Monday, March 01, 2010

Monday music: "Family Man" discussed

Here is a clever, charming music video Justin Taylor just re-posted:


Now, let's think about it, and discuss it.

Setting the stage. I like the video, as far as it goes. At first listen, anyway. It's a pretty, sentimental, creative reflection on how marriage and family can change your life for the better, killing old dreams but replacing them with new ones. All true. As far as it goes.

What I am about to say really isn't primarily meant as a criticism of the video — though I guess it ends up that way. Primarily, this is meant as a reflection on the video itself as a springboard for further thought.

If someone were to say in conversation, "Boy, marriage and kids sure changed everything for me, but I'm glad of it," I'd just say "Amen" and I'd smile. I wouldn't start criticizing — unless my friend added something like "and it's the most important thing in my life," or "living for those kids' love is what keeps me going," or a number of other similar statements. Or unless someone else hearing his remark said such things about it, treating it as if it were the whole enchilada on the subject of Family. Then I might feel the need to say something.

Are we clear,  so far? (Only the meta will tell me.)

Those thoughts I have. The video made me think of truths it didn't even touch on. Justin Taylor, good man that he is, says that this song is by a guy "whose life and lyrics have been soaked in The Story," and that this song is "a simple song about God taking his old dreams and giving him a new reality."

Well, no, actually, it isn't any of those things. In fact, the lyrics do not mention God at all, nor The Story — if by that we mean either the whole-Bible story of redemption, or the specific pivotal story of Jesus.

Look, the song is nice. I liked it. Mostly. But I don't know the writer — and that doesn't matter a lot, because the song is the song. It is what it is. Whoever the writer is, that song is what he chose to say about being a Family Man.

From the lyrics, a Christian might have written it. Equally, a Mormon could have written it, a Roman Catholic could have written to it. Anyone who loves his wife and kid could have written it.

The song itself is completely and entirely horizontal. The family fills the singer up with love. Hearts hearts hearts, from his family. The family helps him stand. He's got a nice house in the 'burbs, and they're going to Disneyland. Mission Accomplished!

And that's it. Much as I like what's there, it all makes me think about what's missing.

I've mentioned God and the Gospel. They're absent, period. I particularly became aware of this in the middle, where the singer says
So come on with the thunder clouds
Let the cold wind rail against us, let the rain come down
We can build a roof above us with the love we've found
We can stand our ground
So let the rain come down

Because love binds up what breaks in two
So keep my heart so close to you
And I'll fill you up with love
Fill you up with love
And I'll help you stand
'Cause I am a family man
Now, that bothered me. The imagery made me think immediately of Matthew 7:24-27. Didn't it do the same for you?

But what holds a person steady and sound under "thunder clouds" and "cold wind" and "rain" is not horizontal family-love, as in the song. Not according to Jesus, anyway. According to Him, it is building one's life consciously on the words of Jesus. Otherwise, no matter how great a "family man" he is, he's headed for absolute disaster.

And if he hasn't given his family anything better, so are they.

The major reason why this video strikes me thus, no doubt, is because of what I'm doing right now. I am working through the final chapter of my book on Proverbs, which is on raising children. It puts my hands on the pan-Biblical teaching about the meaning and purpose of the family — which is (surprise!) emphatically and distinctively God-centered. The family was created for God and defined by God. It has a purpose which is all to do with him.

Husbands/fathers and wives/mothers have critical and specific roles in that family, chief of which is personal fascination with the person of God and with His words, which overflows in emphatic instruction of the family (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). That, in brief, is the heartbeat of the family, as God defines it. None of which showed up in this song or video.

I'm also a little concerned with a young single Christian watching this, and having the fantasy reinforced: if I get married, my goals will die, but they'll be replaced by wonderful love and happiness that my family will give me.

Well, leaving everything else aside, maybe. But not necessarily.

If your goal, single man, is to give your life in service to God, and a family brings an end to that, you've made a poor and foolish trade — and, ironically, you won't be serving them well.

If your assumption is that your family will give you love and meaning and stability... where did you get that idea? From something like this video? Maybe. Certainly not from the Bible.

The first son ever had a perfect father (the only such, ever), and he bought into a slander about His character, and he rebelled against Him. The second son, ever, was a murderer; and the third was the murder-victim. Not very happy. The first wife, ever, tempted her husband to join her in sin, bringing ruin on themselves and all their children. Not very happy, not very stable.

Ask David if his family gave him happiness and stability and meaning. Ask him as he's pursued by his spoiled, arrogant, self-righteous, above-the-law, treacherous son Absalom.

Now, you can rightly say that David's own sin had a bearing on this. True enough. And the song doesn't mention that, nor nor does it mention the sole elements which would prevent that specific (i.e. the Gospel and real discipleship). Nor does it mention the lone factor that kept David stable and sane during that horrible time. Read Psalm Three, as a for-instance. You'll find the answer. (Hint: it wasn't his family.)

I could go on and on. Some will say I already have. I know how my (to them) carping and fault-finding will strike some. What can I say? A blog is about what one thinks about things. This blog is about what I, as a Biblical Christian, think about things.

And that's what I think about this song.


Andrew Faris said...


Of course, in a sense, you are right. There is no denying the bare facts that there is no explicit mention of the gospel or God in the song. But in the context of Peterson's music more broadly, no one will doubt that these things are the clear foundations for this song.

To be honest, this post makes me wonder if you would have liked the Book of Esther if you didn't know that it was in the Bible. Clearly the references must not always be explicit to be there, right?


DJP said...

Hint: your criticisms of my criticism are anticipated in the post. I won't cheat by editing it.

I'm starting to play with the idea of posting that the sky is, generally speaking, blue. Just to see your response.

SandMan said...

I see your point, and it is well-said.

I have been on both sides of this issue. I married thinking that it would bring fulfillment to my life. I was a Christian, but had that pie-in-the-sky view that being married would end all of life's miseries. Guess what, you enter marriage expecting to get and not expecting to serve and IT IS NOT A HAPPY TIME.
Having been lovingly, biblically corrected by my wise pastor some years ago, my marriage is fulfilling when done in service to God and spouse and kids. My 2c. Thanks for letting me speak.

Gov98 said...

I really like this post, it's a good reminder that God is always first and foremost in all that we do, and that needs to come through even in a song about family.

It's easy for me to tell my wife that I love her more than anyone else, but I always try to whisper other than God, which in reality I think we need to do more often.

Our wives will trust us more if our love for her is bound up in our love for God.

(This is not an exposition on these items it is a quick thought. I am sure there are errors contained in it.)

DJP said...

Thanks, SandMan. Sounds as if you're hearing me correctly, too. IN NO WAY am I knocking marriage or family, placed where God put them.

DJP said...

I think you're absolutely right, Gov. We do not love our wives nor kids well if we do not love God more, as Biblically-defined.

JackW said...

Yeah, but you’re listening to the Getty’s on your iPhone.

Kinda makes all the rest seem like a Zimmerman Christmas, doesn’t it?


Kim K. said...

So you're one of those people who is super picky about music? Just kidding!! I have issues with much of the content (or lack, thereof) in Christian music, but have learned to keep it to myself (except for DH) to avoid being labeled as "one of THOSE people" who wants to divide the church over music.

Excellent post.

trogdor said...

So it's sort of the Manhattan Document of songs?

DJP said...

Now that you mention it, I would imagine that people who thought the MD was a great, terrific thing, and who didn't want to be bothered with all that calling-heretics-"Christians" and do-we-really-all-preach-the-same-Gospel stuff, would love the song, period. And hate any apparent nitpicking.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Clever, yes. I like the drawings through the sketch book. And charming, yes, very heart-warming.

But what happens when they have an argument? What happens when the cute little kid grows an attitude? Will "love" make everything okay? Will my ideals make everything okay? Will "love" give me the strength to stick it out through the bad times?

Not so much.

Only the continuous grace of God.

Fred Butler said...

I am sure with Justin Taylor originally posting the link we should be able to work in a Sarah Palin/pregnant out of wedlock daughter/presidential contender discussion in here somewhere.

Sir Aaron said...

I was thinking the same thing, Dan. Everything seemed ok until the clouds came out. Because immediately I thought of what would happen to this family man if God removed a piece of his family? Would he suddenly find himself without an identity or shelter?

I know for sure that God is the glue that keeps my family together. Unfortunately, it isn't my love for my wife that keeps me from's my love for God, or rather his love for me.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

It's just a simple little song, but it's not about God at all. It's about a person feeling full of "someone's" love, and feeling able to handle whatever comes his way because of that filling-feeling.

I was thinking it could pass for the intro song to some new "family" sit-com that I wouldn't be found watching! Or here's a scary thought: it could even be sung by a gay couple! Yikes! If you look carefully and squint your eyes, (at about 2:50-55) you might see what looks like something with a cross (a bible perhaps?) in the center of the big heart. But that's it in terms of biblical or god-like references in the visual part of the video. Perhaps the "you" is capitalized in the published lyrics, and we are to then assume that God is the "someone" that "you" refers to.

I suppose people will think it's nit-picky to find fault in such a song. But I'll let you take the blame, Dan, for declaring open season on your blog. : )

(Now back to folding laundry for me--I'm a family-woman you know.)

Andy Dollahite said...


We've had our differences of opinion before, but I'd give a hearty amen here. Your introductory qualifications were more than adequate, and I appreciated that you emphasized the part of the video I also thought fell most short. So there, cheers to common ground.

RT said...

DJP - your comments are of course perfectly sound, but rather like dropping a thousand of bricks on a dormouse. The song is hardly worth the effort of commenting - "pathetic, puerile, utterly fatuous" about wraps it up. The fact that you can derive sound spiritual truths out of it (or in contrast to it, more accurately) is shows once again that you are able to spin gold from straw. Well done!

Andrew Faris said...


I'm not that smart, so I don't get the "the sky is blue" post joke. But I'd be happy for the correction if I'm doing something dumb, so mind explaining briefly?

Also, one thing I forgot to mention is that I am in total agreement with most of your comments about Christian family life. They're on target and, as usual, well-said.

I just don't think your critique of the song is that great, even if that indeed wasn't your primary point of the post. Clearly there is direct critique of the song.

I suppose it just seems that you want the song to say everything there is to say on the subject. But that's not necessary. It's like saying in a worship song that the death of Christ brings me life. Are you going to critique it if the song doesn't mention the resurrection too? Or for that matter, that the new life you have isn't maintainable outside of the church? Or a million other true things?

I'll even grant that the love verses are a little disconcerting. But only a little. That's because I've listened to Peterson's other music- probably the most gospel-centered contemporary music that isn't meant for congregational worship that I know of. Seriously.

So this song isn't the only thing you have to judge by. I'm sure some Mormon out there loves the song, you're right.

But then, I heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" at General Conference one year, too. They don't mean it like we do. But the reason I know that is not really from the lyrics to that particular song. It's because of the other hymns I sing, the Bible I read, and the stuff I know about Mormons.


Hayden said...

This song has a larger context. It is on Andrew Peterson's Album "Love and Thunder" and follows songs like "Caanan Bound" and "Let There Be light" and "Serve Hymn/ Holy is the Lord". Why does this matter? Because plucking song #6 "Family Man" out of the middle of the album does not help the context. Peterson's alums are often thematic with one song running into the next and explaining context.

Dan, I do not disagree with your analysis of the song but it was made based on a blog post which was taken from a larger context (that Justin Taylor didn't explain at all). Also Peterson was singing at a conference on 'adoption' which is why Taylor posted this.

(see Peterson's "Behold the Lamb of God" or "Resurrection Letters Vol. 3" for more affirmation of what I am saying).

Andrew Peterson is firmly in the 'reformed' camp from what I have heard. This song is not the most theological for sure, but he has many more that are.

Becky, slave of Christ said...

Isn't it wonderful how being deeply in God's Word (in this case, your study and expounding of the Proverbs) places that grid of Truth between you and whatever you are seeing or hearing? Enjoyed this exercise in discernment very much, Dan.

Perhaps this video should have been much longer, illustrating every song on the album. That way we wouldn't lose the context.

DJP said...

Andrew, I still think you haven't read the post. You're still making charges I anticipated and answered. Now, put down the shake, and read the post.

Hayden, I think you did, and thanks. Whatever other wonderful stuff Peterson may have done, great. I'm talking about this song (see post title.)

If Peterson wants to require by law that this video/song can't be played without playing the rest, go for it.

But if it is out as a standalone, it's fair game for a standalone review. And if someone remarks, in connection with the song, that that artist is a man "whose life and lyrics have been soaked in The Story," and that this song is "a simple song about God taking his old dreams and giving him a new reality," well then I can comment on that, as well.

If my book on Proverbs comes out and you read it and you conclude (with reason) that "All that this whole book says gives me the impression that, if I am wise and disciplined and righteous, God will love me and I will go to Heaven," fair enough.

And if someone says, "Mercy, Hayden; read Dan's dozens of posts and articles and sermons about the centrality of the Gospel" — well, that would be nice. But if I put out a book, it's fair to judge the book. The rest is valid context for a full judgment of me, but if the book doesn't stand on its own, I've not done a very good job of it, have I?

Tim said...

You would almost think that Andrew Peterson hasn't lost a child, and hasn't written a song about losing that child, and hasn't spoken at churches about how the only thing that sustained his wife and him was the Lord. But, yeah then again, it makes everything easier when you can just say "I don't know anything about this guy, but Justin Taylor posted this so I better find something wrong with it"

And, since it obviously went over your head the first time, picking a single song out of an album is not analgous to picking up a book someone has written. It's like reading one chapter of a book and saying, "Hey, this guy worships his family and not God" when the entire theme of the book is worshiping God. This is why AP continually states that his albums are stories from start to finsih. But again, to know that would require knowing something about the guy. And who wants to do that, when this is so much easier.

DJP said...

Okay, so: my interacting with the video as a standalone = bad.

You ignoring most of what I wrote and voodooing bad intentions into my head = good.

Got it.

Beyond that, anticipated and responded to (again) in my last comment.

Tim said...

Yeah, I'll be sure to use the whole "Context really isn't that important unless it's 'required by law'" argument in the future.
That's helpful.

DJP said...

So: you won't give an contentful interaction with the post. Too long?

You won't give a contentful interaction with my response. Still too long?

Try this: find one sentence in the review that is inaccurate or unfair. Quote it, and explain how.

Tim said...

Okay, I'll try to make this clear for you since it seems hard for you to understand. (Yay, I can be demeaning too)

"Justin Taylor, good man that he is, says that this song is by a guy 'whose life and lyrics have been soaked in The Story,'...Well, no, actually, it isn't any of those things."

You admittedly know nothing about the life of Andrew Peterson or the lyrics of his other music yet you feel confident enough to say that AP's life isn't "soaked in The Story" That's not unfair? This song doesn't use the Christian words that you want, so you feel confident enough to say AP doesn't use lyrics that are "soaked in The Story", even though you know nothing about his other songs. That's not unfair? You're comfortable with saying "Andrew Peterson's life and lyrics aren't gospel-centered because I heard a song of his once that was about how he loved his family and he didn't develop a theology for that love"?

"But I don't know the writer — and that doesn't matter a lot,"

Wrong, because if you did know the writer then you would know that you couldn't so flippantly dismiss his "life and lyrics". And, if you knew the writer, you would know the way he writes. You would know that he considers his album stories from start to finish. You would know that this particular song has a specific place in a gospel-centered story. So, yeah, I think it would be a little unfair for me to come to a blog and see a funny video about a cat and then write "I don't know anything about this guy but his life and writings aren't gospel-centered"

Tim said...

P.S. I also liked this little tidbit:

"This blog is about what I, as a Biblical Christian, think about things.

And that's what I think about this song."

Thus setting it up so that anyone who disagrees with you is what? A non-biblical Christian? That's a little unfair, but I gotta give you credit. It's a good tactic.

DJP said...

Tim, I would agree that what you accuse me of would be a very unfair statement. I read your comment with alarm, ready to apologize for the misimpression and correct myself if I'd said what you accuse me of.

However, your ellipsis (...) was critical. I make very clear, in the post and in my responses to you, that I am doing nothing like what you accuse me of.

Here is the context, with your critical omissions bolded:

The video made me think of truths it didn't even touch on. Justin Taylor, good man that he is, says that this song is by a guy "whose life and lyrics have been soaked in The Story," and that this song is "a simple song about God taking his old dreams and giving him a new reality."

Well, no, actually, it
[the song; not "he," the man] isn't any of those things. In fact, the lyrics do not mention God at all, nor The Story — if by that we mean either the whole-Bible story of redemption, or the specific pivotal story of Jesus.

And no, I am intending no insinuations about anyone else's impressions of the song. I'm saying nothing about what another's impressions are; only about what mine are.

Well, with this exception: if someone wants to say that that song contains content that it doesn't. In that case, I've made my case about the contents of this song, not about anyone else's character. Good people can be mistaken; it doesn't make them less good.

Tim said...

I still have a difficult time reading your statement the way your suggesting. If I said, "this book is about a person who is _____ and about _____" and someone said "No, it's not any of those things." I would assume they were referring to both things I said about the book, not just the last part.

But look, I'm not interested in trying to convince you that you said something you didn't intend (kind of ironic in this context - not trying to be snarky). I've specifically heard AP quote Prov. 16:9 before playing this song rejoicing in the sovereignty of God in his life. JT was hearing him play at the Adoption for Life conference and maybe AP said those very words before playing the song. Maybe you would never get that from the words themselves, but that's my point. It helps to know the guy. To hear directly from him. It helps me to know that you didn't actually intend to impugn AP's life.

Now, how about some goodwill. I've got two Andrew Peterson Cds I'd like to send you "on the house". They're duplicate copies I've acquired over the years. Consider it a gift for allowing me to take your time and putting up with me. Shoot me an email and give me your address.