Friday, March 6, 2009

For Greg: Rambling Thoughts on Christian Music

When I wrote about Christian fiction in my second post, Greg Zinner (who writes On the Run) asked me about my thoughts on Christian music. There’s a bit of history to that question: In high school, I went with my youth group to a Christian retreat where we were encouraged (ok, maybe guilt-tripped) into listening to Christian music only; I vowed to give it a try for a month and later decided to avoid mainstream music for one week each month. (I don’t recall the reasoning that led to the latter decision, which makes little sense to me now.)

In the midst of one of my mainstream music fasts, Greg, who was one of my classmates, loaned a Led Zeppelin tape to a mutual friend who was riding home in my car. The friend had also been on the retreat and didn’t seem to mind listening to Christian music in my car, but Greg never forgave me for “banning Zeppelin.” (You thought I forgot – didn’t you, Greg?) I’m sure I cemented my reputation as a weird Christian girl at that point, and that reputation has apparently lasted longer than my familiarity with the Christian music scene.

I rarely listen to Christian music anymore; in fact, I rarely listen to music at all (unless you count my kids’ preschool songs). When I control the stereo, I usually choose audiobooks; my husband prefers a variety of mainstream music. He never got interested in Christian music, and I think it’s partly because he wasn’t ever fully immersed in evangelical culture, where Michael W. Smith was better known than Michael Hutchence when we were teens.

Hubby says Christian music just doesn’t sound as good, and I can understand what he means. When I do listen to top-40 radio, I can usually pick out the songs by crossover artists, even if I’ve never heard them before. I think it’s because the mainstream singers have more anger in their voices; it somehow brings more passion to the music.

On the whole, contemporary Christian music seems to have gone the opposite direction of Christian fiction – while books tend to keep the theology but disregard quality, Christian music aims for (and sometimes achieves) quality at the expense of theology. Some bands just make their lyrics vague enough that the faith aspect of them isn’t offensive to non-Christians; others have clean lyrics that actually contradict the teachings of Scripture.

One of the few “Christian” bands that caught my attention in the past decade is Superchic[k]. I liked their sound (still do, though I’ve gotten tired of it), but I don’t think they should be considered a Christian band because some of their songs unquestioningly celebrate the self-centered worldview of the prevailing culture ("I'll be everything that I wanna be...I'll shoot the shot – bang! – that you hear 'round the world."), rather than the God-centered life the Bible promotes.

I suppose what I’m saying is that all music – all media – should be enjoyed with discernment. Just because something is labeled “Christian” doesn’t mean that it is consistent with the teachings of the Bible; just because something is produced by an artist who is not a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean that it offers nothing of value.

What do you think? Have any of you committed to listening to Christian music only? If so, what led you to that decision?

Also, is there anyone who agrees with my husband that Christian music just doesn’t sound as good? If so, what’s missing? Is it anger? And why should anger make for better music? Are the more positive emotions less powerful?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Thank-you Shannon! Yes now that you mention I do recall. Have enjoyed all the blogs so far, keep on doing what you are doing.
    I am committed mostly to listening to music that was made in the 60s and 70s. In the midst of the social and political chaos of those times, I bet one could find Christian themes imbedded in some of the music, which of course industry wise would not be labeled as such.

  2. I didn't really begin listening to CCM until college, but now we listen to Christian music a lot, and rarely anything else. It doesn't take long for kids to pick up lyrics, and it's an immediate wake-up call when they start singing songs with mature lyrics that I realize really aren't edifying to me either. Everything we see and hear and read needs to be measured against Phil. 4:8-9.
    I think Christian Music has gotten a bad rap over the years. I've seen a vast improvement even over the course of the past 10 years. I think you raise a very valid and important point about being discerning at all times!! There is a lot of cotton candy fluff in CCM. There are also a lot of artists who write really profound stuff and are incredibly gifted. I'd recommend: Chris Tomlin & Matt Redmond(worship), Chris Rice & Sara Groves (deep, philosophical lyrics), Nichole Nordeman (beauty & depth), David Crowder Band & Switchfoot (rockin' & sometimes profound), Jeremy Camp, Mercy Me, Third Day...I enjoy all of these, oh and Monk & Neagle (bluesy, fun, unique).
    As to your question of whether secular artists are better, I don't agree completely, but I think it's important to recognize that our enemy was once the most beautiful angel in heaven. Evil and unrighteousness can be easily disguised as beauty. Some of the most beautiful and well-done cinematographic films have been the most immoral as well. Just a thought.

    I appreciate so much how your blog gets my mind thinking! It's fun to read different viewpoints and perspectives!

  3. I like a lot of Christian music. I'm particularly a fan of the late Rich Mullins, Mitch McVicker, Andrew Peterson, Chris Rice, Casting Crowns, and (my sons' favorite) the Newsboys.

    These do hold to theology very well, and I think it's pretty good music.

    I grew up listening to secular country music, and do still like some of that, but mostly I prefer good Christian music.

  4. I do like the Newsboys and Rich Mullins. ("If I Stand" brings tears to my eyes every time.) And I must admit that my favorite artist is a Christian artist, though an unconvetional one -- Steve Taylor. I wish he were still recording!


Thanks for your comments! Agree or disagree, but please comment respectfully.