Extracted and condensed in 2018 from posts on: The Blah, Blah WordPress.com site beginning around November 8, 2007 PLEASE NOTE: This is a very long page. It has been imported with only a few minor deletions of text asking for feedback or suggesting what is to come. Links were checked/validated on 9/25/2018.
For the past six months or so, I’ve been struggling with the concept of defining what “Christian Music” is. Is Christian Music everything that CCM tells me is Christian Music? Is it anything I’d hear on a Christian radio station? Is it any music that mentions Jesus, God, or the devil? Is it music that proclaims a Christian worldview, however subtle? What is it?
This issue of defining Christian Music didn’t really become important until I started The Blah Blah. When you’ve got a blog with a tagline – “A Christian Music MP3 Blog,” it’s kind of important to know what is meant by the term “Christian Music.”
For the next few Thursdays, I’ll be posting various opposing views on Christian Music, with the goal of bringing something of an idea of what is meant by the whole thing. Since I don’t know what I believe yet, most of the opposing views will come from myself, but I hope to have some guest posters give their input as well.
Today, for the first post on Defining Christian Music, I offer the idea that perhaps it doesn’t even matter. It’s probably not a good tactic to open a series of discussions with the thought that the whole series of discussions is irrelevant, but this is the thought I’m stuck with right now, so this is what you get.
A few days ago, I remembered a family I know who supports their church ministry through a carpentry business. This got me thinking. The dad, who does most of the work, is a Christian carpenter. Are the chairs, tables, stools, and benches he makes therefore Christian furniture? Does anybody care?
I’ve never heard of anybody looking at buying furniture saying to themselves, “Well, I need to know whether it was made by a Christian or not, because I really like to sit in chairs made by people who share my worldview. I will upon occasion sit in a Buddhist or Muslim manufactured chair, but I always feel a bit out of place, so I prefer to deal primarily with Christian carpenters.”
That’d be ridiculous! If I were to buy a chair I’d look for:
1) Does it work? Is it functional? Or is it falling apart?
2) Is it comfortable, or does it feel like sitting on a solid slab of sliver-filled concrete?
3) Does it look good? Does it match my jeans? Does it make my butt look big? (Note: those last two are an example of what I call “humor.”)
4) Is it a good price? Or am I wasting my money on it?
And I really do want to know the answer to:
5) Has it been employed in some sort of satanic, occultic, voodoo, or pagan ritual?
Can you tell which of the chairs to your left is the Christian chair?
The question of whether or not the chair was made by a Christian is largely irrelevant. I personally prefer to support Christian business owners out of a feeling of common brotherhood, but that’s a side-point not related to the product itself.
When I purchase furniture, I don’t ask myself if it has been made by a Christian. When I purchase groceries I don’t ask if they’ve been grown and picked by a Christian. When I buy a plunger, I don’t ask if it’s been packaged by a Christian. When I buy a computer I don’t ask if the motherboard has been soldered by a Christian.
Why not? Because it really doesn’t have an effect on my enjoyment of the product.
So what about music? If it doesn’t even matter when selecting a chair, does it matter when selecting music to listen to? For me, the answer is yes. Music is spiritual by nature. Many scientists, philosophers, musicians, professors, and theologians agree on that, so I won’t try to convince you here. A chair is not so spiritual by nature. It exists in the physical world for physical purposes (to sit on). Music has a spiritual component that exists for spiritual purposes.
Because of the spiritual component to music, I do want to know if it has been made by someone who shares my spiritual views on life. I want to know whether it’s Christian Music or not.
If the music is not made by a Christian, that doesn’t mean I won’t listen to it, but I’ll listen to it with a different filter on. If it’s made by a Buddhist, I’ll potentially have to filter out certain things I don’t agree with. If it’s made by an Atheist, Muslim, Hindu, Secularist, or whatever, I’ll have to do the same. If it’s made by a Christian, I’ll still need a filter, but it’s a different filter and hopefully there will be less to catch in it.
What are your thoughts on this? If you’re a Christian reader, is it important to you to know if you’re listening to music made by Christians? If you’re not a Christian reader, why not? Get with the program! Just kidding. 🙂 If you’re not a Christian, is the spiritual character of the music important to you too? Or do you think us Christians get way too hung up on things that don’t matter? Please leave some comments with your thoughts on the whole issue.
Last week, (above here) I discussed the idea of Christian music and proposed that perhaps the whole thing didn’t even matter. Maybe the faith of the artists is irrelevant. I came to the conclusion that, for myself, I want to know what the musicians believe, partly out of curiosity and partly so I know how to interpret the songs. I’ll still listen to you if you’re not a Christian, but I like to know that.
Since I’ve decided it’s important to me to know the beliefs of people who create music, now I want to discuss the term “Christian music” itself. There was a time when I understood what those two little words meant when put next to each other, but now that I’ve entered the world of indie music and Sufjan Stevens has shocked everybody with his overtly Christian songs, I don’t know a thing. Indie fans are inherently skeptical of Christianity and many Christian indie artists don’t want their beliefs critiqued by the world, so they shy away from identification with the Christian music scene.
I used to know what “Christian music” meant, but not anymore. Here are some definitions I’ve heard thrown around, none of which I like:
1. “Christian music” means it’s made by Christians.
Maybe Christian music is anything that’s made by a Christian. This is probably my favorite definition, but it has its problems, which I’ll explore below. First, though, if you follow this reasoning, then Bob Dylan, Sufjan Stevens, David Bazan, and others rejected by the Christian Music Industry would need to be included now, and bands like Phillips, Craig, and Dean, poster-child for CCM and ugly epicenter of all that is modern worship, would likely be rejected for their heretical beliefs (see here). I don’t have a problem with this, but it would mean we have to radically realign everything.
I like this idea because it satisfies my compulsive desire to know the beliefs of every artist I listen to. I also like that it leaves it open for musicians to write about all of life, not just the hyper-spiritual “God moments.” Christians can have bad days. The can make mistakes. They can feel depressed or discouraged. They can go to a movie, take a vacation, and eat hot dogs too.
Problems, though, would include the fact that some people would include non-Trinitarians like Phillips, Craig, and Dean, while others would exclude them. Some would include Catholics like The Innocence Mission, while others wouldn’t. Some would include spirit-filled believers like Isa, but others wouldn’t. In short, whose definition of “Christian” do we use?
2. “Christian music” means it’s included in Contemporary Christian Music.
This is the current working definition of Christian music. It’s included if it’s marketed as CCM, if it’s sold in Christian bookstores, if it’s heard on Christian radio.
With this thinking, Phillips, Craig, and Dean, despite being heretics, are solidly within CCM and therefore included as “Christian music.” However, Sufjan Stevens, David Bazan, and other indie artists are not, because they’re not marketed as Christians and they don’t have the Christian Music Industry connections.
There are a lot of problems with this definition, and I might go over those later, but the biggest one, in my mind, is that the marketing gurus and record labels have no right to decide what’s Christian and what’s not. It’s a ridiculous, false situation.
3. “Christian music” means it’s spiritually uplifting.
OK, so maybe if the song encourages you and inspires you to love God more, then it’s Christian music.
This being said, Hoobastank’s “The Reason” would be Christian music because it’s one of the best gospel illustrations outside the original four. It inspires and encourages me. On the flip side, many songs by Wovenhand, This Beautiful Mess, The Listening, Aaron Strumpel, and other outspoken Christians would be rejected because they deal with hopelessness, loss, and going through hard times. Mostly, they bring it back to hope in God, but not always. If I’m having a bad day, their songs can really minister to me, but if I’m doing great, they can make me feel depressed.
Besides, who says that being a Christian is always easy and fun and uplifting? Certainly not the Bible. Following this line of thinking, you’d have to throw out most of Ecclesiastes, Job, Jeremiah, and the Psalms. You’d also have to delete all of Jesus’ sayings on persecution, suffering, and people falling away. And Paul? Get rid of most of his letters. Maybe we’d better not even mention him, actually, considering he was stoned, jailed, beat up, and whipped countless times.
The Christian life is not limited to the happy, encouraging moments, and Christian music should not give the impression that it is.
4. “Christian music” means it mentions God.
This was my working definition for a while. If I heard a song on the radio that mentioned God in a positive way, I got all excited that Christianity was taking over the airwaves, and if my friends listened to a “lukewarm,” “supposedly Christian” band that didn’t mention God in a song, I rebuked them for being lukewarm themselves.
This is a retarded definition, so I won’t spend a long time with it. If we’d adopt it as the working definition, though, it’d mean almost every band, from The Beatles to The Doors to Britney Spears would have created some Christian music, because most bands have all mentioned God positively in at least one song. And you’d have to delete a lot of songs by The Listening, This Beautiful Mess, and even the David Crowder Band, because they don’t explicitly mention God, no matter how great of worship songs they may be. Look at the lyrics for “You are My Joy” by David Crowder. Incredible worship song, but it never mentions God.
You’d have to take Esther out of the Bible because it never says the word “God.” I’ve become pretty ambivalent toward that book ever since the movie One Night with the King, but I don’t want it stricken from Scripture. And I know a lot of people who say nice things about God but would never call themselves Christians.
Like I said, this is a retarded definition. Moving on…
5. “Christian music” means it has nothing vulgar or offensive.
A lot of people have thrown this one around, that if it doesn’t have any swearing or offensive content, then it’s good Christian music.
With this definition, then, instrumental band Mogwai would be making Christian music, because they couldn’t even be vulgar or offensive if they tried, with no lyrics and all. Many of the early Beatles songs would be Christian, and a number of other artists out there who have no faith in God would be included. On the other hand, Derek Webb and Waterdeep would not be included for at times using vulgar language to get a point across.
Besides, who gets to decide what’s offensive and what’s not? Something might not offend me, but you’ll be disgusted by it. The word “sucks” is a great example. I’m not offended by it, but you might be. That sucks, but it’s the truth.
With that, much of Christianity is offensive to people. Saying that you’ll go to hell if you don’t follow God? Offensive. Saying that non-Christians are enslaved to sin? Offensive. Saying that sin is stupid and wrong? Offensive. Saying that homosexuality is sin? Offensive. Saying that sleeping together before marriage is wrong? Offensive. Christianity itself is offensive in a lot of ways to a lot of people.
Heck, the Bible is offensive. Read Psalm 137, where the Psalmist brings up brutal child murder in a positive light. And then there’s all the rape, incest, grotesque murder, gore, genocide, hatred, war, and explicit language. Ezekiel is full of explicit references to Israel as a prostitute. Song of Songs isn’t for the ears of kids.
6. “Christian music” means it speaks “Christianese.”
Maybe the definition is that Christian music has to use the language of the Christian church, Christianese. Maybe songs have to use words like “amen,” “hallelujah,” “salvation,” “wonderful,” “savior,” “lamb,” etc.
This being said, my favorite heretics Phillips, Craig, and Dean are back in the Christian camp, as well as most other current worship bands and a lot of country songs. But Robbie Seay Band, Lifehouse, and some songs by David Crowder Band would be excluded. This would be dumb.
Besides, Jesus and the disciples never spoke Christianese, and neither did anyone who served God before them. Just as merely using Christian words doesn’t make a person a Christian, neither does it make a song a Christian song.
So, like I said, the definition I’m happiest with is #1, but I’m not totally sold on it, and I’d have to up and change the rest of the world first, to get rid of all the baggage inherent with the term.
What are your thoughts? What does the term currently mean? Is it worth redefining it, or should we just throw it out? What are some possible definitions I didn’t bring up? Willing to defend any of the definitions I mentioned?
Whether you like the term or hate it, you’ve gotta admit that “Christian Music” is a loaded term. It carries a lot of baggage. It’s sort of like, back in the day, when you’d say “jazz music” and it meant loose morals, drinking, smoking, and sex before marriage. The term “Christian Music” has it’s own set of stereotypes that go along with it that are, honestly, damaging to the musicians.
Since I didn’t have as much time to actually research my thoughts as I had hoped, here are, in a very raw form, my thoughts on some of the sometimes-true sterotypes that go along with the term:
1) “Christian Music” artists and songs are hypocritical.
In polls, people almost always list TV evangelists as one of their most-hated professions they come in contact with. Why? I’m sure there are plenty of reasons, but one is undoubtedly the hypocrisy. When you’ve got high-profile Christian leaders preaching against sin, slamming homosexuals, and condemning divorce, yet they’re being caught in homosexual relationships (here for one example), they’re divorcing without much sign of remorse (here), and they’re doing hard drugs (here), you’ve got hypocrisy. The list of hypocritical acts by high-profile Christians goes on and on. And that’s the high-profile ones that make it into the news. What about your small church pastors living double lives? What about your average church-goer who doesn’t live what he preaches?
There are a lot of good Christians out there, in low-profile and high-profile places, but the terms “Christian” and “Christian Music” do carry a lot of bad baggage as a result of our bad behavior. I think the world can often hear “Christian” and think “hypocritical.” And it’s nobody’s fault but ours.
2) “Christian Music” is lame.
The term “Christian Music” conveys, to a lot of people, that the music is lame. It’s not up to par with secular music. This has been true at times but is a pretty single-sided stereotype. Before I was a Christian, my dad would play Christian radio all the time. I was bombarded with Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Phillips, Craig, and Dean, and loads of other musicians I would call “lame” musically. I know Michael W. Smith is a genius when it comes to music and he’s an amazing man of God from all I hear. I’m sure the others are similarly dedicated to God (except for those heretics Phillips, Craig, and Dean. Burn ’em! Boycott their music! jk). Back to the story. Thus bombarded with lame music, I decided that all Christian music was lame and that any God who liked that kind of music would obviously not like me and must be a pretty lame God himself. This is very untrue, but the music conveyed this to me, however inadvertantly. A lot of artists are aware of the baggage of the “Christian Music” term and don’t want to be instantly pigeon-holed into the “lame” corner.
3) “Christian Music” alienates the audience by creating a “me vs. you” mentality.
I’ve heard this one thrown out there a lot, and while I don’t know how true it is, I understand what people are saying. “Christian Music” creates a gap between the artist and the listener. Often, it’s one party (the musician) trying to help, save, convert, teach, heal, exhort, or change another (the listener). Sometimes this is great. Sometimes you need that. But sometimes it creates unnecessary conflict and divisions. Are the musicians really that much different from the listeners? No, we’re all people, regardless of whatever message you may have to give. People can have an almost instinctual reaction against anything “preachy,” anything that creates a “me vs. you, giver vs. receiver” atmosphere. I think a lot of this requires changing in us, where we don’t approach people as the opponent, or somebody to win over, but as a brother to come alongside and share a common story with.
Besides creating this strange division between musician and listener, the term “Christian Music” also implies that it is only for Christians or those hoping to become Christians, alienating many of the people that “Christian Music” really wants to help. Most people who are not Christians will not go to a “Christian Music” show, unless they think they’re Christians (which is the way it was with me).
4) “Christian Music” is fake.
I thought this before starting to serve God. I know my friends have thought it. Heck, I still think it. We assume that anybody within “Christian Music” is fake. Songs seem forced. Melodies lack passion. Lyrics lack conviction. The whole scene seems over-marketed, over-produced, and fake, in a lot of ways, like bands are created to say the party line and use the right phrases in order to gain an audience and make money for their record labels. I’d keep on ranting, but read this article here for more on the topic.
5) “Christian Music” is Christian.
One of the biggest problems with the term “Christian Music” is that music, by it’s nature can neither be saved or damned, Christian or non-Christian, Believer or unbeliever. Music is music, created by God to be used and enjoyed. What we do with that music can be done in either a Christian manner or a non-Christian manner, but music itself can not be born again and therefore can not be “Christian Music.” It’s as ridiculous as saying I bought a “Christian Car” the other day. Cars can’t be Christians – only people can.
So there’s a few of my rants on the current problems with the term “Christian Music” as I see them. I’m sure there are a zillion more out there, so please share your feedback.
Also, Colossians Three Sixteen, curiously enough, has done a couple articles recently on the topic. Read them here and here. He does a better job at researching and buiding a case than I do, but I think I rant better. 🙂
Check out my previous posts to get up-to-date, but basically I’ve decided that I don’t like the term “Christian Music.” There are a lot of things that bother me about it, but my main reason for not liking it is that it implies the music is not only by Christians (which I’m fine with) but also exclusively for Christians (which I’m not fine with). So, I don’t like the term as it is, and this post is about what to do about it.
I know it’s sort of dumb to be deciding I don’t want to use the term “Christian Music” anymore right in the midst of Christian Music Superbowl I, but, like I said, I don’t like it but I need to figure out what to do about that.
As I see it, we have 2 options with the term “Christian Music,” but please give your thoughts in the comments:
1) Get a Whole New Term
I was thinking that maybe we need a new term to replace “Christian Music,” or maybe multiple new terms. One option would be to throw out “Christian Music” as a genre and replace it with “Christian Worship Music” (for bands like David Crowder Band, Delirious?, etc.) and “Christian Life Music” (for bands like Thousand Foot Krutch, Relient K, etc.).
This really doesn’t solve anything at this point, other than divide up CCM into two camps (worship and life), and leave anybody outside CCM (Sufjan Stevens, mewithoutYou, Danielson, etc.) in the same predicament they are currently in – where they’re rejected by “Christian Music” (for not making music exclusively for Christians) so people assume they’re not even made up of Christians.
The terms “Christian Worship” and “Christian Life” still imply that the music is made for Christians and not for everyone. Is there even a term that would work to say, “We’re making music as Christians, with a Christian worldview, but our music is not just for Christians exclusively”?
You could call it “Music by Christians” but then you don’t have the problem that people think it’s only for Christians but that they think it’s by Christians for converting non-Christians. If you thought a certain genre of music was made by Muslims for your conversion, would you listen to it? I might, but just out of morbid curiosity. I think most people would be turned off though.
2) Stop Using Any Term
I’m leaning toward this option. It seems rather arbitrary to create an entire genre based exclusively on whether the people are Christians or not (or, rather, are marketed toward Christians). There is no “Buddhist Music” category at Best Buy, no “Atheist Music” shelf at Barnes and Noble.
So, why a “Christian Music” genre even at all? Marketing. People can make a lot of money off of telling Christians what’s safe for them and what’s not. Just label it right, we think it’s good for us, and we buy it without a second thought. You can make a lot of money off of “Christian Music,” but I don’t think you’d make as much off “Atheist Music,” “Muslim Music,” or “Zoroastrian Music.”
Certain terms designating faith music make sense to me. “Gospel Music” makes sense. It means you’re getting a certain style of music, a certain sound. “New Age Music” makes sense. You’re getting Yanni. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the New Age Movement anymore, but I know what I’ll be hearing if someone pops in an album of New Age Music. It’s got a distinct sound.
Come to think of it “Christian Contemporary Music” sort of makes sense to me as a genre with a distinct sound. I’m sure you all have found yourself in an unfamiliar city, cruising through radio stations, and all of a sudden you hear something and think, “Oh, here’s the Christian station.” CCM does have a particular sound. The problem with CCM, though, is that people equate its sound with any music that Christians are allowed to listen to or make. They think that if it doesn’t sound like CCM, it’s not Christians doing it. And, despite my harshness toward CCM, it really isn’t as cohesive in its sound as Gospel or New Age Music. You’ve got rap, pop, rock, r & b, acoustic… all within CCM.
So, “Christian Music” just doesn’t make sense as a genre, because it’s not cohesive like blues, jazz, folk, classic rock, neo-classical, etc.
If we throw the term out, then what do we do? Judge each artist, each album, each song as it comes to us. Use our heads and spirits to think it through instead of just reading a label. Rather than say, “Hey, this is Christian Music. This is good for me,” say, “Wow, God is really encouraging and comforting me with this song. This is good for me.”
I’m not totally happy with just deleting the term. I still want to know the spiritual beliefs of everyone I listen to. I’ve got a little OCD with that. And worship bands like David Crowder Band, Chris Tomlin, Robbie Seay Band, Delirious?, etc. would probably not be able to survive without the term.
Maybe the solution is to create a “Christian Worship” genre, and all that would be in it is worship music, which is usually by Christians and principally for Christians. I guess Phillips, Craig, and Dean would have to be kicked out as heretics, but I’m not complaining.
Extracted in 2018 from a post onDecember 27, 2007
Continuing on with my series on Defining Christian Music, today, I want to look at what’s wrong with the term “Christian musician.” This will be a short post, mostly questions, so be prepared to make up for its shortness by lots of comments.
This is something that really annoys me. I get it that the term “Christian Music” is problematic, but why do so many artists have a problem with being called “Christian musicians?”
And I’m not just ranting either. I really want to know why people have a problem with it.
I doubt a Buddhist who plays music for a living would be offended if I called them a Buddhist musician, yet many Christians who do the same react strongly against being called Christian musicians. Why? I honestly don’t get it. If you’re a Christian and you’re making music, aren’t you a Christian musician?
Why are people so freaked out to be called “Christian musicians” or “Christian artists?” I worked at a hotel in college and I wouldn’t have been offended to be labelled a Christian housekeeper. However, I would have been pretty ticked if you called me a Christian maid. Totally different territory there.
Please share your thoughts. Does the term “Christian musician” need to be revised as well? Are there good, logical reasons that people don’t like that label?
Extracted in 2018 from a post on January 3, 2008
I’m ready to close (for now) my series on Defining Christian Music, with a few last posts to summarize where I’m at. I definitely haven’t come to any real lasting conclusions, but I’ve realized a few things (I think). I haven’t had the chance to research things like I really wanted to do, so I’ll probably revisit the topic at a later date, after I can read and think some more.
But, at this point, here’s a few things I do know:
1. Whatever the term “Christian Music” means or should mean, Marilyn Manson does not qualify.
2. The “Christian Music Scene” is a lot of times neither Christian nor musical.
3. Defining “Christian Music” opens up a whole lot of problems, and even more questions.
4. Phillips, Craig, and Dean are heretics, whether they make “Christian Music” or not. (I really enjoy picking on these guys, probably more than I should.)
5. Christianity encompasses all of life, not just the “hyper-spiritual” God moments, and music by Christians should reflect this.
6. “Rawk Fist” by Thousand Foot Krutch is no more Christian than “We Will Rock You” by Queen.
7. The “Christian Music Scene” is largely ineffective in reaching beyond the Christian culture.
8. Though I want to (and probably will) delete the terms “Christian Music” and “Christian Musician” from my vocabulary, I haven’t found satisfactory terms to replace them yet.
9. It was dumb to start the first Christian Music Superbowl at a time when I’ve decided to delete the term “Christian Music” from my vocabulary.
10. Every list needs at least 10 points to sound official. See? Adding this last point really made me sound important, didn’t it?
Next Thursday I’ll put up the final post on “Defining Christian Music” with a list of books, articles, sermons, videos, and blogs to check out, in case you’re interested in researching the topic a little more.
Extracted in 2018 from a post on January 17, 2008
As promised, here is my final (for now) installment of the Defining Christian Music series, a list of links to relevant blog posts, articles, movies, sermons, and books on the topic.
If you know of any more, please add a link in the comments. Some day, I will read all of these in one sitting, and my head will literally explode with all there is to know about “Christian Music.” I’ll be sure to take a video and put it up on YouTube for everyone.
Without any further ado (What the heck is an ado?), here is the list you’ve all been waiting for:
Danielson: a Family Movie
Blog Posts by Brent at Colossians Three Sixteen
Who Says What’s Christian Music?
Who Says What’s Christian Music? (Part Two)
“Engage” by Being
“Christian” Rock, Sincerity, and “Engage” by Being, Part Two
How to Think Biblically About Christian Music (posted at Said at Southern)
What is Christian Music? by Terry B. Ewell of West Virginia University
Defining? Or Discerning? by Russ Breimeier
Glimpses of God in Seven Swans by Andree Farias
God Music or Good Music? by Drew Dixon
Body Piercing Saved My Life by Andrew Beaujon
Simplicity by Mark Solomon
Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle
Faith, God and Rock & Roll by Mark Joseph
Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music by Jeremy Begbie
Cultural Evangelism: Acts 17 by Mike Feather (5-27-2007)
So, like I said, add your own links to books, articles, blogs, sermons, movies, whatever, as long as it’s related to defining “Christian” music.
Thanks for reading my posts, and I hope I provoked you to think of things in a new way, even if I left you as confused as myself on the subject.