We are focused on the popular Bethel Music song “Reckless Love” and the truth about God’s Love in this special series. It was written in 2017 by Cory Asbury, Caleb Culver and Ryan Jackson. If you haven’t read previous parts of the series, we invite you to click below to read –
[Most of our series are written two to three years in advance of publication, so nothing is mentioned here about Covid 19 and its impact on churches.]
[Podcast version available at the end of this article.]
First, a reminder about why Cory Asbury said he wrote ‘Reckless Love’ –
“Reckless love is really the song of my whole life. That phrase kinda dropped in my heart about maybe five years ago. I just started experiencing the kindness of the Father, the goodness of the Father in a way I’d never experienced before; and so that phrase ‘the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God was kind of lodged in here [points to heart]. I didn’t know what to do with it. One night I woke up, it was probably three in the morning, and I had the full melody for that chorus. I grabbed my iPhone and I ran in the closet and I closed he door and sang it into my iPhone and the next day I just sat down at the piano and kinda pounded out the chorus …”Cory Asbury, Bethel Music, January 2018
“A lot of people have asked why I used the word ‘reckless’ to describe God. I see the love of God as something wild, insane, crazy; the way He pursues, the way He chases us down, the way that He loves, I believe is reckless. So, we were going after that really furious, sort of violent language to speak of the nature of the love of God.” Cory Asbury,Bethel Music, January 2018
If an individual Christian tells another person that they think the love of God is wild, insane and crazy, that’s one thing. However, if a Christian song writer and worship pastor says that to a crowd of people and to Christians all over the world through the songs they write that’s another thing. The impact on the Christian community is larger and broader when a song writer/worship pastor talks about God’s love and writes songs about God’s love. The song writer/worship pastor acts in the role of theologian/teacher/trainer when they do that and it can be devastating if their theology is wrong at any point and on any level.
Asbury also said this in an interview with Multitracks.com in October 2017 –
“In explaining the meaning behind the song, Cory shares, ‘When I use the phrase, ‘the reckless love of God,’ I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless. I am, however, saying that the way He loves, is in many regards, quite so. His love bankrupted heaven for you.”Multitracks.com
Look at that last statement: “His love bankrupted heaven for you.” Is that true? Did God bankrupt Heaven for you? Where in Scripture do we find that truth claim supported?
First, let’s define the word ‘bankrupt’ –
- “unable to pay what you owe, and having had control of your financial matters given, by a law court, to a person who sells your property to pay your debts” (Cambridge Dictionary)
Next, the word ‘bankrupted’ –
- “to reduce to bankruptcy” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Next, a definition of ‘bankruptcy’ –
- “utter failure or impoverishment” (Merriam-Webster)
So, did God’s love for us ‘bankrupt’ Heaven? Was God unable to pay what He owed? Did He lose control of Heaven? Did a court order Heaven sold to someone else to pay His debts? Is God an utter failure? Is He impoverished?
As ridiculous as those questions sound, that is what Asbury is teaching as a member of the pastoral team at his church? Is that good theology?
It is not. That statement is terrible theology. Teaching that God’s love ‘bankrupted Heaven’ can have damaging results to what a person believes about God. The God we serve is the BIG G God, not a little g god. Our God is All Powerful and nothing can harm Him.
Before you accuse me of being too hard on Cory Asbury or making a big deal out of nothing, look again at his truth claim – “His love bankrupted heaven for you.” Cory did not present the statement as his opinion. In his position as a worship pastor, he made a truth claim that God’s love ‘bankrupted’ Heaven for you. His senior pastor should demand that Cory prove that truth claim or apologize and stop teaching such error and nonsense. God is Sovereign and Supreme and has done nothing to ‘bankrupt’ Heaven.
Christians who are in positions of teaching and leadership carry a heavy burden. One is the burden of the church or churches they lead.
“… besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” 2 Corinthians 11:28
“Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.” NLT
The other is the burden of receiving a stricter judgment from God for being a teacher/leader in His Church.
“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.”James 3:1-3
Paul taught a system of public reward and rebuke for church leaders. There’s an important reason for that.
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’ Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.”1 Timothy 5:17-20
As I’ve written before, worship pastors are just as responsible for handling the Word of God correctly as the ‘teaching pastors’ in churches (e.g. 2 Timothy 2:15). Why? Because they have a teaching platform in their churches. Their audience will believe what they say and sing to be true and theologically correct unless the teaching pastors and church elders set them straight in front of that same audience. Why rebuke in public? “… that the rest also may fear.”
That may seem harsh, but it’s biblical.
One example is when Peter came to Antioch after the apostolic council met in Jerusalem to debate the Gospel Paul and Barnabas preached to the Gentiles. Peter ate freely and openly with the Gentiles in Antioch until some “men came from James” (Galatians 2:12). Peter withdrew from the Gentiles and separated himself, “fearing those who were of the circumcision” (Jews). That led to other Jews ‘playing the hypocrite’ with Peter. When Paul saw that Peter and the others were not being straightforward about the truth of the Gospel, Paul spoke to Peter in front of everyone who was there.
“If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”Galatians 2:14-21
Since Asbury wrote “Reckless Love” to be sung in his church and other churches and has made public remarks about why he wrote it and his personal theology behind a song that teaches Christians about the love of God, he needs to face public scrutiny and rebuke if he is wrong.
Paul’s point in his public rebuke of Peter is that “the truth of the Gospel” was in question. If Asbury’s theological position about the love of God in a popular Bethel Music song that is sung weekly by millions of people is wrong at any point, on any level, his theology must be called out for being wrong. We can no longer allow incorrect theology to continue in the Church unchallenged. Generations of Christians are coming through the doors of churches and Bible studies thinking they know the truth of the Gospel when they don’t. If Christians can’t get the Gospel right, who else will?
As I pointed out in the first part of our series, the word ‘reckless’ as a description of God’s love for us does not agree with Scripture. Asbury’s public comment that — “I see the love of God as something wild, insane, crazy; the way He pursues, the way He chases us down, the way that He loves, I believe is reckless. So, we were going after that really furious, sort of violent language to speak of the nature of the love of God” — must be addressed publicly, which is the reason for this series.
Human or Divine?
If Asbury was commenting about the actions of a human being, we might agree. If a mere man or woman went through the horror and humiliation of a crucifixion to keep another person from facing punishment, we might say with Asbury that that kind of love appears wild, insane or crazy. However, his song is not about what a human did. It’s what the Eternal Son of God did. That’s the problem we face today and the problem the Church has faced for two-thousand years. People who are supposed to be able to teach the Will and Word of God instead teach the will and word of humans.
It is because of that difference that teaching pastors, worship pastors and all who communicate in the name of the Gospel of Christ must be extremely careful in what they say, teach, and write. There is no room for error when we teach in the name of Jesus Christ. There is no room for error when we claim to be preaching the Word of Almighty God.
What do we do when we think someone has erred in their teaching ministry? The Apostle John said not to believe every spirit, “but test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). That’s excellent advice. Why? “… because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
What do false preachers and teachers preach and teach? Doctrines (teachings) of demons. That’s why we have to be so careful about what is being preached, taught and sung in churches across our country and around the world.
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”1 Timothy 4:1-3
Any Christian, including pastors and teachers, can make mistakes when it comes to theology. So, how can we tell whether someone is a mistaken Christian or a false prophet? By how they handle reproof and correction.
“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24-26
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
If a Christian preacher, teacher, song writer, author, leader receives reproof and correction well and changes their teaching to match the truth of the Gospel, then we can have some surety that they are truly Christian. However, if they do not receive reproof and correction well, then we can have some surety that they are either not thoroughly equipped for their ministry or are not truly Christian. Jesus and His apostles explained how churches can and should deal with leaders who will not accept reproof and correction.
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5
Preparing To Lead
Cory Asbury is a worship pastor at his church. That title means he is in a position to teach people how to worship God in song. Asbury writes songs in addition to leading music at his church in Michigan. He is also a member of the Bethel Music collective which has a global outreach. Millions of people around the world sing songs Asbury and other members of the collective write and perform. He has a local and global outreach and is therefore by definition a powerful ‘thought’ leader in the modern Church.
That’s what Asbury is doing now, but what prepared him for his ministry? That’s one of the important questions Christians should ask about anyone who steps into a position of leadership in a church, denomination, Bible college or seminary.
According to Cory Asbury’s public biography on the Bethel Music website, Cory joined the Bethel Music Collective in May of 2015.
“Cory began leading worship at his local church at age fourteen, and from there launched into full-time worship ministry at the International house of Prayer in Kansas City in 2005.”Cory Asbury – Bethel Music
A church leader’s biography is important to research for many reasons. It tells their life story that should include what prepared them for becoming a leader in the church. What we learn from the Bethel Music bio is that Cory led worship “at his local church” at the age of fourteen before launching into full-time worship ministry at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City in 2005.
Cory and his wife met at IHOP when he was 19 and she was 18. After eight years at IHOP, they moved to Colorado Springs where Cory became a worship pastor at New Life Church in 2012. Cory became a member of the Bethel Music Collective in 2015. He and his family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan in December 2016, where Cory became Worship Pastor and Artist in Residence at Radiant Church.
We can look at Cory’s bio, and anyone’s bio for that matter, to get some idea about their training and preparation for their ministry. Where did he learn how to study the Bible and correctly interpret God’s Word? Since he started leading worship as a teenager, some of that training in the Bible would have come from his local church. He spent much of his 20s at the International House of Prayer, so that would have been another powerful influence on his theological beliefs. Leading worship at New Life Church in Colorado Springs and Radiant Church in Kalamazoo during the past several years are other strong influences in his theological training. Cory’s involvement with the Bethel Music Collective is another powerful influence.
Bethel Music’s bio describes Cory’s worship style as ‘prophetic.’ That ‘prophetic’ idea runs deep in the charismatic churches and ministries where Cory has served and is serving. You can read more about IHOP in our special Thinking About Christian Unity series. You can also read about IHOP’s Mike Bickle and the Kansas City Prophets by clicking here.
Making Leadership Choices
So, what does all of that have to do with a worship pastor writing a song that has questionable theology? It comes down to churches choosing leaders. How do they choose? How are worship pastors, teaching pastors and other church leaders trained today? Could that be part of the problem?
Much of the problem in today’s church lies at the doorstep of church leadership. That includes churches, denominations, Bible colleges, seminaries, and ‘parachurch’ ministries. Again, this is not a new problem. We find it plaguing the Church for the past two-thousand years. However, there is something we can do about it IF we’re willing to make hard choices about who “leads” our churches.
First, we have to take a long, hard look at who is leading our churches now. As much as we might want to make some big changes in churches, denominations, colleges, seminaries and ‘parachurch’ ministries, that won’t happen just because we want it to happen. Something has to proceed change. We have to want change and want change for the right reasons.
Christians in churches across the country have to want what God wants and be willing to do whatever He tells us to do to make vital changes. If we don’t want to hear from God and do what God commands, then little will change.
However, that doesn’t mean we don’t speak out and call for change. When God called Ezekiel, a Jewish priest, to the prophetic ministry, He said –
“Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse—for they are a rebellious house—yet they will know that a prophet has been among them. ‘And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house. You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
It’s not up to us to decide whether we will rebuke and correct false teaching in the Church. We do it because God demands it of us. God will decide what to do with rebellious leaders. Our call is not to be rebellious, but open our mouths and speak what God gives us.
Looks and sounds like a well-produced Broadway show .. but wait .. it’s a Hillsong Church production .. and the glory goes to ???
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.”1 Timothy 4:1
In the next part of our series, Is God’s Love ‘Reckless’?, we will look at how to reprove and correct church leaders (e.g. teaching and worship pastors, songwriters, college and seminary leaders and professors) for the purpose of purifying the message of the Church.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.