We live in a viral age. For good or ill . . . and I’d say the majority of these viruses bode for ill. I have seen two articles twittering their way across the book of faces and receiving a bunch of “likes;” that not so ancient and ever so irritating, serpentine degradation of public discourse. As an aside, I do not like “likes.” In saying this, I know that people will “like” this blog, thus, as I sigh and accept the inevitable, I return to the topic at hand with hopes that this discussion will help push us to a greater degree of discernment as to what we “like” as Christians.
The first article is more recent, the second one is one that, apparently, keeps resurfacing, no matter how many attempts there have been to slay it. Both of them are from prominent artist in the Christian music world who have “had it up to here” with Contemporary Christian Music (CCM)! These bold declarations have been well received and well disseminated, receiving 10,000+ “likes” on Facebook. Jon Foreman from Switchfoot wrote the first, Michael Gungor from Gungor wrote the second.
Let me briefly summarize each article. Foreman’s complaint is that in the Christian world, we often super-spiritualize the lives and callings of pastors and worship leaders over that of high school volleyball coaches and janitors. He asserts that there is, according to him, an unhealthy mentality that Christians should only write, sing and listen to Christian songs. He basically says that he and Switchfoot don’t write and won’t sing Christian songs because that is not their “calling;” as he says, “None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.”
Gungor, with more words and less graciousness espouses his frustration with the whole kit and caboodle of CCM. In his view, Christian music typically has a disingenuous fakeness to it. He points out that Christian music, and I agree with his point but not conclusion, copies the world’s genres of music and stick Jesus in it. The world has sultry love songs about wrapping your arms around your sweetheart and never letting her go; we have Christian music with the same seductive tones and lyrics, except that instead of your arms being wrapped around a sweetheart it is your Savior. Gungor points out the creepiness and hollowness of this and rebukes the CCM world for its hypocrisy and greed, and then gives a challenge to consumers to support “authentic” artists, for the industry to “buck up” and for the artists caught in the “system” to hang in there.
I’m not going to sparse these articles, you can read them yourself. I want to address the issue that these two articles bring up, and while I see much the same issue with the CCM that they do, I have some rather different conclusions.
I think we can nicely sort the Christian Music Industry into three sorts of people:
1. Those that have “sold-out” to “the man.” The big names, that just play the game and don’t seem to notice the chintziness of the CCM. These are the bread and butter or the industry, and they typically have the middle initial W., rhyme steeple with people in every song, or whose name starts with C and ends with hris Tomlin. We’ll call this crowd the “industry.”
2. Those, like Gungor and Switchfoot, who have seen the backside of the beast, and wouldn’t you know it, THEY see the hypocrisy, the silliness, the inauthentic “sheen” of the CCM. They at least haven’t sold out to the uncreative schmaltz of it all. These we shall dub, “the cynical-is-cool” crowd, but since that is too long of a name, we’ll call them the “enlightened.”
3. Those that are taking their gifting and interest in music and doing the best they can to honor the Lord and bring glory to God with their gifts. Some are better at it than others. Some are more clearly Christ-centered than others. Some avoid the cheesiness and cliché’s so common to CCM better than others. These could be called “The Faithful.”
The “enlightened” artists, with the angsty scowl from their last photo-shoot, claim they can spot a cliché a mile away. When they listen to Christian radio, they roll their eyes and force down a gag, then praise the Lord that they, at least, don’t use cliché’s. Their music is creative, unique, and an outward expression of their inner doubts. Their aversion to cliché is ironic. A cliché becomes a cliché from overusing a phrase, and not actively and faithfully clarifying and defining the phrase’s meaning. This is exactly what the battle for the Gospel has always been. If we do not faithfully and Biblically clarify the truth of the Gospel, it will quickly deteriorate into a simple cliché. “God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for your sins and forgive you.” You realize that however chintzy or cheap that sounds, it is true. The issue I have with the “enlightened” is that they take issue with the “industry” and in their frustration with the disingenuous hypocrisy that, admittedly, pervades much of CCM, they lump the Gospel itself into that which is schmaltzy, trite, uncreative, uncool, and silly.
The “industry” may be marked by a sheen of Christianese cliché’s, but this does not mean that Christ is cliché. What Foreman and Gungor seem to want is an ability to “fulfill their calling,” “ask their questions,” “create their music,” and “do what God made them to do” without the Pharisaical expectations of the Christian community weighing them down. They, and other artists like them, want to be free from the judge-mentalism of the Church. Gungor talks about being on a tour where they played in clubs, bars, etc., but that the promoter of the gig bought out the bars so that no alcohol would be served. Gungor was distraught that the bar-tenders wouldn’t get tipped that night, and claims that if the Christians that came to the shows had been at a secular concert they would have bought a beer and not thought twice about it. But, because of the pressure to “look Christian,” they, of course, couldn’t enjoy a beer. What hypocrisy the CCM produces?!
Now, why I am even commenting on all this comes down to this. Jesus said in Luke 13:20-21, “Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” In other words, it is gonna get into every corner of everything. Foreman and Gungor want to live in a world where they can be believers in Jesus and make their music as Foreman says, “for the simple joy of music.” They want to be free from having the judgmental attitudes and the pressure to have enough JPMs (Jesus per minute) in their songs. They want to be free to express their art. The problem with this thinking, and it is all too common in modern Christianity, is that it divorces art from the true Artist, music from the true Composer, glory from the true Light. If you are a Christian, whether a songwriter, janitor, pastor, author, father, wife, child or CEO, the leaven of Christ WILL permeate everything you say, sing, think and do.
It is true, as these guys point out, that we as humans are prone to measure truth by whether it says the right cliché’s with enough emotion behind it. However, THE Truth will get into every crack and crevice of the true believer’s life. Thus, the Christian artist will never be able to write music merely for the joy of the music; all things become a means to glorifying Christ. When your art becomes an end and not a means, you are an idolator. This thinking is like the people at McDonalds that take prepare a perfect burger for a photo shoot; if these people, though their whole life and career revolves around presenting an excellent looking meal, do not actually eat, they are missing the whole point of the food that their whole life revolves around. Yes, Christian music all too often mimics the pop-music of the world and comes of chintzy and cheap. I agree there needs to be a greater excellence, richness, and creative energy in Christian music; not because we want our music to be better, but because we want our music to sing (both literally and metaphorically) of the glory, beauty and praise of our King. Our music is excellent for the very reason that Christ is excellence Itself! Contrary to what the angsty “enlightened” artists may say, we do not need less Christ in our music, we need Him saturating the whole thing!
I fear that Foreman, and especially Gungor, in emphasizing the importance of self-expression are dabbling in the dangerous pond of postmodern thought. Post-modernism allows for the embracing and assimilation of any view into their life, without finally and totally rejecting anything that would be contradictory. However, when the leaven begins working, it will permeate the whole. To think that one can embrace self-expressive art and not submit to the authority and kingship of Jesus in your life is folly at the greatest levels. Thus, all three categories of those in the CCM world need to return to the truths of God’s word, and hold faithful to acknowledging the preeminence of Christ in all things (Col. 1:18). After all, whether it is cliché or not, wanted or not, like it or not, in Christ all things hold together (Col. 1:17).