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Does “Slow Fade” really communicate God’s truth to His people?

I recently listened to a message delivered by a music pastor at a pastor’s conference on the subject of song selection. He touched on issues related both to text and musical style, but it was an illustration given on the former that I found the most astonishing of the several things he said with which I took issue.

During his talk, this pastor bemoaned the paucity of traditional hymnody useful in reinforcing a sermon on maintaining moral purity. Having expressly and repeatedly stated that the primary criterion he wanted to encourage his listeners to adopt for song choice was, “does it communicate God’s truth to God’s people?” he then gave as an example of his implementation of this his selection of “Slow Fade,” a song by Casting Crowns to pair with his pastor’s purity message. An excerpt of that text follows:

Be careful little eyes what you see
It’s the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings
Be careful little feet where you go
For it’s the little feet behind you that are sure to follow

It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade

Let us ignore at this time that this writing itself falls short of any quality standard except that for the lyrics of pop or rock music. Instead let us measure it by this pastor’s own watershed principle (in so doing we shall also ignore whether this text which, in the music pastor’s own words “describes the journey into sexual immorality” functions more as a sing-along illustration than as worship)– does it communicate God’s truth to God’s people?

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Despite some opacity of meaning in a few lines (i.e. thoughts invade), the theme of consequences to choices does emerge in these lyrics and, in the final stanza or coda, a reference to the “Father up above” who “is looking down in love” (rather than holiness, curiously) indicates our accountability to God. God’s truth is present here, if somewhat tangentially. But is it communicated best by this selection rather than one of the following older options?

Holy, holy, holy!
Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

or

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will
To do and to endure.

or

Lord Jesus, think on me
Nor let me go astray;
Through darkness and perplexity
Point Thou the heavenly way.

Lord Jesus, think on me
When floods the tempest high;
When on doth rush the enemy,
O Savior, be Thou nigh!

Is it “Slow Fade” or “Holy, Holy, Holy” that reminds us that maintaining a proper view of God’s holiness will cause us to put off uncleanness? Is it Casting Crowns or Edwin Hatch that helps the believer voice a plea for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit? Is it the song from 2007 or from 430 that best expresses that Christ is the one through whom we access grace in time of need?

Perhaps the simplest pertinent question to answer would be, which of the four texts above communicates God’s truth to God’s people the least fully (the number of weeping congregants notwithstanding)?

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About David Oestreich

David Oestreich lives in northwest Ohio with his wife and three children. He is a maker of poems, photographs, fishing flies, and Saturday afternoon semi-haute cuisine. His poetry has appeared in various venues, both print and online.

17 Responses to Does “Slow Fade” really communicate God’s truth to His people?

  1. I had the same though, David. Is this really God's truth to his people or a motivation rooted in man-centered guilt?

  2. True. Apart from interweaving the Sunday School song, it's strikingly similar to Hank Williams.

    Your cheatin' heart,

    Will make you weep,

    You'll cry and cry,

    And try to sleep,

    But sleep won't come,

    The whole night through,

    Your cheatin heart, will tell on you…

  3. It seems to me that you have chosen one song that serves as a warning to people who are going down the path of sin & taken offence that it does not convey the same exact message as a wonderful hymn that glorifies God in His holiness. This song is one that has impacted me in my walk with the Lord & reminded me that Satan works in subtle ways, & that I need to be on guard to do all to the glory of God. Although it does not expressly focus on God's holiness, I don't believe that that is a valid reason to pick apart the song. If you take that approach, you should also take offence at the warnings issued in Proverbs 5:22-23 "The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray."

    These verses do not express God's holiness, but I think you would be slower to judge the writer of Proverbs, would you not? I also think that you should take a look at some of Casting Crown's lyrics from other songs before you are so quick to judge their perception of God's character.

    "Looking out from His throne, the Father of light and of men

    Chose to make Himself known and show us the way back to Him

    Speaking wisdom and truth into the hearts of peasants and kings

    He began to unveil the Word that would change the course of all things

    The Word is alive

    And it cuts like a sword through the darkness

    With a message of life to the hopeless and afraid

    Breathing life into all who believe

    The Word is alive

    And the world and its glories will fade

    But His truth, it will not pass away

    It remains yesterday and forever the same

    The Word is alive

    Simple strokes on a page

    Eternity's secrets revealed, carried on from age to age

    It speaks Truth to us even still

    And as the rain falls from Heaven, feeds the earth before it returns

    Lord, let Your Word fall on us and bring forth the fruit You deserve."

    Their music refocuses me on Christ, who God is, and what He has done for me. I just want to ask you to really be careful before you tear down your fellow brother's & sister's in Christ by comparing their song of worship to God & encouragement to others to hymns of past & condemning them for the differences. I love hymns, they are rich & full of truth, but truth is still known & being written about today.

  4. Hi Marie,

    Thanks for your interaction on this. This article responds to specific statements made by the speaker at the Advancing the Church conference. He stated that there is not much in our hymnal appropriate to pair with a message on maintaining moral purity. He further stated that Slow Fade was "the right song". I am specifically challenging both those statements. This is not an attack on Casting Crowns or their theology per se (although as an aside, I stand by my criticism of the quality of their lyrics, which, I believe is bolstered by the example you provide).

    I think we can do better than singing: "Stay pure or you'll have painful consequences and, oh yeah, God sees you."

  5. "Slow Fade" gives an excellent perspective on what moral failure looks like from a human perspective. Does it convey other doctrinal aspects portrayed in "Holy, Holy, Holy"? Certainly not. But is it a helpful reminder for believers? Absolutely! It's funny to thing that hardly a decade ago, "CCM" was criticized for being "all about God" and "never addressing man's sinfulness." Now we criticize it for being all about sin and not about God! lol. The point is that we should never leave our congregation with the "Slow Fade" (even the context in the album…right before "East to West"), but should move to a message of grace and forgiveness.

    I know personally that this song has led a number of teens and young adults to seek out help with life-dominating sins. The realization that they have lost control of the sin and that the sin now controls them is shocking and a necessary truth for a generation that has seen defeat after defeat to these besetting sins in the lives of pastors and parents and in themselves personally. Fortunately contemporary worship has found a way to speak to the reality of this in a way that I have not found in traditional hymnody. The alternatives that you have offered do not speak directly to the challenge of life-dominating sins in the way that "Slow Fade" does. For those of us who have hours to exegete the nuances of "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "Breathe on me Breath of God" we can find some application to the topic, but it must be admitted that "Slow Fade" speaks far more directly to the topic.

    So my rejoinder is essentially as follows: 1. We must not reject a song just because it needs the context of holiness or grace. As worship leaders, we must supply that context in the service (cf. Chappell, CCW). 2. We must consider the reality which is directly addressed in this song that is only indirectly spoken to in traditional hymnody. The closest I can think of is Robinson's "Come Thou Fount" ("Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above"). 3. We must consider the clarity with which it speaks to a new generation. By avoiding all the similes about nature and Elizabethan English and by speaking in modern terminology, "Slow Fade" targets a struggling modern audience and reminds them of the reality that "but by the grace of God, there go I" and that the slippery slope towards a dominating sin may be ongoing at this very moment.

  6. Hi Philip T,

    Thanks for your thoughts. On thing immediately suggests itself to me; if what you say is true, that "what moral failure looks like from a human perspective…is only indirectly spoken to in traditional hymnody," then I believe we ought to give serious consideration to both why that may be and if it is something that really needs a remedy.

  7. Why it may be (IMHO):

    1. Traditional hymnody for the most part tends to focus on more general and indirect aspects of holiness rather than specific situations; however, in the Revivalistic era do we see a growth of "Gospel songs" which speak more to specific personal situations. Neither is wholly right or wrong, they just speak to different aspects of the Col 3:16 paradigm.

    2. Traditional hymnody tends to speak to topics very broadly. For example, "Holy, Holy, Holy" speaks to (1) God's holiness, (2) God's power, (3) the praise of God by saints, (4) God's mercy, (5) the Trinity, (6) the worship of God by angels, (7) the eternality of God, (8) the glory of God, (9) the depravity of man, (10) the love of God, and (11) the purity of God. This doctrinal breadth is not bad, but hardly able to be taken in during the singing of the song. It demands separate exegesis. "Slow Fade" communicates with more depth on point 9 than does "Holy, Holy, Holy" by staying on that singular point an making several simple analogies: (1) to the import of the childrens' song, (2) to a puppet on a string, (3) to the results of a bad testimony, (4) to a gradual fade to darkness, (5) to the results of bad choices, and (6) to the decline of a city. Just because one deals with a breadth of doctrine does not make it more right than the one that focuses on one doctrine and its direct implications in the life of a believer. In fact, this analogy is characteristic of much of traditional and contemporary worship music (e.g. Frame's analysis of "Arise My Soul, Arise" having 15 separate doctrinal points, vs. other contemporary songs with 3 or 4 dealt with in greater depth). Neither is wrong, but one may be more intelligible to a modern worshipper. One may do a better job standing alone, but the other may need other hymns alongside to communicate the necessary proceeding and resulting doctrines.

    3. Traditional hymnody (with the exception of modern replications of it) was crafted in an era quite different from our own. Moral failings of ministers were not totally unknown, but far less prevalent and less publicized. The accessibility of sinful material was far less than today. The general culture upheld families. Today we face a world quite different than Victorian England. That reality is reflected in much of contemporary hymnody. Can we get too caught up in the dangers of our modern society that we miss some of the powerful truths contained in the old hymns? Yes. Can we ignore the reality of the challenges of our fathers and pastors as we sing traditional hymns that seem so irrelavant to those in the midst of intense spiritual battle? Yes. There are dangers on both sides here. Once again, neither is wholly right or wrong.

    So, does it need to be corrected. No.

    We need hymnody that focuses on sin, grace, man, and God in general terms because specificity can exclude some worshippers. We also need hymnody that focuses on these aspects more specifically so that worshippers can connect real life to worship.

    We need hymnody that is doctrinally broad and we need hymnody that is doctrinally deep and practical.

    We need hymnody that speaks to the problems of the 21st century and we need hymnody that speaks to the problems of all centuries.

    The remedy is not either/or, but both/and.

  8. Again, assuming you are correct, then why not "House of the Rising Sun" or similar song rather than "Slow Fade". Is there a line between those two we ought not cross? Why?

  9. Phillip, the main problem here, I think, has to do with fundamental differences between you and I considering the nature of worship and the biblical motivation for sanctification.

    Setting aside the music of this song and even the performance style, I believe David asks an excellent question about whether this text really communicates God's truth about moral purity.

    In my view, the primary motivation for moral purity is not manufactured guilt or concern about the earthly consequences of my actions.

    The biblical motivation for moral purity is the purity of God himself.

    In reality, this song says nothing distinctly Christian at all, and therefore to insist that this is the absolute best expression of God's truth to his people is a little silly in my view.

    Peter's whole point in his presentation was to insist that the source of a song or the original style of a song should not prohibit us from using a song if it is the best expression of God's truth to his people. That's a legitimate discussion to have, but this song is a terrible example that really leads me to question the root reason for using it in the first place.

    We are engaging Peter on the basis of his primary principle that our songs must be the best expressions of God's truth to his people. And we are saying that this song falls quite short using his own criterion.

  10. I would not insist that this is the best expression of God's truth to His people. Christ was the Word incarnate. Good luck trying to replicate that….but, I digress.

    Is it a good expression of God's truth regarding moral purity? Yes. My points are as follows:

    1. "Slow Fade" captures the Scriptural concept of the downward progression of sin. As a matter of fact, Mark Hall often points to Psalm 1:1 as the inspiration for this song. The progression of one from walking, to standing, to sitting with the wicked is not something that happens in a second, but a slow fade. The lyrics also capture well the message of James 1:14-15. Lust leads to sin, and sin leads to death. There is a progression in life that leads from the invasion of lustful thoughts to a life given away to sin, to a crumbled man who wonders if life is worth living is well-portrayed in the stanzas. This journey from the "mind into [the] hands" (i.e. lust in the heart leading to sin in the life) is surely a sound scriptural paradigm. The downward progression of sin is also captured in the Romans 12:1-2 concept of "conforming to sin" and the 1 John 2:15-16 concept of loving the world, leading to the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which demonstrates that the love of God is not present in one dominated by these (thus "giv[ing] yourself away").

    2. "Slow Fade" relies on the biblical instructions to walk away from sin. The simple metaphor of "O be careful little…" relies directly on biblical passages such as Proverbs 4:20-27 and 1 John 2:3-6. In the Proverbs, the whole concept of not walking or looking is carefully reinforced and in 1 John, the evangelist tells us that the way that this is accomplished is by walking in Christ. In this way, the lyrics do present in a simple but real formula for living a pure life.

    3. "Slow Fade" relies on the biblical instructions on dealing with temptation. This song that says "nothing distinctly Christian at all" quotes explicitly from 1 Cor 10:12-13 in the following lines:

    Be careful if you think you stand

    You just might be sinking

    This verse emphasizes the danger that temptation actually poses to believers. It is not something to be trifled with. It is not something to be ignored. Temptation is real and we had best capture an understanding of how to deal with it.

    So, does "Slow Fade" communicate God's truth regarding the downward progression of sin, the need for a "O be careful little…" kind of walk, and a serious view of the subtleties of temptation. Absolutely. Does it communicate all of God's truth on the subject. Hardly. As I have contended before, this song needs to be presented in the context of the necessary preceding and following doctrines so as not to leave the worshipper struggling for hope; however, one must realize the depth of their sin before they can find its cleansing. So, to go further, is it the best on the very specific topic of moral purity in the face of lingering temptation, I don't know, but then is there one that you know that does a better job speaking to a contemporary audience? I can't think of any at the moment and I certainly would not agree with some of the choices above (for reasons I have already given).

    I don't usually use the imperative, but: If you don't like it, then maybe stop ripping it and start writing something better. Then someone can rip yours if they think its trite or not beautiful or too repetitive or doctrinally questionable or irrelevant to the contemporary worshipper.

  11. Hi Phillip T,

    First let me say, your closing imperative is good advice. Thanks.

    Beyond that, while I can appreciate the "take heed lest you fall" allusion, there is lots of non-Christian literature that models Biblical truth (decietfulness of sin and our own hearts, sin resulting in death, etc) yet is not really Christian or worship-worthy.

    You bring up Psalm 1's walk stand sit progression, but Psalm 1 says more than that. In fact a comparison to the Psalms does more to highlight the shortcomings of this piece than commend its success. Similarly, 1 John 2:28-3:3 expressly adresses the hope of our eternal state and the purity of God as motivation for purity now. You can read that into "Slow Fade", but the lyrics themselves don't really even come close to alluding to that.

    I'm not going to continue point for point. I think our worship tradition, from the Psalms through some hearty texts being written even today (some CCM texts included) set a standard that Slow Fade simply falls far short of.

    Thanks for your interactions on this.

  12. My final rejoinder on this is as follows:

    – I appreciate your willingness to admit that some "CCM texts" set a good standard. As stated above, I do not, as those at ATC, believe that this is the single best text for doing so. I just feel that you have bypassed the reality of its biblical message and some broader implications I am raising.

    – I think your comments illustrate the issue that most of us have with strictly traditional worship, namely that in order to teach truth, the whole counsel of God on the topic must be contained (usually like a 10g afterburn through a Systematic Theology of the writer's choice) in 3 or 4 stanzas. Why certain pieces of contemporary hymnody such as "Slow Fade" are so effective is that they do an excellent job portraying to the contemporary worshipper the biblical points that I have already made in a simple yet deep, understandable, probing, and memorable way. Does Psalm 1 say more than "Slow Fade"? Yes. Does 1 John 2 continue the train of thought further? Yes. Is there more in the Bible on this topic? Yes. These points do not make the song illegitimate, they only demand that if the song is used in worship that it be surrounded by other songs that convey the other doctrines contained in Psalm 1 or 1 John 2.

    – If you really want to do a perfect job replicating biblical truth in a one-for-one manner, then just tell me that you govern your worship by the regulative principle. Then we're on to a different level of discussion. In the mean time, you will have to settle for human song writers crafting Christian music that only capture rays of God's truth and interpreting them for the current generation of worshippers. But (returning again to the initial issue) do some songs capture more of these rays than others? Yes, but more truth blasted at a congregation does not ensure proper worship. For this purpose, I will twist a phrase of Scott's: worship is not just truth, but truth rightly imagined. Would I prefer to waterboard my congregation with buckets of truth or feed them portions of God's truth in doses which they can eat, enjoy, and live to the glory of God thereby?

    Thanks for your kind responses. I hope I don't come off like some of the others I have seen debate this stuff on other forums. Although I strongly disagree with the direction that you and Scott head with the whole music thing (assuming that I have read Scott's works correctly and that you adhere to the views espoused in them), I do appreciate the civility which you exercise in the discussion. I'm just glad I can discuss this without being called a worldly liberal neo-evangelical! =)

  13. And I thank you for the way you have engaged this here as well.

    Just to clarify one thing. I don't think it has to be a one-one replication, or I'd probably argue for simply singing scripture all the time. My argument (by implication) here is that there must be some critical minimum. I'd guess you agree or there would truly be no reason not to sing secular songs (similar to the examples I've given) that reflect or are consistent with truth.

  14. Thanks, Brian. I think you're right.True that Evangelicals believe Paul is the exoptisor. Such Evangelicals, however, should question their personal hermeneutical style. They use verses by Paul that DON'T explicitly relate to the thesis. Example: 1 Tim 3:15 Son came to save sinners. TRUE, but has nothing to do with the thesis.Example: 2 Cor 5:8 [Christians] ..will be present with the Lord. TRUE, but not related to thesis.The Pauline corpus is filled with such proofs of the Protestant theory.THEREFORE, Evangelicals should learn a basic rule: let the overtly clear passages by one author influence nebulous passages by the same author. Unless a unifying theology can be supported by the whole of scripture, then Evangelicals should go back to the drawing board (which would be the Catholic Church).Thanks, Seeker.And THAT is why Protestantism, derogatorilly, calls Catholicism a works religion. By calling [insert anything] a work, Evangelicals can return to their docetistic fortressess knowing they are saved. Thanks, Barbara.

  15. I looked at the original article and then the stream of follow up comments and they all reflect one orientation – the human intellect, what I believe Paul is really referring to when he names the carnal mind in Romans 8:7. The human mind will always orient to definition, right and wrong, good or bad, is it enough or not enough, high or low, narrow or wide, etc. Unfortunately far too many of those who share the “Christian” path have never really examined what is meant by the mind of Christ, what I have come to understand is really a name for a mind or thought system which is joined with God, it’s just how Paul named it in his time of 1st century Judea. What many fail to understand is the direct reference to Dueteronomy 6:4 God is one, which really qualifies ALL of the bible, all of the deeper thinking that God is giving us in what is called “the bible”. You must also understand if God is one, what a religious message often misunderstands is saying there is only one God, is really trying to make a statement about God and God’s state and attributes – God is one love, one light, one truth, one state of being (aka spirit John 4:24), one forgiveness, one peace, patience, kindness, etc. meaning all receive the same “portion” or amount and in fact when the deeper understand of passages like Paul’s statement for what happens at the moment of salvation in 1 Cor 6:17 “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” it also must be included to understand that God has one “thought”, aka way of thinking as well. Where or maybe better said how we error in trying to understand scripture, the who we are, how we are to act, what we “think” about ourselves is because we think with our humanness, that orients to contrasting throught, aka the ability to think in contrasts or opposites and then we use this state or way of thinking as a measure for how we live and approach everything pretty much our entire human lives. All of this is about definition – it is what the human intellect, aka carnal mind is really all about. When deeper understanding is applied to what actually happened in the garden of eden, when man and woman took the bite from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, man in their humanness then gained duality of thought at which time they then gained the ability to think and act in ways opposed, opposite to God. This is why Paul also says in Romans 8:7 the carnal mind is at enmity to God where the word enmity means opposed or opposite to God, because it can and as the verse implies ALWAYS will be opposed to God.

    Getting back to Deuteronomy 6:4’s amazing statement about God, the inverse must also be understood here as well. If God is one, the inverse there is nothing that is not one also has to apply, meaning in more simple terms there is no opposing state or presence or “attribute” which can exist not only with God but the entire state of being that is God, aka heaven or heavenly state, what some might call the spiritual realm. What this is really trying to tell us, is that at the level of God “thought” that state of being or more accurately presence, there would be nothing else, no other state or attribute that would exist.

    Which is why these kinds of articles really have the wrong kind of orientation to begin with and then validates that orientation to make an attempt to argue, debate for the right and wrong of the subject matter being discussion. Sure it sounds good and many use this or that scripture to support their “right” thinking and the “wrongness” of the subject matter. It is why articles such as these really have the wrong orientation because they are approached from a definitions basis or foundation and not an awareness of presence foundation which really what spirit, all spirit really orients with remembering there would no other state, attribute, understanding or thinking that could even exist. More simply God nor spirit does not “think” or perceive with duality of thought as human thinking does and as a result would never evaluate this article as somehow being right or wrong for or against God to begin with. If is only in the human mind that can think opposed to God to begin with, because it lives in the world of definitions, can even begin to see something as “wrong” and opposed to “God” to begin with where in realm of spirit, God’s only state, there would be nothing opposite or wrong that could even exist. It only is because of foolish thought (that which is opposed to thought of spirit) combined with a religious orientation, to become religious foolishness that will and always will have this approach and thinking to begin with. Humanness orients to foolishness, apart from God to begin with. Let a human unless pick up a bible and unless completely oriented to spiritual thought, and that foolishness becomes religious foolishness.

  16. Could go back and edit my original comment – that last line should have read

    Let a human pick up a bible and unless completely oriented to spiritual thought, that foolishness becomes religious foolishness.

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