U2’s New Album “Most Thoroughly Christian”

Theologian Steven R. Harmon, Associate Professor of Divinity at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL, has called U2’s new release No Line on the Horizon the band’s “most thoroughly Christian thing they’ve done yet.”  Harmon writes in a music review on the Associated Baptist Press website:

Like the last two albums, No Line is much more overt in its Christian rendering of the world, what with lyrics like ‘Justified until we die/You and I will magnify/Oh, the Magnificent’ from the album’s second track. Yet what qualifies this album as thoroughly Christian is not so much its pervasive biblical/theological images as its overarching eschatological vision.

Harmon goes on in the review to exegete the album as a whole and several of the individual songs.  To read the lyrics from the album click here.

I confess that I’m no U2 expert, having only listened to two other albums (Joshua Tree and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb), but I enjoy the challenge of listening to thought-provoking lyrics.  I spend most of my time trying to exegete exactly what the band is trying to communicate.  I’m not convinced this is necessarily a good thing, but I enjoy the challenge and the glimpses of gospel truth with which I am occassionally rewarded.

One of the curious things to me is how Bono and U2 can get by with singing such explicitly Christian lyrics.  For example, recently the band appeared on the David Letterman show to promote their new album.  They sang the song quoted above by Harmon, Magnificient, which is clearly a song of praise to God as Creator and Redeemer.  Letterman and the crowd seemed ecstatic over the song (see video clip below). I enjoy the song, both the performance and the lyrics, but could it be that the music has overwhelmed the lyrics to the extent that the lyrics are missed by all except those who are looking for them?  If so, what does this say about this type of music being used in worship in evangelical churches?  Could it be that what we call worship often is only the same kind of emotional response to a musical performance (regardless of the content of the lyrics) that we see demonstrated at the Ed Sullivan Theater?

With those questions in my head, I still appreciate the common grace present in these musicians and their desire to use their gifts to exalt the Creator.  He truly is Magnificient!

You can download the album in MP3 format from Amazon.com for only $8.99 here.

7 comments

  1. Hi,
    Read your comments with interest, then decided to try a test in my Christian high school comparative worldview class. I gave the students a copy of the lyrics and asked them to identify the group and then explain what the song was about. None could identify the group but their guesses weren’t on the Christian side of the aisle. Their best guess on what the song was about: that the writer was trapped in a relationship he wanted out of. I then read the above characterizations of the song/album as the “most thoroughly Christian thing they’ve done yet.”, “overt in its Christian rendering of the world”, “explicitly Christian lyrics”, and “clearly a song of praise to God as Creator and Redeemer”, and asked them to identify what in the lyrics would generate those conclusions. They couldn’t tell me; in fact, they had no clue what made it clearly a song of praise to God. What they did say was that if you looked at the lyrics from a Christian perspective you might see it as a Christian song. If, however, you were a secular humanist or cosmic humanist or postmodernist or Muslim, you could easily reach VERY different conclusions.

    I think they arrived at a valid conclusion: the lyrics only sound Christian if you are a Christian. If you aren’t a Christian, they sound like something else that is quite acceptable. Bottom line, the content of the lyrics by themselves isn’t explicitly Christian, it can just be interpreted that way. Music that can say what you want it to is extremely appealing but highly ineffectual in bringing people into the kingdom.

  2. Steve,

    U2 is a very talented band and I have been a fan for around 25 years now. They openly professed to be christians in their early years and even had a Bible teacher travel with them on tour so they could get regular Bible training. I have no idea who the teacher(s) were or how solid they were. Many of their early songs were Christian in content. I remember hearing some of their songs on contemporary christian radio in the early and mid-80’s alongside the likes of Rich Mullins.

    There came a point, somewhere in the late 80’s to early 90’s where their music began to be much more secular and there began to be signs that they were no longer focused on Christian living. One of these signs was when the bassist, Adam Clayton, was arrested for drug possession. They spent less time writing Christian-oriented lyrics and more time living a more “rock-n-roll” lifestyle while at the same time supporting left-wing causes (Not all of these were bad, by the way). That said, it does seem as though they are moving back toward their roots musically, and hopefully, back towards the Christ.

    My point is, while the lyrics of songs like “Magnificent” are clearly Christian in content (some school kids not recognizing them as such may prove they aren’t, but more likely demonstrate how little our kids understand of the Bible, its content, and the doctrines that flow from it), the truth is, we don’t know if these men are born again or not. Case in point; the interview Letterman did with them contained a moment when Adam Clayton made a crude innuendo about the length of his guitar strings. They are a mixed bag. It is possible that some, or all of them are believers. It is also possible that they just have a knowledge of the things of God along with a longing for the idea of God, but not God, Himself. I don’t know.

    As for why they can get away with singing these lyrics; they are associated with the left-wing. Quite frankly, that means they can pretty much get away with singing about anything and the masses won’t hold it against them. They are seen by most as political activists who are attempting to correct many of the world’s evils. It is only natural that they would sing of other-worldy things and those who are lost will accept that as long as they can think of it in that context.

    Christians accepting less Biblical songs in the worship service is a whole other matter. I have taken up enough of your blog so I won’t ramble on about that, except to say, what else would we expect of our church-sign christianity we have in the USA? (Insert any number of the various silly and and shallow church sign statements you have most assuredly read recently for a case in point!)

  3. Dude, old…………..lame……….and……..wierd!!!!!!
    If your looking for something thats rocky and makes you feel younger try Skillet or Run kid Run.
    If your looking for something that actually talks about the love of Christ try Josh wilson. If you want something in between try Sanctus Real.
    If you want something that makes you feel all toasty inside try Amy Grant or the girl who wrote “Freedom In Me” ( the dents in my fender song ). But I beg of you, leave the 80’s where they belong.

  4. Steve,

    You might be old, lame and weird, but the question is, do you know how to spell “weird,” and do you know how to use “your” and “you’re” correctly?

  5. No. I don’t. I was not talking about Mr. Weaver. Why would I call him weird old and lame? He’s like the coolest dude I know.
    Other than my mom and Dad.
    Mr. Tim, I thank you for your advice.

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