Every Tuesday in The Minority Report, Drew Dixon takes a look at trends in youth culture and offers some biblical wisdom for navigating them.
The title of this article is not entirely fair. I listen to and sing lots of Christian music. Every Sunday morning, I count it a great blessing, to join with other Christians at my church in singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in praise of the Father. I also listen to plenty of music made by Christians in my free time. There was, however, a time in my life when I parted ways with Christian Contemporary Music and have more or less never returned to it.
I know what some of you are thinking: I am either incredibly pretentious or incredibly worldly. I will own the pretentious label–I am well aware that most people do not share my taste in music. I am also very aware that many wonderful Christian brothers and sisters listen to CCM regularly and are encouraged and blessed by it. I don’t intend to discourage anyone from listening to CCM, I merely want to share my experience with CCM in hopes of encouraging thoughtful engagement of the medium.
The most common critiques leveled at CCM by my contemporaries is that it is theologically shallow and stylistically derivative of successful secular musicians. When I converted to Christianity and started listening to CCM in the early 2000′s, I certainly noticed that a great number of CCM songs spoke of Jesus as a cosmic boyfriend come to fix all our earthly problems and consequently seemed to lack a biblical understanding of justification, sanctification, and glorification. Add to this the number of CCM artists who mostly took popular secular song structures and imported Jesus into them, and I can see why such criticisms have been leveled. However, neither of these two criticisms get to the heart of why I quit listening. I stopped listening to CCM because the majority of it did not compute with my experience as a Christian.
Singing along to CCM felt like some weird existential experience–standing outside myself applauding my own deep seated faith and many spiritual victories. The problem was that my life was not filled with an endless chain of spiritual victories. My prayer was more often “help me with my unbelief” (Mark 9:24) than it was “I’m desperate for You / I’m lost without you.” My early days as a Christian were filled with struggle, frustration, and, at times, failure. I found solace in Paul’s description of himself as “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15) and in the Psalmists who often cried “How long O LORD?” More than a lack of creativity or theological grounding, CCM seemed lacking in humility and vulnerability.
All the Christian singers I was listening to seemed to have it all together. They seemed to have been transformed into Christ’s likeness overnight and acted as if they rarely broke a sweat in their fight against sin. Where are the Christians singing about their struggles with sin? Where are the desperate pleas for help? Where are the Christians who will join with Psalmist in expressing their frustrations and doubts openly? Where are the artists willing to say with Paul “I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh . . . the evil that I do not want to do, that I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19)?
I just didn’t see them and I found more honesty in other places. I started listening to a lot of independent music–made by all types of people, Christians included. I learned to value the beauty of music no matter who creates it–I discovered that all kinds of music can reflect the glory of God.
I was pretentious and still am, but I was looking for authenticity–something that the Scriptures seem to value more than modern evangelicalism does.
It is important that Christians recognize that CCM artists are selling them a product. That doesn’t mean that all CCM is devoid of honesty, but it does, at the very least, present CCM artists with particular temptation to sell a certain type of spirituality. In my early days as a youth pastor, I hosted enough CCM concerts at my church to see this temptation first hand. It was because of such temptations that Jesus said, “beware of practicing your righteousness before men in order to be seen by them” (Matt. 6:1).
Don’t stop listening to CCM because I did. If you enjoy CCM, I hope you continue to find it encouraging. Perhaps CCM is changing, I try to at least pay attention to what is going on in the CCM world, but honestly I am not paying close enough attention to know if it were experiencing a renaissance of creativity, honesty, and vulnerability. I know I am pretentious, but that is the point isn’t it? I am, at the very least, striving for self awareness. I know there is much Christian music that carefully and thoughtfully articulates Christian truth, but I think CCM is still lacking in music that speaks honestly about the Christian experience. Whether you are a fan of CCM or not, that is the kind of music we should all hope and pray to see more of.