DiM | “The River” by Jordan Feliz

Today is “Discernment in Music” (DiM) day here at Faithful Stewardship (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)).

October 06, 2015. Today we’ll be taking a look at “The River” by Jordan Feliz which currently sits at #18 on the 20theCountdownMagazine.

Overall, this song has a very catchy rhythm and melody. The song has a Monet quality to it in that there seems to be a decent theme to the song when viewed from a distance, but it loses clarity in the details when observed up close. In trying to unpack the theology driving the song, I got confused, which is typically a red-flag for emergent or progressive “christianity”. Let’s check out the song.

Jordan Feliz VEVO Lyric Video

Lyrics (via KLove)

The River

I know a place
Where we can go
To lay the troubles down eating your soul
I know a place
Where mercy flows
Take the stains make you whiter than snow

Like a tide it is rising up
Deep inside
A current that moves and makes you come alive
Living water
That brings the dead to life

(chorus)
We’re going down to the river
Down to the river
Down to the river to pray
Let’s get washed by the water
Washed by the water
And rise up in amazing grace
Let’s go down, down, down to the river
You will leave changed
Let’s go down, down, down to the river
Never the same

I’ve seen it move
In my own life
Took me from dusty roads into Paradise
All of my dirt
All of my shame
Drowned in the streams that have made me born again

Like a tide it is rising up
Deep inside
A current that moves and makes you come alive
Living water
That brings the dead to life

(chorus)

Let’s go down
Let’s go down
Let’s go down

(chorus)

Publishing: © 2015 CentricSongs (SESAC) / Colby Wedgeworth Music (ASCAP) / Capitol CMG Amplified & Red Red Pop (SESAC)
Writer(s): Words and Music by Jordan Feliz, Colby Wedgeworth, and Josh Silverberg

Discussion

The high-altitude view of the song displays a general theme of repentance pointing to the imagery of baptism (going down to the River). However, the connection of the River to baptism doesn’t stay consistent throughout the song. So that forces us to look more closely to the details, and that’s where we hit some snags. 

Who is the target audience? The song lyrics don’t make it clear to whom the song is being sung. If the song is being sung to unbelievers in need of faith, repentance, and baptism… then why not just stick with the imagery of the new birth in the baptism? If the song is a call to Christians to repent and be forgiven, why is the reference to baptism something that lies ahead of the singer and audience rather than a reminder of your baptism? Since this is a new song from a new artist, I thought I’d check to see if there is any context provided.

from: Artist Profile @ NewReleaseToday.com

The best example of his singular vision is the record’s powerhouse first single, “The River.” While it sounds like a pulse-quickening mega-hit from the first listen–instantly singable and repeatedly listenable– the song actually rides on a deep current of soul-driven funk influence that serves to set it apart from other contemporary radio fare.

“I’m a big melody guy,” Jordan admits, “and musically ‘The River’ is my own personal happy place. It’s a great driving groove that just feels good to sing. The song itself is an invitation to anyone who hears it–whether they’re stuck in pride and legalism or wallowing down in the mess they’ve made of their lives–it’s an invitation to take whatever we have and to run to Jesus. It’s an invitation to go down in amazing grace and to rise up being made new.”

Okay, so his intended audience is everyone. He’s using the imagery of the River as a catch-all for baptism of a new believer AND repentance and forgiveness for the already baptized. Also, we see some strong emergent language in the “whether they’re stuck in pride and legalism or whatever” comment. We’ll have to keep an eye on this guy. If you’d like to read more about him, simply follow the link.

Verse 1: Here we see an introduction to the idea that there is a place we can go to be made clean. This is true. The blood of Jesus Christ, shed at the cross washes us clean by God’s grace through faith. But this isn’t so much a place we can go as it is a point of faith. Some excellent passages we can look to for this wording of washing away of sin can be found in Psalm 51 and Isaiah 1.

Psalm 51:7-12 (ESV)

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Isaiah 1:16-20 (ESV)

16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17     learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be eaten by the sword;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

What is important to note with these passages, is that neither one is a call to the unbeliever. In Psalm 51, David is chosen of God, but he has sinned before God and is repenting. In Isaiah, the Prophet of the LORD is speaking to rebel Judah, His chosen people who have sinned against Him. I mention this because many take these passages as proof-texts for decisional regeneration. For the unbeliever to come to faith, the Holy Spirit must open his eyes and ears to the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We aren’t born alive and merely struggling with sin, we are born dead in sins and trespasses. We need to be regenerated by the Spirit of the Living God in order for us to make the confession of faith.

Pre-chorus: This pre-chorus can be describing the working of the Holy Spirit, drawing individuals to the knowledge of Christ, and convicting believers of their sin so that they might repent and be forgiven. Unfortunately, it also describes the emotional manipulation that is performed in many a seeker-sensitive service to compel people to “come down to the front to make a decision for Jesus today“. It’s a popular pattern/technique. Once the preacher is finished giving life-tips, he give a queue to the worship band to start playing some slow, emotive “worship” music in the background, as the speaker makes a decisional sales-pitch to any who “don’t know Jesus as their personal savior” or “have not yet asked Jesus into their hearts“. As the music swells in the background, the speaker will give the audience time to give an indication of their willingness to “give Jesus their heart”… Maybe even include a call for those who’d like to “re-dedicate their lives to the LORD” to come to the front. This serves a dual purpose, it allows the speaker to get the sense that their words bore fruit (people walking forward) and it gives others room to follow the commands without clearly identifying which group they are in, so no one needs to know this is their first time of “giving their hearts to Jesus” until they are ready to say so. None of this is Scriptural. This is an emotional technique that works in any environment where group psychology and dynamics is at play. Cults do it, Fraternities do it, workforce seminars, etc. They do it because it works. We are emotional beings, and our emotions are easily worked once we’ve established a common ground. The point being that this pre-chorus is only as good as your doctrine.

Chorus: So, we are going down to the river to pray? In the seeker model of church service, there are lots of altar calls for many reasons. The goal is simply to get folks to fill up the front of the church for an emotional experience and prayer. Most of the time the intention is good, but misguided due to an over-emphasis on emotional experience and not enough focus on Scripture. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17); it doesn’t say “faith comes by weeping and wailing at the front of the church”. Please understand that I’m not saying that weeping (I tend to weep), wailing, or even coming to the front of the church is a bad thing. I’m saying the hyper-focus on emotional experiences is a bad thing. I’m also fed up with the emotional manipulation techniques… don’t whip people up into an emotional mess, preach the Word.

Verse 2: Okay, this is where things get a little odd for me. We are not yet in Paradise, we still walk this earth in sinful tents of flesh. There is a continual need for those who are of the household of faith to confess, repent, and be forgiven of sin. We are not yet perfect. The singer is pointing to his own experience as authoritative for the listener (I’ve seen it move in my own life). If everything else the message is solid, this might be considered a minor point… but the whole song has me a bit confused so I have to present this as problem on equal footing. Emergents don’t hold a high-view of Scripture, they lean on experience and personal understanding for their theology. Jordan can’t point to himself and then say he’s been taken into paradise. He hasn’t been, he’s still on this earth, and if he has Faith, then he is a sojourner in this fallen world. If he lacks faith, he is very much still a part of this world. Dear Christian, don’t point to yourselves and don’t get cute with offering exaggerated promises or benefits of being a Christian… point to Christ always, and testify of your faith in Him.

Thoughts on Baptism

I think it is worth mentioning that attempting to provide a corrective mechanism for enjoying this song needs to be done differently for Creedal Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans. I don’t like splicing up the denominations in DiM posts, but where Baptism is concerned I think it bears mentioning. Rather than try to speak as an authority for each of these doctrinal positions, I am simply going to share what Scripture says and leave the doctrinal discussion for you and your Pastor. We’ll start with the Great Commission and move on to the Apostolic writings. Again, these should be taken to your pastor if you have any questions regarding them.

Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV) | The Great Commission

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Acts 2:36-40 (ESV)

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them,“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

Romans 6:1-11 (ESV) | Dead to Sin, Alive to God

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 4:1-7 (ESV) | Unity in the Body of Christ

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in allBut grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Colossians 2:6-15 (ESV) | Alive in Christ

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV)

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

These are the clear passages that teach on Baptism. Your doctrine of baptism will greatly affect your take on some of the lines of today’s song.

Conclusion

I’m not happy with the song. It is muddled and confused. How bad or salvageable the song is will depend greatly on your doctrine/confession of Salvation, Faith, Regeneration, Justification, Sanctification and Baptism. I don’t think the song can be fully salvaged for any of the orthodox doctrines. I suspect the artist is heavily seeker-sensitive / emergent and cannot recommend him to anyone at this time.

Amen.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

9 thoughts on “DiM | “The River” by Jordan Feliz

  1. The first time I heard this song, I had a weird feeling. It came on the radio a lot and was catchy, but every time I heard it, I couldn’t shake the weird feeling I was getting. I cannot listen to it now, I just turn off the radio when I hear the beat coming on. I am a little confused as well. I love Christian radio, and do not listen to other stations anymore. When someone else is listening to secular music, I get a weird feeling as well as I do with “The River”. I feel this song is an example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I do not want to condemn anyone, but when you get feelings from your sprit, you cannot deny them.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read this and to share your comment. It’s a good thing when our conscience or “gut feeling” warns us of possible danger, provided we take the feeling or thought to the Word of God. Our sinful hearts can just as easily lead us astray. Test every spirit, my friend. Be blessed and remain in God’s Word.

  2. I have to agree with Moriah. When I first heard the song, I thought it sounded a lot like the stuff they play on the secular station. I had to double check the station that I was on and then I continued to listen to the lyrics. I have a tendency to run lyrics through my “doctrinal filter” and this one just confused me. I mixes going the idea of going “down to the river to pray” in a physical sense like the women did in the book of Acts when Paul went down to the river to evangelize to them with thoughts of the Holy Spirit’s work inside a believer. Overall, I just get confused what Jordan is trying to explain and therefore just turn the radio off/down or switch to another Christian station. I really wish K Love would vet the songs they play a little more carefully. Thanks for taking the time to share all of the scripture and thoughts about this catchy, but confusing song. I’ll be keeping my eyes open, and filter on for anything else that comes from this artist. Blessings, Jorge.

  3. Jorge,

    You seem to take some giant leaps with your commentary on this song. The author, Jordan Feliz, says in an interview found on hillel.com, dated Oct. 1, 2015, that the inspiration for the song came from John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” If you would have done a brief 30 sec. internet search, which is what I did, you would have found this same website and quote. You then wouldn’t have been so confused and would have spared us your rabbit hole into the question of whether baptism was his referent.

    You imply this song emphasizes “the emotional manipulation that is performed in many a seeker-sensitive service. . . ” and conclude its “hyper-focus on emotional experiences is a bad thing.” Hyper-focus? Really? It’s a 3 minute song, not a 3-point 30 minute sermon! Then you insinuate that he shows “emergent” tendencies in his lyrics and you imply all of this is bad. First, you never give any evidence that “seeker-sensitive” or “emergent” is bad. You imply that emotional manipulation frequently finds its home there. Make your case before you go there. Then, you fail to make the case that Jordan Feliz fits in this category. You make some huge leaps of conjecture about him, noted especially in your “pre-chorus” diatribe–strike two.

    A further unwarranted leap is when you suggest in your verse 2 analysis that he overemphasizes his own experience over the word of God. He is merely saying, going to Jesus in prayer to repent or ask forgiveness is what you ought to do. I know, he testifies, because that’s how he was born again. It is a brief testimony in song. He’s not saying experience trumps the word of God! Don’t you allow testimonies of how God has worked in peoples’ lives in your church? How else is the body of Christ to be encouraged? How to you justify such mental gymnastics? You put words in his mouth and you don’t even know this person! If anyone should be looked askance at–it is you! If this is how you handled a song, what damage would you do interpreting the word of God?? Do your homework, don’t assume, and then don’t judge based on limp assumptions. Such actions have hurt the church of Jesus Christ throughout history and hurt individual Christians. If anything, you owe Jordan Feliz, a brother in Christ, more than you’ve given.

    Sincerely,

    Mike Christensen

    • Thank you for taking the time to read through this song review and for sharing your comments. You are correct that I didn’t make a case in this review against seeker-sensitive or emergent theology. I forget sometimes that those who read only one article may not know where I stand on such things. A great article on the emergent church movement can be found at http://www.piratechristian.com/berean-examiner/2014/11/22/the-morphing-of-the-emergent-movement-can-you-see-it-now .

      I’d like to address some of the points in your comments directly after covering some general ground regarding these DiM posts.

      Firstly, this song didn’t get a flat-out “Disapprove”, though was personally disappointed in the song once I examined the lyric. It falls in the middle ground where the song’s meaning may be salvageable if sound doctrine is infused into the lyric, but it could also reinforce bad theology. It is definitely not “Approved” because it does not stand on its own. Your contention with my review here also seems to be an assumption that my goal was to divine what the song means to the artist. That’s not the purpose of these DiM posts. The purpose is to look at the lyric itself to see what is being conveyed in the lyric. Songs with poetic imagery present a vague message, and this is largely done intentionally to broaden the possible spectrum of listeners who can infuse their own meanings and circumstances to “connect with” the song… leading to more sales. In the business of music, this is a normal thing. However, we are looking at what the song lyrics do/can/might convey with the Scripture as our objective standard of truth, not what the artist may have said about it at one time or another… unless the artist’s thoughts are frequently played with the song providing context. And there are times when that is the case and we try to be flexible in that as best we can. Finally, my primary concern here isn’t to praise or condemn Jordan Feliz; rather, it is to encourage fellow Christians to exercise discernment in what they are listening to, and to guard their hearts against slippery theology. That’s the goal. I am a deeply fallible human being prone to error like the rest of mankind, so my personal biases and particular tastes for music, art, and communication do sometimes adversely affect how I communicate my concerns.

      I hadn’t read through all of the interviews of Jordan Feliz, so I hadn’t seen the article you mentioned (http://www.hallels.com/articles/13808/20151001/jordan-feliz-opens-up-about-his-transition-from-rock-music-to-his-new-christian-project-beloved.htm) but let’s look at the referenced comment made in the article:

      “‘The River’ stems from John 7:38: Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. The song is truly an invitation to everyone. To the person who feels they have lived their life by the book, or to the person who feels they have so much baggage and are ashamed to take it to Jesus. It’s the opportunity to go down in amazing grace and to rise up, being made new.”

      This single-verse quote still doesn’t bring clarity to the message of the song. The song compels the listener to do something “let’s go down to the river to pray”. In that quote he takes a bit of a Charles Finneyism by offering an invitation to do something to get made new. This is the heart of seeker-sensitive, Charles Finneyism, you do your part and God will bless you stuff. It isn’t good. The seeker churches all brand themselves slightly differently, because they all have a slightly different “invitation” or “carrot on the stick” but they all share the Finneyism, they all have the whole you make a commitment and then you’ll see how good God is. This is the seeker-sensitive approach. The song stays poetic and never actually articulates “Repent and be forgiven”. In the quote we see Jesus say that whoever believes in me, rivers of living water will flow from within them… but the song is talking about going down to the river. So what is Jesus referring to when He talked about the rivers of living water? Thankfully, the Apostle John explained what Jesus meant a couple of verses down,

      John 7:37-39 ESV “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

      The “rivers of living water” points to God the Holy Spirit sealing believers who have been granted saving faith. The is a call to faith. But this song lyric doesn’t make that clear. We walk by faith and not by sight… and this applies to emotions as well. Whether or not you feel forgiven of your sin has no bearing on whether or not God has forgiven your sin by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith isn’t an emotion. The song doesn’t make that clear distinction, which leaves room for the seeker-mergent revolving door experience of chasing the feeling of freedom, the feeling of being forgiven, from church to church.

      As for the following comment/question, “How else is the body of Christ to be encouraged?” regarding my commentary on his second verse, remember the first point I tried to nail down was his target audience. We established that the song was intended for everyone, not just the body of Christ. How is the body of Christ to be encouraged? by the Preached Word of God. I don’t have a problem with folks sharing their experiences, provided they are not being presented as proof of concept or proof of promise. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. It’s great to hear how the Holy Spirit opened someone’s eyes to the Truth of God’s Word, but in a 3 minute song its best to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ as its own proof. My contention in that portion wasn’t limited to the “I know God has moved in my life” but the next line about how he’d been taken from “dusty roads into Paradise”. We have that by Promise, sealed by the Holy Spirit for the Last Day (1 Peter 1:3-9), but none of us can say “we’ve arrived” and present it as “and you can, too”. I also conceded it was a minor point in the song that lives in the vagueness of its message.

      Another major point in your comment was that I didn’t know Jordan Feliz. That’s true, I don’t. When I wrote the review, I was reviewing the song lyric not the character of Jordan Feliz. I don’t have eyes-on to the person, nor am I in his church, nor am I of any consequence to him. You clearly think I have wronged him and put words in his mouth. I was evaluating the lyric of a song that gets A LOT of airplay, not he man I do not know. Do you know him? I’d be more than happy to have a conversation with him regarding faith, Law and Gospel, and music.

      So, again, thank you for taking the time to disagree with this review and to challenge my assumptions and biases. I stand by original conclusion that I don’t like the song personally, but that with sound theology the song is “okay” and with bad theology it is dangerously inwardly-focused.

      In Christ Jesus,
      Jorge

  4. I am supposed to play this song Sunday. After listening to it a few times, I find the lyrics to be a confusing message. As a believer in the Lord for 30 years, I can spiritualize it so it ‘makes sense’. The problem is if I really listen too it and don’t go read an interview saying what it’s supposed to be about, it is not a strong message to be singing on a Sunday morning. It sounds like we are going to the river to be baptized and saved – “I know a place we can go…down to the river”. I go to a person, and that is Jesus Christ. I would prefer to sing to the Lord by Name and not with confusing imagery. Upbeat foot stomping? Yes it is. Good to sing on a Sunday morning to worship the Lord? For me, no. The more I hear it, the less I want to hear it. The lyrics shouldn’t need a translation from the artist.

    • I agree that this song isn’t a good one for Sunday Morning worship. We should be singing songs with clear, Biblical confessions on Sunday Mornings. I encourage you to find time to sit down with your pastor this week to discuss the matter face to face. The LORD be with you.

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