God’s love is radical and relentless, but it isn’t reckless.
Recently, Cory Asbury with Bethel Music has created a new song titled “Reckless Love” that is topping Christian music and worship song selections. Cory Asbury describes the meaning behind his song from Luke 15 in Jesus’s parable with three settings. To his credit, Asbury isn’t intending to communicate God is reckless, but that God’s manner of love is reckless. Asbury continues, “[God] is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being.” While Asbury is to be commended for his awe and passion for the Father’s love, he should also be charged to be more precise as a worship leader.
Various dictionaries define the word “reckless” in similar terms: heedless of danger, rash and impetuous; utterly unconcerned about consequences, careless. Based on these definitions, the word reckless does not accurately reflect God’s love. Admittedly, word meaning can evolve, that is not the case here. The context of this song does nothing to clarify the usage and meaning of the word. Further, the overwhelming understanding of the word in any other context would be negative and not positive. Furthermore, the Bible never presents God’s love as reckless, but as carefully constructed over countless centuries.
The gospel of Jesus doesn’t start in the first century but before the creation of the world. “For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). Further, humanity catches a tiny glimpse into God’s love after the Fall, with God’s promise to overcome the curse of sin through a future offspring (Genesis 3:15). The entire Old Testament is filled with prophecies and promises of God’s love. Likewise, the New Testament describes the cross not as an afterthought or disregard for consequences, but as a planned design. Jesus predicts His death multiple times (Matthew 16:24-28; Mark 10:33-34; Luke 24:44-49; John 2:19; etc.). And, the NT writers reflected on the cross as prearranged “according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23). More Scriptures and examples could be provided, but it seems sufficient to note the Scriptures do not view the cross or God’s love as reckless, but instead as a planned purpose of God.
Indeed, our human minds are challenged when we try to fathom the love of God and the cross of Jesus Christ. Even angels are amazed at God’s plan of redemption for humanity (1Peter 1:12). The apostle Paul was overwhelmed with praise to God in reflecting on the grace of God (cf. Romans 7:24-25; 8:31-39; 11:33-36). And the beloved disciple was moved to praise the lavished love of God (1John 3:1). Human words will always fall short in capturing the beauty and boldness of what God did in sending His son to die and redeem us in love. However, Christians and especially worship leaders must seek to be faithful to biblical doctrine and precise in language.
Cory Asbury’s song lyrics attempt to similarly reflect on God’s love by referencing the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). The setting is of a shepherd with one-hundred sheep who leaves ninety-nine to find the one. While it may seem reckless, careless, and disregarding consequence for a shepherd to leave the ninety-nine sheep, that is not necessarily true. Note what several scholars comment on the parable:
“We should not understand that the ninety-nine are simply left to their own devices, only that the normal level of care is withdrawn from them temporarily for the sake of the needs of the lost sheep. It is perhaps best to think of the sheep being secondarily watched over by a fellow shepherd who temporarily divides his attention between these and his own sheep, but such detail is outside of the concern of the parable. The point of the parable is the disproportionate investment of effort and concern directed toward the one sheep.” (emphasis added)
“The situation described was a common one. The “open country” was a safe place to leave the sheep, though they would have to be left in someone’s care.”
“The question of who would take care of these sheep while the shepherd searched for the lost one would be relevant if this were a true story. In a parable, however, it is irrelevant. The story teller “takes care” of the ninety-nine.”
“Jesus appeals to custom. Should one sheep stray, any shepherd would leave the ninety-nine who were safe and look for the missing one. The ninety-nine are in no danger; they are found. But the safe possession of ninety-nine is no substitute for the loss of one. So the shepherd keeps looking until he finds it. He makes more than a token search. He wants his sheep so he looks till he finds it.”
“Because shepherds often traveled together, a shepherd could leave his own flock with his companions without endangering the flock.”
Essentially, the meaning of the parable of the lost sheep isn’t that the shepherd is reckless to leave the ninety-nine to pursue the one. It was customary for the sheep to be protected by being part of the flock. So, rather than the shepherd being careless or reckless, he is being quite calculated and responsible. The good shepherd is intentional in his actions to lead and love the sheep.
In sum, the meaning of the parable should be God-centered and not human-centered. When we read the Bible with a human-centered approach, we come away with beliefs – and song lyrics – that are not fully theologically accurate. Humans view God as the divine being whose aim is to please and comfort man. However, when we read the bible in a God-centered approach, then we are humbled by God’s ultimate purpose and glory.
Cory Asbury’s song “Reckless Love” has the rhythm and relevance for contemporary worship. It builds musically and flows lyrically. It potentially gives powerful declarations for God’s people to remember what Jesus has done in the gospel. In honesty, I personally enjoy listening to and singing the song, and feel it has the goal of bringing glory to Jesus. My issue is that the song is lyrically clumsy. Perhaps, if a church desires to use this song in a worship selection they could replace the word “reckless” with words like: fearless, perfect, steadfast, or even jealous or zealous; in my view, any of these fit better theologically and similarly lyrically for the song. Regardless, worship leaders must consider how to introduce the song and prepare a congregation to think biblically accurate.
At times, contemporary art attempts to push the limits in order to make a bold statement and be profound. This is to be appreciated. Yet, the aim of worship isn’t necessarily to be cute but to be true. God’s love is not reckless, but responsible. But being responsible isn’t always marketable or able to sell a product.
The closing question for worship and song selections is, “Who is our audience?” If the church’s audience is people, then press the limits and hold nothing back from attracting crowds. However, if our audience has a higher standard for faithfulness to God’s word, then we must be more careful (cf. John 4:24). Christians and churches must continue learning how to contextualize timeless truth to truthless times.
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 John Nolland, Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 15:3, ff.
 Walter L. Liefield, Expositors Bible Commentary: Luke 15:3, ff.
 Stein, R. H. (1992). New American Commentary: Luke (Vol. 24, p. 403). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Morris, L. (1988). Tyndale Commentary: Luke: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 3, pp. 255–256). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Craig Keener, The IVP Background Commentary: NT, p.93; Luke 15:3-4.
 For further explanation of clumsy lyrics and additional background information on the song, see: https://relevantmagazine.com/culture/no-cory-asburys-reckless-love-isnt-heretical/. See also 4 Reasons Why God’s Love Can Never Be Reckless: https://joshuakyledunn.com/?p=2772