Saturday, June 17, 2006

The State of Christian Music

In a recent article in Christianity Today Online, author Patton Dodd has this to say about the current state of Christian Music,
"Show me an evangelical between the ages of 15 and 50, and I'll show you an evangelical who can tell this story (or something much like it): I used to listen to secular music, then I discarded it all and listened only to Christian music. Then I realized I didn't like much Christian music, so I slowly started listening to secular music again. Now I listen to the David Crowder Band in the mornings and Radiohead on the drive home."
You can read the rest of Dodd's article here.
I resonate with Dodd's viewpoint. As a church-going youth raised in a Christian home, I was exposed to some Christian music in my formative years. Some Michael W. Smith. A little Amy Grant. A smattering of Carman. And a bunch of music for old people. What I knew of contemporary Christian music (CCM) really didn't meet my tastes. For one thing, the quality of CCM back in the eighties was mostly inferior to what I heard on mainstream radio. Secondly, the type of music that I liked in high school and early college was primarily rap and R&B. Public Enemy. N.W.A. Run-D.M.C. Bobby Brown. Boyz II Men. That sort of stuff.

I wasn't exposed to any Christian music that I really liked until after I became a Christian in college and the Campus Crusade folks got ahold of me. I did get a BeBe & CeCe Winans tape as a first foray into gospel music during my freshmen year of college (and the only reason I got that was because I had seen one of their videos on BET). So after I started getting serious about my relationship with Christ, I thought that, as a good Christian, I should get rid of all my tapes with the "Parental Advisory-Explicit Lyrics" stickers on them. So I did that. But then I found myself asking myself, "So what do I listen to now?"

I went home to my parents for the summer after my sophomore year ended and I made a visit to the local Christian bookstore to see if I could find the type of music that I liked -- but with lyrics about Jesus. If you've ever tried to buy music by black artists at most mom & pop Christian bookstores then you know what I encountered. Let's just say that there was a paltry selection. So I bought the five tapes that had black faces on them (a few rap groups like Dynamic Twins, D.O.C., and Dawkins & Dawkins and a couple gospel/R & B groups like Commissioned) and headed home. And I dug this stuff. It was pretty good.

Then I started to develop "convictions" about what music I listened to. Not only did I get rid of all my "secular" music (I don't know why I thought Whitney Houston was that evil), but I also began to let other Christians know that they shouldn't be listening to that stuff either. They should be listening to good Christian music like Steven Curtis Chapman and Twila Paris. I suppose many young Christians go through that stage of legalism when you're trying to establish your walk with Christ and rid yourselves of the temptations of the world. There probably wasn't anything wrong with deciding to listen to Christian music exclusively -- I just probably shouldn't have told everyone else what I thought God wanted them to do.

So my "Christian music only" period went on for several years (And this was probably good for me. I needed to become grounded in my relationship with the Lord and didn't need to be filling my mind with some of the stuff that I had been). Then I gradually began to introduce other types of music into what I was listening to. I found that as I was maturing as a Christian, that some of the music that I used to listen to didn't affect me like it used to. I was able listen to a fun song on the radio without it negatively affecting my spirituality.

With CCM we have created a whole subculture of music by Christians that is for Christians. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. It's good for Christians to listen to music that is explicitly about God, even when we're outside of church. But when singers talk about wanting to use their music for ministry to non-Christians and then only do concerts in churches and at Christian music festivals and only have their CD's sold in Christian bookstores, I have to wonder how many non-Christians are they really reaching? There is a growing trend of Christian musicians who refuse to be identified as "a Christian band." It is not because they are ashamed of Jesus, but because they don't want to be associated with the Christian ghetto that the CCM industry has become. They know that some listeners may not give them a hearing if they are labeled as a Christian band.

I remember back when Jars of Clay had a huge mainstream hit with the song Flood back in 1995. They were instantly given an audience among non-Christians and they took advantage of it. They began playing gigs in bars and clubs and were living out Christ's admonition in Matthew 5 to let their light shine (Read the passage here). They never denied their faith in Christ, but were merely seeking to go to the types of places that Jesus did while He was on earth. And boy did they catch some grief from some Christians for this. They were accused of selling out, blah, blah, blah.

Look at what prolific church planter Neil Cole says:
"If you want to win this world to Christ, you are going to have to sit in the smoking section. That is where lost people are found and if you make them put their cigarette out to hear the message they will be thinking about only one thing: “When can I get another cigarette?”
I am concerned that we have created a Christian music industry that is so "positive and encouraging" that it doesn't address real life. It may be nice music, but it may not get to some of the nitty gritty of everyday life. I think that music that truly honors God is music that addresses all areas of life. Yes, we need to sing about Jesus and praise God and sing about heaven and all that stuff. But we also need to sing about heartbreak and love and disappointment. Just like a two-foot long sugar stick, some modern CCM is so candy-coated that it's hard to swallow. It's why I really like Christian artists like Nichole Nordeman and the late Rich Mullins. They sing God-honoring lyrics, yet they are able to sing about the real struggles of life. If Christian artists produce good quality music that addresses the whole of life, people will buy it.

I recently finished the book Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman. Stockman does a great job of showing how this group has consistently had Christian themes in their music and is now having a tremendous influence in reaching out to the poor and oppressed all over the world. Before being so quick to judge Christian artists that are seeking to make an impact, maybe we should wait and see how God might use them. There have been a number of Christian singers in recent years that have found mainstream success that has opened new doors for them to share Christ with others. Let's pray for them instead of throwing stones at them.

Technorati Tags:


Anonymous said...

I did the same thing. Loved RunDMC, etc in high school. Started walking with God in college and gave it all up. Got into SFC, D2, etc. Still think they are good, but I don't listen to CCM much anymore.

Unknown said...

scott..couldn't agree more man. well said!

crock said...

Great Post - you've certainly introduced me to a lot of great music over the years - Jars of Clay, Jennifer Knapp, Sarah Masen, and of course - Steven Curtis!
Love you, big brother!

Anonymous said...

I am a musician who has been heavily influenced by Keith Green. I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for download.

I don't mean to be a pest, so if this message is an annoyance, please delete it and accept my humblest of apologies. I just want to share my music with people who love Jesus.

"All my music is free."