Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince’s Confused, Backwards Theology

Like many people my age, I remember listening to Prince on the radio in High School and college.  I wasn’t as discerning back then.  I am glad I listened to some really great stuff for my soul (lots of Keith Green and other Christian music).  I regret that I also listened to a lot of worthless stuff.  When I heard that Prince died, a few lines from some of his most loved music (“Purple Rain”, “1999”) started to play in my mind.  I didn’t remember more than a line here and there, so I found a couple of them on YouTube and listened to them.

When I listened to “1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy”, I quickly recognized something that was far less clear to me as a high schooler.  I saw how sad and backwards some of Prince’s theology was.  Before I discuss that theology . . .

A Couple of Disclaimers

When I discuss Prince’s “theology”, I am looking mainly at the content of the songs I remember most (which seem to be the songs most people remember most).  These songs go back some thirty years.  I do not know what Prince believed more recently.  I have no idea whether or not he believed the true gospel before he died.  I read that he became more “religious” at some point.  If I was ministering to his family or close friends who knew him personally, I would certainly be thinking about what he might have believed his last years.  But that is not my purpose in this blog post.  Here I’m writing to people who, like me, mainly remember Prince in light of his most popular songs.

Also, when I write below about Prince’s “theology”, I am not referring to what you may think of as a “formal” theology.  Everybody has theology.  Everybody has beliefs about God, about where we came from, about what is wrong with the world, and about how all this will turn out for us personally and for our world.  Some people can express these beliefs in a clear, systematic way.  For others, these beliefs are confused and jumbled. Even “I don’t care about that stuff” is a theological view with profound implications. Whether it is based on the Bible or on a mix of pop music and TV talk, each person’s theology deeply affects how they live life each day.

The Theology of Some of Prince’s Most Well Known Songs

Most bad theology is a mix of half-truths added to lies.  In songs like “1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy”, Prince includes some important truth:

1.  He recognizes that this life is going to end, and it might end sooner than we expect.

2.  He fears judgment day.

3.  He talks about a future life which will be better than the one we have now.

That all sounds pretty good.  Sadly, he comes to the exact opposite conclusion that the Apostle Paul came to when considering these truths.  Prince’s response to the truths above is to encourage everyone to party a lot and have all the fun we possibly can before we die.  By fun, it appears he mainly means sex and partying.

Paul says that a philosophy of “party while you can” only made sense if there was no resurrection:

If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1Corinthians 15:32b NIV)

Apparently, Prince did not have all the pieces of true Bible based theology.  Perhaps he felt that there was no hope for him to survive judgment, so he might as well have fun now.  If he thought like that it means he did not really understand the deep love and amazing grace of God which led to the atonement Christ made for our sins. 

Or perhaps Prince thought that he would go to Heaven no matter how he lived.  If he thought like that it means he did not understand the holiness of God who rightly hates all sin.

We’ve all seen people who foolishly lived according to Prince’s “party while you can” philosophy.  It is a destructive lifestyle which may bring a brief period of “fun”, but quickly produces brokenness and despair.

But we might fail to notice a less severe form of the same life philosophy.  It seems to me that most people, including many who claim the title “Christian”, live life with the goal of getting the most comfort, pleasure, and happiness for themselves as possible in this life while avoiding danger and suffering at all costs.  This type of “comfortable life philosophy” is really based on the same broken theology that was sung by Prince.  It is a lifestyle which practically ignores the reality of God’s grace, judgment day, the seriousness of sin, and the promise of eternal rewards for those who choose to follow Christ.

And by follow Christ, I mean obeying His most radical commands:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Mathew 6:19-20 NIV)

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24b NIV)

Christ calls us to live a life on earth that involves loving others sacrificially and also involves saying “no” to the sinful desires of our flesh. If we do, He promises eternal rewards. This is the exact opposite of “party while you can”.

It’s too Late for Prince, but not for Us

Again, I don’t know if Prince found salvation in Christ before he died.  If the initial reports about a drug overdose contributing to his death prove true, that will be a tragic illustration of the outcome of the theology he sang about.  Prince was given an extraordinary gift.  I wished he had consistently used it to glorify Christ.

But for myself, and for all of you reading this, God is still giving us grace.  If we look back at our lives and see times and ways in which we lived for this world instead of living for Heaven, all of that can be forgiven.  Really.  God’s grace is enough.  There is no sin you’ve committed that is so bad that the blood of Christ is not sufficient payment!

And not only can we be forgiven, with God’s help we can live in a new way based on a better theology.  A theology that takes seriously both God’s wrath and judgment as well as God’s grace and mercy.  A theology that understands the reality of both Heaven and Hell.  A theology which calls us to imitate a far better example than our pop icons:

Ephesians 5:1 Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children
 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
 3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment