Some Thoughts On Christian Music

My motivation for writing this comes from something that happened at work this week and comments made on a couple of my posts this week. (See: KJV Only, Rock Music and Other Rants and What I Believe). I want to begin with that I love music. My dad was a DJ and minister of music. For many years my mom was either the church pianist or organist. I grew up in a house filled with music. My dad enjoyed classical and jazz among other things. My mom’s tastes are more classical or worship music. Currently, my iPod has a selection from GNR to Handel. For more about my musical tastes check out: Some Musicians You Should Check Out, Top 10: Favorite Bands, Top 10: Favorite Artist/Musician, Concerts I’ve Been To, Concerts Part II. I am a Gen-Xer and a part of the MTV generation. I have had my own personal entertainment system (ie radio, tape player, CD, etc) since I was a baby. Music has always played an important part of my life. So this is a sort of random collections about thoughts I have regarding music.

On Music in Church

First, I love hymns. Some of my favorite songs are hymns. I grew up in a Baptist church. Baptists are non-creedal, that means  Baptists have had an aversion to creeds. Historically, Baptists have used hymns to transmit theology. The theology found in hymns is often missing in our modern worship music. According, to my dad a true hymn only mentions God and praise to God there is no mention of humans therefore most songs labeled hymns are not hymns.

Second, I love modern worship music. I like that it is usually upbeat and is easy to sing. My favorites are the more simplistic ones that are essentially scripture set to music.

I think using a live praise band is great. Drummers and guitarist should be given the opportunity to use their God given talents in church. For many years, I attended a church with a full orchestra. Many hymns have  kicking bass, low brass and timpani lines. I also enjoy hearing a good organ as well.

I am pro-music in worship services. I want a variety of styles and lots of music.

On Christian Rock, Alternative, Punk and Rap

Music is music. It is neither good nor bad; rather it is what humans do with music that makes it bad. John and Charles Wesley used the tunes from drinking songs for hymns. Why? Because that was the music the people were familiar with, could relate to  and liked. Even our own National Anthem was set to the tune of a drinking song. Before you slam Christian rock, alternative, punk or rap music take sometime to check out the music. Read the lyrics.

I really  like Flame, The Ambassador, Da T.R.U.T.H. and the other guys from Cross Movement. Many of them have theology degrees and their music is much often much deeper than a lot of Adult Contemporary and Southern Gospel. When was the last time your heard a Southern Gospel Song discussing Hermeneutics? One of the first things I do with a new CD is to read the lyrics of the songs. No matter how good it sounds I believe the content of the songs is more important. What is the message the artist’s is sending?

One of the reason’s I really liked Rich Mullins and his music was his lifestyle. He was an average singer but a brilliant song writer. Mullins was about ministry. He had a reputation for being real and humble. If you aren’t familiar Mullins music or even if you are you can check out his music at Calling Out Your Name.

One last thought on Christian, rap, rock, alternative and punk music God has changed my standards but not necessarily my tastes. I still like rock and alternative but I just don’t want the junk any more.

More Thoughts On Music

While you may or may not like or even agree with any of the music I like that is fine. Don’t be so quick to condemn an entire genre of music because it doesn’t “look Christian”. What exactly does a Christian look like? I mean can you actually tell that someone is a Christian by the way the look? Is everyone that looks like a Christian really a Christian? There have been some cases of well—known Christian artists that “looked Christian” but got caught in some very un-Christian behaviors. Rather than judge an artists or group by their outward appearance examine their music, lifestyle and ministry first.

29 comments

  1. I am glad you hit this subject. I have not gotten to blogging on it but I will, trust me, because I too am a lover of good Christian music.

    For now, the only paragraph I would like to comment on is the last one. You make a good point that a lot of people who “look” Christian, or Christ-like, really aren’t all that Christian. On the other side of the coin, should Christian artists go out of their way to look like the worldly artists? I, too, have been into Christian “rock” (by the way, research where and when the word “rock” became popular and what meanings it originally carried) and have been to some concerts, back in the day. I used to LOVE Rebbecca St. James and went to one of her concerts and I also have attended a concert by Carmen (does that show my age?). Sometimes, even though they share testimonies and the gospel and some other good stuff, the whole style reminds me of a rock concert. Do artists go out of their way to look like and sound like secular rockers? And if they do, why?

  2. Tim,

    I have already done the research on the use of the term rock. As for concerts I have been to quite a few you can read the posts about that. I’m not sure why Christian rockers look like secular music but they are not the only Christians that dress similarly. Personally, it really doesn’t bother me I once had pink spiky hair. I did just to annoy someone.

    DH

  3. Thanks for sharing this.
    re: the last paragraph, also – Those who criticize Christian rock would often also categorize almost any contemporary Christian music as rock – it has a backbeat, etc., therefore is “rock” no matter how mellow – including the Gaithers (even songs like “The King is Coming”), Sandi Patti, et al. They would go on to point out that even though they don’t “look” rock, it’s because they sing &/or listen to that style of music that they have “been caught in un-Christian behaviors.”

    Do I agree with that? No, just wanted to make sure you were aware of the argument and had the opportunity to think it through and come to your own conclusions.

    During my 11 years in the music industry, I saw artists who were in it for the entertainment value and others who were in it for the ministry. I saw some who were sold out to the Lord and serving him with all their heart and and some who were not. I saw the same with record company executives and employees, and Christian bookstore personnel, and frankly, I see the same thing with everyday Christians, pastors, church leaders. There will always be those who want their “ears tickled,” and there will always be those willing to do the tickling.

  4. Well, call me liberal (j/k) but to say anything with a back beat is “rock” or “unchristian” would be a bit of a stretch in my opinion. The only point I was making was that it would be hard NOT to concede that Christian rock is patterned after secular rock.

    My question is: Why the purposeful imitation of style?

  5. TimmyJohn,

    Rick is correct about technically anything with a back beat is rock. He wasn’t calling it unchristian.

    I think every musician is influenced by someone. Imitating the style of secular music is not a new thing ie the Wesley’s.

    Also, did you know that one of the earliest alternative groups was The Choir a Christian group (See: Some Musicians You Should Check Out.

    Also, there are several alternative/rock Christian bands that do not record on Christian labels because of problems associated with that. Then there is U2 a band comprised of Christians but not a Christian band.

    DH

  6. One of my favorite hymns, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” written by Luther, was put to a German bar tune. Telling the kids at church that is fun, too.

    I meant to mention this on the other post, but my wife came across an article the other day where the argument was that music with the downbeat on 1 and 3 was good, but the downbeat on 2 and 4 was ungodly. I had an old man tell me that the beat in rock and roll was “hypnotic,” and that’s why anything but hymns is wrong in church.

    I just thought those couple of anecdotes were humorous, that’s all.

    -Alan

  7. Well, the beats on 2 and 4 would comprise a back beat, right? Was rock the first genre to utilize the back beat? Either way, I know many hymns were written to tunes familiar to the time, and often bar tunes, but my point was more of the intention to look, and perhaps sound like the worldly bands. Not meaning to be antagonistic, but I am genuinely curious as to the reasoning. I’ve heard that it is to attract non-christians in order to share the gospel- sort of a “the ends justifies the means” kind of thing. The idea is that it is ok to act worldly as long as people get saved. That is just the argument I’ve heard. Waht’s your input?

  8. Tim, don’t jump on what I’m saying. The article was ridiculous, and I just thought it was funny. The argument was something stupid about a “march beat.”

    But, when I hear people talk about “traditional worship,” I realize two things:
    1) They equate singing with worship and worship with singing. The Bible has a much greater picture, and so have many throughout the history of the Church–e.g., Jonathan Edwards.
    2) They would die in their pews if we actually went “traditional” and pulled out some Gregorian chant or met for hours on end before the sun came up on Sunday morning.

    So I think hymns are great, and we should keep them, as part of a more collective musical aspect of worship. We should actually revert back and use some older forms of worship, and we should embrace the new forms, helping those who are pioneering in that way to be as faithful to the gospel as possible.

    Those are my short thoughts on hymns.

  9. Alan,

    I had forgotten about Mighty Fortress being a bar tune. Well, if you combine what that article said about 2 & 4 with what Rick said then I guess we better throw out all those evil Gaither songs out of the hymnal. Have you taken Baptist History yet?

    This is a random off topic thought that just hit my brain. Do you know how many songs, etc are in the 199? version of the Baptist Hymnal?

    TimmyJohn,

    To quote Larry Norman “Why should the devil have all the good music?” Some of us just like rock music. It may attract the world that is just a plus. You have a knack for finding articles that are more advertisements than real articles. The second article is just junk. Wesley did use bar songs. Look up some hymnology by Dr. William J. Reynolds he was my prof for worship. Dr. Reynolds not only knew far more about hymns than Cloud he served as the editor for one of the Baptist Hymnals. Did you know that at one time it was considered controversial to use anything but Psalms in a Baptist church?

    My judge for music is not the beat but rather the words. Do the words hold up? We should be more concerned with the words not the beat or the appearance of the musicians. Interesting most fundys that I have argue against rock music never say anything about the lyrics just the beat? I have often wondered why. My theory is because they know that much of their own beloved Southern Gospel could not hold up if the lyrics rather than the beat were the test for what is fitting for Christians.

    DH

  10. DH

    I’ll take your advice and look up some hymnology for myself.

    What is he advertising (tim says as he plays stupid)? I thought he did a pretty good job with refs. Anyways, not to become too defensive, but what makes it junk other than you have been taught differently? Please don’t take too much offense, I just would like to hear a better argument.

    Your argument for the words is a good one. I think a lot of people over look that part for 2 reasons: 1. They’re afraid to concede that some rock music can have good lyrics, and 2. Perhaps it is considered a given. Words a very important. They have been used in song to communicate doctrine, bring praise to God, communicate the deepest of human emotions, etc. I still think style matters. Just my opinion.

  11. Tim,

    What makes it advertisement? That is the first thing you see on the page. What makes it junk? For starters as a designer I’m turned off by how the site looks. Second, It isn’t just a matter of being taught differently but rather what I have read and research I have done. My dad was a minister of music. When I was in 6th grade I read over 1,000 books during the school year. Essentially, I read every book in the house I could get my hands on including many of my dad’s books about hymns, hymnology and I even read the Companion to at lest 2 different Baptist Hymnals. The Companion is a book that explains the hymnology, music theory, meter used, tunes and authors in the Baptist Hymnal. I guess it is a one volume encyclopedia of sorts.

    As for rock music having good lyrics. Based upon the lyrics I have read the edgier Christian music that I own tends to have more solid lyrics than the AC stuff. At last count we had somewhere over 900+ CDs and the majority are Christian. The first thing I do upon receiving a CD is to read the lyrics and who produced the album, musicians involved and dedications. Why? Because my dad taught me to be cricital of the music I listen to and to examine it both lyrically and musically. For example Rich Mullins may not have been the best singer and he was only an average hammer dulcimer player but his lyrics are solid. Even a fun song like “Screen Door”. I challenge to find a copy of Our World Fallen by Flame on Cross Movement Records. Read all of the lyrics. Read the lyrics before you listen to the music.

  12. Currently, my iPod has almost 700 songs that would be considered rock. 90% are Christian and probably a large number of them are by Third Day or DC Talk. I have read the lyrics of most if not all of those songs.

  13. I meant no offense to your experience and study. My only point was that there must have been more that convinced you than just a teacher telling you. Can you share what book(s) you have found out this information about the Wesleys in? I am genuinely curious.

    Also, I do concur about the lyrics of Rich Mullins, at least of what I know of him. I have also gotten a lot out of the lyrics of Keith Green, a charismatic if I’m not mistaken. He’s probably still one of my favorite song writers. I wish he had lived longer to write more!

  14. about the adds, I think I’m just used to scrolling down and ignoring them so I forget they’re there. I suppose that defeats the purpose of them, right?

  15. TimmyJohn,

    Where I learned that about the Wesley’s did not come from just one class but rather many sources.. I do not remember the name of the books. I believe one of them might have been the red covered Companion to the Baptist Hymnal. Further, I have heard my dad teach this on many occasions.

    Why should I believe what Cloud teaches? I know nothing about him or his credentials. From Googling him I learned some considered him a false teacher and that he has a very amatureish looking website. My teacher was considered an expert on hymns. He served as an editor for at least one hymnal, wrote on the subject and was a church music professor for many years.

    DH

  16. Well, as far as Cloud goes, you’d have to check on the refs to judge his research. There isn’t any reason why you should believe Cloud and not someone else without checking sources. I think people thought Jesus was a false teacher in His day. Many “ruckmanites” slam him often because of his strong stand against them.

    As far as the website, lol, I think it’s just antiquated. I hasn’t really changed in the last eight years at least (besides updated content of course). I don’t know if that has much to do with his research but it is a good observation either way.

  17. TimmyJohn,

    As for the design of the website. 8 years ago my students 6th-12th grade were designing better sites.

    Ultimately, the lyrics should be more important in judging if the music is Christian or not. If you haven’t done so personally spend sometime examining the lyrics of a variety of Christian music. Because of my job I have to be familiar with Christian music: Southern Gospel, Black Gospel, Rap & Hip Hop, Kids, Rock, Alternative, Praise and Worship, Contemporary so the majority of research as actually been listening to the music itself. In my opinion, the music speaks for itself.

  18. Found something wierd on blogger, an atheist rock band. If you’re interested:

    theatheistrockband.blogspot.com/

  19. I could be wrong, but I think Christian musicians mimic the style of secular musicians, because it attracts the unsaved to their music, and thus their message. If they “looked” like Christians, they would not be able to spread their message anywhere near as well.

    There is also the commercialization factor, of course.

  20. ENM,

    You make a good point about attracting others with the way they work.

    As for commercialization. There is that to some extent but the big Christian labels have been owned by secular companies for years.

    Many Christian musicians actively support groups like Blood:Water Mission, Compassion International, World Vision. The past year the artists from 6Steps donated over 1 million to missions. Of course Bono, who is a Christian but not in a “Christian” band also devotes a lot of time and money to helping those in need.

  21. I know this is an ancient post; I ran across it quite by accident but I thought I would comment. Now I’m a fan of CCM, I have well over 2000 songs on my iPod, all Christian music ranging from Gentle Faith, Love Song, and Larry Norman, to Third Day, LeCrae, and Flame. However I thought I would mention that there is amongst Wesleyan and Lutheran historians not a small disagreement about the style of music that the Wesley’s and Luther used in writing their hymns. A bar tune is a poetic form of music as opposed to ‘drinking music’. A song written to a bar tune or bar form as it was also called is a song set to three stanzas or more. Somewhere Over the Rainbow and most classic blues music is written in the same pattern. Hymns were controversial though in their own time. Not because of the style of music, but rather because they were not taken directly from the Psalms or were not paraphrases of the Psalms which were enormously popular. Modern hymns people were afraid were the equivalent to adding to the Scriptures.

    • Jeremy,

      Thanks for stopping by. Wow, haven’t heard the term CCM in ages. The style and quality of Cristian music has greatly expanded in the past 30 years.

      Bar tunes were drinking songs.

      Yes, I’m aware of how controversially hymns were when introduced.

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