There may not be a more polarizing figure on the contemporary country music landscape than Morgan Wallen. On the heels of a few highly publicized violations of COVID restrictions throughout 2020, Wallen’s star fell even further in February 2021 when video surfaced of the country superstar using a racial slur in a drunken stupor. The reaction was swift: Wallen’s music was pulled from country radio and he was suspended by his record label. Wallen apologized, promised to work on himself, and retreated away from the spotlight for a time.
And yet, Wallen’s album Dangerous went on to become 2021’s best-selling album with streams in the hundreds of millions and the Billboard #1 singles “More Than My Hometown”, “7 Summers”, and “Wasted on You.” Those who would lament the ubiquity of “cancel culture” at every turn have a hard time explaining Wallen’s staying power.
Wallen re-emerged last week with “Don’t Think Jesus,” a new single which can only be heard as both reflection on and response to the singer’s recent circumstances. The song follows a nameless character — a “boy,” no less — who dreams of the bright lights and the big stage, presumably as a guitar-playing country star. But soon enough, after “chasing the devil through honky tonk bars,” the boy realizes that his lifestyle is incongruent with an implicit confession of faith in Jesus. Voices in his head remind him, “I don’t think Jesus done it this way.”
And then the chorus:
If I was Him, I’d say, “To hell with you. Ain’t no helping you.”
Find someone else to give Heaven to, I’m telling you.
I’d shame me, I’d blame me, I’d make me pay for my mistakes.
But I don’t think Jesus does it that way.
I’ve been listening to this song quite a bit this week and I think the song’s appeal — besides an irresistibly catchy tune and some seriously mournful pedal steel — comes from it’s simple articulation of Good News: Jesus does it differently than you or I would.
Instead of condemnation, He offers mercy.
Instead of guilt — which, according to the CRT crowd, is eternal and irrevocable — Jesus offers grace.
This song is so simple and yet it powerfully communicates the truth that shapes eternity. Hard to do no matter what, but especially in three and a half minutes.
Wallen’s past behavior was certainly egregious. That much is evident. Clearly he had some growing up to do. But “Don’t Think Jesus” sounds like repentance to me. It sounds mature and clear-eyed. In the song’s final stanza, when the boy is tempted to retaliate after being pelted by stone-throwers, Wallen sings:
But Lord knows I ain’t perfect and it ain’t my place
And I don’t think Jesus done it this way.
And like a throwback evangelist, Wallen turns this bit of autobiography into a powerful closing question:
Are y’all sure that Jesus done it this way?
That’s the best kind of conclusion because it forces listeners to consider our actions in light of Christ’s. And it leaves us to imaginatively wonder what it would look like if we were to emulate Him. Best of all, it sounds an awful lot like wisdom from someone who has been through the fire and by the grace of God — literally — has lived to tell about it.
And all of that is really good news.