Monday, February 15, 2010 | By: Zachary Bartels

You Just Had To Say It

Note: I will not be illustrating posts for a while, as all my artistic vigor is being channeled into a project with the one and only Ted Kluck.

I've got a bad case of "In-my-thirties-but-it-hasn't-hit-me-yet-itis" (also called "Youth Pastor Fever," due to the nearly 100% rate of infection among youth leaders). The symptoms of this illness primarily affect one's perception of movies, books, films, etc., especially causing a misconception that ten-fifteen year old slang and media are still fresh and new. Batman Forever? Yeah, that's a pretty new flick, right? And that Seal song from the soundtrack (the one about kissing roses and graves or...something)—that was on the charts, what, two/three years ago? was fifteen years ago?

Outbreaks of YPF hit me maybe twice a year when I realize that DC Talk's "Jesus Freak" is fifteen years old, or that Nivana's "Nevermind" came out twenty years ago. Minor spells can be triggered by those little signs in convenience stores that remind us that kids born in 1992 can buy cigarettes. (By the way, if the Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson Batman movie were a dude, he could buy alcohol today).

I've come to terms with my YPF. Why fight it? Rather than try and stay on top of the latest music (most of which I hate by default), I just keep following my favorite artists. I bought the new John Reuben album and the latest Thousand Foot Krutch, but mostly I split my musical preferences between hymns, liturgical music, and the best of the 1990s. I mean, show me a band that's better than MxPx and I'll show you a band that actually sucks compared to MxPx.

When I was in college (1996-2000), I always scoffed at thirty-year-olds who still listened to '80s music. But I'm doing the same basic thing, (In my defense, though, songs like "Flagpole Sitta," "Supertones Strike Back," and "Santaria" are immeasurably better than the schlock turned out by the likes of Def Leppard, Ratt, or Metallica in the '80s.)

So, anyway, it's not unusual for me to bust out a CD from the mid-late '90s and bring it out to the car for a couple months of heavy rotation (nostalgia = bonus). Recently, I've been enjoying the musical offerings of one Value Pac (the miles-better second moniker of the once horribly named "Won By One.") Value Pac came out during the big bang of the Christian Alternative scene, when Tooth & Nail was just getting big. Their first album (self-titled) will always be one of my favorites.

Great lyrics. Great hooks and melodies. Bass lines that could give you whiplash. And, as I recently noticed, a decidedly Calvinistic bent to their songs. I doubt they knew they were "being Reformed" (after all, a basic understanding of the Bible will send you in that direction), but it recently occurred to me that many of their songs presupposed the Doctrines of Grace.

For example, check out some of the words to "One Way Out:"

All alone in this world, you don't want it.
Not anymore, oh no!
The ways of this world have got you down,
You got no direction you can't find your way out
Trapped in the maze that you call life
You're not gonna make it until you see the light so bright
So we've got the total depravity of man, spiritual blindness, and the natural man's inability to free himself from his sinful state without his blinders being removed by a supernatural act. So far, so good.

These walls you built them up yourself
Locked from the inside, you can't break your way out
Which way is up? Which way its down?
Walking in circles, you can't find your way around
Here, the young lads in Value Pac refute the pathetic Sunday school picture of Jesus standing outside of a sinner's heart, baleful eyes next to tears, patiently and politely knocking because there is no lock (or even a handle) on the outside. What a confused misinterpretation of Revelation 3:20! Sure, our sin has locked us in "from the inside," as the song says, but we are unable to "break our way out" of that prison. We're stuck "walking in circles," spiritually disoriented. Of course, when Jesus frees us, it's not with a knock and a polite hello; it's with a sledghammer and a chainsaw. Observe...

But Jesus will find you and He'll never let you go
Jesus will find you; He won't leave you standing all alone
He's gonna find you, and He'll never let you go
You won't find Jesus. Jesus will find you. What a faithful presentation of the Gospel, much like the way Jesus presented it (Luke 15:3-7).

So watch your back as you walk astray
Turn around and walk the other way
You only want to live for you
Someday I hope you get a clue
A call to repentance ("turn around and walk the other way" being a pretty decent gloss for the Hebrew word שׁוּב , usually translated "repent".)

But Jesus will find you and He'll never let you go
Jesus will find you; He won't leave you standing all alone...
I can't hear those words enough! "Jesus will find you." And now that he's found me, he'll never let me go. How comforting is that? My ongoing salvation and sanctification rest, not in my hands, but in Jesus' hands!

So, that was a great song, right? But, wait. They're not done. Even though all of their imagery (which they've borrowed from Scripture) points entirely to sovereign grace, they can't leave it there. The culture of the Second "Great Awakening" led Value Pac to add this little tag, a disclaimer of sorts to balance things out. Wouldn't want to rock the boat or anything.

So, as the last chord fades, we hear these words:

...but it's up to YOU!
Wait. It's up to me? Didn't you just spend an entire song showing how it wasn't up to me to save myself? How I could never save myself? How, without Christ, I was lost, blind, and entirely trapped in my sin? It would follow, then, that I'm completely screwed if it's "up to me."

This is the kind of Pelagian Calvinism I bump into just about every day. People who have read their Bibles, learned true doctrine, encountered God in His sovereignty are still so tied up by the American pre-occupation with "pulling myself up by my bootstraps" that, every time they present the Gospel, they have to toss in that pinch of leaven before they let it bake.

Well, I've got great news for you. It's not "up to you." I too will implore you to "turn around and walk the other way." But I won't pretend that repentance is a quality possessed by some spiritual elite, but not found in the common people. Rather, repentance is something given by God in his infinite grace (2 Timothy 2:25, Acts 11:18). No last-minute tag, no disclaimer, no compromise with the fans of DIY salvation.

Jesus will find you. You can run, but you can't hide.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach