What is wrong with the song “He Lives”?
I commend you for your desire to "prove what is acceptable to the Lord," in regards to our worship music. I would agree that much of the contemporary "Christian" music today falls far short of being truly Christian or Biblical.
I found your website in an attempt to find the history of A.H. Ackley's "He Lives." I was surprised to find your critique of this old favorite used in the Billy Sunday and Bob Jones, Sr. crusades. Granted, it is not a great doctrinal treatise on the resurrection. It is merely one man's profound experiential testimonial in response to a skeptic. To judge this gospel song with; "please...give them a better answer than that." is rather unfair and arrogant! Might "He Lives" also be sung in the same service with "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and other hymns, which, in concert, present the full picture? What did Jesus tell the maniac of Gadara to do? He commanded him to go home and tell his friends what great things the Lord did for him. That was a testimony! Did the maniac quote scripture? I doubt if he knew any, but his testimony (woman at the well; blind man in John 9, etc.) was a start! Yes, ultimately, "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God," but don't despise testimonial songs solely on the basis of "please tell me more." By the way, how many doctrinal songs have you written? Ever tried? I have. It is a great challenge. It's also a great challenge to write a testimonial gospel song.
I hope you enjoy Easter Sunday! There will be millions singing, "He Lives" tomorrow morning with a great note of victory, because Jesus is not in a tomb, nor in a box buried in "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," but at the right hand of God, the Father, and in the hearts of all those who know Him in the Person of the Holy Spirit! Maranatha!
Your inquiry concerning this hymn demonstrates its greatest problem – infidelity dressed in Biblical language. Please be assured that I make no charge of infidelity against Mr. Ackley. I do say that Mr. Ackley was duped by the neo-orthodoxy of his day. If you check the dates of Mr. Ackley’s life (1887-1960) and the dates of Rudolph Bultmann’s life (1884-1976), you will find that they are close to the same, i.e., they were contemporaries. Obviously there is nothing wrong about living at the same time as someone else, but there is always a danger that the philosophy of one may impact the other, even unintentionally, as a result of which the concept of one is adopted by the other. Rudolph Bultmann was the father of the demythologizing of scripture. Bultmann was not interested in how any particular scientific theory related to the New Testament, but rather in what science tells him about the world, namely, that supernatural powers cannot interrupt the laws of cause and effect. Thus, there must be some other explanation for the miraculous (supernatural) in scripture. To Bultmann the physical resurrection of Jesus from the grave was not “scientific,” and, therefore, did not happen. That “myth” had to have an explanation. The explanation was that Jesus was resurrected in the hearts of believers and that is the only sense in which he survived the grave. Theologians, afraid that the Bible could not withstand scientific scrutiny, arrived at the concept of a divided Bible – it spoke correctly of religious matters but was riddled with errors in all other matters. Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann were both representative of the teaching of these theologians. Thus, the Bible was not God’s supernaturally inspired word, and it was filled with errors when it spoke of science, geology, and history. It reached its height in America with the existential neo-orthodox theologians of the early 20th century. Karl Barth said that the resurrection was not an event of history. “The resurrection touches history as a tangent touches a circle – that is, without really touching it.” (He was wrong about both the resurrection and about geometry.) Rudolph Bultmann said that the resurrection was a call to “authentic existence in the face of death.” His position was that if the bones of Jesus were discovered in Palestine tomorrow then all the essentials of Christianity would remain unchanged.
Many of the day adopted the language of neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodoxy spoke of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, claimed to believe it, and proclaimed that Jesus lived within their heart. To them this was the full resurrection. The phrase sounded good, even Biblical, to those who did not recognize its true origin and meaning, i.e., that Jesus Christ was never physically raised from the dead and only lived when an individual had” authentic existence in the face of death.” Language that sounds true can be used for evil purpose. Christians should not adopt that language however well intentioned. Christians should not put a “good spin” on language originally designed to deny the Christ of scripture.
If Mr. Ackley had convinced the Jew whom he was trying to reach that Jesus lived within his heart, would that Jew necessarily have believed in Jesus’ literal resurrection from the grave? I think not. When the Devil quoted scripture to Jesus during his temptation, Jesus did not let the Devil’s statement stand because it was scripture. He pointed out to Satan that that was not all the scripture said on the subject. “6 And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7 Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Matthew 4:6-7. That is a good example to follow in sermon or in song.
When we sing a song on the resurrection of Christ, why not sing:
Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior! Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord! Vainly they watch His bed Jesus my Savior! Vainly they seal the dead Jesus my Lord! Death cannot keep his prey Jesus my Savior! He tore the bars away Jesus, my Lord! Up from the grave He arose With a mighty triumph o’er his foes; He arose a victor from the dark domain, And He lives forever with His saints to reign; He arose! He arose! Halleluiah! Christ arose! --Robert Lowry
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)