But, there's just one word in this song (in three specific locations) that I would prefer to be changed. It's a little word, but I think a change here would make this song even better. It's the word FOR. It appears in the last line of every verse - "And take the field FOR Jesus"; "And dare or die FOR Jesus"; "And win the world FOR Jesus".
What's the problem?
Well, this word, 'for', could suggest that Jesus is sitting back, inactive, or worse unable to 'storm the forts' himself. Now I don't think that Robert Johnson intended this when he penned this song, but it is certainly open to that interpretation. I see this elsewhere in our vernacular. Having growing up in the Army, I've heard lots of songs, sermons and catch phrases that give the impression that we're "winning the world FOR Jesus". The problem is, this can lead to an understanding of God as one who is sitting in heaven, inactive, waiting and longing for us to help him out in his mission to save the world. This is the God who "has no hands but our hands, no feet but our feet." Or, dare I say, needs us to "save souls, grow saints and serve suffering humanity" on his behalf.
No hands? No feet?
Not even the ones that were nailed to the cross of Calvary?
The problem here is 'narcissism'. It's an unintentional narcissism, I suspect, but narcissism nonetheless. Narcissistic worship and mission for that matter treats God as an "object" to be worshipped or served, not as "subject" actively involved in that very worship or serving. It becomes the worshipper and servant who becomes the centre of activity and God is (unconsciously) pushed to the sidelines. Robert Webber describes this problem.
If God is the object of worship, then worship must proceed from me, the subject, to God, who is the object. God is the being out there who needs to be loved, worshipped, and adored by me. Therefore, the true worship of God is located in me, the subject. I worship God to magnify his name, to enthrone God, to exalt him in the heavens. God is then pleased with me because I have done my duty. Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 232.The reason I have a problem with this small, three-lettered word, in this otherwise inspiring song, is that it situates the activity of "winning the world" within us, not Jesus. Jesus ceases to be "Christus Victor" and becomes "Christus Victim". It's small. It's subtle. But, it's very significant. Again, Webber suggests "Narcissistic worship is situated in the worshiper, not in the action of God." (ibid, 233)
So, what's a possible solution?
Well, I would like to suggest changing the word "for" to "with". We "take the field WITH Jesus", "dare or die WITH Jesus"; and ultimately "win the world WITH Jesus." Again, Webber says it better than me.
If God is understood... as the personal God who acts as subject in the world and in worship rather than the remote God who sits in the heavens, then worship is understood not as the acts of adoration God demands of me but as the disclosure of Jesus, who has done for me what I cannot do for myself. In this way worship is the doing of God's story within me so that I live in the pattern of Jesus's death and resurrection...
Here is the shift: the biblical God, Father; Son and Holy Spirit is not the God who sits in the heavens but the one who acts in the world. The Triune God creates, becomes involved with creation, becomes present in Israel, becomes incarnate in Jesus, dies for sin, is victorious over death, ascends to heaven, and calls the church into being by the Spirit to witness to his work of redeeming the world. This same God will restore creatures and creation and rule over all in the new heavens and new earth. Biblical worship tells and enacts this story. (ibid, 232)Again, it's only subtle, but the shift is vitally significant. The mission and our worship is an activity of God. We just have the privilege of being invited into it. It is NOT that God is relying on us to achieve his redemptive purposes. They will be achieved, regardless of our involvement. Otherwise he's not God, and we are, or at the least he's some sort of incapacitated God. The privilege of Christianity is that God is relational and, whilst fully capable of achieving his purposes on his own, invites us to join in recreating the world...
...with him, not for him.