Rethinking "Christian" Music

Posted on 2:10 PM by
Christian music does not exist. I said it, and frankly, I'm a little glad to get that one off of my chest. Some might be wondering how that can be the case when they listen to Christian radio every day. Guess what, Christian radio doesn't exist either. Music, radio, art, books, movies, and websites can't be Christian. Only fallen people redeemed by a gracious God can be. Some might argue that this is only an issue of semantics, but I think it's a good, biblical understanding of what makes someone (not something) Christian. If we still don't agree on that point, let me make this one - 'Christian music' (I'll be using quotes for this term now) isn't nearly Christian enough.

The Christian should be ultimately captivated by two things: Loving God and Loving People. The first is hopefully a given for 'Christian music'. The second is where I believe a huge gaping void exists in what it means to be Christian. Christians are defined by our mission. This concept of loving people is best summarized by Jesus in the Great Commission - "As you are going, make disciples of all nations." This is the problem with 'Christian music'. It is completely internally focused. 95% of 'Christian artists' do nothing more than play 'Christian shows', sell their music in 'Christian music' sections, and have their music played on 'Christian radio'. This will not make disciples in a lost world. Especially since most of 'Christian music' is bad art. It is the same failing strategy that the church started using in the 1990's of trying to make church 'cool' enough so that lost people would flood through the doors. The problem is that lost people don't come through the doors, so they will never have the opportunity to see how 'cool' our church is. We must go to them.

If 'Christian music' is going to be Christian, then it must be about mission. Pockets of our churches have discovered that the church needs to be out in the harvest, among lost people, if those people are ever going to see the gospel. Jesus understood this, and the religious people of His day thought He was crazy for hanging out with sinners. But if sinners are ever going to know this good news, we have to take it to them. 'Christian music' is doing little good for the Kingdom. Christians making music among people far from God would do great things for the Kingdom. Sadly, when bands decide to step out and do this, they are often called sellouts by the 'Christian bubble', and get treated like Jesus was by the religious in His day. This needs to change.

So what is the hesitation? I think it boils down to money and success. That's sad to say, but I have personally been in a band that made a whole lot more money and saw much more success inside the walls of the church than we did when we decided to step out and become salt and light. I have personally had this discussion with 'Christian bands' who stay inside the bubble because it's easy and the money is good. These are the wrong reasons. Never mind the fact that all our major 'Christian labels' are now subsidiaries of major secular labels, and many of them are run by non believers with the bottom line being the only bottom line.

All of this to say that it's time for some musicians that are believers to be serious about making good art to step outside and carry out the mission. There are many that need to hear of the love of God that will not unless we fill up the smoky bars of America with Christians living out the gospel as they make music. Let's make music that's serious about God's glory and His mission. Christians, let's support this instead of ridiculing it. Burst the Christian bubble. Decide what's best for your kids to listen to by listening to it with them and having a frank discussion rather than just trusting it because it was bought at a 'Christian bookstore'. Applaud artists like Switchfoot, Sufjan Stevens, Owl City, and Underoath because they are at least outside of the walls of the church telling people about the love of Christ.

Please believe that I'm not at all saying that songs for the church to sing don't need to be written. I believe strongly in the power of music to teach Scripture and the gospel as we sing glory to God together. I just don't think that 95% of music made by Christians should have this goal. God is glorified just as much, if not more, in our singing the gospel to the lost than to those already redeemed.

'Christian music' doesn't exist. It doesn't need to. More Christians need to exist because we are serious about God's mission, and are willing to get a little uncomfortable to see the gospel proclaimed. As we are going, singing, writing songs, and playing, let's make disciples.


Kris said...

So refreshing to see the focus of music sung by Christians to be rooted in making disciples, not selling records and making easy money. joel, you rock man.