Hymnology: How He Loves

As a worship leader, I have gotten used to the “worship wars” debate over song selection for worship services. I understand that people have different musical preferences, and that it can be genuinely difficult to worship in an unfamiliar genre. I have come to appreciate the grace that our congregation shows here at Stevens Street as we seek to introduce unfamiliar hymns and songs of many different styles during our services. Musical style is never a primary factor in how we choose the songs for our worship services, though it is a necessary consideration. Far more important is the substance of the song; we must ensure that we are singing true things to and about our God (John 4:24).

This week, though, I got to experience the flip side of this. Attending FUGE camp with our youth group last week, one of the main songs that was played nearly every day in the worship services was “How He Loves“, written by John Mark McMillan. Though this is a wildly popular worship song right now (particularly among young people), I have always sort of hated it. This is a bit unusual for me, because I have some really eclectic musical tastes, and generally only dislike songs if their lyrics are unbiblical or trite. This song’s lyrics are neither.

Before this week, I hadn’t given much thought to why I disliked this song. I just resolved that, as much as was up to me, we wouldn’t sing it here. Since we were singing this song so much at camp, though, I devoted some time to studying it, and attempted to determine why it struck such a bad chord with me. A funny thing happened, though. The more time I spent with it, the more it grew on me. So let me share with you a few of the reasons why I believe I initially disliked this song, and how I was able to resolve those issues and finally worship freely and truly through this song by the end of the week.

The rest of this entry has been moved to the new Systematic Hymnology blog. Read it here.

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11 responses to “Hymnology: How He Loves

  1. Very impressive. So awesome to see such heart for God. I have experienced much of what you described in your reasons for disliking music and learning to be open, too. I am thankful I read this blog today, John. Well written with a meek heart; strong but pliable.

  2. This is really great! I am also a worship leader and have experienced much controversy in the “like a sloppy wet kiss” part of the song…many people think of it sexually, and it throws them off, however others may think of a child giving their father a “sloppy wet” kiss on the cheek, showing the love the child has for the father, which what i believe is what John was trying to portray. BTW, the whole phrase “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” shows similarities in psalms 85:10-11 “10 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven”

  3. Oh! And, if you haven’t listened to Jesus Cultures version of “How He Loves”, then give it a listen! All of the way through!

  4. A well written review. I definitely appreciate your commitment to doctrinal soundness! However, I think you were on to something when you said your first impression of this song was that it was somewhat man-centric. I would debate the song’s first line that God is jealous for us. Rather, I think scripture is pretty clear that God is jealous for His own glory. Also, not knowing the theology of the writer, I could see where this song would lend itself to a universalist/post-millenialist position. Phraseology that deals with Heaven coming to Earth (I.e. “Kissing earth”) is often used by those that hold to this position. Just my two cents. Great post.

  5. What an amazing review! As a 20-year-old, I am just exploring God’s love for us, God’s love for me. For some reason I’ve related this song as a “Grown-up” version of “Jesus Loves Me”. I personally love the lyric, “He is jealous for me”. It helps me understand that, not only do I long for a personal relationship with Him, but He longs for the same relationship with me. I love it.
    Also, the section labeled “Meaning Obscured by Language” really encouraged me to open up a bible and reflect on how AWESOME the love of God for us really is.
    Thank you for this wonderful review!

  6. While I agree on most points, I’m not as accepting. We should choose not infuse times of song worship with statements that would detract from the essence OF worship..giving God the glory due Him. Imagery is a powerful medium that we see in the literature of Psalms and other parts of scripture yes, but it is most often NOT focused to bring God glory but rather to capture man’s condition and emotional state under God. Through study of the Scripture and service to God we learn humility and our right standing with God..including His love for us..not by singing songs. Why sing a song like this when we have the opportunity to sing a song declaring his majesty, glory, and might? To tell Him that He is the Great I AM, to join with the angels and man in preperation singing Holy Holy Holy is the LORD God Almighty. We exist to please God. Yes, we understand He is jealous for us, and yes, we know that we can love only because He loved us first, but this is our understanding, not worship. Song worship must spring from our life worship of obedience to Scripture. We don’t worship throughout the day by declaring to ourselves the truth of His Word, (although we do this in discipline) we WORSHIP by actually declaring His Word through obedience to it. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

  7. Love this. It’s true, when I used to have issues with this song it was when I’d only heard it or sang it a couple of times. The more you study something– the more it grows on you. Funny how that works!

  8. I do enjoy this song a lot and as a Youth Pastor and student at major christian university, I am captivated by the truth communicated so simply in this song. One comment I have to add on, is that the image of a sloppy-wet kiss implies an unashamed love. A love that says ‘I don’t care who’s looking’ while fully embraced in an all-out demonstration of love and intimacy. I only mention this because it is my favorite part of the song because of that imagery. However the term was translated in the Bible, this song is not in the Bible. Because of that, we can’t go back to scripture to understand what THEY meant by the term, but rather what the song, written in this time period, was supposed to mean. This is the same as if we took our own understanding of a word and applied it to a word used in scripture; we read it one way, but they may have a completely different meaning.

    In conversation with people, what I found they actually had a problem with this lyric was that they were uncomfortable with the imagery seen in their head, not the actual concept, if that makes any sense.

    This song also does an excellent job at communicating to new and old believers that this thing we have with Jesus is indeed a relationship. Our focus is on Him, yes, but we are still involved by God’s grace and love. That is something I think we forget.

    Great read though!

  9. Great Review, I also at first did not like this song, as it seems all rather man is the center of everything. But I may have to rethink that.

  10. Thank you all for your feedback on this post! I’ve now started a new blog containing lots more articles like this, and have moved most of this article over there. You’ll find the link at the bottom of the post. I hope you’ll join the ongoing discussion over on the new blog!

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