The Power of Song

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Dan's song, "The Good Judge," in three well-crafted verses, manages to express so much of what I believe is at the heart of Jesus' message: God is a faithful Judge, a caring Father and a righteous King.

I believe in the power of ideas. Ideas have the potential to transform the world. One reason why I value the careful scholarship presented by Jerusalem Perspective is that it represents an effort to clarify and disseminate Jesus’ ideas—the most powerful ideas there are. But scholarship has its limits. Before ideas can make a difference they have to get from the head to the heart, and that is why some ideas are best expressed in song.

Song appeals to the heart as well as to the mind, and song has the ability to distill the power and meaning of an idea that would have required volumes to communicate in prose. It is a common experience in the course of human history that a song becomes the epitome of social, political and ideological movements. In recent history, for example, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the eloquent spokesperson for non-violent resistance in the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the United States. Dr. King’s ideas not only brought greater equality to African Americans, his ideas helped to change the cultural outlook of the entire country. But without song—most notably the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome”—Dr. King’s ideas would not have captured the hearts and minds of so many who were inspired to act on those ideas.

The power of song is also attested in Scripture. When God conquered Pharaoh’s horses and chariots at the Red Sea, Miriam and Moses led the people of Israel in song (Exod. 15:1-21). According to later Jewish tradition, it was in Moses’ Song at the Sea that the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven was expressed for the first time. Or, to give another example, when the angel Gabriel brought the news to Mary that she would become the mother of Israel’s anointed redeemer, she too broke out in song: “My soul magnifies the Lord,” she sang, “and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour” (Luke 1:46-47).

Mary’s song has strong affinities with the ideas and values Jesus expressed in the Beatitudes—themselves a kind of song that conveys the message and the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven. Like Mary’s song and Moses’, and even like “We Shall Overcome,” the Beatitudes speak of a change that is coming into the world—social, economic, political and spiritual change—on account of God’s reign.

There seems to be something about the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven that makes it particularly well-suited to song. Around the time I was writing Jesus’ Gospel: Searching for the Core of Jesus’ Message, a close friend of mine, Daniel Cloutier, wrote a song that encapsulates nearly everything I was attempting to say in my book. I believe that Jesus’ ideas are often overshadowed by Jesus’ story (the cross and the resurrection) and by theological concepts (e.g., the Incarnation, the Trinity and theories of atonement) that are not a part of Jesus’ own message. My book was an attempt to identify and comprehend Jesus’ main ideas, because I am convinced that Jesus’ ideas are core to his mission and the mission of all those who wish to follow him. Dan’s song, “The Good Judge,” in three well-crafted verses, manages to express so much of what I believe is at the heart of Jesus’ message: God is a faithful Judge, a caring Father and a righteous King. The Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven has a lot to say about the character of God.

Because Dan is my friend, and because he is a good man, he has agreed to share this song with readers of Jerusalem Perspective.

Dan captures some of Jesus’ most powerful ideas and shares them in a way that reaches the heart—that’s the power of song.

Daniel Cloutier is a folk singer and song writer who lives in Massachusetts. You can listen to more of Daniel Cloutier’s songs on YouTube:

Dan Cloutier standing on the walls of Jerusalem. Photo by Joshua N. Tilton.

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  • Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton grew up in St. George, a small town on the coast of Maine. For his undergraduate degree he studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). There he studied Biblical Hebrew and…
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