What it Means – Jeremy Camp

480px-jeremy_camp_wonderland.jpgJeremy Camp comes from a Calvary Chapel background (probably the largest nondenominational denomination in America) so his lyrics usually keep pretty close to Calvary Chapel’s very conservative theology. Whatever your opinion of Calvary Chapel may be, this is a good thing. His theology is often very clearly stated and is in close correlation to the confession of his tradition. In this way he is a model for Christian artists.

Many Christian artists, as we have noted here on Chris Tomlin’s song Made to Worship, water down their theology, bear no direct ties to any specific tradition, and feel very little tie to any specific confession within their traditions. Christian music can be wit the label “Christian” can be so misleading because it does not account for the huge umbrella Christianity encompasses. Without being directly affiliated with one of these traditions, the theology in lyrics are not in associated with the confession of the church. The music we use in church for worship should express, in some way, the confession of the church. But, since some artists are called “Christian artists” we blindly sing their songs, no matter how shallow or meaningless the lyrics might be.

Jeremy Camp, being directly connected to a specific ecclesiological tradition, becomes less misleading in his title as a Christian artist and should probably be called a Calvary Chapel artist.

His song from WOW 2008 is called “What it Means”:

I’ve been here a thousand times before
Face down on the floor
Wondering how I even reached this place again
But, You have shown so endlessly, how Your love pours over me
No picture can re-create the beauty that I see
Show me what it means, to live my life a sacrifice
If only I would realize how much it took to pay the price
I know I’d always give, everything to You

I want this world to see
Your perfect majesty
Reflecting from my life this brilliant poetry

Written all over this place
The signs of all creation that You breathed
Words can’t even state how much You mean to me

I want to face my very crime
Of not giving all of mine
But I can feel the hope You bring to me

This song begins with a poetic image of someone who has reached some place of hardship or struggle in their life and, in the midst of this hopeless moment, remembers the faithfulness of God. Then he seeks God’s wisdom; “Show me what it means, to live my life a sacrifice If only I would realize how much it took to pay the price.” Though this is left open enough to mean something less specific, this seems like an allusion to the penal substitution view of the atonement, a specific view among many. Penal substitution suggests that Jesus, on the cross, was paying a debt owed to God. It was not his own debt, but the debt the human race owed to God because of their sinfulness. He sacrificially chose to pay this price so that the human race could be redeemed and receive eternal life. In a commendably healthy way, Jeremy Camp unites substitutionary atonement with the idea that Jesus didn’t only “die in our place” so that we wouldn’t have to, but also showed how we are to give our lives away as he did on the cross. For Camp, the cross not only shows the price that Jesus paid for us, but also calls the Christ follower to give back to God-truly a paradox. The rest of the song stems from this paradox. Camp realizes that the “brilliant poetry” of God is a life of sacrifice.

Within all of Camp affirms creation as something “written all over this place” when we see “the signs of all creation that You breathed.” The line is not common dispensationalist escapism which, rather than hoping for creation, expects it to burn away. Though Camp, once again, is not specific enough for us to be sure, he affirms creation as God’s “breath.” Thus, Camp may be parting with Calvary Chapels historically dependent upon dispensationalist eschatology.

Overall the song’s theological intention is to draw together Jesus’ sacrificial choice with the life to which we are to aspire. Since the song is primarily about sacrifice (once again, the specifics are open-ended) the last line feeling “the hope You bring to me” is ironic. Lodged within another paradox, Camp reminds us of the tension within sacrifice that comes through both struggle and hope. There is hope within sacrifice, an unlikely hope which is only possible through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There is hope as we participate in the crucifixion because of hopeful expectation of the resurrection.


3 Responses

  1. i enjoyed your post. thanks for the thoughts.

  2. I entirely agree with the sentiment. The situation is even more glaring within the umbrella of “Christian rock” where a lot of bands that have absolutely no semblance of connection to the Christian faith or its ethics still choose to make loose association with Christianity. I find many of these associations are baseless when I take a cursory look at the lyrics to their songs.

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