I hate the internet. I just spent over an hour typing out my post and then it just disappeared. I just want to slap Al Gore for even inventing it.
Well, here it goes again…
Last week, 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 irrelevent. 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. Read a little about it here in an interview with Sufjan Stevens. [Note: I just realized I gave you the wrong link. This link is to a review of Seven Swans. I can’t find the original interview I had in mind to post here, but this review has some good information about the topic at hand anyway.]
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?