Over at my day job, I’ve done an analysis of contemporary Christian music and traditional shape-note hymns.
I took a look at the last five years of Billboard’s year-end top 50 Christian songs1 to see whether Christian pop is unrelentingly cheerful. I looked at pairs of concepts across the entire collection of lyrics2 (life and death, grace and sin, etc.)3 and calculated the ratio of positive to negative words. For every pair I checked, positive words were far more common than negative ones.
There were 2.5 times as many mentions of “grace” as “sin” in the songs’ lyrics. Other pairs were even more lopsided: There were more than eight mentions of “life” for every instance of “death,” and “love” was more than seven times as common as “fear.” (For the record, John 4:18 — “perfect love casts out fear” — is advice for spiritual formation, not lyrics writing.) Parishioners may find too much positive language dispiriting. When Christian pop songs and hymns are “excessively positive or wholly positive,” they often “come across as cotton candy and inauthentic,” said Richard Beck, a psychology professor at Abilene Christian University and the author of several books on the intersection between theology and psychology.