Worship Song Analysis: THE NAME OF JESUS by Chris Tomlin


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The people who we read about in the Bible were bogged down with many superstitious beliefs.  Some of those beliefs were born out of fears, others out of sheer arrogance.  One of the oldest and most prevalent beliefs that we find people clinging to is the power of the spoken word.  This is an attempt to greatly exaggerate the power of human beings by suggesting that they can make things happen merely be uttering noises.  In other words, we’re all a bunch of potent sorcerers who are so powerful, that we can make all supernatural beings bend to our wills.  The popular theories of relativism and name it and claim it are just other names for this same arrogant notion that we can control, change, and define reality to be whatever we want whenever we want.  Well, no, we can’t.  We are mere created beings, not the Creators of all things. 

Now once you start pompously viewing your words as having potent power, it’s only natural that you then start inventing a bunch of ridiculous rules about certain words being more potent than others.  This is what we find the Jews doing in the Bible.  If you really wanted to curse someone, you’d curse them in the Name of Yahweh.  By throwing around the names of beings who you were personally wowed by, you told yourself that your commands became impossible for others to ignore.  Moses. Abraham. Elijah.  Yahweh.  These were some of the big guns in Jewish verbal spell casting.  But the Jews weren’t about to limit themselves. Any time anyone came onto the scene displaying supernatural hookups, that person’s name was added to the list of single word spell boosters. We see this happening in Acts. When some Jews observe God doing miracles through the apostle Paul, they then try to start casting demons out in the name of Paul.  What makes Paul’s name potent?  Because the owner of the name obviously has powerful hookups.  It was like one sorcerer trying to boost his power by invoking the name of another sorcerer who appeared to be more potent than he was.  It was egotistical nonsense, yet the Jews were so steeped in this arrogant delusion of powerful words that there was just no talking them out of it.  This is why Jesus told His disciples to do things in His Name—He was working within the framework of His disciples’ arrogant delusions (see Know Your Bible Lesson 74).  Certainly it would have been far better if His disciples would have been willing to mature past their foolishness, but they just weren’t there.  Jesus’ disciples were very resistant to growing spiritually, this is why we find Jesus ragging on them for having so little faith.  It was no compliment when He said if His boys had faith as big as a mustard seed, they could move mountains.  What Jesus meant was that His boys were so pathetically lacking in faith, that they didn’t have even as much as some teensy little seed (see Know Your Bible Lesson 57). The mustard seed comment was meant as a negative criticism, yet today we use it as an inspirational comment, because we’re listening to Jesus as poorly as His disciples did.

So then, is there power in the spoken word?  Not at all.  Are we pleasing our Gods by strutting around like powerful demigods who can make Them do our bidding?  Not hardly.  All of this guff about the power of Jesus’ Name is a bunch of irreverent rot.  Instead of recognizing how foolish and wrong the Jews were to pretend that their words had power, we are imitating them.  We even boast of our great sorcerer powers by calling ourselves mighty prayer warriors and intercessors.  We brag about the power of our prayers, and by that we mean our prayers have the power to make God do what we want.  The power of numbers, the power of repetition, the power of praying the Word—we’re so deluded that we can’t even hear how irreverent we are being when we boast of these things.  Our Gods command us to submit to Them, yet in the Church we constantly practice domination by throwing up incessant prayers which all come down to the same tiresome refrain of “Give us what we want, God, because You exist to serve us.”

Well, this is a very snarky way to treat your Gods.  Keep it up, and you’re going to end up spiritually stagnating for all of eternity.  Our Gods find our pompous, domineering attitudes quite offensive, and if we’re at all serious about pleasing Them, then the day must come when we ask Them to help us greatly improve the way that we are treating Them.  One big step in the right direction is to stop bossing Them around in our prayers.  Another big step is to stop celebrating our attempts to dominate Them in the songs that we sing.

In this post, we’re going to examine the lyrics of Chris Tomlin’s song ”The Name of Jesus.”  It’s a lousy song which promotes the Name of Jesus as some potent source of power that we can tap into whenever we want.  Tomlin’s song is a great example of the mainstream teaching of the Church.  Let’s be honest: we’re far more interested in using Jesus than we are in honoring Him.  That’s why we show so little interest in His feelings while we talk ad nauseam about all of the wonderful perks we can get out of Him.  His Blood.  His Name.  Who needs Jesus Himself when you can just manipulate His attributes?

[Verse 1] The Name of Jesus is a refuge
A shelter from the storm, a help to those who call
The Name of Jesus is a fortress
A saving place to run, a hope unshakeable

Why are we making such a point to separate Jesus from His Name here?  Because the Name is the thing we can control.  Think about it: if we tell ourselves that all of Jesus’ awesome power can be bound up into a single word that we can say anytime we want, well then we’ve just handed ourselves the ultimate sorcerer’s wand.  In this song, Tomlin is waxing on about how many perks people can get by merely invoking the Name.  They can get instant shelter from some miserable situation.  They can erect for themselves a fortress anytime, anywhere.  It’s like Jesus’ Name is the ultimate force field: speak it, and some invisible barrier instantly appears around you which is going to help you be more comfortable in life.  Because of course it’s all about you and what you want.  Jesus doesn’t get to have any opinions once we start embracing the role of God’s controllers.

Notice how this song says the Name of Jesus is a help to those who call.  Once again, notice how there is a total lack of acknowledgement that Jesus has the option to respond to us with any answer other than “yes.”  Christians today adamantly promote the idea that merely speaking the Name will force Jesus, Yahweh, the Holy Spirit, demons, other humans, and even the natural world to conform to our agendas.  Is your country having a drought?  The Church tells you to pray for rain in the Name of Jesus.  Is your friend being harassed?  The Church tells you to command those demons to leave in the Name of Jesus.  Are you ill?  Rebuke that illness in Jesus’ Name.  Are you stressed?  Call for peace in Jesus’ Name.  Want to make sure that your prayer doesn’t get held up in Heaven’s spam filter?  End it with that magical phrase “In the Name of Jesus, Amen,” and it will be sure to reach God’s holy ears (see In Jesus’ Name, Amen: How does God feel about the traditional Christian sign-off?). The problem with all of these directives is that we’re never asking Jesus what He wants.  We don’t even care what He wants.  We’re just trying to make Jesus do what we want by throwing His Name around.

Who brings trials into your life in the first place?  Jesus does.  Who controls the activities of demons?  Jesus.  Who decides how much help and strife you’re going to experience each day?  Jesus.  And here’s the critical bit: Jesus has reasons for what He does.  He isn’t some random, purposeless Guy.  He is very strategic and intentional in the moves that He makes.  But are you even bothering to ask Him what His purpose is in allowing you to be harassed by demons or plagued with trials?  Are you even leaving room for the possibility that perhaps Jesus wants to teach you something through these experiences—something that He is interested in you learning?  No.  We don’t ask, we just command.  We don’t listen because we don’t care.  We just fling the Name around and we tell ourselves that what we want is all that matters.  Then we ignore how often Jesus refuses to give us what we want, and instead we sing songs like this to promote the delusion that Jesus is our Servant who is always at the ready.

[Chorus] When we fall You are the Savior, when we call You are the answer
There is power in Your Name, there is power in Your Name

No, when we fall, Jesus does not instantly save us.  When we call, He doesn’t rush to give us the answer we want.  Plenty of times Jesus shoves us down and keeps us there.  Plenty of times He stonewalls us with silence or gives us the dreaded answer of N-O. But notice how Tomlin neatly pairs the idea of Jesus doing just what we want with the fact that there is great power in His Name.  The conclusion is obvious: we merely have to say the Name, and our Servant will rush to obey our command.

[Verse 2] In the Name of Jesus there is life and healing
Chains are broken in Your Name
Every knee will bow down and our hearts will cry out
Songs of freedom in Your Name, oh, in Your Name

Christians believe that Jesus’ Name has two kinds of power.  First, it has vast power to make all of our dreams come true.  We want a happy life and healing from all ailments.  We want freedom from all forms of oppression.  We want to feel good all of the time.  Tomlin says that “in the Name” all of these fabulous gifts are waiting for us—we just need to speak the Name to get our hands on them.  But how can Tomlin so confidently guarantee that all of these goodies will be ours if we merely speak the Name?  Because of the second kind of power that the Name has: the power to restrain Jesus.

You see, we want Jesus to be a very capable Guy—but not too capable.  We want Him to be able to do most things, but not all things.  We don’t want Him to have the option of refusing us, for example.  We don’t want Him to have the power to deceive or destroy us.  We want Jesus to be under our control at all times, and so we tell ourselves that this is how it is.  Then we don’t even bat an eye as we roll out the obnoxious commands:

[Verse 3] Bring salvation, bring Your Kingdom
Let all that You have made bring glory to Your Name

Jesus has already brought salvation, and He owns this place, so it’s more than a  little disrespectful for us to stand around talking as if He has yet to establish His reign over this world.  And while we’re ordering Him to build His Kingdom in accordance with our own schedule, we say that He can “let” all that He has made bring glory not to Him, but to His Name.  After all, what do we care about glorifying Jesus?  It’s only His Name that we’re interested in.  Take away that potent Name, and what do you have?  A God who won’t take orders from us.  Well, who wants that?  No, we don’t worship Jesus as God.  We worship the Name.

Before you just start singing songs at Jesus, you need to ask Him what He thinks of the lyrics.  Jesus is not your personal slave who thinks that pleasing you is the ultimate prize in life.  Jesus will save who He wants to save, and He’ll damn whoever He wants to damn.  If you spend your life in the dominating mindset that the Church encourages you to have, you’re going to end up among those who Jesus damns.  Because you see, Jesus won’t take orders from you—ever.  He is God Almighty, while you are just a powerless speck.  Specks exist to serve and revere the Gods who made them.  Gods are the only Ones who have the right to pass out commands.  No, Jesus’ Name really isn’t some reservoir of goodies that you can tap into whenever you want.  Jesus doesn’t promise to give you some perfect life on earth, nor does He promise to shelter you from your troubles.  Jesus really doesn’t smile on you imitating the arrogant fools that you read about in the Bible.  Jesus wants you to stop all of this Name flinging and start treating Him with a whole lot more respect.  We should be respectfully asking our Gods for things, not telling Them what to do.  We should never be trying to use Their Names as tools of coercion.  There’s no room for Name flinging in the serious Christian’s life.  If you are serious about pleasing Jesus, then you need to ask Him to educate you about what it is He likes.  You’re certainly not going to learn the truth by listening to the Church.

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