Category Archives: Poetry

What's the Difference Between Erotica and Song of Solomon?

What is the difference between common erotica and the Song of Solomon? Both describe human sexuality in vivid and breathless detail. Both provide detailed depictions of the human form, including at least allusions to the genitalia. Both paint striking portraits of sexuality and evoke strong passions. So what's the difference?

Is it merely that the Canticles are one particular work of erotica taken up by the Holy Spirit and added to the Bible? If this is the case, we will be forced to conclude that either the Holy Spirit has lifted one proverbial pig out of the pig sty and dressed her up with lipstick and a party dress (or negligee, as the case may be) and hoped we wouldn't notice the stink. Or perhaps erotica qua genre is not inherently wicked. Neither of these options, I think, is true. There must be some fundamental difference between what we witness in the Song of Solomon and what we encounter in worldly erotica.

There is one primary answer that exhibits itself in several ways. The single major difference between the Song of Solomon and erotica is the difference between means and ends. In his Song, Solomon's primary goal is to describe love and beauty. To do so, he employs the most fundamental consummation of those virtues, human sexuality. Love and beauty are the ends, sexuality is the means. Erotica reverses that order. The main goal of erotica is to describe human sexuality, and occasionally it does this by employing descriptions of physical beauty and/or love. In erotica, sexuality is the end, love and beauty are merely means—disposable ones.

Beauty in Song of Solomon and Beauty in Erotica

Notice the difference between the way beauty is treated in the Song of Solomon and the way it is used in erotica. For Solomon, physical beauty should be celebrated with all the enthusiasm of youthful vigor. It is to be described in nearly tangible detail:

Your lips are like a scarlet thread; your mouth is lovely.
Your temples are like a slice of pomegranate behind your veil. (SOS 4:3)

And,

His cheeks are like a bed of balsam, banks of sweet-scented herbs;
His lips are lilies dripping with liquid myrrh. (SOS 5:13)

It gets more explicit, of course: there are descriptions of her breasts (4:5; 7:3, 7-8; 8:10), her hips (7:1), her naked belly (7:2), the allure of her "garden" (4:12-5:1), and the blossoming of her "orchard" (6:11). At least some would interpret the metaphor of 5:14, "his abdomen is carved ivory," as thinly veiled phallic imagery. But when these unashamedly erotic descriptions are taken along with the rest of the imagery presented in the Song, the overall effect is not inordinate fixation on any one or two body parts. We delight in the human body as a whole, both male and female. To put it another way, Solomon is enraptured with beauty, not sexuality.

In erotica or pornography, there is no place for real beauty. There is an aping of certain beautiful aspects of the human form, to be sure, but even those are emphasized clumsily and with adolescent hurry in an effort to highlight what is most important: the sex.

Love in Song of Solomon and Love in Erotica

Consider the place of love in Solomon versus erotica. The depictions of physical beauty in the Canticles always leads to an encomium to love itself:

You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride;
you have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes . . .
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine. . . . (SOS 4:9-10)

And in one of the most evocative descriptions, Solomon asserts that tranquility itself can be found in the embrace of the beloved:

I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers;
Then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace. (SOS 8:10)

Kurt Vonnegut seems to have grasped the difference between love of beauty and mere lust when he penned "Miss Temptation," which includes what must rank as one of the best descriptions of the feminine form of all time. His description might have been lifted right out of Solomon: "Susanna's feathery hair and saucer eyes were as black as midnight. Her skin was the color of cream. Her hips were like a lyre, and her bosom made men dream of peace and plenty forever and ever."

What piece of erotica can hold a candle to that writing?

Erotica is not interested in love. It will, at times, spread a thin veneer of love over certain stories, but love is never the main point. It is only ever back story. Erotica is written to titillate, the Canticles to celebrate. The one is written to provoke lust, the other to evoke beauty. It is the monumental difference between pornography and nude art, between Ron Jeremy and Michelangelo's David.

The Song of Solomon is a monument to love and beauty and to the proper connection between them. The experience of human sexuality is the pedestal upon which the monument securely and audaciously rests. Solomon teaches us that the most ravishing beauty is a consequence of the most desperate love, that the beloved is so beautiful precisely because she is so loved.

Now in Production: Songs for the Book of Luke

Several months ago, we made a call for entries for "Songs for the Book of Luke," a project that coincides with The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference's focus on Luke's Gospel. The goal of the project is to connect with songwriters, artists, and worship leaders, and to highlight their work here at TGC.

We were overwhelmed by the response. Nearly 200 submissions came in from musicians from across the country (and a few overseas), ranging from retuned hymns to Taize songs, modern hymns, and contemporary worship songs. We have seen a snapshot of the diversity in the culture of worship at local churches.

With a small selection committee, a list of songs has been assembled that will be made into "Songs for the Book of Luke," a full-length studio album to be released this year (in time for the National Conference in Orlando).

Vision and Mission

The album itself reflects TGC's vision and mission in three ways.

First, it embraces TGC's vision for empowered corporate worship.

TGC's theological vision for ministry says this about corporate worship:

The gospel changes our relationship with God from one of hostility or slavish compliance to one of intimacy and joy. The core dynamic of gospel-centered ministry is therefore worship and fervent prayer. In corporate worship God's people receive a special life-transforming sight of the worth and beauty of God, and then give back to God suitable expressions of his worth. At the heart of corporate worship is the ministry of the Word. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ-centered (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach but to lead the hearers to worship, individual and corporate, that strengthens their inner being to do the will of God.

In making this album, we want to highlight efforts to write songs that draw richly from God's Word, show Christ at the center of worship, and speak in a comprehensible way. I believe the songs that you'll discover with us do all of these things well, albeit in different ways. Some of these songs are written for churches whose congregations are largely "post church"---new to the Bible and the language of Christianity. These songs explain things simply and avoid language that might be more dense. Others reflect congregations whose context is more biblically literate, or more highly educated.

Similarly, some songs are written for simple, bare-bones instrumentation, and others are written for contemporary music ministries with large bands and modern sounds. But all of them share a theological center; they are Word-driven, Christ-centered, congregational songs.

Second, it flows from TGC's love for the local church.

The Gospel Coalition's confessional statement says:

We believe that God's new covenant people have already come to the heavenly Jerusalem; they are already seated with Christ in the heavenlies. This universal church is manifest in local churches of which Christ is the only Head; thus each "local church" is, in fact, the church, the household of God, the assembly of the living God, and the pillar and foundation of the truth. The church is the body of Christ, the apple of his eye, graven on his hands, and he has pledged himself to her forever. The church is distinguished by her gospel message, her sacred ordinances, her discipline, her great mission, and, above all, by her love for God, and by her members' love for one another and for the world. . . . The church serves as a sign of God's future new world when its members live for the service of one another and their neighbors, rather than for self-focus. The church is the corporate dwelling place of God's Spirit, and the continuing witness to God in the world.

Everything about this record celebrates the local church. All of the musicians who will play and sing on the record regularly serve the congregations where they gather and worship each week. It's also a celebration of the unity that happens when churches share a confessional commitment to the gospel. It's surprisingly easy to get together and make music when there's a common commitment to keep Christ at the center.

Too often, it's assumed that the best music available for churches comes from Nashville and the Christian music industry. This album is an effort to point out some grassroots alternatives, all of which flow from local church contexts.

Third, it flows from TGC's vision for the integration of faith and work.

TGC's theological vision for ministry says this about the integration of faith and work:

The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation. God put humanity in the garden to cultivate the material world for his own glory and for the flourishing of nature and the human community. The Spirit of God not only converts individuals (e.g., John 16:8) but also renews and cultivates the face of the earth (e.g., Gen 1:2; Psalm 104:30). Therefore Christians glorify God not only through the ministry of the Word, but also through their vocations of agriculture, art, business, government, scholarship---all for God's glory and the furtherance of the public good. Too many Christians have learned to seal off their faith-beliefs from the way they work in their vocation. The gospel is seen as a means of finding individual peace and not as the foundation of a worldview---a comprehensive interpretation of reality affecting all that we do. But we have a vision for a church that equips its people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do carpentry, plumbing, data-entry, nursing, art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship. Such a church will not only support Christians' engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions. Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel is part of the work of bringing a measure of healing to God's creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work. We do all of this because the gospel of God leads us to it, even while we recognize that the ultimate restoration of all things awaits the personal and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ. (emphasis added)

This vision for faith and work certainly stretches far beyond the doors of the gathered church, but it also includes the way that we work and serve within those doors. Church musicians and pastors of worship are called to work in such a way that they glorify God and bless their neighbors. They're called to work with integrity and excellence. Music as an art form and as a means of serving, blessing, and encouraging the body of Christ should be pursued and executed with an appropriate kind of excellence---one that includes the congregation, invites participation, and appropriately and emotively accompanies the texts we sing. We are called to make a joyful noise, and to do so with excellence, humility, and grace.

Gospel-Fueled Creativity

Our goal with this project is to make a record that expresses gospel-fueled and church-serving creativity. We don't want to simply make a utilitarian record---we want to make something that is creative, beautiful, and engaging. We want to make a record that illustrates in some way what it looks like when the hearts of artists are stirred by the gospel and respond with passion, skill, and excellence.

Over the next few weeks, we'll begin to introduce you to the songwriters and artists whose work will be represented on the record. As production wraps up, we'll offer some previews, as well as charts, lead sheets, and simplified demos of the songs (demonstrating simple ways of singing the songs with your church or small group).

We hope this project is a blessing to the broader church. Most of all, we hope it's catalytic and empowering to creatives at churches across the country who would seek to use the gifts God has given them to serve their congregations.

Coming to You Raw and Uncut with Jackie Hill

Have you heard of Jackie Hill?

If not, then do yourself a favor and watch this powerful poem. Then read her powerful testimony. The 23-year-old St. Louis native is fast developing a reputation for unleashing raw, undiluted, in-your-face truth through the medium of spoken word poetry.

"Known as a poet," her website states, "she is simply a sinner saved by a gracious God." Indeed, Jackie's salvation story is an especially encouraging testimony to God's interrupting, life-altering grace. He is using her, too, to spread good news.

After walking with the Lord for almost four years, God has allowed Jackie to witness to thousands of people, through the gift of poetry, about the grace and power of God! Her life's goal is to see people believe in Jesus for the IMPOSSIBLE!

I corresponded with Jackie about her "impossible" conversion (praise God for Matthew 19:25-26!), her four-year journey with Jesus, challenges for young artists today, and more.

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According to your website, growing up you were "molested by a family friend, bullied in school, and fatherless, which, accompanied with an inherent separation from God, led [you] into a lifestyle of rebellion, homosexuality, drug use, porn addiction, and everything wicked." How did God save you? 

Over a period of six months (from spring 2008 until October 2008), I felt the Lord drawing me. I was beginning to be very convicted about my lifestyle. I never had peace, and I knew ultimately that I would spend an eternity in hell if I didn't repent. In October 2008, I was in my bed minding my business, and I felt the Lord speak to me and say, "She will be the death of you." I knew he was referencing my girlfriend. Even though God spoke of homosexuality initially, I knew in the pit of my soul that my entire lifestyle would be the death of me. For the first time in my life, I saw the reality of my sin.

At that moment, I conversed with God and told him that I would not be able to walk away from sin without his help, but I knew he would help me. I had no concept of repentance and faith at that time, but now I realize that's what I did. Since that day, I've been freed from the power of sin over my life and have been walking with Jesus.

You've been walking with Jesus for about four years now. What's the journey been like?

It hasn't been easy, to say the least. I've had a lot of struggles and various trials, but I've also experienced consistent growth overall. I believe that's been due to God surrounding me with godly women, as well as my being discipled for two years and just learning what it means to walk with Jesus. These have been some of the hardest years of my life, but I wouldn't trade them in for anything, because the hardships have given me a revelation of God I probably wouldn't have seen if everything was "all good" all the time.

How have you been able to minister to friends from your "former life"?

Initially, I had to separate myself from the majority of my friends in that life because I knew the temptations would be far too strong for me to resist as a new believer. But as time went on, I began reaching out to many of them through social networks. I simply told them the truth and showed them how God changed my life and the reality that it truly is possible to change.

Many of them already know that, but they are still slaves to a lie. But God is able! Others have told me that my change has inspired them---and with that, I trust God is working in their hearts.

Who inspires you as a gifted and faithful Christian artist?

Mali Music, Propaganda, and Ebony Moore are a few people who inspire me to be great at my craft.

What's the most pressing challenge today for artists like you trying to express their faith?

Creativity is one of the greatest challenges. As an artist, my job is to take subjects that are common knowledge and often cliché and express them in a new and innovative way. Artists who are boring are artists who won't be appreciated. They could have awesome topics, but if their creativity doesn't bring those topics to life, then they may have done their jobs as Christians but failed as artists.

The world hates the truth, but it loves good artistry, so my aim is to create good poems to get people's attention, yet with subjects that will convict and bring forth the truth of God's Word to their hearing.

God of Shop and Marketplace

God of shop and marketplace,
Of farm and studio,
Factory and shipping lane,
Of school and busy home:
Bless the produce of our hands.
Redeem our work for Kingdom use.
By Your grace, our efforts stand,
All offered up to You.

There in Eden, You proclaimed
That we should work the earth --
Stewards over all we named,
Delighting in their worth.
Through our fall we brought decay,
Lost access to Jehovah's rest.
Through the cross, we rest in faith
And all our labor's blessed.

In Your image we are made:
Creative, like You are,
Forming goods for use and trade
Just like You formed the stars.
Send us out in power and skill
To worship through each task assigned.
By Your Spirit we fulfill
The holy, grand design.