The Reckless Love Controversy Matters

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I am writing today to address the ‘Reckless Love’ controversy. I understand this controversy can be a major source of drama for many Christians, and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers… but here we go.

If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy, here are the essentials: In 2017, Cory Asbury released a worship song titled ‘Reckless Love’ with Bethel Music (which, if I’m completely honest, should raise some red flags instantly). The song went on to win the Gospel Music Associations Dove Award for best song of the year. The main chorus came under immediate scrutiny from some Christians for its use of the word ‘reckless’. Some claimed the word was heretical, or an inaccurate descriptor of God’s love.

In all my reading and conversations on the controversy, I have never heard anybody really attempt to argue that the word ‘reckless’ in fact is an accurate word to describe God’s love. Why? Because it isn’t. And everybody knows it. The argument I always get from people who defend the word choice is “it doesn’t matter”, or a variation of that argument.

And that’s the hill the defenders of the song have planted their flags in. The “it doesn’t matter” hill.

“The song hasn’t caused any harm”, “He’s getting creative with language” (Relevant Magazine), “I meant something different” (Asbury himself) are all variations of the same argument: it doesn’t matter.

But here’s the thing: it does matter. The songs we sing and the words in those songs matter. What we listen to and think about matters with regard to all things, but especially when it’s about God.

Songs Are Important

People who make the “it doesn’t matter” argument sometimes fail to understand how massively important the songs we sing in Church are. And, increasingly, the songs we listen to on our own.

Songs are, and always have been, the number one way to convey theological concepts to Christians. When people walk out of church, you won’t hear anybody reciting the sermon. You will, however, hear many people singing the songs. Songs get stuck in people’s heads, and they sing them all week long. They look them up, add them to a playlist, and listen to them dozens of times. They know every word to many of their favorite worship songs. They will spend much more time listening to worship songs than they will listen to sermons, or reading books on theology. The songs you sing on Sunday may be the most important part of the service. Even more important than the sermon.

The original purpose of songs in the church was, in fact, to convey theological ideas to the congregation.

“Reckless Love” topped the Billboard charts for weeks on end. It was the number 1 song on Billboard’s Top Christian Songs of 2018. It won multiple awards for song of the year and was sung by millions of people across the globe. Do you actually think that the word choice in a song of that magnitude doesn’t matter? It matters.

But don’t take my word for it. Take God’s.

  • “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8
    • We think about what we sing, and we are commanded to think about true and right things. So it is important that our songs be true.
  • “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2
  • “So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.” – 1 Corinthians 14:15
    • Singing to God isn’t just about being moved by a cool beat or melody like we would at a Coldplay concert. What makes singing to God powerful and important is that we understand who God is and what he has done for us.
    • When we sing “In Christ Alone”, and we get to the line “Then bursting forth in glorious day, / Up from the grave He rose again!”, we shouldn’t become emotional because the music is swelling. Yes, the beauty of the music can add to our understanding of the words (one of the purposes of singing), but if the words aren’t true, the beauty of the melody is pointless.

Can somebody please find me a verse that says “as long as it doesn’t do any real harm, it’s OK if what you say is technically heretical”?  I’m struggling to find one.

I think if you really pressed people who argue that it doesn’t matter, they would admit that word choice actually does matter.

Asbury’s Facebook Post

Asbury himself is actually the only person I’ve ever seen attempt to defend the actual word itself. In June of 2017, he made a Facebook post in which he attempted to respond to the controversy surrounding the song.

Read the post

You can read it above, but I’ll summarize it for you: “I have no idea what I’m talking about”.

Well, that’s not an exactly accurate summarization.

He does actually attempt to explain his word choice, but he does it in a very roundabout, rambly way. To call it a defense is generous because he doesn’t even address the word choice the majority of the time. He just rambles on with great-sounding Christian phrases. 70%* of what he says is true but has absolutely nothing to do with the word choice itself. He’s just throwing in a bunch of stuff he knows you will agree with to hide the fact that he actually has no defense.

Before reading his defense, I thought there might be some good reasoning behind the word choice. After reading his post, I realized that Asbury just pulled the word “reckless” out of his behind.

Maybe he was trying to be fresh and unique, but whatever the case, he made it clear he had no clue why he chose the word. The first part of his defense actually reads like an argument against the song, quite honestly.

And when I say he is the only one to attempt to defend the actual accuracy of the word, this is what I’m referring to:

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.

What I mean is this: He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being.

How is that definition of “reckless” in any way better or different than the one we find in dictionaries?

Translation: “Critics have called my word choice bad because the definition of ‘reckless’ doesn’t accurately describe God. Well, what I actually meant was this: *gives dictionary definition of ‘reckless’*. I have now, right out of the gate, made it clear that I don’t know what I’m talking about and don’t actually understand the criticisms of my song. You may continue reading, but just know that, having contradicted myself in the second paragraph of my argument, you should take the rest of this post with a grain of salt.”

Or something like that.

“He Didn’t Mean It Like That”

This is another variation of the “it doesn’t matter” argument. Another version of this is “it’s open to interpretation”.

The people who use this argument obviously understand that the word “reckless” isn’t accurate, or they wouldn’t be trying to convince you that definitions of words are up for interpretation.

Asbury himself even goes on to argue that he meant “reckless” to mean something other than what the definition says. Which is, of course, admitting that the actual definition doesn’t line up with the Bible.

But here’s the thing:

That’s not how language works. We don’t get to just make up new definitions for words. Words are very exact in their meaning for a reason. Language exists so we can communicate the thoughts or ideas we wish to communicate as exactly as possible. That is why we have so many different words. And these words have definitions because we, as a society, have established that every word has a specific meaning. If we just got to change the definition of words to whatever we wanted whenever we spoke, nobody would be able to communicate anymore because you would have no idea what people actually meant. Therefore, every word has a set definition.

Throwing a word in the chorus of a worship song because it feels right, or because it means something different to you is not acceptable.

If it’s a secular song about your feelings or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. But when your song tops Christian charts for weeks on end, is sung by millions of people around the world on a weekly basis as part of their Sunday service, the words you use need to be exact. They need to be accurate. A Facebook post explaining that you meant the word to mean something besides what every single human being who speaks the English language understands it to mean doesn’t cut it.

“Just Stop Talking About It. It’s Too Divisive.”

Honestly, the fact that it’s so divisive is extremely upsetting. It makes me think that we need to keep discussing this issue, because the fact that such a vocal group of Christians have absolutely no problem with singing completely false things about God is upsetting.

I’ve seen pastors make this statement. I’ve seen one celebrity pastor (with thousands of Instagram followers) state on his Instagram that people “need to stop worrying about the theology in a song that’s ‘fine’ and start living on fire for Jesus”. Implying, of course, that people who are concerned that the song does not contain scriptural truths aren’t living on fire for Jesus. I responded and told him that, and we had a little discussion.

I honestly don’t care if he didn’t mean it that way. People who say this are sending a very strong message: theological accuracy in songs doesn’t matter. They send that message even if they “don’t mean that”.

Why on earth you would shut down people on this issue is beyond me. We shouldn’t be trying to dissuade people from thinking about deep things like “do the songs we sing and listen to contain true theology” and “how can we best worship God in our singing”. Why you would ever criticize people who examine the songs they sing and listen to because of a desire to fill their minds and hearts with the truths of God is beyond me. That should be seen as an amazingly deep desire to seek after truth.

So what is my point? Stop shutting down conversations about “Reckless Love” because you think it doesn’t matter. It matters.

If your contention is that the issue creates too much division to be discussed, then I have this to say: just because other people do something poorly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it at all. Just because people are divided over this issue doesn’t mean the issue should be avoided all the time by everyone, and it doesn’t mean you have to be divisive. In fact, I would argue that the fact that this topic causes so much division is a great reason to continue discussing it.


My response to Asbury’s post (my comments are bulleted):

Many have asked me for clarity on the phrase, “reckless love”. Many have wondered why I’d use a “negative” word to describe God. I’ve taken some time to write out my thoughts here. I hope it brings answers to your questions. But more than that, I hope it brings you into an encounter with the wildness of His love.

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.

What I mean is this: He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being.

  • Absolutely and dangerously false. To say that God is unconcerned with his consequences is to say that God doesn’t know what he’s doing. He does. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows exactly how much it will cost, and he knows exactly what he will get in return. This is what is so amazing about God’s love. He knows exactly what he’ll gain: a bunch of filthy, disgusting sinners. Yet he sends his son to live and die, knowing full well what the cost, or consequence, of doing so is. That’s what makes Gods love amazing.

His love isn’t crafty or slick. It’s not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, it’s quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous. His love bankrupted heaven for you. His love doesn’t consider Himself first.

  • Considering others before yourself doesn’t mean you are unconcerned about the consequences. That’s laughable.

His love isn’t selfish or self-serving.

  • True. But again, that supports the word-choice of reckless in no way.

He doesn’t wonder what He’ll gain or lose by putting Himself out there.

  • He knows exactly what He’ll gain AND lose. He’s God. Of course he knows what He’s gaining and losing. He knows, and he cares.
  • To wonder means to speculate, so I guess technically this statement is correct. He doesn’t “wonder” because he doesn’t need to speculate: He already knows.

He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back at Him and offer ourselves in return.

  • I laughed out loud when I read this sentence. What off-chance? There is no off-chance. Without God opening the eyes of their heart, people will not “look back” at all. God chose each and every one of his people. This sentence assumes that God doesn’t know who his people will be. That’s ludicrous. He’s God. Of course He knows.

His love leaves the ninety-nine to find the one every time. To many practical adults, that’s a foolish concept. “But what if he loses the ninety-nine in search of the one?” What if? Finding that one lost sheep is, and will always be, supremely important.

  • Practical adults think it’s dumb, so therefore God has no idea what he’s doing. Great logic.

His love isn’t cautious. No, it’s a love that sent His Own Son to die a gruesome death on a cross.

  • Again, this in no way supports the use of the word.

There’s no “Plan B” with the love of God.

  • Of course, there’s no “Plan B”. Because God knows exactly what “Plan A” is and He knows it’s going to work.

He gives His heart so completely, so preposterously, that if refused, most would consider it irreparably broken. Yet He gives Himself away again. The recklessness of His love is seen most clearly in this – it gets Him hurt over and over.

  • JUST BECAUSE IT HURTS HIM DOESN’T MEAN HE DOESN’T KNOW THAT HE’S GOING TO GET HURT. I mean, seriously.

Make no mistake, our sin pains His heart. And “70 times 7” is a lot of times to have Your heartbroken. Yet He opens up and allows us in every time. His love saw you when you hated Him – when all logic said, “They’ll reject me”, He said, “I don’t care if it kills me. I’m laying my heart on the line.”

To get personal, His love saw me, a broken down kid with regret as deep as the ocean; My innocence and youth poured out like water. Yet, He saw fit to use me for His kingdom because He’s just that kind. I didn’t earn it and I sure as heck don’t deserve it, but He’s just that good.

  • We didn’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, therefore he doesn’t know or care what he’s doing. Solid argument, man.

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.


*not an actual statistic


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