Is Contemporary Christian Music Dead?


Contemporary Christian music used to sell some 50 million albums per year.  Lately, it’s been more like 17 million.  An article in The Week, excerpted and linked after the jump, documents the genre’s decline and speculates about the reasons.

One is “America’s waning interest in Christianity as a whole.”  I question that.  There is probably a waning interest in a kind of Christianity–a tone, a posture, a set of associations– that CCM represents.  That might be a good thing, an opening for a different mode of Christianity, one that is richer and more substantive.

We confessional types have long been critical of “pop Christianity” and the music that conveys it.  Pop culture, by its nature, is going to be simple, content-lite, and culturally conformist.  So pop music at the service of Christianity has built in limits.  And the problem with it is that can create the impression that Christianity is also simple, content-lite, and culturally conformist.

Am I being too hard on CCM?  Are there artists who are exceptions to what I have said?  Is there hope for a rebirth of the genre?  If so, what might that sound like?
[Read more…]

From preoccupation with society to preoccupation with the self


Still more things I’ve picked up from Kenneth L. Woodward’s  Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama.  (See my earlier posts on Woodward’s book here and here and here.)

After the disillusionment with “the secular city,” liberal theology turned to a new frontier.  It was the Sixties.  Lucy was in the Sky with Diamonds.  The Maharishi was on television.  And in the academic world new frontiers of psychology were apparently opening up.

Liberal theology went “experiential.”  This, according to Woodward, “was the antithesis” of the social gospel “and reflected disillusionment with protest politics and social reform.  What mattered was transformation of self rather than of society; myth and metaphysics rather than morality; expanded (or altered or higher) consciousness rather than appeals to conscience” (p. 256). [Read more…]

“When the secular was sacred”


I grew up in a liberal mainline denomination in the 1950s and 1960s, going to the conventions and participating in the youth conferences.  Reading Kenneth L. Woodward’s account of this phase of church history in Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama explains a lot of things that I witnessed and had to go through.  (See my earlier posts on Woodward’s book here and here.)

Woodward, the religious editor for Newsweek, tells about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on mainline Protestant pastors and church people.  In addition to giving them a truly righteous cause, it introduced them to the black church, which seemed to be a truly socially relevant institution, unlike their own church bodies.  The excitement soon extended to other kinds of social activism.  And then came the Kennedy euphoria.

It seemed to many mainline Protestant theologians that the secular world–not the church–was where the real action is.  Also the real virtues, the real meaning, the realm where God was truly working.

As Woodward puts it, “the nation’s liberal Protestant leadership came to embrace the secular as sacred:  that is, to assume that if God is to be found anywhere, it is in the secular world, not the church” (p. 96). [Read more…]

What conservative churches & liberal churches have in common today


More from Kenneth L. Woodward’s Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama. . . .

Movements take place outside of denominations, so one legacy of the dominance of “movement religions” over “embedded religions” is the erosion of denominational distinctives.  There is thus a new ecumenism among both liberal and conservative churches.

In contemporary Christianity, liberals have their ecumenical movement; conservatives have their para-church organizations.  Both of which minimize the differences between theologies and denominations, creating a least-common-denominator, de facto  type of Christian unity.

There are other areas in which conservatives “both countered and paralleled” the liberals (p. 141).  Both invested heavily in politics.  The liberal churches have been promoting liberal and leftwing politics.  (See the mainline denominations’ convention resolutions.)  The conservative churches have been promoting conservative and rightwing politics.  (And getting criticized for it by people oblivious to how the liberal churches have become far more politicized and were doing it long before there was anything like a “Christian right.”)   [Read more…]

Walther on our “mystical union” with the Holy Spirit

Yesterday was Pentecost, the great festival remembering God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thanks to my fellow Patheos blogger Rev. Jordan Cooper for posting some excerpts from a sermon by C. F. W. Walther, a founder of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, on Pentecost.  In these profound words, we learn that Lutherans do believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within the believer.  In fact, this is an important teaching that goes by the un-Lutheran-sounding name of “the mystical union.”

I quote the excerpts after the jump, but you’ll want to read also Rev. Cooper’s discussion.  He relates Walther’s words to his understanding of sanctification.  More controversially, he suggests that Walther is articulating a Lutheran form of the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis.  (I don’t know about that.  Yes, Walther alludes to St. Athanasius’ words on the subject, but in saying that the Holy Spirit restores the “likeness” of God, he wouldn’t play that off against justification as the Orthodox tend to.)

See also David Jay Webber’s collection of quotations on the mystical union from the Lutheran confessions, a concept that refers also to Christ’s indwelling, and, indeed to the indwelling of the Triune God:

For while it is true that God, together with the whole fullness of deity which he always has with him, dwells in believers, he does not do so bodily nor is he personally united with them as is the case in Christ. (Solid Declaration VIII:70, p. 604)


Anyway, read what Walther says about the Holy Spirit after the jump. [Read more…]

Embedded religion vs. movement religion

Walther League 1928I’ve been reading Kenneth L. Woodward’s Getting Religion:  Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama.  I’ll be publishing a review of it for the Concordia Historical Institute Journal.  Woodward was the religion editor of Newsweek for nearly four decades before his retirement, an old-school journalist who is widely respected from all sides.  He treats the developments in American religion since the end of World War II as a historian but also as a first hand witness who came to know many of the players and covered the key stories of that tumultuous period.

He distinguishes between “embedded religion” and “movement religion.” [Read more…]