I love Jesus. I love music. But I don’t love most music about Jesus. I’ll be honest; most of what passes for “Christian” music is really not all that good. I can say that because I love music. I listen to a lot of it. A lot. By no means do I claim to be an expert but I’ve been told I have a pretty good ear. Lots of people seem to like music I recommend to them.
Christian artists should be the most creative and adventurous because we have the most to celebrate and the least to lose. There was a time when Christians were at the forefront of the arts. They created the best art. But by and large, those days seem to have passed us by. The “Christian music industry,” if there really even is such a thing, seems to have simply adopted the role of “sanctified copycats.” That is to say, we look at the trends “out there,” we see the Gospel message as propaganda to spread at all costs, we take the musical form that was popular a couple of months ago, we replace the content, give it back to the world as an evangelistic tool and our kids as a “safe alternative” and we don’t understand why no one takes us seriously.
But why do you listen to music? Simply to get a message? No, there is something there that you connect with; an emotion, a moment of life captured in time, an artistic expression, a passion, whatever it may be. Everyone can spot a fake a mile away, except Christians. We have largely come to approach art and music simply as vehicles with which to get out the message of the Gospel. We judge an artist by a single song and criticize them if they don’t mention Jesus or meet the hallelujah quota. All the while, the only real criteria to be called “Christian” music is marketing. It is not about content but about distribution lines.
What made me embark on this rant, you ask? My friend Mark (with whom I do the Habañero Hour podcast and house shows with the express intent of shattering all of these notions of “Chrisitan” music) recently sent me to the Music Pear website. The purpose of this site/service is to find out what “mainstream” artists you like and then provide you with a “Christian” alternative. Except, they have no match for Tom Waits, so what good is the site, really?
I don’t know the makers of this site and I’m sure their intentions are good. But they’re misguided. They have bought into a false dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular” and they have encouraged false notions about music and culture as a whole. There is more “Christian” content in songs by Bob Dylan or Sufjan Stevens than many of the artists I can purchase in my local “Christian” bookstore. For so many of us, discernment has become nothing more than a point-of-purchase decision. I bought it at a “Christian” store so of course it’s OK! I can’t buy that artist at that store so of course they’re not “Christian!” There is just so much wrong here that goes unchecked and uncritically accepted.
We need to develop a view of the arts as big as the Gospel. We must encourage our artists to openly express their faith in an entire body of work and understand that a biblical worldview expresses itself in songs about suffering and love and daily routines and that some songs may explicitly mention Jesus and some may not and that’s not only OK, it’s beautiful! Christians have lost the notion of creating beauty for God’s sake and have come to view the arts as little more than a vehicle with which to get our propaganda out.
As I anticipate pushback, I can already hear someone saying that I’ve somehow condoned anti-God rock n’ roll messages and that of course all music is not edifying music. Of course it’s not! That’s why we need to develop discernment instead of simply creating alternatives! I need to stop now.