Have you ever had an old friend who was once a best friend to you, but now it just seems like you have simply grown apart and hardly even know each other? This is the best way to describe my relationship with much of the Christian music that we find on the radio today. When I first started listening to Christian music 13 years ago, I fell in love with it. When the Lord saved me, I knew that I needed to change the music I listened to. Before I came to know the Lord, my CD changer (this was before the days that 2,000 songs fit in your pocket) was filled with bands like Nirvana and Led Zeppelin. While these musicians had some talent, their music would often influence me in ways that would not be pleasing to the Lord. I knew that after becoming a child of God, I needed to change the music I listened to. Music was such a big part of my life; the Lord filled that desire with a better option . . . Christian music. I was introduced to bands like Jars of Clay, DC Talk, Newsboys and a variety of others. Over the years I continued to love those bands and came to love the music of many other contemporary Christian artists. However, things are rather different today than they were 13 years ago. I find myself listening to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) much less than ever before, and have even contemplated (though just briefly) leaving it behind for good. I’ve had a few realizations that have caused me to rarely talk to that old friend anymore; but when we do get together, it is still a pleasant conversation.
The Realization that they are artists, and not theologians:
R.A. Sheats, author and friend, once made a very interesting observation that has stuck with me for years. She said, “Today, Christian music is written by artists, while it was once written by theologians.” There can be a pretty large gap between the two. This is not to say that all writers of Christian music today have weak or bad theology; some certainly are sound (Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin, for the most part, to name a few). But when we look at it as a whole, I believe my friend had a good point. Most songs written in church history were written by pastors and theologians, where today many of the songs you will hear on the radio are written by 25-35 year-olds who are not even involved in a local church. Being in the Word and under sound teaching consistently matters when it comes to the songs that are written. Today, it seems like the music is more important than the words, which make sense if you are making art. However, God has called us to make more than just art when we make music. The words mean something and it tells us something. For me, so many of the words in much of modern CCM music tells me little. It tells me little of the vileness of my sin. It tells me little of His substitutionary act of atonement on the cross. It boasts much of God’s love, but little of His wrath. Not all artists have bad or watered down theology, but it seems to me that many do . . . and it comes out in their music. When I listen to or sing a song, I want it to paint an accurate picture of God, and not a light (often feminized) version of Him.
The Realization that many love the world more than the Word:
There is no more hot button topic today than that of homosexual marriage. Everywhere you look it seems to be talked about. Some in the CCM world are even chiming in on the subject. In the past year we have seen people/groups like Jars of Clay, Amy Grant, and even Carrie Underwood voicing their support of same-sex marriage. Vicky Beeching (Brittan’s female version of Chris Tomlin), just this year came out to reveal that she is a lesbian as well, while people like Jenifer Knapp and Ray Boltz “came out of the closet” a few years back. Just recently Derek Webb (once one of my musical heros) toured with Knapp in an apparent support of her lifestyle. Sadly, the love for the world over the Word does not stop at the same-sex-marriage debate for some in the CCM world. Musical artist Gunger (writer of “Beautiful Things”) made waves a few months back when he denied the validity of the Bible and said that Jesus “was probably just wrong” when He was quoting Moses’ account of the flood. Even sadder is the fact that Tim Lambesis, the front man for As I Lay Dying, was sentenced to six years in prison for conspiring to kill his estranged wife this past August. He stated that he and others in the band had become atheists 2 or 3 years back, but it was just easier to keep playing their music than it would have been to come out and say that they no longer believed in the God they were singing about.
It simply breaks my heart to hear these stories. I know that one cannot toss a whole bag of fruit out because of a few bad apples, but I am afraid that this may very well be only the tip of the iceberg. I pray that I am wrong, but I believe as times get harder on the Christians in this country who oppose these social issues, we are going to see more artists come out with similar weak-convictions. It scares me to think that it seems like a shift is coming where people are being conformed to the patterns of this world instead of being transformed by the renewing of their minds. How I hope I am wrong.
My journey has by no means come full circle. I am not reverting back to my secular music days. However, on my music journey I have learned that I need to be careful about what I listen to. The belief system of the singers matters. That is why I said I’ve almost left contemporary Christian music. I have not given up on it completely. There are still some great songs being written by orthodox Christian artists. I love singing songs of worship to God like “Glory to God” by Fee or “10,000 Reason” by Matt Redman. They fill my heart with worship and praise to God. Nowadays I find myself pulled more to the old hymns, but also to the newer songs of The Getty’s, Jenny and Tyler, Sovereign Grace Music, Red Mountain Church, Andrew Peterson, Rend Collective, and Fernando Ortega. I love a new Christ-centered hymn or chorus. It just seems like the theologically sound ones are few and far between in the Contemporary Christian Music world. While I almost left the CCM world completely because of my frustrations with it, I am glad to still be able to hang out with my old friend at times. I hope you will join me in trying to practice good discernment when it comes to the Christian music we listen to, and the people we follow who make it.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Adam B. Burrell