If you know me at all, or even if you’ve just barely browsed this site, you know that I love music. Music of all kinds. Music from all places. Music for all faces.
And I am a Christian.
But, generally speaking, I do not love “Christian” music. I do not even like most “Christian” music. First of all, “Christian” is not a genre. Slapping a religious moniker in front of any word does not make the content any more religious, any more meaningful, or necessarily mean that it’s good.
Flip through the radio stations in just about any city in the US and you can immediately spot the “Christian” station even before the lyrics. You know it as soon as the music comes on. There’s just something about the sheen. It all seems to be produced in the same shiny music factory. But I’m already digressing and I’ve barely just begun.
But, many well-intentioned Christians just don’t seem to be too concerned with the quality of the music that bears their name. Or maybe they think it’s actually good. After all, they have their own awards shows, right? Who would give an award to something that’s not good, right?! But again I digress.
We could talk about the protectionism embedded in much of American Christianity. We are taught to fear the surrounding culture and withdraw by replacing things with their “Christian” equivalent. But, I think there are a couple of more immediate reasons why so I am disappointed by so much of what claims to be “Christian” music.
Point Of Purchase Discernment
One of the biggest reasons that so much “Christian” music is not that good is that many Christians are not good at discernment. By and large, in most American churches, we have not been trained in how to apply biblical wisdom to our own lives so that we become transformed by God’s grace. Much less do people feel comfortable examining an artist’s lyrics in detail to discern a worldview, because we’re not all that sure we can clarify ours other than believing people need to get saved. In short, many “American Christians” are simply not good at discernment.
As a result, the entire “discernment” process of supporting an art like music becomes outsourced. It becomes a “point of purchase” decision. Many people simply believe that if you buy something at a “Christian” store, that means that it’s good for your Christianity. For many, it doesn’t even matter if it is good or not, just that it’s “Christian.” That way, we know it supports our faith. And it’s a much easier approach than trying to process the worldview of a musician we don’t know. Why go through all that trouble when I can just go to the “Christian” store and buy something safe.
We just want to protect our kids from the evils of the “Secular World,” and we can’t listen to everything they do and analyze it and talk about it with them to help them develop their own discernment. It’s just safer (and easier) to buy them music approved by the “Christian” bookstore gatekeepers.
I’m not going to spend time debunking this point. If you don’t see the problem, then the rest of this post probably isn’t for you anyway.
Pragmatic/Utilitarian Understanding of Art
In addition, many American Christians have inadvertently adopted a Pragmatic/Utilitarian Understanding of Art in which something music is meant to serve a purpose. It’s not enough that something exist as art for art’s sake. It’s not enough that a musician wrote a moving piece of music because they themselves had been moved. What purpose does that serve? How does that accomplish the salvation of souls or the glorification of God?
Many well-intentioned Christians have come to believe that music exists for one of two primary purposes: to be evangelistic or praise and worship. Art, including music, is meant to serve one of these two purposes.
If evangelism is the primary driving consideration, then it’s the message that matters most, which is the lyrics, and then we have to find out the best way to get our message out, so let’s find out what the “other kids” are listening to, and then mimic the music, replace the lyrics and make sure they get our message?! In other words, we look to the “secular culture” to see what music is popular, we recreate it without the sincerity, replace the lyrics and then try to feed it back to the culture and can’t understand why no one likes our music. It must be persecution. And then there’s “praise and worship” music is fine since it’s already accepted our evangelism.
So, “Christian” bookstores stock themselves with bands that sound like popular bands but with a better message, or music already meant only for Christian use as praise and worship. Of course there are other factors here beyond a utilitarian understanding of art in general and music in particular. For example, many Christians believe that the “salvation of souls” trumps everything else, which only feeds the utilitarian approach. And, for some odd reason many well-intentioned Christians often believe that seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake is somehow sinful. So of course art can’t exist just for art’s sake. Tie all of this in with corporations that exploit well-intentioned Christians for profit and here we find ourselves.
Believe it or not, there was once a time when Christians were at the vanguard of the arts. It’s time to regain that perspective and practice and demand more. Demand more not just of our artists but of ourselves. The breadth and depth of human experience is sure worth more than a comparison chart. Shouldn’t we be encouraging the greatest art because we have the least to lose?