Why the “Saltwater Gospel” Isn’t Enough

In 2016, “Saltwater Gospel” was released by country artists The Eli Young Band. This single was the first release off of their fifth studio album. As a native Florida girl who has a deep and abiding love for the sun and saltwater, their song struck a chord with me—resonating with me and grieving me at the same time:

Every Sunday I see people filing in through those front doors
Got a cross up on that steeple, yeah it’s time to praise the Lord
Some watch it on their TV, sittin’ on the couch
Me, I get in my old Bronco and point those headlights out
Oh, ain’t got too many miles to go, to save my soul

Hey I go down and sink my feet in the water
And I soak up that sun and I watch it set
Yeah, I can feel the power of the saltwater gospel
I’m as close to God as I can get
Whoah, Whoah, Yeah, yeah, yeah

Now there ain’t nothing wrong with puttin’ on your Sunday best
Me, I won’t be wearin’ nothin’ that I can’t get wet
I just think about how small I am and life after we’re gone
I’m out here by myself
But I know I’m not alone
Yeah, I got all the proof I need
And it sure makes me believe

When I go down and sink my feet in the water
And I soak up that sun and I watch it set
Yeah, I can feel the power of the saltwater gospel
I’m as close to God as I can get
Whoah, Whoah, Yeah, yeah, yeah, Amen
I’m in heaven watchin’ all these waves roll in
When I’m lost I know where to get found again[1]

The feeling I get when I am out on the water bobbing around in a boat as the Florida sun warms my face and sticky saltwater sprays on my skin…well, I feel really close to God, content and peaceful. Being outside in creation is transcendent. When the sky glows with red and yellow and orange hues as the sun sets over Tampa Bay, my mind can’t help but recall Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Even the most celebrated work of art created by human hands will never touch the glory of God’s handiwork in creation.

So while the songwriters have pointed to the breathtaking beauty of God’s creation, what they call the saltwater gospel, I fear they have also tapped into a deceptive lie running through the hearts and minds of many weekend warriors who forsake the church for the beauty of the bay or the hiking trails or the lush golf fairways, the lie that says, “This is enough.”

In an interview with Billboard, Ashley Gorley, one of the three songwriters, tried to dispel the lie:

“The beach, the sun, the ocean is not a replacement for God,” says Gorley. “It’s not like, ‘This is where I get my spirituality from.’ This is the place where you find God more easily. We had to go make sure some lines didn’t sound like ‘I don’t need to go to church.’ It’s not like that. The three of us think you need all you can get. Go to church, your Bible study, take a trip to the beach and a trip to the mountains—everything to remember who made it all.”[2]

Despite such clarifications, I fear there are far too many people who live as if the saltwater gospel is enough, as if time with God in creation is all that is needed for a healthy spiritual life. However, this saltwater gospel is deficient in two fundamental ways:

For Salvation

The sense of awe a person gets when she watches a sunset or stands before the Grand Canyon or witnesses a lightning storm can help her understand her own frailty compared to the Creator God. However, the awe or peace one feels in the face of the saltwater gospel is not sufficient to lead one to salvation. Nature can stir our hearts to realize our own smallness, can lift our eyes to the truth that there is a Being much greater than humanity; but on its own, it cannot save a person.

The Bible makes clear there is only one true gospel (literally, “good news”). Paul summarizes it in his letter to the church at Corinth: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-4).

The gospel is that we are all sinners (Rom 3:23), and because of our sin, we each deserve death (Rom 6:23). But God, because He loves us so much, took the punishment for our sin (Rom 5:8). Any person who believes that Christ died for her sins and confesses Him as her Lord will be saved (Rom 10:9-10). This is the good news; this is the only true gospel. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one can have a relationship with God apart from knowing about Him (John 14:6). Hanging out on the lake will not save you.

For Sanctification

For some of those who have accepted the true gospel, who have a relationship with Jesus Christ, they have believed the lie that the saltwater gospel is all they need to grow in their relationship with Christ. Sanctification means growing in maturity and becoming more like Christ. God has given us the church to aid in our growth and to help others hear the true gospel. Fellow believers act as iron in our lives to sharpen us (Prov 27:17) and to encourage, strengthen, and build us up in our faith (1 Thess 5:11). The Bible warns believers about the danger of giving up meeting up with other believers (Heb 11:25).

If you are one who has traded time with fellow believers for time on the water or in front of a TV as the song says, then you are missing one of the greatest gifts that God has given you apart from your salvation. God wants you to find a local church to join with in community so you can grow in your faith and become more like Him. And, because He has given you spiritual gifts to help build up and equip other believers (see 1 Cor 12), you are missing out on ministry that God wants you to have.

Floating on a boat in the bay is as close to a perfect day as you can get in my book. However, if the only way you try to get close to God is by sinking your toes in the sand and soaking up the sun, you miss out on truly knowing God or on truly growing with God.

Don’t believe the lie that the saltwater gospel is enough.


[1] See http://www.metrolyrics.com/saltwater-gospel-lyrics-eli-young-band.html

[2]Interview with Tom Roland, “Country’s Fascination With Water Gets Smart Makeover With Eli Young Band’s ‘Gospel,’” July 22, 2016, see http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/country/7446548/eli-young-band-saltwater-gospel

One thought on “Why the “Saltwater Gospel” Isn’t Enough”

  1. Chelsea Miller says:

    Such a great article! I love that song, so I am thankful that the band has since clarified its intent, but definitely worth saying that there is so much more needed than seeing God’s glory in creation. Being a member of a church and worshiping with other believers on Sunday is vital to the sanctification process! and also its own spiritual experience! I wouldn’t trade looking at the grand canyon at sunrise, or seeing the sunset over the ocean for anything, but I also wouldn’t trade seeing hands lifted high on a Sunday morning for all the riches in the world. Thanks for the great read BW!

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