Christian pop music, in spite of its best efforts, remains less compelling, less authentic, than its secular counterparts. And because of this, what could be a powerful tool for evangelization is instead just a way to entertain and encourage those who are already Christian.
Subject Study: Forgiveness
Christian Artist: Matthew West
Secular Artist: Collective Soul
Matthew West has a popular song playing on the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) radio stations. The song is titled “Forgiveness” and is a straightforward biopic of the subject. Not an unpleasing song, but also something that would never stand up against secular songs:
It’s okay, but just okay. And lest you think I am dumping on the guy, I happen to like his hit song “More” quite a bit. It’s not that he isn’t talented, it’s just that something is missing from the quality and depth of the music and lyrics.
It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have to say the word…
Collective Soul, which have multiple songs involving the theme of forgiveness, sing about a young woman whose life seems much more real, more true-to-life, in “She Said”:
She said she can’t look back
To her days of youth
What she thought were lies
She later found was truth
She said her daddy had dreams
But he drank them away
And her mother’s to blame
For the way she is today
Life’s river shall rise
And only the strong shall survive
But I’m feeling quite weak
Will you comfort and forgive me
I would even match up Collective Soul’s less popular song “Forgiveness” against the song of the same title from Matthew West.
As an atheist I think I was pre-evangelized by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, by C.S. Lewis, and by music like Collective Soul’s. I was searching for truth, beauty, and goodness. And in a certain way I found it in theirs and other’s secular songs rather than through ghettoized Christian music.
Maybe there is no other way for things to be. But it seems like we as Christian miss a great evangelizing opportunity by not making compelling music that everyone wants to listen to.
One time I was excited to hear (what I thought was) U2′s Streets on a CCM station. But part-way through the intro something didn’t sound quite right. That wasn’t Edge on guitar…it was, different, less complex, tinnier and cheesier. Sure enough, it was popular CCM musician Chris Tomlin doing a cover of U2′s mega-hit. For generic Joe Evangelical, this was all good, but for a U2 fan, it was almost painful.
Copying the Worst
I was listening to K-LOVE this past week and a song came on I hadn’t heard. Sounded like a Christian version of teeny-bopper Rebecca Black’s “Friday”. The song was by a young woman named Jamie Grace, and included the lyrics: “I’m about to get my worship on…”
I guess the idea is to appeal to the girls and young ladies who like Rebecca Black and Carly Rae Jepsen. But the song is so cream puff mac daddy wannabe that I couldn’t make it through to the end. Have we devolved as Christians to the point where we are going to go “get our worship on”?
What should be done? Christians should make better music. Truer music. Less trite, less biopic, more depth, more story. I still listen to Christian radio, almost every day–well, except during Advent when they preemptively crank up the Christmas carols–and I find many songs enjoyable enough, thoughtful enough, but only just so.
To end on a positive note, if there is one Christian band who has defied the odds and produced excellent music over a long haul, its Jars of Clay. They crossed over into mainstream success early on with “Flood”, but album after album they created music that was both Christian and also just plain good music.
Ironically, many Evangelical Protestants criticized them for not being “Christian enough” because they wouldn’t always mention Jesus directly by name in their songs. Trouble is, their audience, the people who buy CDs and mp3s, are such Evangelicals, so they cannot just ignore their base. They’ve struggled with this tension for a long time, notably in the last several years.
More folksy but still great is the band Caedmon’s Call. I always felt this band should have gotten more notice. They were popular, but never hit the mega-big time of CCM glory. In my top ten list of Christian songs, Jars of Clay and Caedmon’s Call easily account for half of them.
What’s your take? Am I being too harsh? Not harsh enough? What’s the solution?