After the long winded Sara Groves post, I thought it might be a good idea of why I do exegesis of new Christian music.
When I was a kid, I went to an American Baptist camp named Pathfinder. I absolutely loved it there. One year, one of the counselors, John Malone, told us to write down our top ten favorite songs and turn the lists in. From those, he chose the top 2 songs listed, researched the lyrics, got the CDs, and the next day took us through the lyrics. The two songs that were picked were Gangster's Paradise by Coolio and Um Bop by Hansen (neither of these was on my list). I was surprised by the depth of the Coolio song, and the irony of the lyrics to Um Bop (which are really depressing). This lesson still sticks with me today, for it taught me the importance of lyrics.
Many of the kids (we were 15 and 16) there could sing along with the song, but couldn't tell you what the song was about. It was interesting how well they knew the songs without knowing them at all. Indeed, Um Bop was mostly added as a joke, but we all got a deeper lesson out of it because the ironic lyrics.
But Why Be So Exegetical About It?
I'll tell you why. Primarily because I am enough of a dork to find it fun. Ever since that first lyrical exegetical experience at camp, I have been fascinated by lyrics.
However, to that, I think there is a great advantage to exegeting songs for a Christian. This is because Christianity, especially Protestantism, is a religon of the book. Because so much of our understanding of who we are and who God is comes from how we understand Scripture, much of our epistemology and general philosophy is based upon how well we can read a text. Thus, learning how to exegete in general can help us in exegeting Scripture itself.
In other words, exegeting songs makes good practice. The reason for using modern songs is that they are an excellent thing to practice on. First of all, they are modern, which means that they are written in our language and our dialect. We are not dealing with a translation, and we are not dealing with any obsolete or archaic word usages.
The second is that a song, or any kind of poem for that matter, is a very small and self-contained literary work. Let's face it, it is easier to deal with 4 paragraphs than it is to deal with than even a two page article.
The third is that songs use stricter and more identifiable structures. This isn't just the tendency in American music to use a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, but also just the overall use of stanzas in general. The song has very identifiable units, with a rhythm and, usually, a clear connection to the whole. The main theme is usually most succinctly or emotionally expressed in the chorus. The verses usually taking the most time to treat the subject serving as either emotional set up or thematic elucidation. In either case, our exposure to not only this basic structure, but other common structures gives us a good sense of where to look for the theme of the song.
Thus, exegeting modern songs is much easier than Scripture itself. It therefore makes an excellent training tool, and, like I said, good practice. I hope to teach hermeneutics one day using song, and this practice is not only is hermeneutics in general but all in explaining how analysis works. So please enjoy my former exegeses, as well as any future ones, and I encourage for you to do this yourself. I believe you will find it quite beneficial.