Wisdom from Kammbia 3.2: I Like Christian Music, But…..

Wow 2011 #1s

I overheard a conversation between two co-workers this week.  They were talking about one of my favorite subjects, music.  One of the co-workers said he got this Christian Music CD from a friend and one of the songs sung the word “Jesus” sixty-seven times. He finished the conversation by saying that he didn’t mind Christian music as long as it was good.  But, he didn’t want the message thrown in his face like it was in that song.

I must admit I wanted to jump into the conversation and defend that song he was criticizing.  But, I felt deep down that I agree with him.  So I thought about that conversation all week.

There are many people like that co-worker of mine, who don’t want the message of a religion (mostly Christianity) or a philosophy overtly in their art. However, when I thought about it…doesn’t most art have a message that the artist is trying to promote or influence their audience with?

Let’s stay with music.  The Beatles glorified drug use in their songs during the 60s. John Lennon promoted a utopia with his biggest hit as a solo artist, Imagine. A lot of Rock-n-Roll and Rhythm and Blues songs glorify sex outside of marriage and adultery.  While Rap music glorifies gang violence, the excesses of capitalistic success, and political and cultural philosophies that are outside of  mainstream America.

So I get confused when people like that co-worker have a problem with the overtness in Christian music but will listen to secular music that can be just as overt.

However as I continued to think about that conversation, I still believe he has a point.

Listening to music one of the greatest passions in my life.  I grew up with older brothers that played music around our house all the time.  Also, I have a good friend that is a local jazz musician from Albuquerque and we would have music listening sessions on Saturdays where he would introduce me to music as diverse as Van Morrison to Tito Puente to Enya to Miles Davis to Brazilian musicians like Caetano Veloso and Milton Nascimento then back to groups like Earth, Wind, and Fire and Steely Dan.

So my musical tastes are broad and this is one of the things I lament in Christian music.  Not being broad but narrow.

“That’s when Christian radio decided that a mythical young housewife named Becky was its target customer. If you walk into a top Christian radio station today, everyone on the staff will know Becky, though they may have a different name for her at their station, an ironic and furtive attempt to make Becky their own. Becky is the one person they want to listen. Every little thing the station does is done with Becky in mind.”

“She’s thirty-five years old. She has two kids. She drives a minivan and is married, but her marriage is not all she dreamed it would be. She goes to church pretty regularly, but not every Sunday. She is mostly a stay-at-home mom, but she may work a few hours a week or may work seasonal jobs at different times of the year to bring a few extra dollars into the household.”

“She cares about issues that affect her kids: food, education, health, family, and leisure-time activities. And Christian radio stations cater everything on the air to this question, Will Becky care?”

“There was a time when theologians and the wisest minds of a church determined what was said and sung in a church.  Today it is what Becky likes gets played on Christian radio, and what gets played on Christian radio gets promoted to church musicians and church leaders. The result: our churches are filled with songs not because they reflect our highest and best thinking and artistry or because they remind us and teach our children important truths, but because they are—as many Christian stations say about themselves–safe for the entire family.”

The above quotes were from Warren Cole Smith’s excellent and challenging bookA Lover’s Quarrel With The Evangelical Church. I believed he hit a home run about Christian music with those quotes. It seems this genre of music as taken the roar and ferociousness away from the lion and tamed it like our household pet.

What I struggle with as a Christian (not only in music but across all the other art forms) is that we only study certain parts of the Bible and have it speak for our faith as a whole.

Shouldn’t we study the entire Bible?  The popular and unpopular?  Isn’t all of God’s word worthy of study and examination. So why do we continue go down the same path repeatedly?

Also, shouldn’t Christian music reflect that as well and not just Jesus loves me and forgives me songs?

What about songs on Moses?  God chose him to lead his people out of Egypt into the Promised Land.  Also, God told him he couldn’t get into the Promised Land but buried Moses when he died.  I could see a song about God’s grace from an Old Testament perspective. (God was nice and merciful in the Old Testament…who knew?)

What about songs on Job? There is a Country or Blues song waiting to happen about Job.  Also, there is a song about God’s ways being higher than our ways and that He is mysterious and beyond our total comprehension.

What about songs on Solomon? Lord knows we need songs about wisdom in our culture.  Everybody has information and knowledge but not wisdom.
Also, there is a rhythm-n-blues or smooth jazz song about Solomon loving the wrong woman and the consequences of that decision.

So in essence, I believe Christian music due to business and target marketing has focus a little too hard on Becky and not the depth and richness our faith has shown throughout time. While I understand that our songs should focus on Jesus, it seems the other people of the Bible get left out and we don’t sing about  their struggles and triumphs in trying to live out their faith.

If our music (as well as other art) revealed more of that…then all people (believers and non-believers) could truly relate to our message and even if they don’t agree with it….they could respect the message because it feels real to them and not sanitized.

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11 Comments

  1. I’m a singer. I sing on the Praise Team at my church. Music is a major focus of my life. At one time I thought God might be calling me into the Christian music industry, but it turns out He had other plans.

    Now, on to my comment …

    First of all, I can’t help but think it’s a little ridiculous that your co-worker got worked up about a CHRISTIAN song using Jesus’ name so many times. Uh … it’s Christian, dude. That’s what Christian music is about.

    Secondly — Christian music is a broad genre. It encompasses everything from Wesleyan hymns to Christian rap (although I have an issue with calling rap “music” — not so much my age as it is my definition of what constitutes music). If you’re talking about CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), then it does narrow the subject a bit.

    I agree that so much of what gets played on Christian radio these days is mundane, copycat slop. This is probably why I don’t listen to Christian radio anymore. However, there is awesome Christian music out there, you just have to dig a little to find it, go by word of mouth, that kind of thing. I do like some MAJOR CCM acts (classic Newsboys, Tree63, good ol’ Rich Mullins come to mind), but that is because their stuff stands out, it’s high quality, above the vanilla cookie-cutterness of the rest of the crowd.

    Now, here’s a question: What’s wrong with marketing to “Becky?” Obviously I would want the quality of the songs that are marketed to her to be very high. But I think most of us are Becky … and we need music that lives where we do. I need to hear songs about grace pretty constantly, because I forget about it often, slip back into legalistic thinking, or into thinking I’m such a mess, etc. I need to be reminded a LOT that God loves me where I am and I don’t need to measure up somehow. I need to be reminded of His forgiveness. I need to be redirected in my thinking so that I’m in an attitude of worship more often. I need to be reminded how awesome He is. Etc., etc., etc. I need that a whole lot more than I need deep theological discussions in the music I’m jamming to as I clean the kitchen, run errands, etc. Songs about Solomon, Moses, etc … hmmm, I don’t know. Sure, maybe a few of those. Doesn’t hurt to be reminded about other people of the faith. But to me that’s getting a little pedantic. I think what we really need is just more songwriters who focus on quality and excellence in lyrics (they don’t have to be theologian-worthy, just need to be well thought-out), with music that’s equivalent or worthy of the best in secular music. That’s why I like the old Newsboys, Tree63, Rich Mullins, those types. Their lyrics aren’t mundane, they thought them through, made them a cut above. And their music is/was on par with the best of the secular world.

    So that’s my opinion on CCM. But Christian music as a whole encompasses way more than can be covered in a blog comment. I’d end up writing a novella-length treatise if I tried to cover all the possibilities, problems and issues with music that is considered to be “Christian.”

    So, my point is: I WANT my Christian music to be overt, otherwise I wouldn’t listen to CHRISTIAN music. I want it to address the problems I face in my life. I don’t care if it’s wildly profound or theologically deep, but I do want the lyrics and music to NOT insult my intelligence. I’m already a Christian, so I appreciate that not every Christian artist is aiming for that “seeker” who is interested but not in the fold yet. Heaps of people need that, but I need edification and encouragement in the music I listen to. Sometimes those songs are what get me through the day. (Thank God for Phil Joel …)

    “Clean” music (i.e., music by Christians that doesn’t necessarily mention Jesus or anything particularly “Christian”) is nice, but my soul wants to hear about Jesus, and my mind needs it, too.

    • Stacy,

      Thanks for your comments. It is much appreciated.

      I actually do listen to quite a bit of Christian music from Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, Kirk Franlin, Israel and the New Breed, Marvin Sapp and others. It has taken quite a bit of work….to get me to listening Christian Music on a regular basis.

      I’ve been listening to Michael Card a lot lately…and he’s good.

      Now let me address your comments.

      I agree with you about my co-worker that he should have gotten bother by having to listen to a song that has Jesus in in a lot. However, that conversation brings up a deeper issue that I address in the first part of the post. Most art has a message in it whether it’s Christian or Secular. So it is a hypocritical to take that stance….when he’s listening to secular music with overt messages.

      About Becky…..my problem that other Christians who are not her. Like Me..LOL! I’m married with a wife and two kids. And there are others who don’t want one flavor of music and if we are singing songs about Jesus….then other characters of the Bible should be sung about as well.

      It doesn’t have to be a theological dissertation, but while they are crafting songs about Jesus, they can craft songs about other characters of the Bible as well. Those songs can be just as edifying as well….because we are dealing with real people and their struggles trying to live out their faith.

      Of course, we should have those songs about Jesus…..but they can’t be the only songs on the menu and we neglect the richness and depth of our faith. That’s my issue.

      There is a lot more to write and discuss about this topic. But that’s why I posted this on my blog….we need to look at all aspects of Christanity not just one that appeals to Becky.

      Marion

      • “If we are singing songs about Jesus . . . then other characters of the Bible should be sung about as well.”

        Why? That statement appears to put the “other characters of the Bible” on a par with Jesus, which would reflect a misunderstanding of what the CHRISTian faith is about. Jesus, as the Christ (the savior, the redeemer, etc.) is the central character of the Bible and therefore deserves greater focus than any other character of the Bible. He was “God with us”; all other characters, stories, etc., of the Bible pointed to him. We certainly can learn from them about how God reacts to and uses deeply human (i.e., flawed) people, but to me, they aren’t worth singing about.

        My problem with Christian music isn’t that it talks too much about Jesus. It’s that too much of it talks too much about “me”–“my” feelings, “my” needs, what God does for “me,” etc. Even the so-called “worship” music sung in churches often focuses more on “me” than on “him”. If I want to listen to those kinds of me-centered lyrics, I can listen to the secular stations. Yes, there’s a place for shared emotions and experiences to be expressed in song, to give us a sense of not being alone in our feelings. For me, though, there’s too much “me” and not enough “him” in most Christian music.

        My other primary objection is that too much Christian music (both lyrics and music) is trite, cliched, thrown together with no apparent thought or skill. In any music I listen to, I prefer lyrics with some intelligence and poetry (by which I don’t necessarily mean rhyme, but beautiful or “smart” imagery, a careful use of words, etc.). The lyrics of Steven Curtis Chapman or Twyla Paris come to mind, along with some of the others you mentioned above. In fairness, though, I stopped listening to Christian radio stations quite awhile ago, so I couldn’t tell you who’s out there now doing the kind of stuff I like.

        By way of context for my comments, I’m a longtime singer, former worship leader, married to a gifted musician who wrote his music theory master’s thesis (at a prestigious secular university) on rhythm & relevance in contemporary Christian music.

      • Thanks Laura for your comments. I really do appreciate them. I’m getting some honest discussion about this topic.

        Now, I would like to address something you wrote.

        Singing about characters from the Bible…doesn’t put them on par with the Jesus. And if I was trying to convey that….then that’s my fault.

        However, if you are going to sing about Jesus and reference the miracles he done…”like water turned into wine or opened the eyes of the blind…” I’m using Chris Tomlin’s song as the example…then you are referring to the Bible.

        My point is I can learn how Solomon struggles with wisdom or Job not understanding why God to allow what happened to him or even Jonah refusing to go to Nineveh. Those kinds of songs can be edifying just as well as singing Jesus loves me and forgives me.

        Let me be clear, I’m not advocating getting rid of those songs. They have place even if they are not my favorite songs. But, Christianity has a deep, rich history and I would like more of that in the music I listen to.

        Good art (in this case, music) needs to continue push for excellence not just settled for what’s popular like what Christian music has done for awhile now.

        Good discussion and all the comments have made my day. Because if we don’t talk about it…then we will not get any clarity or understanding on issues like this one.

        God Bless,
        Marion

      • Of course. I wasn’t suggesting that singing about the other characters puts them on a par with Jesus. Just that the statement “if we’re going to sing about him, then we should also sing about them” does so. I don’t necessarily have a problem with someone writing a song about Moses (or whomever). But what I was reacting to was the idea that just because we sing about the King of Kings, we must also therefore sing about the other people mentioned in the Bible.

        Depends on the purpose of the song, the quality of the lyrics, etc.

        🙂

        Laura

  2. Hey, Marion,

    Thanks for posting this and being willing to talk about this. I grew up secular rock alternative and eventually turned to CCM. Later, when I got married I found Christian rap (KJ-52) and Christian hard rock (Skillet, Pillar). I still like the sound, that heavy guitar and to some extent, the drumbeats.

    I agree there is a lot of malaise christian music out there that is really blah. It is true that most songs do talk about the same thing over and over. I thought I might help shed some light on these two matters as well as the music thing on the whole.

    First on the Jesus and redemption matter:
    A lot of popular Christian speakers (James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Billy Graham) align themselves with what is known as New Evangelicalism. Basically what this stance says, is that as long a aperson professes the name of Jesus Christ as their Savior, that person is a Christian. Nothing wrong with that right? Well, problem is, these people alos consider people like Robert Schuller as well as Mormons true Christians even though they deny Jesus Christ as the ONLY way or deny His exclusive deiety outright. It is all under the premise of “uniting as Christians”. Basically, regardless of your stance on other doctrinal issues, if You profess Christ, we can work together to usher in His kingdom. In order to do this, they have to ignore certain doctrinal points of the Bible, particularly those of ecclesiastical separation. (see the video: Here I Stand, A Documentary on Ecumenism). This leaves their doctrine very watered down and reduced to “Jesus loves me and saved me and He can do the same for you.” This is likely the source of most CCM music. How can you sing about Moses without the ten commandments? Or the apostle James without the convicting things he wrote in His epistle? Makes it very difficult.

    The malaise comes from just basically being a copy off the world’s music instead of being original in its own right.

    Several months ago, my wife and I had a conviction about this. She ran across Duet. 12:32 in her personal Bible study. Moses is telling the children of Israel right before the enter Canaan, not to worship the LORD their God as the nations around them worship their gods. Well, we discussed the matter and realized, that’s EXACTLY what we were doing. When I listen to CCM I worship the Lord (especially if it is in a church service). The world worships the gods of rock n’ roll, rap, etc. Listen to with what revernce people talk about Justin Beiber, Frank Sinatra, Usher, etc. We cannot worship our God this way. We are commanded not to.

    The other factor is the association. Drumsets and electric guitars are mostly associated with rock. Rock has an unfortunate relationship to a dark subculture of drugs, drinking, and adultery (as was pointed out, rap has those other reputations). These things are identified with these dark things. 50 years ago you would not have found a pipe organ in a chruch because they were associated with brothels.

    There is a good book about this you may want to check out called “It’s Not About the Music: A journey into worship” by Dan Lucarini.

    So what should Christian music be? Doctrinal. The whole of the Bible is to point to Christ, so He will be the subject of a lot of songs and should be our focus when worshiping. But good Christian music should remind us of the doctrine of Scripture, the things Christ would have us know and live by. Does that mean there should be songs that convict us with the words of James the apostle? Absolutely! What we need more than anything is Biblical truth saturated into our minds. Good worship music will remind us of our sin, direct our hearts to Christ and remind us of where we need to be in our Christian walk.

    One othe rthing. It does need to be good. We are told in all things to do them to the glory of God. The glory of God is the sumtotal of all His attributes. So whatever we do should reflect His attributes, perfection, holiness, etc. This includes quality. Check out some CDs by Steve Petit, especially “Come Boldly”.

    Hope this has helped. Will be praying for you.

    Luke T. Barnett
    Author

    • Luke,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad that this topic is creating good and honest discussion. That was my aim for it.

      Luke, you make some great points and I will check out your recommendation because I’m always looking for good Christian music to listen to.

      Thanks for your prayers as well….I will admit this has been one of my struggles because of my love for music as I mentioned in my post.

      God Bless,

      Marion

  3. Pingback: Wisdom from Kammbia 3.2: I Like Christian Music, But – Blog | Christian Music Jukebox

  4. Hey Marion –

    I am a bit late to the game, but in reading replies there were some really good points brought up.
    As much as we all know Christian music does a lot of good… let’s face it… just like Christian books, movies, etc. it is a business. I know I am being unpopular when I take this stance, but I’ll use a quote from one of my favorite apologists.

    This man was in seminary at the time, and was shocked when he started dialoging with another ministry candidate that did not believe in god. When pressed by the future apologist as to why the other fellow was in seminary, this individual said “There is lots of money to be made in the god circuit.”

    I think big business has infiltrated the Christian music industry, and as a result, we get many canned styles and repeat musicians. In addition to this, I feel some of the reverence regarding God is lost in translation. No offense to anyone who likes this song… 🙂 But when I hear the lyrics that say God is my friend… almost like he is the kid I play ball with… I can’t help but think we owe God a little more than this.

    As someone else already said, not everything is about us; on the contrary, we are to be selfless, and to look after our neighbors. If you follow this to its logical conclusion, not everything is about money, and I think it is a sobering lesson virtually every facet of Christian entertainment needs to learn. I also think church members need to be alert, or else garbage like prosperity preaching will find its way into so called church doctrine.

    -Phil

    • Thanks for your comments, Phil.

      Talking about Christian music is always a touchy subject. Because we are dealing the tension like we talked about last night in the Bible study. In this case, the tension is between commerce and doctrine and artistry. There is a fine line that all Christian artists have to walk with those elements on each side of that triangle.

      Phil, there is a book I read last year and wrote a review on my blog called Imagine by Steve Turner. He wrote an excellent but honest look at Christianity and the Arts. It opened my eyes to the issue of the tension that exists for Christian Artists.

      Here are some quotes from it:

      “Christian songwriters are encouraged to ignore the ordinary things of life because they don’t provide the opportunity to witness. Mention of soup or football doesn’t naturally lead to Calvary. They are then left with the overtly spiritual, and this has the effect of making them seem out of balance to non-Christian observers. It appears that they have no regular life, that they don’t inhabit the normal world of telephones, cars, surf, television, mountains, and fast food. They are like the people who can only talk about how good the Lord has been but can’t hold a conversation about baseball, the weather, the economy, the price of gas or the state of education.

      The gospel is not limited to mentions of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. That, of course is the hub of the matter. There would be no good news without it. But in its fullness, the gospel spreads out and embraces all aspects of our lives. It includes the renewed mind that Paul refers to, the wisdom sought after by Solomon and the justice called for by Amos.”

      The second quote is what I tried to focus on in the blog post. By singing only Jesus loves me or forgives me songs…..we are missing the fullness of gospel and leaving out some the realism that others face with their faith. Of course, everything should start and end with Jesus…but we are missing the middle. Unfortunately, our form of Christianity has followed the culture in this aspect. We like beginnings and endings but not the stuff in the middle. However, it is the stuff in the middle that gets us from the beginning to the ending.

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