Introducting The Surrender Pattern
There exists a cause-and-effect motif (or pattern) that is built so:
Or put another way:
The reluctant individual is finally overcome, capitulating to some external force. The pattern is very common in life; see how it works in the following sentences:
- I was so full after dinner, but the dessert menu looked so tempting I had to give in and eat some cake.
- I didn't want to splurge on all these accessories, but I gave in to the pressure
- Even though I know it's bad for me, I can't resist a McDonald's Big Mac.
In each case, there's an antecedent/consequent relation, pitting the intellect against the emotion, the theory against practice, mind against matter.
As we've seen elsewhere in this blog, American popular music often encourages the listener/participant to consider him/herself as being weak, powerless, and fragile. Even a cursory survey of the genre will bear this out This 'weakness as virtue' is often fatalistcally joined to an inevitable giving-in (the surrender pattern); a sense that we're powerless against mysterious forces.
Just a few examples from the pop world:
- I don't know why I like him...I just do! (Whitney Houston, So Emotional)
- I don't know what you've done to me baby...but my resistence is gone (Michael Bolton, I Surrender)
- What would happen if they ever knew...I'm in love with you...'cause I'd surrender everything to feel the chance to live again (Celine Dion, I Surrender)
- I can't fight this feeling anymore...I've forgotten what I started fighting for (REO Speedwagen, Can't Fight This Feeling)
- My only chance is giving up the fight...I feel like I win, when I lose (Abba, Waterloo)
- You've got a hold on me, you've got that magic hold on me...what can I do, but always hold on to you? (Sinatra, You've Got a Hold On Me)
Deciding to give up
It's difficult to put a positive construction on the causes of, and the effect of, the surrender aesthetic.
First, it absolves us of any responsibility of our poor choices. If, for example, we choose to commit adultery (a sad but common topic in pop music), we can always blame it on love--"I know this is wrong, but it feels so right." In this worldview, we are pitiable, primitive animals, subject to our emotions and unconscious desires. This type of destructive and anti-human poison is normally delivered with a soft and warm sugar coating (the mode of musical delivery--the arranging and production) which makes the pill a little easier to swallow. (As an aside: I'd suggest the music industry likes customers who are enjoy feeling this way, because they tend to be less critical, and easily swayed to keep purchasing albums--it's a win/win for them.)
The second issue concerns the application of surrender to contemporary worship music. We find in the boundary area between secular popular music and theology, a strange overlapping of the "surrender aesthetic," with "decision theology," where our weaknesses are only overcome by "deciding for Christ." Instead of surrendering to a lustful (perhaps forbidden) tryst, however, we're surrendering our lives and treasures to God.
Making A Decision for God 
If you are of the Pentecostal persuasion (including Campus Crusade for Christ, or Assembly of God), feel free to scroll down. I will not argue with you here (the arguments are made far better in other venues); but in speaking to people who ought to know better (specifically Roman Catholics and Lutherans), I say: You should be able to immediately identify and reject this error wherever it is found.
"Decision theology," is a known, ancient error that represents a rejection of the doctrine of original sin. It traces its roots back to 17th-century theologian Jacobus Arminius (and probably earlier). Briefly, the system requires that the believer "make a decision for Christ," which places the burden of creating faith, at least partially, on the individual (synergism). This places human reason above the work of the Holy spirit, and denies salavation by grace alone. By relying on the work of one's sinful and corrupt nature, it invokes what Luther called the "monster of uncertainty." (We're never really sure if we're saved or not). Worship in churches that adhere to this teaching then, try to coerce/convince people to "make a decision," then when that's accomplished, try to eliminate the monster of uncertainty by soothing the believer's wayward heart ("Hey, you're OK, listen to this soothing mellow music!").
An understanding of this approach explains a lot about this type of music and the 'evangelical' culture that promotes it.
Returning to our pattern, let's see how a slight change maps it directly onto decision theology:
The relationship between the 'surrender pattern' and decision theology is clear. In both cases, we're succumbing to an external force--the result being some kind of sublime joy. In decision theology, God asks us to dedicate our lives to Him (indeed, he pressures us), then we're expected to "make a decision for Christ," wherein we surrender to God.
To learn more, try these links:
Summary, And a New Formula
The "surrender pattern" is very common in pop music, particularly in love songs and ballads. It finds a welcome home in the expression of a particular Pentecostal teaching. This teaching parallels some controversial teachings in Christian Church, and should be approached with great caution.
- The "surrender pattern" is common in popular culture, and
- The "surrender pattern" maps very well onto "decision theology," and
- "Decision theology" is, at the very least, controversial (and rejected in Lutheranism),
- Therefore, evaluating the absence or presence of the "surrender pattern," provides us a means for evaluating the merits of a piece of worship music.
All worship leaders and Pastors need to closely inspect what is being taught (preached) in each and every piece of music that finds its way into the service. Turning a blind eye to doctrinal errors in our song is a huge mistake.
In another post, I'll approach this pattern from a different angle, relating the surrender pattern and its usage in popular love songs to how it is transformed in different ways when used in worship.
1. It's possible that you might disagree that "making a decision for Christ," is erroneous theology. I personally know many fine people who do, and will not disparage you for disagreeing. I will, however, ask you to consider that a "one size fits all," theology (as we find in the pan-denominational, generic "worship music" genre) represents an oversimplification of Christian Doctrine. What I find missing is a complete absence of critical evaluation in this field, which shows an alarming slackening of people's interest in, and understanding of, their own faith. On this point, surely we can agree!