The phrase Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy, wet kiss is found in a song titled “How He Loves” (see full set of lyrics here) which is currently used as a worship song in corporate worship settings. The particular line in question has, understandably, caused quite the controversy in Christian circles with advocates for both its inclusion and exclusion. An alternate version is sometimes used with the offensive portion of the lyric replaced by the words unforeseen kiss. For the purposes of this analysis, HME will refer to Heaven meets Earth, and SWK to sloppy, wet kiss.

As I see it, there are at least three issues with, or related to, this specific lyric:

I – Whether by design or by accident, the intended meaning of the lyric is vague and internally inconsistent. This, despite attempts by John Mark McMillan, the author, to define and explain the meaning of the words he used.

II – Much of the current corporate worship singing methodology, found in the contemporary evangelical church in America, is inconsistent with foundational corporate worship practice. The modern practice, in the West, of interjecting the personal into the corporate, reflects secular influences.

III – Those who hear, read, or sing the song, whom I will refer to as recipients of the  song, readily misinterpret the author’s intended meaning in both the HME and SWK lyrics.

Poorly Structured Metaphors

I – Whether by design or by accident, the intended meaning of the lyric is vague and internally inconsistent. This, despite attempts by John Mark McMillan, the author, to define and explain the meaning of the words he used.

Note that one of the premises of this blog post is that an Author’s Intended Meaning, especially in the context of a corporately sung worship song, must be readily and publicly identifiable, understandable, and explainable. Also for the purposes of this blog post, it is assumed that the meaning of the author’s intent is static across recipients, regardless of time or culture. Thus, for example, the original authors of the Bill of RIghts had specific meaning they intended to communicate that remain to this day, regardless of how we may now wish to interpret or apply it.

The author of How He Loves has written a blog post (see his full post here), regarding this particular lyric, and I assume it is his attempt to explain his intended meaning of the phrase. Following are several excerpts (emphasis added):

I have realized that the song “How He Loves” has become very personal to many people, and it honestly doesn’t really belong to me, or Kim Walker, or David Crowder. It belongs to them

I think the fact that a line like “Sloppy wet kiss” could be controversial is ridiculous. Are we in kindergarten? Has any one out there not had or at least expected to some day, engage in a sloppy wet kiss? Have Christians decided to stop procreating and let Islamic extremists populate the whole earth?

Some folks are genuinely sad because a song so personal to them seems to have been messed with… Still many of the people, on both ends, who seem to be making a big deal out of it, have both seemed to misunderstand the lyric. It seems that people either hate it or love it because they think I’m some how talking about kissing God. Please folks, I never ever, ever, ever, thought of this line as though it was talking about kissing God…

The idea behind the lyric is that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth converge in a way that is both beautiful and awkwardly messy. Think about the birth of a child, or even the death of Jesus himself. These miracles are both incredibly beautiful and incredibly sloppy (“gory” may be more realistic, but “Heaven meets earth like a gory mess” didn’t seem to have the same ring). Why does the church have such a problem with things being sloppy? Do we really think we’re fooling anyone on Sunday morning, especially God? Are we going to offend him? I mean, he’s seen us naked in the shower all week and knows our worst thoughts, and still thinks we’re awesome. What if we took all the energy we spent faking and used that energy to enjoy the Lord instead?

Sidenote:  One very troubling fact that emerges from the author’s blog post is an apparent lack of charity towards fellow believers. There are many instances of his denigrating other believers as well as making broad (and incorrect) assumptions about other believer’s intentions, including presenting false dichotomies. Phrases such as “Are we in kindergarten?”, the referencing of Islamic extremists, and accusing fellow believers of being afraid of sloppiness and that they are faking it or trying to fool God are all indicators that should cause fellow Christians concern.

I think there are several problems with the author’s explanations of his intended meaning.

1)  Poorly structured metaphors = misunderstandings in meaning.

As noted by the author himself, and as evidenced by the multiple interpretations recipients have made of the lyric, many people seem to  misunderstand the lyric. Why? The plain answer is – it’s a poorly structured metaphor (especially when used in the context of a corporately sung worship song). Not helping the matter is the author’s rationalization which verges on being self-centered artistic mumbo-jumbo what with  talk about the song being so personal to some people that it now belongs to them. Nonsense! Unless you, as a writer, claim to have been guided and controlled by some supernatural spirit force (whether Divine or not), you are the one who penned your words. Deconstructed to its simplest form, the act of writing is that of thought in conjunction with decision making and then transfer to media format. As such, you the writer are responsible for the impact of your words regardless of whether or not you think that those who “misunderstand” it are erring. As it is, what we have here is a confusing lyric laced with confusing metaphors.

2)  The phrase sloppy, wet kiss is commonly understood to have multiple meanings, one of which has sexual connotations. The author of this song seems to admit as much in his blog post.

When I criticized SWK for having sexual connotations, other Christians cried foul, claiming that the phrase means nothing of the sort to them (and implying that I must be having dirty thoughts). From his post, however, it appears that the author considers the metaphor / act of SWK to have sexual connotations. After first ridiculing anyone who may take offense with its use in the song he then assumes, in the form of a question, that essentially every Christian has had or desires to some day engage in the act of a sloppy, wet kiss. Then he clarifies, in a very denigrating manner, that he considers the phrase to have sexual connotations by positing, again through a question, that Christians who have criticized the use of SWK must have also decided to stop procreating! Now, let’s be clear, the issue here isn’t whether or not sexuality is referenced in scripture or if it is a topic worthy of discussion in church. The issue is what was the author’s intended meaning of the SWK phrase in this particular song. And he clearly indicates that he understands the phrase SWK to have sexual connotations.

However, if one reads the Biola article and interview, Worship, Creativity and a Sloppy Wet Kiss, one finds a yet another description of the meaning behind SWK. From McMillan (emphasis added),

I think ultimately there are two problems people have with the line. I think the major problem is that the line makes people uncomfortable. I think the whole idea that God would do anything sloppy seems to bother people. But if they read the Bible I don’t see why that would bother them, because I don’t think he does anything that isn’t sloppy to our human mindset. It’s never neat and clean. It’s never easy. It’s always uncomfortable. I think the other issue is the whole idea that that line, out of context, has a sexual connotation. When I wrote it I never thought of it that way. I thought of it more like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. I thought of it like the waves meeting the shore. They connect. But I guess people can be squeamish, and if you have that line in another context — outside of church — they probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. But I think God exists both inside and outside of church, and if worship only exists in your life within your church activities, then it’s not really worship. If you don’t realize that you’re bringing everything with you into worship, then you’re kidding yourself, because you do: The good, the bad, and the ugly. And that’s OK.

Again, besides contradicting what he wrote in his blog post, he not only attempts to blame those who have criticized the use of the phrase as being the ones at fault, through false assumptions, but he again attempts to drive corporate worship into being some sort of an individual act based on external factors in our lives.

And, needless to say, the Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd reference is just plain weird.

3)  Heaven meets Earth. What does that mean? Evidently, pretty much anything you want it to mean.

In discussing this song with other Christians, I received various ideas of what they happened to think the HME phrase meant. Looking to the author’s explanation is of virtually no help because he himself is not clear. Rather than provide a concise, direct statement of meaning, we have a vague description that the convergence, whatever is converging (look ahead to point # 4), is both beautiful and awkwardly messy. Cute words, but are there any examples of this? Well, he gives two – the birth of a child and the death of Jesus:

a) He incorrectly classifies these events as miracles (unless he’s using the word miracle as a metaphor to describe another metaphor) and then states that they are both beautiful and sloppy. However, this is inconsistent because I find it incredibly ridiculous that the death of Jesus would be termed as both beautiful and sloppy – beautiful and sloppy, that is, in the same sense, context and application as one would describe the birth of a child. Don’t agree? Then I suggest you watch the scenes in The Passion of Christ which depict the events in Jesus’ last hours, from his flogging on through to his crucifixion, and then honestly try to make a direct link, in terms of descriptors, to the imagery, emotions, etc., with that of the birth of your child. They are two, very different acts. Broad-based terms with vague meanings that can be broadly applied lead to subjective, personal interpretations – and that is dangerous. More on that later.

b) Another inconsistency arises when he states that gory would be a more realistic descriptor than sloppy, but that using gory didn’t have the same ring. So, it seems that words do have public meaning, which also bring along with them metaphorical baggage. Yet, if gory is a better descriptor, then it should be used or it should at least be interchangeable. But it isn’t. Another indicator of a poorly structured metaphor.

c) He then accuses the church of having a problem with things being sloppy. Maybe the church does, but my criticizing his lyric doesn’t necessarily indicate that.

d) Finally, even though the HME phrase itself demands explanation, we never really find out what it describes, much less what it means. Either the author assumes we know what he means by kingdom of heaven converging on the kingdom of earth, or he simply cannot explain it. Or a little of both. Or, he’s left it up to the recipients to determine the meaning. Inherent vagueness in a phrase is not fodder for meaningful understanding in worship.

4) And… just what is the kingdom of earth?

I am not aware of any Biblical basis for the Heaven meets Earth analogy to Kingdom of Heaven and Kingdom of Earth convergence that the author posits.

a) While the Kingdom of Heaven is mentioned in scripture, there is no corresponding specific reference to a Kingdom of Earth. Is this simply a reference to humanity? Humanity = earth?

b) In discussing the lack of scriptural clarity of this reference with other Christians some have posited that the Kingdom of Earth might* reference the domain of Satan (e.g., Prince of the Air) or the kingdom of the world (ref. Revelation 11). However, any such comparisons result in the metaphor then referencing God meeting or converging with Satan. Huh? This surely cannot be the author’s intended meaning because God meeting Satan is not awkward, it is not sloppy, it is not sexual, it is not cute – it is pure, Holy wrath (read Rev. 19).

c) Again, the author gives no indication as to what the HME metaphor, as he’s used it, truly references. Besides having no scriptural basis for the lyric, the two examples he does provide only reference the beautiful and messy metaphor.

* note: yet another indicator of vagueness

5)  The application of the SWK metaphor is confusing.

If, as the author states, the sexually defined SWK metaphor references an awkwardly messy state (which is supposedly more realistically defined as a gory mess), then the author’s intended meaning seems to have drifted into yet another state of confusion.

a) Recipients I’ve talked to, who approve of the SWK metaphor, give interpretations that indicate a warm-fuzzy feeling (e.g., dog licking your face, toddler kissing your cheek, soldier kissing his wife after returning from war), none of which resemble a gory mess, much less the author’s stated meaning.

b) While a gory mess analogy might indicate the situation when God consummates his destruction of Satan (the actual Kingdom of Heaven meeting a derived Kingdom of Earth), it is better described as in Rev 19. Simply put, God meeting Satan is not like the SWK warm-fuzzy feeling described by recipients.

Do you see what is happening here? Vague phrases and poorly structured metaphors by the author, when mixed with poor interpretive methodologies by the recipients, leads to inconsistencies, paradoxes, contradictions, etc., in meaning.

On Corporately Sung Worship Songs

II – Much of the current corporate worship singing methodology, found in the contemporary evangelical church in America, is inconsistent with foundational corporate worship practice. The modern practice, in the West, of interjecting the personal into the corporate, reflects secular influences.

From James Smith in Postscript to an “Open Letter to Praise Bands”,

…not all Christians share the same theology of worship. Indeed, my concern is that some sectors of North American Christianity don’t have much of a theology of worship at all. Many of us–including many congregations–have only an implicit understanding of what worship is, and we have not always made that explicit, nor have we subjected our assumptions to rigorous biblical and theological evaluation.

As I’ve written about elsewhere, one of the features of 21st century evangelical Christianity in America is that of being overly relationship driven. Emotion and feelings are elevated, in my opinion, to priority levels out of place with a healthy approach towards the Christian faith. One of the areas where this phenomenon is readily seen is in how corporate worship singing has changed, over the recent past (i.e., within the last 50-100 years). The advent of a “worship leader”, along with the “worship team” or “praise band”, is something that was simply not found previously.

Now, I’m not about to state that having a worship leader and / or a worship team is a bad or wrong thing. However, I think there are certain aspects or ways of thinking, which have hitchhiked along for the ride, that perhaps do not necessarily engender themselves to proper Christian worship in the corporate sense. Consider the fact that many worship leaders feel that it is incumbent upon them to provide the emotional means for the congregation to enter into worship of Almighty God. In essence, they feel that they have to provide the passion necessary for emotionally expressive worship, and that if they don’t provide the passion, then they aren’t fulfilling their calling. Yet what many times transpires is that music is used as a catalyst for driving the emotional direction of the service. As James Smith notes in An Open Letter to Praise Bands, this is nominally a secular phenomenon – something he classifies as a “secular liturgy”.

…my concern is that we, the church, have unwittingly encouraged… musical practices into Christian worship that–while they might be appropriate elsewhere–are detrimental to congregational worship. More pointedly, …I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged… certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.

Another relatively new feature of modern worship singing is that of personal feeling being interjected into the process. The next time you’re in the worship song portion of a worship service, take note of the number of personal pronouns you encounter in the songs. Then take note of the context of the use of personal pronouns; note the difference between “I once was lost, but now am found” to “I am so in love with you”, or “You, alone, are my strength, my shield” to “You make me come alive, You make me come alive”. It seems that we’ve tended to focus our worship songs on the particular feelings we are having, albeit for God, yet emphasizing how the feelings are affecting us. Again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with acknowledging that God’s love impacts us emotionally, but it is categorically different from what we find in most classical hymns and definitely from what we find in the Pslams, where God is the subject of our praise, worship, and adoration. Again, from James Smith,

Worship is not only expressive, it is also formative. It is not only how we express our devotion to God, it is also how the Spirit shapes and forms us to bear God’s image to the world. This is why the form of worship needs to be intentional: worship isn’t just something that we do; it does something to us. And this is why worship in a congregational setting is a communal practice of a congregation by which the Spirit grabs hold of us. How we worship shapes us, and how we worship collectively is an important way of learning to be the body of Christ.

A frightening turn in the singing of worship songs has been the introduction of self-expressive personal diaries – a sort of musically sung out version of one’s personal relationship issues. It is not surprising to hear these types of songs described as being honest or genuine or authentic, which are the corporate buzz-words for many of the social-justice-artist types. I consider these types of songs to be dangerous to corporate worship singing primarily because they seem to be derived from the personal experience of the songwriter so much so that the songs themselves become reflections of what the authors happened to be feeling, at the time they were written, and usually are contextualized along those lines. This should not be when a song is sung to worship God within the setting of a corporate expression. Despite arguments that the Pslams are full of personal expressions of worship we do not find the same kinds of expressions as typically found in many songs sung today. Take, for example, Psalm 13, an individual lament,

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13 ESV)

Personal? Very much so. Honest? Certainly. Authentic? Well, it is scripture. Hmmm, maybe what we need to do, rather than derive our own “honest and authentic” songs is look to the ones already given to us?

And, another thing to note from the Psalm 13 example is that, despite David’s feelings, they weren’t the subject of the Psalm – it was, and remains about, God.

From James Smith, on how praise bands and worship songs are being influenced by secular culture, instead of, as I would argue, the other way around.

Because worship is formative, and not merely expressive, that means other cultural practices actually function as “competing” liturgies, rivals to Christian worship. In Desiring the Kingdom, I analyze examples of such “secular liturgies,” including the mall, the stadium, and the university. The point is that such loaded cultural practices are actually shaping our loves and desires by the very form of the practice, not merely by the “content” they offer. If we aren’t aware of this, we can unwittingly adopt what seem to be “neutral” or benign practices without recognizing that they are liturgies that come loaded with a rival vision of “the good life.” If we adopt such practices uncritically, it won’t matter what “content” we convey by them, the practices themselves are ordered to another kingdom. And insofar as we are immersed in them, we are unwittingly mis-shaped by the practices.

This is important not because we wish to prevent open, honest, and authentic dialogue between Christians and in the church. It is important because we need to understand the role of worship, how it is not limited to singing, but that when it does include singing it has a specific purpose and application.

When the author of “How He Loves” describes his approach to songwriting as well as corporate worship singing, he essentially describes a process which takes the impact of subjective personal songs as a force to make desired changes in our behavior (see the Relevant magazine article linked below). Not to put too fine a point on it, but the worship singing portion of a worship service is not the time or place to effect social change. In the Biola article and interview, Worship, Creativity and a Sloppy Wet Kiss, McMillan states,

The way I write is almost always from a personal perspective. I’m not a very analytical writer, at least at the birth of a song. I’m more just trying to communicate an emotion or a feeling. I’m not trying to ask myself at that point if this is a song people might sing as worship. For me, I would write songs even if it wasn’t something I did for a living, because it’s just something I love to do.

Despite the artistic desires to break new ground, or the recent pseudo-artistic notion that if one is an artist then one must be provocative, we’re still left with the deeply grounded idea that God is God and owed worship for who he is. That notion is the foundation of worship to God.

Perhaps this is why Psalm 23, an individual lament as well as song of trust, can be littered with personal pronouns and yet not be about how David happens to feel but declarative statements of God’s attributes. And perhaps that is why another individual lament, Psalm 51, after it is clarified in the text that it is a Psalm of David after Nathan had confronted him about Bathsheba, is one of the most honest and authentic laments and praise offerings to God found in scripture.

Below are excerpts from the Relevant magazine article The Heart of John Mark McMillan. As you read the excerpts, contrast them to the argument James Smith makes regarding worship songs and the influence secular liturgies may have on how we both write and sing them. Think about author’s intentions, public meaning, private meaning, genre and application; think about whether or not words have meaning, how objective and subjective interpretation interplays with that, and whether or not words truly lose their impact or if listeners merely stop paying attention; think about the purpose of worship and what the true purpose of anyone leading worship is; lastly, think about doctrinal issues and whether or not there is a need for theological grounding in corporate expressions of worship.

During the last several years, John Mark McMillan has learned to stop worrying about whether or not his lyrics are perfect, or if what he sings about is what people want to hear. After all, a lack of approval is a common side effect of honesty.

“I want to inspire people to say what they feel and not what they feel like they’re supposed to say,” he says of his songs. “Because if they feel like they’re supposed to do something, they don’t give themselves the opportunity to be genuine. They’ll just say the same words, which are great words, but after a while they stop meaning anything. We need new words to say the same thing because after a while the words lose their potency.”

“I’m super happy for a whole new generation to take the song as their own and use it for their personal conversation with God,” McMillan says.

McMillan adds that the Church should incorporate more songs dealing with tragedy, loss and despair into its worship. He points to one of his favorites—Bruce Springsteen—as an example of someone who sings about hope to those who don’t have it.

“That’s what I love about Springsteen—he’s telling the average person’s story,” he says. “That’s what a worship leader should do.

“On this side of eternity, we’re going to have tragedy,” McMillan continues. “A lot of times in church we don’t want to talk about those kinds of things because it’s uncomfortable, but there are so many people in church who need to have that dialogue with God that I had. I think that’s why that song has become so powerful.”

“I think people get so concerned with being correct that they end up editing themselves down, but that’s not the way King David did it,” he says. “That’s not the way they do it in the Bible. You bring God what you have and let Him deal with you. I really feel like God is not interested with how correct our words are. He doesn’t want us to get into weird situations, but I think He’d really prefer something that’s incorrect and genuine instead of something that’s correct but comes from a robot.”

When it comes to leading worship, McMillan says the goal must be to help people communicate on a personal level.

“The purpose of a worship leader or a songwriter is to give people language,” he says. “If you give people language, you give them permission. If you’re Bob Dylan in the ‘60s, you give people permission to think differently than their parents did. … If you’re a worship leader, you give people permission to talk to the Lord, have a dialogue and express their heart.”

One thing you should take away from the article from which these excerpts were quoted is that there is a mindset in evangelical Christendom which tends to prioritize what has been deemed as genuine, honest, and authentic as somehow superior to rote doctrinal integrity, regardless of whether or not that which is deemed genuine is also correct! Yes, there was the qualifier to avoid weirdness, but do you see how the dichotomy is placed between the subjective and the objective? Simply put, worship leaders do not give us permission to talk to the Lord – worship is not about our expressing our hearts to God in dialogue. Springsteen and Dylan, while iconic secular music artists, are not theologians. God is owed our worship and we are owed nothing. This is so because of who God is and who we are. Until Christians understand this first step, they will most likely err as they enter into worship song in America.

For those, like McMillan, who seem to think that words lose their potency (and meaning?) over time, rather than attempt to write new words which I would assume would also lose their potency over time, perhaps they should take the time to understand the meaning and impact of the words we already have. In The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, Fred Sanders writes about traditional aspects within evangelical circles, and the tendency for conservatives to latch onto them too tightly, and liberals to discard them too easily; a result of a condition he describes as decadence. From the book,

Under conditions of decadence, two types of reaction typically occur. Conservative temperaments tend to grab up all the fragments and insist on keeping them as they were found. They may be totally inert lumps that nobody knows how to make use of, but the conservative will faithfully preserve them as museum pieces. Liberal temperaments, on the other hand, tend to toss the fragments aside as rapidly as they stop proving useful.

For those who advocate a new, and supposedly more genuine, form of worship, perhaps they should take the time to delve into the mysteries of the deep things of God, vs. the deep things of self? We, in the church, would do well to take the following saying to heart,

Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s the best way;
And just because you’ve got a new way to do it doesn’t mean that it’s a better way.

It is incumbent on Christ followers to understand the aspects of corporate worship, aspects that include the fact that the worship experience is intended to bring glory to God within a corporate setting. As such, we need to understand what comprises and what does not comprise a corporately sung worship song. We would also do well to understand that the words we say (and sing) about God, including how we give him tribute – what he is owed – are serious things. There are multiple ways to utter God’s name in vain, and I believe it is our responsibility to understand the importance of the text-to-meaning issue.

Subjective and Personal Interpretations lead to Relativism

III – Recipients of the song (those who hear, read, or sing it) readily misinterpret the author’s intended meaning in both the HME and SWK lyrics. The root cause for this appears to be a combination of being ill-informed as well as by approaching the text of the song in a relativistic and subjective manner.

Recipients of this song – unaware of author’s intended meaning – upon hearing the HME / SWK phrase, regardless of whether or not they like it, generally understand the meaning as something other than the author’s intended meaning. As a result, recipients of the song have varying, personally derived understandings of the meaning.

Instead of a complete understanding of the intended meaning, they hear:

HME = a natural phenomenon (e.g., a sunset), God fighting Satan, God meeting humans, God loving humans, Jesus’ death, etc.

SWK = feeling / emotion like when a dog licks your face or a toddler gives you a sloppy kiss on your cheek (slobbering saliva all over your face) or a soldier kissing his wife after returning home from war or a “French” or sexually passionate kiss, etc.

These multiple interpretations about the meaning of the phrase come about because of:

1) Recipients simply not being aware of the author’s intended meaning of the phrase.

It is generally incumbent upon recipients to educate themselves on the meaning of the words they sing in corporate worship.

2) The author’s intended meaning being obscure.

As explained earlier, it is incumbent upon authors to take care with the words they write, properly framing them so they are understood, taking into consideration aspects such as genre, intended audience, and application.

If the author is obscure by design, then I would caution anyone who engages said author’s work to be on guard. In their book Why We’re Not Emergent, authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck take on the various aspects of the emergent church that wrongfully delve into postmodern – relativistic – thought. A couple of paragraphs that DeYoung writes, regarding an emergent church take on the idea of the Kingdom of God, are striking in how they resonate with the topic of this post. From DeYoung (emphasis added),

For those in the emerging church, Jesus’ message of the kingdom is a manifesto about God’s plan for humanity here and now. It is the secret and subversive announcement that God is working out His plan for peace, justice, and compassion on earth. The kingdom message is a summons to participate with God in His dream for humanity, His revolution of love and reconciliation. It is an invitation to join the party of God and be a part of His worldwide mission to heal and be healed. It is a call to join the network of God that breaks down the walls of racism, nationalism, and ecological harm. The kingdom of God is like a dance of love, vitality, harmony, and celebration.

Joining the kingdom is not a move in status (i.e., from unsaved to saved), but a move in practice. Jesus’ message was not about affirming the right doctrines, but about following His teachings and treating others rightly. Christianity is essentially a messianic way of living. It’s about hoping for what God hopes for, about not turning God’s dream for the world into a nightmare. “The kingdom of God, then, is a revolutionary, counter-cultural movement – proclaiming a ceaseless rebellion against the tyrannical trinity of money, sex, and power.” In short, as members of the kingdom we follow Jesus as “the best possible way for a person to live.”

Per DeYoung’s footnotes,

These metaphors and descriptions are taken from Brian D. McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus. McLaren makes these suggestions because kingdom language “is outdated and distant”…

Yet, do we have the authority to change definitions simply because we may happen to think existing or traditional descriptors are outdated and distant? Do we have the authority to take solid, Biblical theology (e.g., Kingdom of God as it relates to King and dom as they relate to covenants, blessing, etc.) and re-express it with fluid terms such as dance of love, vitality, ceaseless rebellion, etc.?

No. We don’t.

To reiterate, vagueness in description, especially for something as concrete and important as the kingdom of heaven, can only lead to confusing interpretations.

3) Recipients using a subjective interpretation of the metaphors in the song, sometimes as related to their own personal experience and / or personal desires.

This is the most dangerous aspect, because:

a) The practice reflects a subjective and personal approach towards understanding meaning within a corporately sung worship song. Subjectivity in how we sing and understand a corporately sung worship song personalizes something that is meant to be public. For example, subjectivity in textual interpretation, specifically Biblical interpretation, shows up in how Christians commonly personalize scripture which, in fact, changes the meaning of the text to something not intended by the author. This practice must stop.

In Spirit-intended Applications, Walt Russell, from Biola, explains how this subjective process can incorrectly relate to the interpretation of Biblical text (emphasis in original),

We overly-privilege readers in the interpretive process when we leave applications up to their free choice, essentially inviting a disconnect from the biblical text.

Overly-privileging readers to generate the applications tacitly sets us up to assume that our life-setting is the primary context for the application process. In many ways this annuls authorial intention and fills the interpretive gap between the author and the interpreter with the reader’s cultural perspective, worldview, and theological system. Instead, this gap or space should be filled with appropriate author-generated inferences.

b) Subjectivity breeds relativism, which essentially turns the meaning of a text (in this case, a worship song) into whatever the hearer / singer wants it to be. The text doesn’t mean what you or I want it to mean.

c) Such an individualistic approach, while potentially fine in a personal setting, does not promote the unifying aspect of corporate worship and, in fact, promotes confusion. When the corporate body of believers is offering worship to God, we rely on ideas and concepts that have public meaning – that is – the ideas are readily available and commonly understood by those offering them up to God. If we, instead, rely on singing songs with privatized meaning, then we effectively turn a corporate expression of worship into a setting in which many individuals are offering individual expressions of worship – expressions that may not be the meaning of the lyrics being sung.

d) Also notice how, after the SWK lyric was changed to unforeseen kiss, some people were upset with the change primarily because the song is so personal to them. This is categorically different from being upset with a lyrical change based on theological grounds or because of the public meaning it contained. The issue is not, and should not be, whether or not a worship song is personal to someone, but whether or not the public meaning of the lyrics are readily accessible.

e) Many recipients seem to find no problem at all with providing subjective interpretation of the lyrics based solely on how the lyrics happen to make them feel. This is also a dangerous practice because what tends to occur is that the individual’s feelings, and not consistency with scripture, become the arbiter in determining the validity of a worship song.


In conclusion, perhaps the most frightening aspect of this entire debate is that, upon hearing the concerns raised, as well descriptions of the structural flaws and inconsistencies of the metaphors used, some recipients choose to continue to ignore or downplay the warnings solely because they claim that the song is very personal or meaningful “to me”, and that when they sing it their experience is euphoric. I recall seeing one Christian refer to Jesus’ love, via the metaphors in this song, as “ooey-gooey”. The love of God is not a trivial thing, and it should not be degraded to mere emotionalism.

Poor writing, which results in contradictory or confusing metaphors, is not excused by the generation of ecstatic, yet varied, feelings. Note that corporate worship songs can certainly have metaphors, but metaphors used in this sense should be scripturally justified and publicly identifiable. E.g., “As the deer panteth for the water”, while being a metaphor, is also directly linked to a Psalm, and has a readily identifiable and explainable meaning for anyone who may not happen to understand it.

It seems to me that any worship song which contains lyrics that are vague and / or open to multiple, subjective interpretations is not a song worthy of being sung in a corporate worship service. Additionally, any words or phrases which have multiple public meanings, depending on the context used, and which may engender potentially vulgar or, at the very least, inappropriate meanings should be avoided.

In the end, what we’re left with is a jumbled, mixed-up explanation of what “Heaven meets earth like a sloppy, wet kiss” is supposed to mean or reference (within the context of a public worship song). Asking people who like or dislike the song for their interpretation of the meaning only opens a Pandora’s Box of discordant imagery. Yet, the best I can picture from what McMillan himself has said, is some image of Bugs Bunny planting a wet one on Elmer Fudd as they both stand on the seashore, waves lapping up against their feet, while further up the beach some lady is giving birth, along with its requisite gory sloppiness, recalling the fact that we all have had or wish to have a sloppy wet kiss lest we lose the procreation war to Islamic extremists. Is this the data I’m supposed to use as I engage in a corporate worship song? It’s no wonder, then, that those who hold this song to be so special and meaningful to their worship experience cannot point to clear meaning from publicly accessible metaphors, but must ground their claims on multiple subjective avenues which, due to the vagueness inherent in the lyrics, dart out in multiple directions of interpretation arriving at correspondingly multiple destinations of relativistic meaning. This is to be preferred, we’re told, for the simple reason that it is somehow honest, genuine, and authentic.

In the end, though, we’ll end up drowning dead in an ocean filled full of our exalted honesty.

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