“Bargain” Recontextualized

Posted: February 4, 2013 in Fred Anson, Jesus Christ, Music, Poetry, Recontextualizing

by Fred Anson
I always love it when a rock band gets one right. And why shouldn’t they for as the Apostle Paul explained:

Pete Townshend of The Who

Pete Townshend of The Who

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”[1]

Theologians refer to this as “General Revelation” which Wikipedia explains like this: 

General revelation is a term used by theologians which refers to a universal aspect of God, of God’s knowledge and of spiritual matters, discovered through natural means, such as observation of nature (the physical universe), philosophy and reasoning, human conscience or providence or providential history. Evangelical theologians use the term to describe knowledge of God, which they believe, is plainly available to all mankind. These aspects of general revelation are believed to pertain to outward temporal events that are experienced within the world or this physical universe.

Within this type of revelation, it is believed that God does not use specific words, or specific actions, but more general or encompassing events that occur in creationconscience, and history.”[2]

So I confess a certain frustration when fellow Christians take diminish or take umbrage at the idea that unbelievers, with whom we share common life experiences not the least being “the human condition”, can find small echoes of divine truths within His fallen creation.

After all, in this life we all live and move within His shrouded presence – infidel and redeemed alike. C.S. Lewis spoke well of our current condition when he said:

“If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next-door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count when the anesthetic fog we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Divine Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?”[3]

Given these realities – not the least being the pervasive pull of sin within us all – is it any wonder that artists so often “get it right” in their but ultimately come to the wrong conclusion in their personal lives?

Consider, for example, the classic rock song “Bargain” written by Pete Townshend of The Who which was original released on the “Who’s Next” album.  Here’s a recent performance:

The Who performing “Bargain” at the Royal Albert Hall in 2000

In case you missed it, those lyrics go like this:

I’d gladly lose me to find You
I’d gladly give up all I have
To find You, I’d suffer anything and be glad
I’ll pay any price just to get You
I’ll work all my life, yes, I will
To win You, I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed

I’ll call that a bargain, the best I ever had

I’ll gladly lose me to find You
Gladly give up all I got
To get You, I’m gonna run and never stop
I’ll pay any price just to win You
To find You, I’m gonna drown an unsung man

I call that a bargain, the best I ever had

I sit lookin’ round
I look at my face in the mirror
I know I’m worth nothing, without You
In life one an’ one don’t make two
One an’ one make one
An’ I’m lookin’ for that free ride to me
I’m lookin’ for You

The historical fact is that Pete Townshend wrote the song as a song of devotion to Mehr Baba, the spiritual guru that he began to follow in 1968.[4] Of course given the universal nature of human beings the song has been recontextualized in many ways.  It has been sung as everything from a love song to a jingle for a television advertisement.  Perhaps as you were listening to it or reading the lyrics you even recontextualized the piece as applying to whatever, well, whatever.

Speaking personally, in my days as a “merry” infidel atheist I would belt out the song to whatever my current devotion was at the time – from girlfriends, to politics, to rock music, to whatever – so for me it became a kind of secular praise and worship song to whatever my idol I happened to be worshiping at the moment.

So you can imagine my shock when, after becoming a Christian, an older, wiser Christian told me (a recent, three-time Bill Gothard[5] graduate no less) that “Bargain” was a powerful “Go for it!” song that reflected Bible passages like . . .

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
— Matthew 10:39 (ESV)

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
— John 3:30 (KJV)

“…you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.”
— Luke 14:33 (NLT)

. . . and many, many others.  Gaining that realization, “Bargain” then went on to become a recontextualized “go for it”, song of confession for me as well. And why not, after all didn’t Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, and Fanny Crosby also recontextualize the music of their day – some of it secular with no discernible religious roots – into songs of praise and worship?[6]

And apparently, I wasn’t alone . . .

Resurrection Band (a Christian band) covering “Bargain” in Finland 1990

Now I think I know Resurrection Band well enough to know that they would tell you that the old cliche’ that, “God’s ways are not mans ways”  is true and that one must move past general revelation to special revelation[7] – or even direct revelation[8]  for that matter – in order to enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  And, of course, I agree with them completely.  So, one might even feel lead, as I have, to hope and pray that the composer of this classic song might someday make that move himself.

But still you’ve gotta admit, regardless how you contextualize it, this is a truly inspired song!

[1] Romans 1:19&20, New Living Translation

[2]Wikipedia article on “General Revelation”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_revelation (retrieved 2012-11-18)

[3] C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity” (Macmillan, 1965 edition), p. 168.

[4] “Townshend showed no predilection for religious belief in the first years of The Who’s career. By the beginning of 1968, however, Townshend had begun to explore spiritual ideas. In January 1968, The Who recorded his song “Faith in Something Bigger” (Odds & Sods). Townshend’s art school friend Mike McInnerney gave him a copy of C. B. Purdom‘s book The God-Man, introducing him to the writings of the Indian “perfect master” Meher Baba, who blended elements of VedanticSufi, and Mystic schools.

Townshend swiftly absorbed all of Baba’s writings that he could find; by April 1968, he announced himself Baba’s disciple. At about this time, Townshend, who had been searching the past two years for a basis for a rock opera, created a story inspired by the teachings of Baba and other Indian spiritualists that would ultimately become Tommy.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Townshend#Religion (retrieved 2012-11-18)

[5] “William W. (Bill) Gothard (born November 2, 1934) is an American Christian minister, speaker and writer, and the founder of theInstitute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), notable for his conservative teachings. Among the several strong distinctives of his teaching have been encouragement of Bible memorization, large families, homeschooling, aversion to debtrespect for authority and extended principles related to identity, family, education, healthcare, music and finances.”
— Wikipedia article on “Bill Gothard”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gothard (retrieved 2012-11-22)

A good analysis of  Bill Gothard’s fallacious and unBiblical view of Rock Music can be found here:
http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2011/11/the-phony-consequences-of-rock-music/ (retrieved 2012-11-22)  However, the short version goes like this: “… the Scriptures Gothard uses to make his case against rock music have absolutely nothing to do with music.”

[6] See “Did Martin Luther Really Use Tavern Tunes In Church?”
http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Learning-Center/FAQs/Tavern-Tunes.aspx (retrieved 2012-11-22); Also “Are Some Hymns Just Rewritten Bar Songs?”
http://www.apologetix.com/faq/faq-detail.php?faq_q_id=89 (retrieved 2012-11-22)

[7] Special revelation is a theological term used mainly by evangelical scientists and Christian theologians which refers to the belief that knowledge of God and of spiritual matters can be discovered through supernatural means, such as miracles or the scriptures, a disclosure of God’s truth through means other than through man’s reason. The distinction between Special and General revelation was first elucidated in-depth by the Catholic systematic theologian St. Thomas Aquinas in his discussion of Revelation. This distinction was only then more widely disseminated by evangelical writers who emphasized its scriptural support (e.g. Psalm 19).”

[8] Direct revelation is a term used by some Christian churches to express their belief in a communication from God to a person, by words, impression, visions, dreams or actual appearance. Direct revelation is believed to be an open communication between God and man, or the Holy Spirit and man, without any other exterior (secondary) means.”

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