Why I Almost Left Contemporary Christian Music Behind

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

That Cannot Mean That: How to Deal With Hard Passages of Scripture?

If you have been reading scripture for any length of time it probably didn’t take you too long to run across a few passages that made you think, “Did the Bible really just say that?”  There is no doubt that there are some scriptures that are hard to understand in our limited capacity.  After all, this is a book that was written ultimately by a holy, all knowing, and all powerful God.  We are none of the above.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”  How the trinity works, how election and predestination work together with man’s choice can all be hard things to understand.  However, there is a difference between something that is hard to understand and something that is hard to accept.  There are some scriptures that at first glance people may say, “I don’t like that,” but if we believe that “all scripture is God breathed” then God must have intended to have it in the canon of scripture.  So how are we to deal with these hard passages in scripture that we might say we don’t like?  I believe that there are several principles we should employ when reading (and teaching) these texts.  Let’s use Psalm 137 as an example . . .

By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion.  Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How can we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom The day of Jerusalem, Who said, “Raze it, raze it To its very foundation.” O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you With the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes Your little ones against the rock.  

Read and teach them in their context:

If the motto for real estate is “location, location, location” then the motto for scripture interpretation should be “context, context, context.”   The first eight verses of this Psalm are a beautiful, yet sad picture of the feelings of many of the Jews who were being led into exile from Judah to Babylon.  This was a horrible time for the Jewish people.  If you read Jeremiah or Lamentation you can get a picture of the horrors of the situation.  The first eight verses fit that situation nicely, but then we read verse 9.  If you are anything like me, I was taken aback by it the first time I read it.  After seeking the Lord, and reading commentaries on it, I came to understand it better in light of its full context.  The Psalmist is not calling for Israel to do this but rather calling for justice and retribution from God upon this nation.  In reality, this would actually be merciful for God to kill the children of this pagan nation.  If he were to kill the children in their state of “innocence” then their ultimate eternity would be in heaven, I believe (Why We Believe that Babies Who Die go to Heaven – Albert Mohler) rather than the place (Hell) that many of the youth and adults will end up for denying God.  So, while it may not be a pleasant picture that comes to our minds, we can understand it much better when put into its proper context.

Read and teach them as an ambassador and not an author:

We must always remember who’s book we are reading when we read the Bible.  It is not an ambiguous book that we can just have it say what we want it to say.  We cannot read into a text what we want it to say (eisegesis), but we must take out of the text that which God intended to say in the text (exegesis).  God does not need you to defend Him, but rather to be faithful to Him. It is always tempting to try to make a hard text say something that it does not by trying to “soften” it.  Revelation gives a very strong warning about adding to or taking away from God’s word.  This is why we must remember that we are simply delivers of God’s word, and not the writers of it.  This is why study is important.  This is why prayer is important.  This is one of the roles the Holy Spirit has, to give us the interpretation of a text.  The text is God’s text, not ours.  We must always be faithful to what it says, and not try to make something up that will make you feel better about it.

Read and teach them with humility:

            When dealing with one of these hard texts it is important to deal with it with humility.  God’s ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  We need to be thankful that God has graciously revealed himself to us so as to even be able to start to comprehend the truth of who He is.  When we step back and remember that He is God, and we are not.  He is sovereign, and we are not.  He is all powerful and full of complete wisdom, and we are extremely limited in these areas.  We do not have to know everything about God to trust him and know that He is good.  When you come to a text that you just cannot wrap your mind around simply humbly admit it and ask the Lord to give you understanding.  Remember Deuteronomy 29:29 and (if He does not give you understanding) humbly say that you may not completely comprehend all the complexities of God, that you can trust that He is good, and rest in the fact that “ . . . all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

If you read scripture often you will run upon these texts from time to time.  When you do, don’t fret.  Simply read it in its full context, remember that you are the messenger and not the writer of the message, and read it with humility.  God does not need you to defend his scripture, but simply to believe it and obey it.  In doing so, you can trust in the character of the God who wrote it . . . remembering that He is good, He is just, and He is kind.  Just because we may not like what it says, does not mean that it is not for our good.  Do you remember that bad tasting medicine you had to take when you were a kid?  You didn’t like it then, but it was good for you.  When reading a text you may not like, just remember that in the end . . . it is best.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell

Don’t judge me . . . no wait, please do!

If you have been alive for more than 10 days, you have probably heard someone quote (or misquote) the most popular verse in all of scripture: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”  This verse is very popular among those who do not hold to Christianity, and certainly do not hold scripture to be a holy book.  This is also one that is popular among many Christians who do not always put scripture into its proper context.  With all the sin that is in the church, and the onslaught of moral and ethical issues facing our society today, I think it would do us well to understand what this scripture really means, and just who we are not supposed to judge, and who we are to judge . . . if anyone.

We are not to judge those outside the church:

Let me be clear about what I mean by this heading.  Paul writes in I Corinthians 5:12-13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?  But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”  Christians are not to judge those outside of the church.  We are to witness to outsiders, but not judge them.  Anyone that has been in church for any length of time will understand that we are all sinners.  God has made it clear that He is the judge of all, and those who are not found righteous will be judged for their sins.  So, in a way, those outside of the church are right when they say we should not judge them.  However, Christians understand the penalty for those who do not know the Lord and walk in sin and thus should always warn those who are walking a path contrary to God.  Warning and judging is not the same thing.

We are to judge those inside the church:

While most people understand that Christians are to witness to and not judge those outside the church, it gets a little more tricky and difficult with the responsibility of those within the church to help judge the body of Christ. This is something that is very foreign in many churches today. Scripture is clear that we are to hold each other accountable (Proverbs 27:6, Matthew 7:1-5, John 7:24, I Corinthians 5, Etc.).  It must always be done with humility and love.  However, we must realize that if done properly, judging each other is a healthy and good thing.  Often people want to say, “get that log out of your eye, before you get the spec out of mine.”  Those who say that often miss the word “before.”  Jesus was not saying to never call someone out on sin, but BEFORE you do, you need to make sure that you are clean of it as well.  The church has a responsibility to hold each other accountable for the way we live our lives (Matthew 18:15-20).  Church discipline (the final act of judgment from a church) is actually a loving thing.  It shows the person that is being disciplined that sin is a big deal, and has consequences.  It shows the church member the same thing. It is not loving to let someone continue in their sin without cautioning them.  It may not be easy to confront them, or seem loving . . . but to let someone willfully spit in the face of God by sinning and say nothing to them shows a type of hate for that person.  A word of correction is loving, if done humbly, wisely, and with care.

We will all be judged by a righteous judge:

Paul Washer was right when he said, “The most terrifying truth of all of Scripture is that God is Holy, and we are not.”  God is a righteous judge and must always judge righteously.  I have heard so many people say, “God is my only judge.” The scary thing is, everyone will go before the judge one day.  He will see one of two things when judging you.  He will see your piles and piles of sin that must be paid for with eternal hell, or He will see one that is righteous because Christ imputed it to them.  Christ paid for the sins of his people at the hand of the righteous judge already.  However, there is an impending judgment for those who do not know Him by faith.  He is a good and loving God, but He is also a good and just judge who must render a proper sentence.   My plea to anyone that is reading this is to get on the right side of the judge now, so that you do not have to bare His wrathful sentence later.

When I hear people say, “Don’t judge me.”  I know what most of them are thinking.  Nevertheless, I want to say, “Please judge me!”  It is not always easy to hear a corrective word, but as Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”  I want to live a life that is most pleasing to God.  To do this I need to be conformed to the image of Christ as much as possible.  One of the ways of doing this is to have other godly people look at my life, speak into it, and call me out (judge) if I am veering off the path.  So, we need to always take “Judge not, that you be not judged” in its proper context.  We do not need to judge those outside of the church, but need to share with them the gospel.  To those inside the church; we need to lovingly, humbly, and regularly examine ourselves and hold each other accountable to God’s word in a way that is both scriptural and practical.  So, again I say, “Please judge me!” If you find I am veering away from God’s righteous path, tell me . . . and I hope you are willing to do the same.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell

Gentlemen, Have You Washed Your Wife Lately . . . Spiritually Speaking

I was recently talking with a friend of mine about the husband and wife roles and relationship.  In passing, he made the statement: “I wash my wife in the word.”  I thought that was an interesting choice of words, until I was reading Ephesians 5 (a chapter that I have read many times) and saw it in its beautiful context.  Ephesians 5 is probably the best selection of scripture on the role of wives and husbands in marriage.  Most of you likely know that husbands are to love their wives as Christ does His church.  Most of you are also likely aware, as the complementarian view so greatly articulates, that husbands are the heads of the home and wives are to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord ( Eph 5:22).  It is interesting to see that Paul uses twice as many words telling husbands to love their wives as he does for a wife to submit to her husband.  If we take the picture of Christ and the church we can see that a husband should be willing to sacrifice everything for her.  He should make her well-being of utmost importance.  He should treat her as he does his own body.  This is what Christ did for the church, thus, this is what a man should do for his wife.  But what of “Washing her by the water through the word” (Eph 5:26)?  The reason you do this is to make her holy.  This is what Christ did for the church, and this is what we need to do for her to help her along in her own personal sanctification.  Can she grow alone (apart from her husband)?  Yes!  But, it is a privilege and responsibility of the husband to do this for his bride.  So, just what does it look like to wash your wife in the word?

Washing Her By Reading Scripture With Her

            We should be reading scripture together.  This can simply be during a formal family worship setting, or in a more private time that you both have together.   Many make the mistake and think that family worship ends when your children leave the home.  However, as the spiritual leader of your home, men, you need to make sure that you are leading the way in reading scripture together.  You can read through scripture together.  You can pick a topic and study it together.  The point is that you pour scripture into your wife.  Scripture guides us.  It convicts us.  It shows us how to love.  It shows us what to love.  It shows us how to be more like Christ.  We do not just want our children to act and look like Jesus, do we?  That is not the sole purpose of reading scripture in the home.  We should want our wives (and ourselves) to be as conformed to His image as possible, as well.  One way of doing this is by reading and absorbing God’s word.  Husbands . . . read!

Washing Her By Praying Scripture With Her

            Have you ever prayed through scripture?  It is something that I was taught to do by one of my professors, Donald Whitney.   It is of great benefit.   Basically, it is simply taking the scripture that you have read, applying to your life and praying it back to God.  It is a beautiful and beneficial way to pray.  We are commanded to pray (I Thessalonians 5:17, James 5:16).  What better person is there to pray for and with than the person that you are supposed to love more than any other on earth?  If you don’t already pray with your spouse, then this is the first place to start.  Learn to pray with each other regularly.  However, when you read scripture together, find time to pray through it once you have finished.  You may be amazed at how often the Lord providentially reveals a need that is going on in your life as you read through and pray through scripture.  She will be blessed, and the Lord will be honored.   Husbands . . . pray!

Washing Her By Giving Scripture To Her

            Joshua 1:8 says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”  Each Monday morning my family gathers before I leave for the office to read, sing, and pray God’s word.  After we read though a chapter of the Bible, I try to pick out a verse from that chapter we read that I think will encourage my wife for that week.  I write it on an index card and put it on the refrigerator.  I think it is important to always have the Lord’s word in front of us.   This is also a way to let my wife know that I care for her by giving her something as precious as God‘s word.  This is just one example of how I try to apply this principle for my wife.  For you it may be sending your wife a daily text with a verse that reminds you of her.  It may be highlighting something in her Bible for her to read.  It does not matter how you do it, but simply that you do it.  Husbands . . . give!

Gentlemen, have you given your wife a bath lately?  I must admit, this is something that I have been greatly convicted of lately.  I want to wash my wife with the water of the Word.  I want to help make her holy, as Christ made the church holy.  It is my duty, but it is also my privilege.  I am grateful that my friend shared that little phrase with me that day.  So guys, if you are not washing her, you might want to run some water and get a towel.  Husbands . . . read.  Husbands . . . pray.  Husbands . . . give, and enjoy while doing it.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell