A recent tragedy has forced me to reflect a bit on the notion of “Christian Music.” This recent tragedy was the professedly Christian lead singer of the band “As I Lay Dying” being arrested for plotting to murder his wife. Then, later, admitting that he was no longer a Christian and kept the label as a way to sell records. Now this is a horrible, tragic situation and we shouldn’t downplay it. We should stay in prayer and hope that God leads him back to Christ. We should also learn from it. I simply want to reflect on the category of Christian music and, as a parent (with my first not yet born), think about how I may guide my children’s choices (and my own) when it comes to music.
The Category of Christian Music
One question that comes up from this story and something I’ve frequently thought about is whether the category of “Christian Music” is even a category that should exist. It has been noted by others that this label may serve as an excuse for sub-par musical talent to sell records by having Christian lyrics. As someone who frequents Christian bookstores, I would say this, at times, may not be far from the truth, but there are many extremely talented musicians who carry this label with pride.
I do wonder, however, whether the label just becomes that: a label. It may not reflect the actual content of the lyrics or music (as is admitted in the case of “As I Lay Dying”), but parents feel comfortable picking up a CD from that section simply because it gets called “Christian.” I think that’s not the greatest practice (more on this below). Another problem is that the label of “Christian Music” implies a wholly separate and distinct category of “non-Christian” music, which does not seem to be accurate. So-called “secular” music is often performed by or written by Christians and reflects that.
An ideal world, in my opinion, would be one in which Christian musicians simply played music and had their music on the shelves next to non-Christian music, where someone might get their redeeming lyrics. For now, it’s shoved in the corner of the music section away from all the others. Rather than labeling ourselves “Christian” musicians, why not just play music, and let our worldview flow through it? (I have similar thoughts about “Christian fiction” and the like.)
Doing the Grunt Work
A case like the “As I Lay Dying” scenario brings up another issue. Namely, we should be examining the lyrics of everything we listen to. We need to do the grunt work and examine what we consume to see whether it builds us up as people of God or not. As parents, we should not just assume a so-called Christian artist has lyrical content of value. Instead, we need to do the work and see what the artists are saying so that we can make informed choices. More importantly, we are to raise our children in a way that they make wise choices with what they consume when they get to the age where we feel we let them make their own choices. It’s a huge responsibility, and one I feel very strongly for my child already, even before he or she is born!
I don’t think the label “Christian Music” is going to go away. In some ways that could be a good thing, but I think that we should do due diligence in whatever we consume and assure that it is something that builds us up. I’ve put the album art from a recent album from Demon Hunter up on this post because I think that group exemplifies the character of a Christian band. Their lyrics are a reflection of their worldview. Rather than being praise music, it is music and lyrics which demonstrate the Christian worldview and the struggles of faith. See the links for some more discussion of this.
To sum up, I think we should just examine whatever we consume. Moreover, we should respect Christian artists who are operating on the shelves of “Rock” or “Pop” rather than in the “Christian Music” corner of the store. Why? Because they are letting their faith work through their music without that label. I’m not at all saying those who aren’t doing that are somehow less valuable. Instead, they ought to seek to ensure their content is truly reflective of the label they have received or given themselves. Moreover, all Christians should seek to guard themselves and walk a life of prayer and one of seeking God.
What are your thoughts? I admit I’m no expert in this area, so I’d love to read what you have to say in the comments below.
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Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task– I discuss the latest album from Demon Hunter and how music may act as an apologetic endeavor.
Ryan Clark Interview– Ryan Clark of “Demon Hunter” discusses one of their recent songs, “The Last One Alive” and how it reflects his faith.
7 Things Christian Parents Can Learn from the Tim Lambesis Story– What can we learn from the tragic story of a Christian band leader who turned atheist and tried to murder his wife? Check out these great insights from Natasha Crain.
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Reblogged this on clintonairende's Blog.
Warning: Take my cynicism with a few grains of salt. The Confessional Lutheran in me wants to blame Pietism for this need to “baptize” “secular” things. However, the cynic in me says that blaming Pietism is still too idealistic. I would have to track the history, but I have little doubt it is more directly tied to the economics and consumerism of mass production/marketing. A market developed and sure that market may cater more to certain Christian ideologies than others, but it’s a legitimate market economically. So make note of who it is saying that “Christian” alternatives in music, movies, literature, etc. are so vital… If it’s not the marketers themselves then it is often people duped… errrr… I mean, hooked by them.
I think you’re on to something here, Matt. Ultimately, producers of music have to make money, right? Thus, if a category of music which is labeled “Christian” automatically sells due to that label–even over others who make similar music with even similar lyrics–it is worth it to make that label exist and set it apart in order to get the impulse buys.
Christian Music IS needed. There are many artist in this category that do practice what they preach and yes they are preaching. There are also those that are in it just for the money and also are giving the wrong message.
It is the listeners responsibility to figure out which is which. True there are cases like the now affirmed Atheist which does damage.
But I see it this way. He said he was an atheist. His behavior fits the actions of someone who has no rules to follow and wishes to live by what is important to him. That is how atheist think. So his confession is actual a good thing. I allows people to see that a true Christian would not act in this way.
Do not attack the music. That is wrong and is not how Christian should behave.
I should clarify: nowhere in this post am I attacking Christian music. It is the category as such which I’m not convinced is helpful. Instead of slapping a label on a band, why not let their words speak for themselves?
It sorta implied an attack and yes let their words and actions speak for them.
Specifically, you wrote “Do not attack the music.” What exactly do you mean by this? That is, are you saying I’m attacking the musicians, or the genre, or the style, or what? I’m not exactly sure what you’re trying to say I’m implicitly attacking. Could you clarify so that I may respond more adequately?
Your overall deminer in the way you precented your posting made it like Christian Music as something that is more a necessary evil then something that can be led by the Holy Spirit. As I stated there are those that may be doing it for the money. there are several groups though that are truly using this music for the glory of God.
It wasn’t a particular word or sentence it was the attitude you left in your presentation.
Thanks for your insights. The intention of this post is to suggest that the category “Christian Music” is a construct created to mark off a certain group of musicians “Christian” as distinct from “secular.” My point is this distinction is false and arbitrary and perhaps harmful in the long run. In no way does this thesis suggest that Christian musicians may not be led by the Spirit or be genuinely good musicians and the like.
Oh I got that. JUst remember hymns were new once too and a lot of those hymns were thought of exactly the way you are talking about this music
I’m not sure about that. Hymns–and presumably you don’t mean modern ones because they’re still being written–could not have been segregated in music stores because there was no such thing. So I’m not convinced that hymns were “thought of exactly the way” I am saying here.
All great art has something like truth, or authenticity, or sincerity, and that’s a key thing that many audience-members pick up on. The problem with Christian music may be that Christianity sets the bar too high, so ordinary mortals can’t perform Christian music with truth, authenticity or sincerity. You’re a sinner, but you’re not supposed to sing about sinning, or if you do then you’re supposed to sing regretfully with hope for redemption. This might be too big a challenge for most people.
On the other hand, why couldn’t Christians go ahead and enjoy the worst secular music? While listening to “Highway to Hell,” you can admire Bon Scott’s plucky attitude and his dumb courage – and keep reminding yourself that you at least are not going to hell. The thing is, AC-DC is about as authentic as you can possibly get. Authentically bad, let’s say.
Why do we have Christian blogs? Why just call it a news blog and let the readers find out for themselves? You should always monitor what you and your children take in no matter what the label. However, at least the label gives me a starting point. At least I know there will not be language, sex or drug issues to worry about why I filter it. The same way I chose this blog. Lighten up. It’s a good thing. The frauds will be revealed. God will not be mocked.
You raise some good points, but I wonder about the counsel to “lighten up.” In exactly which way am I not enlightened? My comments here are suggesting that music should be judged for its worldview, not a label slapped on it. That label may certainly be helpful–as in the cases of blogs, and yes, music–but it can also be an excuse to not go beyond the label and determine anything about the content.
But that is not the fault of the label, musicians, marketers or anyone else for that matter. We have the personal responsibility to make the determination. There are faults in everything and every ministry. We know or should know that and proceed accordingly. Is it perfect? No but we will never have perfection in this world. There are bands that I have come across that have the Christian label but the band’s website nor any information about them put forth a Christian message. I consider them Christians in a band but not a Christian band. I still like the music but don’t go to it for worship. The label helps so we at least don’t have to weed through the counsel of the ungodly to get to what we want. If I can support another Christian that is a bonus also. What I meant by “lighten up” is this really is not a big issue worthy of debate. The posers are revealed and changing or removing the label will not bring in secular listeners.