Songwriting: Saying “Love” instead of “Jesus”?

There have always been and will always be songs about God’s love. (Examples: “Boundless Love,” “If That isn’t Love.”)

But over the last fifteen years, it seems there have been a steadily increasing number of songs which use “love” as a directly equivalent replacement for “God” or “Jesus.” This practice is not completely new, of course; “Love Lifted Me” used this metaphor. (Examples: “Love Lifted Me” is a direct equivalent for “Jesus Lifted Me,” while “Boundless Love” would not make sense as “Boundless Jesus!”)

Take, for example:

  • “Love Did,” You Can’t Ask Too Much of My God, Bishops (1996)
  • “Love Was in the Room,” I Believe, George Younce (1998) – since revisited twice by the Booth Brothers
  • “Love Has a Place for You,” What a Difference a Day Makes, Ernie Haase (1999)
  • “Love Answered,” All Star Quartets, Daywind artists (ca. 2001)
  • “Love Brought Me Back,” Changed Forever, Perrys (2001)
  • “Strong Hand of Love,” Ready, Carolina Boys/Kingsmen (2003)
  • “Love is a Cross,” Legacy, Mike LeFevre Quartet (2005)
  • “Love is Alive Forever,” Let it Be, Poet Voices (2005)
  • “Love’s Call,” Live to Love, Hope’s Call (2006)
  • “Love Called My Name,” Under Grace, Ivan Parker (2006)
  • “The Night that Love Was Born,” Call Jesus, Kingdom Bound Quartet (2010)
  • “Love Came Calling,” Love Came Calling, Triumphant Quartet (2010)
  • “Love is a Cross,” Real Man. Real Life. Real God., John Berry (2011) (“love is saving you / love is saving me”)
  • “Love Carried the Cross,” Here We Are Again, Ernie Haase & Signature Song (2012)

Is an emphasis and focus on this aspect of God’s nature an attempt to make the “offence of the Cross” (Galatians 5:11) more palatable and marketable? If so, is this a good thing?

 


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  1. Ice thought about this for all of two minutes now, so my thoughts won’t be as digested as yours. But with that disclaimer – I disagree that in all of these cases Love and Jesus are close or complete equivalents. To start with, I never interpreted “Love Lifted Me” as saying “Jesus Lifted Me.” I took it for love in many settings; the love of God first and foremost, but also the love of the saints. I would think that’s what’s being emphasized in many of these songs (Love Brought me Back,for another). I’ve just finished reading a biography of Fanny Crosby where it discussed how she took a different approach to the down-and-outers than many in her time. Since they generally knew they were lost, many times she went straight to a message of forgiveness and mercy. I could back that approach up with a quote from Wesley if it weren’t somewhat tangential.

    I think that even where it is a substitution, it would usually be justified by the declaration “God is Love.” Jesus is God; God is love; Jesus is love. That doesn’t mean we pray to Love, but it frequently works in a song. Now, when you look at a list like that above, I can see that maybe it’s poor songwriting technique – a good metaphor that’s quickly becoming overused. I don’t see that it’s an attempt to water anything down, though. In songs about mercy and redemption, it seems appropriate to me. I would agree, however, that the absence of songs like the Booth Brothers looked for on Declaration indicates that the genre is acquiescing too much in the general, nation-wide watering down that is going on.

    • “Ice thought about this”? You must be on an iPhone. 🙂

      You are correct that not all examples listed above are as strong as others. In fact, since I composed the list before hammering out the formal wording of my definition (not a good idea!), there are probably one or two I ought to remove.

      I am inclined to think that you hit on a pretty good definition by calling it an overused metaphor. I hope I did not leave the mistaken impression that there is no validity to the metaphor, but the last few on the list have been pushing me toward the tipping point of calling it over-used.

      • My computer has essentially crashed. Blue Screen of Death errors. And iPod touch isn’t that great for typing despite auto-correct and what Apple tells us. It does serve the purpose of helping cut back my Internet time, though.

        I’m unfamiliar with a lot of the more recent songs on the list, and much as I love “Love Was in the Room,” I have a sneaking suspicion I would agree with you more on the more recent songs. 😉

      • I have a sneaking suspicion you’re right. 🙂

        It seems that the older ones on the list are more metaphorical, and the newer ones on the list inch closer to a direct equivalent.

        (By the way, I think this trend is far more pronounced in CCM, and it’s something that SG does to a lesser extent.)

    • I agree with Amy. “Love Carried The Cross” could be viewed as a substitute, but some are not as direct.

      I think the intention of most songwriters would be to create a compelling and accurate metaphor, not necessarily to make the song more or less marketable.

      But you asked if it was to make the cross more palatable or marketable. I don’t see how exchanging “love” for “God” or “Jesus” diminishes the “offence of the Cross” unless the song somehow obscures the fact that it was Jesus who died on the cross.

  2. I don’t know if there is a “one size fits all” answer. In some cases songwriters may be overusing love as a metaphor, but often the focus of the song is on the motive more than the person. For example, in the new EHSS song “Love Carried the Cross” the emphasis is not on the historical Jesus carrying the cross, but the “God so loved the world that He gave” love that carried it for us. If you substituted “Jesus” for love it would still be historically and theologically accurate, but it would change the entire meaning of the song.

    I am not familiar with all the songs you wrote but I suspect that at least in many of them that is the focus. It is not “Who” buy “Why He did it” that the songwriter is trying to get across.

  3. 1 John 4:8 KJV

    He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

    1 John 4:16 KJV

    And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

    Seems John seemed to fall on the side of using the two interchangeably.

  4. Next up: Christian “Love” songs.. (i.e. using you or another word that makes the song more marketable which HAS been done a lot and at times for making it more commercial). I have some examples of this I am sure where people either took secular love songs and did this with, ones that were meant as gospel but written this way and people took either way, and one by Avalon that mentioned Jesus in the bridge, but that part was edited out and played on secular stations.

  5. The title of the song should effectively portray the theme of the lyrics; in many cases, the lyrics speak of God having great love for us, in which case, “love” appropriately fits the theme.

    My gripe would come when artists substitute “Jesus” for another word in a secular song to make it a gospel song. Duane Allen once said that he changed “I Believe in Music” by Mac Davis to “I Believe In Jesus.” After he’d done so, Mac told him that he thought that the original title (and theme) would work just as well for a gospel singer as is.

  6. I understand that folks could synonomously equate Jesus and Love together in their minds. But in print it’s confusing. To me it’s like when they use the various names of God and Jesus in Scripture. You really have to pay attention to the passages you’re reading to define whether the version of the Bible you’re reading is talking about God or Jesus. I also think we each have our own “system” if you will let me use that word on how we interpret the Bible for ourselves. I think that that interpretation depends on how mature we are in our walk with the Lord. Have a great week, ya’all!