This post is part of an ongoing series about the relationship Christians have with music. It explores what we’re really asking when we ask “Are they a Christian band?” There’s an introduction to the series that explains this concept better, but in many more words. If you’d like to read it, you can check it out here.
I have one last post in this series for now. Thanks for sticking with me on this. At the very least, I’ve been able to work through what I believe about Christians and art, so that by itself has made this worth it. I may pick the series back up – or at least write about Christian music from another angle – later.
In the meantime, though, I’ll be switching my focus back to the novel I have in the works. So if you’ve been reading this series because you like Christian music, but are also interested in post-apocalyptic pirate fiction – I know, that Venn diagram intersection is pretty wide – you can sign up for my mailing list to get updates on the book here.
Now that I’ve spent too much time with general housekeeping and shameless self-promotion, let’s move on to our next question that people are really asking when they ask if a band is a Christian band.
Is this music safe?
People usually mean a couple different things when they ask if something is “safe.”
On the surface, they’re asking if they need to keep any of it from their kids. Is the subject matter appropriate for all ages? Does it promote good values? Are there any dirty words? I don’t see a problem with wanting to limit the objectionable content in your art, especially if you have kids around. As someone who works in Christian radio, I know how much it means to people to know they can turn something on and not worry too hard about what their kids are hearing.
Of course, people who prefer their art G-rated need to understand that not all of Christianity is G-rated. This is hardly new information. Christians need to talk about what sexuality looks like for Christians, whether they’re single, dating, or married. Christians need to understand the reality of spiritual warfare and just how dark some corners of the world are. They should probably crack open their Bibles and read Judges once in a while, too.
I don’t think it’s the job of each Christian artist to address all of these issues, either. Some people are going to have a lot to say on the difficult issues, while others are going to specialize in devotion-driven worship songs. And that’s okay. That’s what makes Church so cool. It’s a body with many parts, and each part has its own function.
If I’m a songwriter who has something powerful to say about how Christians act when it comes to politics, I need to write that song. I shouldn’t worry that I’m not simultaneously covering our treatment of the homosexual community or making sure there are a lot of good, vertical worship songs on the local hot AC station if I don’t have anything to say on those subjects. There are other artists in the church who God has set aside to take care of those. It’s their job to answer that call, not mine.
To borrow Paul’s imagery of the Church as a body, asking Christian songwriters to cover every issue that needs to be covered is a little like criticizing a foot as it carries a body toward a doorway: “You just seem content to keep on walking. Don’t you know that door needs to be opened? And you know there’s still some apple pie that needs to be digested, right? What are you doing about getting oxygen to the brain so we don’t pass out before we even get to the door?”
The other side of the “is it safe?” question is the side that scares me. This one is buried a little deeper, but it’s there.
Sometimes we’re asking if the theology of the song is safe. Are these lyrics biblical? Do they come from a place of theological truth? It’s a good question to ask, but I think the problem is we tend to decide on how safe an artist is, and place a stamp of approval on them until they come out and say or do something really crazy.
I say we because I’m guilty of this, too. Sometimes, I’ll be at church, singing a song I’ve sung dozens of times with my hands raised, and I’ll stop, realizing I’m not so sure I agree with what these lyrics are saying.
We have a dangerous habit of canonizing the work of people we feel we can trust. We don’t read as carefully or as critically when we’re going through a Francis Chan book as when we’re going through Rob Bell. We’ll swallow the latest Tomlin single much faster and more easily than one from Derek Webb.
When you’re asking if you can trust the lyrics that will come out of your speakers when you play a CD, the answer to Is it safe? is always no.
I’ve seen a lot of blogs that touch on similar themes to what I’ve written on the last few weeks, and they mostly end with the conclusion that Christian music needs to go away. They say it’s an ambiguous umbrella that gets put over work that is often created for the wrong reasons, and on that point, they’re right. It’s the conclusion I disagree with.
The last thing I want is for Christian music to go away. Even in the strictest definition of the term, this world needs Christian music. What we need isn’t the abolition of the Christian art subculture, but a change in the way we approach it.
We need more artists who are willing to create art from a place of honesty and truth, not fear that their work won’t be seen as “Christian enough.” We need more art-consumers who understand that any label you slap on music – whether it’s “Christian” or “experimental” or “hard rock” – is not an objective definition, but a subjective observation. We need more people who, instead of complaining about the state of the Christian music industry, are willing to do something about it.
And I think to some degree, this is already happening. Christian music has come a long way in the last few decades. We still have a ways to go, but we always will when we’re trying to do something worthy of the God of the Universe.
Read more in the series: