Why You Should Be Wary of Christian Music for Kids

A few days ago, I shared a list of some of the best available Christian music for kids. Although we play the cds I wrote about constantly in the car, because my kids request them, I do still have some reservations about my kids listening to too much “Christian” music.

Learning Scripture out of context

Many albums written for children are created to foster Scripture memory. With titles like “Hide ‘Em in Your Heart” and “Hidden In Your Heart,” these albums aim to help kids commit verses to memory before they’re even old enough to understand the words. As the Psalm their titles reference suggests, this is a good thing: memorizing God’s law is a way to guard against sin. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for training in righteousness. How could memorizing Bible verses be bad?

But I’ve heard enough bad sermons to know the power of a verse taken out of context and mis-applied.  Memorizing a verse here and a verse there, apart from the context of the great Story in which they exist, isn’t bad, but it’s ceraintly less than ideal.  I’d love for my kids to be memorizing passages rather than isolated lines.

Rather than learning “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” for example, I’d like my child to memorize all of Psalm 23, seeing David in the valley of the shadow of death as well as feasting and annointed — I’d like her to see that the full range of human emotion and experience is part of a life spent following God.

So how can I help her to see that? I have to avoid the lazy spirit that uses Scripture memory songs as an excuse to avoid memorizing passages together as a family (in Jewish tradition, after all, boys memorized the entire Torah before turning 12). I have to be sure we’re talking about the songs we’re singing, discussing what the words mean and what they mean in our lives and how they fit in the grand narrative of the Bible.  If I add some context, then those Scriptures have a better chance of taking root and yielding fruit after being hidden in their hearts.

Making faith jingoistic

On a Christian DVD my kids used to watch, every episode ended with a large green bear singing this jingle: “Wherever you are, near or far, God loves you, and I do too!” We retired the DVD not only because its music and lyrics were atrociously bad, but because I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the conflation of an imaginary green bear’s “love” for my kids, and God’s love for my kids.  With a jingle like that, how would my kids understand that though the bear (and his love) were not real, God (and his love) are very real?

Christian music has to avoid the pitfall of reducing God to a controlled, understandable being. God is more than the captain of our team in the sky, or the imaginary friend who sends rain for the plants. Being part of the family of faith, in the same way, is more than just cheering for our side to win or asking for blessings.  To help my children learn that Christianity is bigger than the other things we sing about, I have to avoid choosing albums that are gimmicky or reductive in either substance or style.

Seeing art as either “Christian” or “secular”

As my kids get older, they will probably start to recognize that not only do we have “kid’s” cds and “adult’s” cds, but we also have “Christian” cds and cds that are… not.  But I’d love it if they could grow up not hearing music according to those kinds of divisions.  I’d love it if they could grow up without a sacred/secular divide that says some things are spiritual (and better) and other things are unspiritual (and lesser).

Sometimes I worry that listening to a lot of  so-called “Christian” music is setting them up to see life and art as dualistic, either good or bad, Christian or secular.  I worry that they’ll think to be good they need to stick to the safe – that which is called “Christian” – and avoid anything else.  Instead, I hope they will see that just because something is called Christian or marketed to Christians, it’s not necessarily safe or good.   And I hope they will see that when any song is true or beautiful or good, it is a reflection of God himself, regardless of whether or not the song is called “Christian.”

It’s true that when you see art as that which is “Christian” and that which is not, you find that a lot of what’s called Christian is actually sub-par and derivative (this is a larger topic than I have space for here – Christ and Pop Culture has written more about it in the past).  You certainly find this in a lot of contemporary Christian music, but it’s less true of Christian music for kids.  Christians have prioritized music for kids in a way that perhaps the general culture has not, and as a result we have some pretty high quality options.

So in our house, you’ll find us dancing to everything from “Peace Like a River” to “Yellow Submarine,” celebrating the fact that God has revealed himself in beauty everywhere.

 

About Amy Lepine Peterson

Amy Lepine Peterson teaches ESL Writing and American Pop Culture at Taylor University, but spends most of her time making a home in the cornfields for her best-friend-husband and two (frankly adorable) children. Look for her with a french press of coffee and a book or a screen, plus a little one on her lap, thinking about education, mothering, theology, tv, movies, music, and sustainable habits of living.

  • Katie

    ‘And I hope they will see that when any song is true or beautiful or good, it is a reflection of God himself, regardless of whether or not the song is called “Christian.”’

    Amen!

  • Theresa Romero

    Well Said! I don’t want to expose my daughter to cheesy watered-down version of the Gospel when she already knows and reads the truth of scripture. My husband and I teach her like you said “all of Psalm 23″ not just the pretty versions. I’ve grown up in Church (& I LOVE THE BODY) and I don’t want my daughter to be set up with a view that All people are Christian or a dualistic view of what is Christ like and what is not… When it comes to secular music, we listen to it. Of course we don’t listen to anything that condones drugs, sex, etc. (you know what I mean) It’s not “worship” but its FUN music and enjoyable music and talent that God gives displayed. That’s what I tell my daughter, God gives all talent and people don’t necessarily need to stay within the “christian genre” to display and honor Him. So yay for all music!! (:

  • http://renewandsustain.wordpress.com/ Christiana

    I’ve had the same reservations that have to do with “Christian” art vs art. I’m with Madeleine L’Engle on this one…that tacking “Christian” onto art sometimes negates the “art” part. And I like what you said about memorizing passages as a family rather than just the child memorizing a verse or two. Psalms are perfect for this, I think.

  • Lee Ann

    Our family has started memorizing scripture passages, just this past year. I have a 7 yr old, two- 4 yr olds and a baby (who refuses to participate). So, far we’ve memorized two Psalms and Luke 2. The 7 yr old knows all of Luke 2, but we all know both of the Psalms. I say all this to say you can def start young (my girls were still 3 when they memorized the Psalm passages) memorizing passages of scripture if you are consistent. If you are interested, we use the method “An approach to extended memorization of Scripture” by Dr. Andrew Davis.

  • Alice

    Awesome! I wish more Christian parents were aware of these things. It is important to keep Scripture in context as much as possible, to avoid gimmicky and reductive material, and not to automatically accept everything labeled “Christian” as good and everything secular as bad. And to have real discussions with children. My parents’ teaching about God was almost completely one-way communication, so it went over my head a lot of times. Sometimes I really resented Bible story tapes, videos, and music, because they were pretty much all I was allowed to have, and they were all pretty much the same. If I had been allowed to have more variety, I think I would have viewed them more positively.

    I can see your point that using fictional characters to teach Bible stories might confuse children about what is real and what isn’t real, but I watched a lot of those videos growing up (Veggie Tales, Superbook, Quiggly’s Village, Gerbert, The Greatest Adventure) and it wasn’t confusing to me. Maybe because I also read a lot of historical fiction for children from a young age, and I learned that while the children and their stories were fictional, the books were based on real historical events and details (For instance, details about what life was like for certain groups of people during the colonial times or the Civil War or the Great Depression). So it was easy to apply that principle to the fictional characters in the Bible videos.

    Probably the main reason I knew the Bible stories were real was because I saw my parents, Sunday School teachers, and ministers treat them as real history. My parents also never told me the Easter Bunny or Santa was real, because they were concerned I would then think they were lying to me about Jesus too. I don’t know if I would have or not, but I think I would have trusted their word less.

    I think that children can often relate to children or animal characters better than they can to adult characters, which is why those types of characters are so popular in children’s lit and videos. But that is not always the case, and certainly it is better to stick with realistic portrayals if individual children have trouble telling the difference even after the parents have several discussions with them.

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  • Dogbreath
  • Richard Clark

    That is the worst!

  • Esther Starr

    “Dear God, what IS that thing?”


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