I grew up listening to contemporary Christian music.
Actually, I was completely immersed in it.
At home, we kept the Amy Grant records spinning and the Michael W. Smith cassettes rolling. In the car, we were always listening to 89.3 FM KSBJ in Houston, Texas, with its unbelievably audacious pun of a marketing slogan, “God Listens.” Even our megachurch traded in its hymnody for jesusy radio favorites. It wasn’t just that it was the favorite music in our house, it was the ONLY music going on around us, except for my occasional piano practicing or choir concert.
Fun story. At KSBJ’s tenth anniversary concert, held at Lakewood Church of all places, my friends and I went on stage and danced as former Santana musician and CCM pioneer Leon Patillo sang his “classic” 1979 record, “Dance, Children, Dance.” And when I say I danced, I really mean that I made a total, complete fool of myself.
I still remember my favorites songs, mostly word for word. The music could be kinda fun at times, and in my ultra-conservative homeschooling context, it was the acceptable alternative to the evils of mainstream secular music.
But eventually, I cooled on the whole thing. The appeal just wore thin, and the triteness of the genre as a whole became inescapable Eventually, I tuned it out completely as a matter of conscience. Here are a few of the reasons.
1. It’s Derivative
In the 1960s, Leonard Bernstein said that perhaps five percent of the pop music explosion had something of value to say, giving this Brian Wilson masterpiece as an example. After fifty years, that percentage is likely lower, because of the exponential increase in output. And because the Christian music industry is committed to christianized versions of popular forms instead of true artistry, its creative value is even lower. Simply put: it’s mostly unremarkable garbage with no artistic merit of its own.
2. Being a Christian Doesn’t Mean Abstaining from the Rest of the Culture
Just because something is secular doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, since contemporary Christian music is derivative of mainstream popular music, I would suggest the quality of the secular music is better.
And parents, you know that objectionable stuff you’re worried about your kids hearing? Well, it’s going to happen anyway. They will come into contact with all of it. The more restrictive you are, the more they will push back. The more you pretend secular music doesn’t exist, the less your children will be able to interpret it. So instead of requiring your children to only listen to “Christian” music, teach them to interact with the broader culture. Especially as they get closer to adulthood, help them become responsible music consumers.
3. It Supports the “Worship Industry”
The industry relies on the money it makes outside the church. Buying the music for your own enjoyment only increases its presence in the church. Unlike the early days of CCM, corporate worship has become the primary showcase for the industry’s product. The only way to stop that is to cut off the cash flow. Stop giving the worship industry your money, and it will die. Keep it up, and it will continue to pervert the church’s understanding of liturgy and true worship.
4. It Isn’t Actually “Christian”
People can be Christians. Songs cannot.
5. It Perpetuates Bad, Shallow Theology
Beyond that, if the “Christian” music you consume is the usual jesusy top 40 fare, its spiritual content is dubious. Honestly, most of the theology I learned from contemporary Christian music was anecdotal, at best. Songs of personal testimony can be perfectly fine, but they aren’t everyone else’s experience, and they aren’t always rooted in sound theology or biblical interpretation. It could make me feel good things about Jesus, but it can’t form a theology that will carry you through a life of faith in an ugly world. They might feel uplifting, but if you really actively listen and reflect on the content, it might not be something you want to be passively consuming. Unfortunately, the fact that such dreck is labeled and promoted as “Christian” baptizes it in many people’s minds, and they allow it to water down their understanding of faith and the gospel.
6. It Encourages Christian EscapismThe life of faith I’ve found that most people who listen to “Christian” music constantly are doing so as a diversion from any sort of unpleasantness, including boredom. But the gospel message is not one of escapism, and the substance of our faith is not meant to take our worries away and keep us happy all day long until we finally leave this world and move into our heavenly hotel room.
As people called by Christ, we are called to deep thinking, grappling, and ultimately, holy action. Saying yes to the gospel is also saying yes to confronting the sin and the darkness and the crap that is going on around us. It is not something we use as an ointment to heal all our troubles. I find the bulk of commercial “Christian” music is meant for filling the space between the already and the not yet. Keep on filling that space, and one day you’ll find out that you missed the point of the redeemed life.
So give it a try. Stop filling the space with cheap jesusy tunes, and instead devote yourself to prayer and listening for God’s voice instead.