond triumphalism. We can live instead in the hope and grace of triumph, knowing that we serve a God who wants more than anything that death might die.


Fear said...

good good point. i would contend that the song is awfully individualistic, but whatever.

you are right, and yet we can't let the triumph keep us from ignoring the mission we do have in this world to be ambassadors of reconciliation, people who pray "thy kingdom come" and so on.

again, it is a balance. and you are right to point out the danger of mere triumphalism. (this was, after all, the sin of babel, if not the Garden, and was the devil's main temptation of Christ himself).

good post

Jon, Angie, Elijah & Brady said...

that was me using a pseudonym from another blog, by accident.