Christian is a bad verb


Just finished up another semester of seminary, which means I’ve got a lot more time on my hands than I did a week ago. I’m hoping the next few weeks will allow me to finish up the tracking on the new Satellite Soul record. We’ve got 5 songs done and mixed, another five almost done, but not mixed, and a third 5 (all acoustic) in various stages of “not done.”

I’ve been thinking lately about where this album might end up. We’ve already had some label interest – all of it in some way or another connected to CCM. I don’t really know how to feel about that. Started me thinking about something I read in Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis. He said that the word “Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.” I think he’s right. If you put anything behind that word, it immediately becomes like a marketing ploy. Christian Music, Christian books, Christian poetry, Christian Candy (“testamints” I think they’re called) – all of these things are troublesome uses of the word.

What about Christian politics? What about Christian Values? If I say I have “Christian Values” does that mean I have to agree with the conservative wing of the Republican Party? I hope not…cause I rarely do anymore. It’s a bad adjective.

As a song writer I don’t really feel as though I’m allowed to speak for all things Christian, I just feel like at the age of 36 I’m finally able to speak for myself. I’ve talked so much crap in my life, jeez I’ve talked so much crap on this blog! I don’t think making the distinction of our record being “Christian Music” is really that helpful.

Other side of the coin is that there aren’t a lot of general market labels beating down our doors, nor will there likely be any. It sure would be nice to put this thing out there where people could actually interact with it in a meaningful way.

I’m hopeful that someday the word “Christian” won’t be used to clarify exactly which part of the population someone is trying to exploit through careful target marketing. I’m hopeful that someday there will actually be a place for true artistic expression in the realm of CCM. I’m hopeful that the acceptable level of non-artistry in the music associated with the Church will one day be a thing of the past.

As for me and the guys from Satellite Soul, we made ourselves only one promise when we started this record. We set out simply to create a true artistic representation of what we were dealing with in our lives at this moment – nothing more nothing less. Our resolve was to resist the urge to create for anything more than just true expression in the hope that the absense of thoughts like “is this a radio song?” will produce something that is of more value to the listener. That’s the great thing about doing a record when you don’t give a crap if anyone likes it or not – you are finally free just to be yourself. And isn’t that what being a “Christian” should be about? Isn’t the true Christian a Christian who is fully human as human was meant to be? Wouldn’t it be a hoot if setting out to make Christian music means you won’t and setting out not to make Christian music means it’s actually possible?

Don’t know where we’ll end up when it’s all said and done, but I can’t wait till it’s all said and done. I am excited to put this out into the world no matter how it is received.

About Tim Suttle

Find out more about Tim at TimSuttle.com

Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of RedemptionChurchkc.com. He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18301816672851346285 Scott Stone

    Truly looking forward to the new CD. I guy can only listen to the White Album so much.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08040527410433185496 Anthony

    I kind of like what Switchfoot did, making the jump over to Columbia Records. I’m sure that many in the CCM industry accused them of compromising, but much of this criticism was probably a result of jealousy more than anything else. I’m also tired of “Christian” marketing techniques. The Left Behind series was to me the epitomy of hypocricy, as they made millions with their book series, kid book series, movies, keychains, bookmarks, and the rest of the material that they put out. I think that it would be great if you could get a record label not associated with the CCM industry interested in your work. It would make it easier to put out music that didn’t necessarily have a “Christian” message, which you should be able to do. Musicians who consider themselves Christians should still be allowed to write about things other than their faith.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18301816672851346285 Scott Stone

    My favorite is Christian “friend”. It drives me crazy when people will ask my about someone I hang with. “Is he a Christian?” “Oh he’s one of your non-Christian friends.” A book is a book. Not a Chrisitan book or a secular book. My friends are my friends. I don’t classify them as Christian or not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Another issue with Christian marketing is that much of it is fear based. The Chrisian Book Industry, Christian Radio, CCM, all of it is designed to fill your head with ideas about who to fear, who is out to get us, how we are going to lose the game if we don’t do this or that. Most of this isn’t a reflection of reality as much as it is a tactic to improve the bottom line. The fact is, fear sells really well and most conservative Christians are unwittingly caught up in it.

  • Kevin Bailey

    I agree with much of what has been said. The various “Christian” industries (books, records, etc.) have very little do with procuring actual art, and everything to do with what they think the lemmings will buy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    You bring up a really good point about the importance of ART as a means of self-expression and cultural discourse. It seems nearly impossible to make really important creative artistic statements if you are ultimately worried about how many copies you can sell. I’m telling you, Satellite Soul was with a label full of really sincere Christians who were following after God, I really believe that. These were really neat women and men. But they were so pre-occupied with how they could make money off of music about Jesus, they forgot what it was they were supposed to be doing. The worst is when it waters down the ART, the most tragic is when they continue to discuss it as though it’s part of ministry or artistry when deep down they know it’s just this widget they are trying to hawk; because then you are talking about the possibility of losing your soul.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/kevinscott1992 Kevin Bailey

    Tim-

    The lack of much resembling “art” in the various creative industries that have assumed the label “Christian” has convinced me that I will sit on my novels for my whole life before I let it be published by a “Christian” publishing house. Though my spirituality informs everything I write, the people in my stories are REAL, and do things real folks do. They get angry, swear, drink beer, doubt God, and so many other things that make living this human life real, but that “Christian” publishing seems determined to pretend don’t exist. It absolutely maddens me to see the tripe that is put out under the banner of “Christian” fiction. Where are the Steinbecks and Rands of the “Christian” world? Oh yeah, her name is Madeleine L’Engle, and she isn’t a typical Christian (Gasp! She believes in theistic evolution!), so the “Christian” world tends to pretend she doesn’t even exist. It’s a large problem that extends across almost all of the “Christian” creative industries, in my opinion.


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