DiM | “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong

Today is “Discernment in Music” day here at Faithful Stewardship.

2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Today, rather than wait for a song to play on the radio, I thought I’d start by looking at whatever was trending as a “top Christian song” on the radio today. According to Billboard Music, the top contender is clearly “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United. In the interest of full-disclosure, I am not a fan of Hillsong Church.  I disagree with their theology (Dominionism, Chrislam, Presence, etc) and their ecclesiology (emergent, seeker-driven, leadership model, mega-church). I will do my best to evaluate the song on its own merits, but I wanted to state plainly that I’m fighting to suppress a strong bias. If I fail, please forgive me. The good thing here is that if you take objection to my analysis and do so biblically, you are also practicing discernment and the goal of this post can be met, even while we disagree on the “value” of this song. Let’s take a look at the lyrics of the song pulled from the AZLyrics.

“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

[6x]
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

Okay, so if you’ve read my “Discernment in Music” posts before you probably know that the first comment I will make about this song is that it’s lyrically vague. It tends to bounce a bit between focusing on the singer and the “You”. If this is a song about God, then it presents an odd uni-directional theme where God is only “out there” where feet may fail, or out upon the water. This is keeping with much of Hillsong and Bethel style theology where we always need to be “pioneering” into the unknown if we really want to know God. Is that Biblical? Not really, because God has gone to great lengths to present us with the Bible.  While we cannot hope to fully know God in this life, what He has made known of Himself is indeed knowable by reading and understanding the Scripture. This skewed theology suggests that living a quiet, steadfast life of prayer and submission to scripture is somehow less-than what we really need to be doing, or what God really wants from us. If it is a song of encouragement, I’m not clear on what we are being encouraged to do or to believe. If it is a song of worship, I’m not sure who or what is being worshiped. Because the song’s focus bounces between the singer and the “You”. Are we worshiping God for who He is or for what He is going enable me to do?

What Does Hillsong United Say About the “Oceans”?

I’m not surprised. Almost 8 and a half minutes of glowing generic and vague praise for the song, without any insight. They just wrote a song and were like “woah, God put His hand on it” and they love the song and love the reaction the song produces. Because it connects to people “no matter where they are on their spiritual journey” or “even if they aren’t on the spiritual journey yet but they might get drawn to God”. I find it interesting that the conclusion we get at around 7:50 is that “we need to step outside of our own understanding… and just know that, yeah, just gotta live the life of faith”. I’ve seen this a lot with Hillsong style music presented as worship… the lyrics don’t make sense and don’t convey a clear message. How does that Glorify God? How is it supposed to “draw people closer to God”? Does getting a cheer and joyful reaction from the crowd at the started of the song equate to people “progressing in the journey” (and seriously… why are we talking in such vague, mystical, terminology?). They wrote the song, but they can’t tell you what it means, or even why it should be considered a worship song. Well, this video was of no help. So, we’ll have to practice discernment at face-value.

Narcissistic Eisegesis of Jesus Walking on Water

But wait, isn’t the story of Peter walking on water? No. While Peter does walk on water (briefly), that is not the point of the story; therefore, I will not be referring to it in that light. Let’s start by reading the text.

Matthew 14:22-33 (ESV)
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

So, the song starts with the singer placing him/herself in the place of Peter, but not at “You come walking to me on the water in the midst of a storm”, but “You call me out upon the water”. This passage is often taught from the false notion that it’s about Peter needing to “step out of the boat” and some pale allegory about how each of us will face a moment in our lives when Jesus will expect big things from us and call us to do the impossible, to walk on water and place our faith and trust in Him… believing for a miracle. That’s NOT the point of this story. This is a one-time event that takes place for a singular purpose… in verse 33, ” And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God“. Peter and those in the boat were worried that Jesus was a ghost. Jesus speaks to them to calm then down and Peter says, “Lord if it is you…” This is a special event, with a special message, one that points to Jesus NOT Peter. It is captured in Scripture for us to know that Jesus truly is Lord. If you are going to put yourself into this passage, you are one of the guests in the boat, who worshiped Him saying, “Truly Jesus is the Son of God!”. Scripture doesn’t record anyone else walking on the water. And why allegorize the story to dumb it down so that Peter’s walking on water (woah, that’s awesome) becomes as mundane as getting a promotion at work, or being found “not guilty” by a jury in a civil suit? No matter where we are, Jesus is with us. Jesus sent them across the water, and He stayed behind to pray; yet, while they were battling the unfavorable wind and waves, He appears, walking on the water, saying “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid”. And even when Peter, after compelling Jesus to prove who He was by commanding Peter to walk on water, doubted and began to sink, Jesus caught him. Peter didn’t get a second chance to walk on water… because us walking on water was never the point. Placing our faith in Who Jesus is, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God is the point. This is a point that each of the disciples, including Peter, would be tested again, and fail again. Peter would end up denying Christ 3 times after the arrest of Jesus. But Peter was one of the first to believe that the Christ had risen, for he rushed to the empty tomb at the word of Mary Magdalene and the others.

Generic love Song in Vague Bible-Speak

Now, the second verse, and a bit of the refrain seem generally true-ish. Not really pointing to any scriptural truth or doctrine. But the problem here is that it is being presented as a worship song. The object of our worship, and the reason for our worship should be plainly identified. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not clear if God is the object of worship. If we assume the “You” is the God of the Bible, then we still aren’t clear if God is being worshiped for who He is or for what He will enable us to do. It suggests that unless He calls us out onto the water (step out into the unknown?) and do something radical, then we can’t trust in Him like we ought to, nor will our faith be strengthened. So does that negate the “I am yours and you are mine” bit from Song of Solomon? Can we rest in His embrace if we aren’t “walking on the waters”? This imagery only works if you buy into the notion that the story of Jesus walking on the water is actually what each of us must do as Christians.

Conclusion

This is a seeker-sensitive church band. They represent a brand, a theology, a way of doing church that isn’t prescribed in Scripture. So, when we listen to their music, we ought to pay close attention to what is actually being sung. We must take every thought captive, and that isn’t limited to the obviously sinful thoughts. Every. Thought. As far as the lyrical content of this song, I find it to be of no more Biblical value than the song “Feelin’ Good” by Michael Buble. This song is clearly “spiritual” in the “metaphysical” sense, but that doesn’t make it a good candidate for a Worship song to the Creator of the Universe, Jesus Christ. They are selling music, they wrote a song they hoped would sell and were greatly surprised by its reception in South Africa. They are very excited by the “energy” shown by the crowd whenever this song is played. I’m sure they are very excited that it’s been in the Billboard Hot Christian Chart for 47 weeks, and is currently #1. They are a band, they make their living by playing music. They also represent a HUGE church movement, one whose doctrine is highly questionable. My concern isn’t really Hillsong, but you and your walk in Christ. Is it a sin to like this song? I cannot make that determination for you, because it is so vague it is written specifically for hearers to apply their own meaning to the song (this is what is meant by “we want people to connect to the song”). If this song is your favorite, and you just find you are really “moved” by it whenever it is playing, check your doctrine. Know what it is you are confessing and praying and worshiping. Don’t mentally check-out and roll around in the “spiritual emotion” elicited by the song. That’s not worship, that’s a form of sensuality. The song isn’t outright pagan, but it is vague enough to support a pagan world view. The “you” could easily be directed toward a “spirit guide”, and now we have a real problem with the meaning of the song. It is a chart-topper because it makes people feel good, nothing more.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ,
Jorge