Pop Songs and Salvation

January 2011

Ajith Fernando

Shortly before Moses died, God gave him a strange assignment. He was to write a song and “put it in [the] mouths” of the people (Deut. 31:19). That is, people are going to be singing this song regularly. The special thing about this song is that “it is going to live forgotten in the mouths of” the next generation (31:21). In other words, the song will become part of the cultural mainstream, the folklore, of the people. It is going to become a pop song.

 

God tells Moses that the people will forget God and become disobedient after they experience prosperity in the Promised Land (31:20). The message of the song is strongly condemning of disobedience and predicts God’s punishment of the disobedient (Deut. 32:3-43). But because it is a pop song sung by the general population, they will continue to sing it—even though they are singing something that strongly challenges their lifestyle.

 

Then punishment will come to the people; punishment that was predicted in the song they have been singing all along. God tells Moses, “And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness” (32:21). The song says sin will be punished. Now as they experience misery, they will realise that the words of the song, about which they did not think too much, are true! They will realise that, as the song says, they are being punished for their sinfulness. God will use the message of the song to bring them to repentance.

 

As I studied this, I thought of the hymns that the football crowds sing in Britain. I do not think most of them believe the words they sing; but they sing it because it has become part of their folklore. Then I thought of the Christmas carols that are broadcasted over Radio and TV during the Christmas season. I think that sometimes they are sung by rather ungodly people in ungodly attire! I realised that some day, when the listeners are conscious of a need for salvation, God could use these songs to speak to them.

 

One of the keys that God could use to make a nation receptive to the gospel is having gospel values becoming popular in the cultural mainstream. They may not accept the full message. But it comes in a way that is artistically so attractive that the people can’t help remembering it. My mind immediately goes to the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, which have become a popular film series. The Oscar winning films based on The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien have been even more popular. Both Lewis and Tolkien were Christians who communicated Christian values through their fantasy novels.

 

The gospel presents values which are very different to what most of our people accept today. When people think of religion, they usually think of a way of life achieved by their own effort. Christianity presents a gospel which is the way to life achieved not by us but by Christ and received by us through faith. How can their minds be oriented to understand such a radically different message? Brilliantly produced and artistically sophisticated television dramas and songs could be a vessel that God can use. Their production is so good that the media would like to broadcast it over their channels. Besides, because God is the creator of the humanness, when we communicate God’s thoughts to humans, something within they could resonate and say, “This is right! This is what I need.”

 

Here is a challenge to Christian artistes to aim to get their work into the cultural mainstream.

 

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Written to celebrate the completion of two major projects on Deuteronomy (after eight-and-a-half years of labour) and also to celebrate the launch of the first Tamil/Sinhala television drama by YFC’s media division (in partnership with Back to the Bible Broadcast).