Mark Rodgers and Bono on Christian musical artists

Here is an article sent to me by Mark Rodgers of the Clapham Group.  See what you think.

Bono Asks “Can Christian Artists Ring True?”

Posted on February 18th, 2011 in Featured by Clapham Group

Randall Wallace, one of our nation’s best storytellers (screenwriter for Braveheart), spoke the truth this last month at the National Prayer Breakfast. He reminded us that who we are is shaped by our parents, our culture and our choices. But at the same time, the truth is this: we are created by a loving God who, when we turn to Him, can help us become the person He created us to be. To overcome our failures and our frailty. To find blessing in suffering. And to bless others in theirs.

One person at my table earnestly said “I didn’t know he was a Christian writer.” I winced. Did my guest see Wallace’s We Were Soldiers, play his Titan Quest or tune in to his Dark Angel? I know what he meant, but Randall is more than he meant. Randall is what God created him to be. A truth-teller, no matter how hard the truth is to tell.

The conversation reminded me of one I had years ago with the singer Bono. It’s a topic this legendary artist has explored with others as well. In preparation for a meeting with contemporary Christian music (CCM) artists to talk about global AIDS, he wrote me a note: “If the truth sets us free and it does … Why aren’t Christian singers allowed to ring true?” What Bono meant, of course, is that the Church often stifles the creativity and voice of an artist to conform to its own sense of propriety and (in our American context) “family friendly” fare.

Later at the meeting, Bono remarked to the group that they probably couldn’t put Song of Solomon (one of only two books of the Bible which does not reference God) to song and sell it in a Christian bookstore. Why? Not enough Jesus’ per minute. Too sensual. Not “on message.” But as the Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which, Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ ”

If this is true, why aren’t some Christian artists allowed to speak to the whole of the human experience? To all of creation? As he usually does,    C. S. Lewis put it succinctly when he wrote “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.”

We need more stories and songs that “tell the truth,” as Walker Percy wrote in Signposts in a Strange Land, especially about the human condition. True stories that transform lives and societies. More Uncle Tom’s Cabins and less “little books about Christianity.”

Last weekend we had dinner with several seasoned as well as some emerging artists before going to hear The Civil Wars perform, who have been at the top of ITunes for the past several weeks. The duo’s lead singer, Joy Williams, was at one time categorized as a CCM artist. When they performed at an event we hosted recently, one person remarked how diverse the material was, despite the fact of Joy having been a “Christian artist.” Again, I bristled. Perhaps she was true to her calling then, and is just as true to her calling now. What is most important, though, is that she is true to who God created her to be.

Joy Williams and The Civil Wars rang true. Randall Wallace spoke the truth. Bono told the truth. Sadly, some “Christian artists” aren’t always allowed to tell the “whole” truth. Only some of the truth.

Till All Can Ring True,

Mark Rodgers

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Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’–The Interview Part Six
Forward Thinking about “Reading Backwards’ Conclusions
Finding Jesus– Review of Part One
  • Brad

    “If the truth sets us free and it does … Why aren’t Christian singers allowed to ring true?”

    But they are allowed. They’re heard by tens of millions of people every day. So the better is question is: Why don’t Christian singers resonate? If the heart of the Gospel is missing from their songs, then what unique truth do these singers really bring that differentiates them from purely secular singers?

    The microphone is there, it’s the message that needs be rethought.

  • Oscar

    Two separate issues: 1) Taking scripture out of context, and 2) the state of Christian music

    1) I am so tired of people quoting that verse to justify whatever it is that they want to say. Part of the problem is the taking of that scripture out of context. The truth Jesus was speaking of was about his relation to the Father and how we should look at him (Jesus). THAT is the freedom giving truth!

    All truth does NOT set one free. Sometimes it devastates, sometimes it confuses, sometimes it is irrelevant, but only when it points people to the Father does it set one free. This should NOT be the reason that a person says whatever they want to say under the aegis of “truth-telling”

    2) Christian music does not resonate because it is too couched in Christianese language and imagery, stuff that those not in the loop just do not relate to. If a Christian artist doesn’t proclaim salvation or, at least, mention the eternal, then it is not salable as Christian music. U2 and Bono are good examples of this. Their first album was sold in Christian book stores but subsequent ones were relegated to “secular” music.

    Christian music is also too derivative to be taken seriously. It, more often than not, apes the secular in style, often rejoicing in its comparison to this or that secular artist. For this reason I abandoned the genre many years ago and only seldom do I listen to it. I appreciate creativity and artistry, but have found most of Christian music to be too concerned with orthodoxy than reflecting on life in this world as it is, and how we, as Christians, relate to its challenges. There ARE some exceptions, but too few exist.

  • ben witherington

    Oscar I think I almost entirely agree with you on both issues. The lack of actual creativity in Christian music is truly sad. Nothing is more pathetic than seeing white Christian musicians who have about as much rhythm and dance capacity as my washing machine trying to do rap or hip hop with occasional Christian sprinkles.


  • Oscar

    Ben, that includes ME! I can’t clap and sing at the same time. I can barely walk AND chew gum.