Home > Emergent, God, Ministry, Theology > Place in this World

Place in this World

…or the dilemma of Christian music in the 21st century.

This is a response/reflection to my friend Jay Brown’s tripartite blog entitled: “The Problem of Christian Music.”  Before you read this blog, I invite you to read his blog, comment if necessary, then return for my response.

The Problem with Christian Music – Part 1
The Problem with Christian Music – Part 2
The Problem with Christian Music – Part 3

And now my response…

1.  Sacred vs. Secular categorization is a dubious construct.  I’m sure Jay will agree with me here, at least in part.  There are no clear boundaries when looking at communities of faith and culture to determine what is “Christian”  and what is “non-Christian/Secular.”  The word secular comes from the Greek saeculum, which literally refers to the time period or age when an event occurs.  If we look at the term secular in this way, then we’re living in a Post 9/11 age or saeculum.  Secular later came to mean someone who is not bound by monastic or clerical vows, or simply put, part of the laity.  It was only later, through the philosophies of Marx, Feuerbach, and Nietzsche (thanks in part to Hegel’s dialectic) that God was sent packing.

In other words, clear sacred and secular boundaries don’t exist.  It’s all part of the leftover modern obsession/compulsion, where we need to neatly categorize everything.  You don’t have to look far to find God outside of the church, and that’s actually where God intends us to go…but I’ll save that for a later discussion.  And it won’t take you long to realize that there is still the Ananais and Sapphira strain of DNA left in the church.  Google “church scandal” and you’ll see what I mean.

This is all a verbose way of saying that there is a messy (a)theism going on both in churches and in culture.  There is nothing you can point to and say, “A-ha!  That’s distinctly Christian.  Look over there!  That’s devil music.”  You’ll be disappointed every time.  I’m not  saying that if you listen long enough that you can witness God moving through the music of Marilyn Manson…or maybe you will.  What I am saying is that it requires “eyes to see and ears to hear”  to find God amongst the bang and the clatter.

2. Christian radio has a target audience.  A 2008 survey by Dunham+Company found that the typical Christian radio listeners are women 45-54, Pentecostal/Charismatic, living in the south (Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida), politically conservative, and 71% attend church regularly while 10% never attend church.

In a breakdown of preferred programming, 56% listen primarily for music (predominantly women 18-44), 40% prefer teaching or sermons, and 16% said talk was a primary reason to listen to talk radio.  Of course, this all adds up to more than 100%, but we won’t be too picky with Dunham+Company.  While Christian radio does need more variety in it’s programming, it seems that the core audience is happy and that a large portion of Christian radio listeners also want sermons and teaching as part of the programming.

I don’t listen to Christian radio, which is fine because K-Love isn’t going after progressive Christians or “cultured despisers.”  They’re broadcasting for people who pay the bills, and rightly so because it’s a business.  If you don’t like it, change the channel.

3.  Christian artists find themselves theologically homeless.  There are ultra-conservative websites that attack Christian musicians for being too “worldly” and not having enough mentions of God or Jesus, and when musicians “crossover” (again part of the dubious Sacred vs. Secular borderline) they are accused of selling out to the principalities and powers.  Meanwhile, progressive Christians and cultured despisers critically pan or wholly ignore music that is created within the Contemporary Christian genre, and instead listen to mainstream artists (U2, Bruce Springsteen, etc.) that have songs immersed in spiritual themes.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen to U2 and Bruce Springsteen.  Their music is refreshing and speaks to our religious core like no praise and worship song ever could.  What I am saying is that it’s time for progressive Christians to (re)engage Christian musicians and artists, to descend from atop the ivory towers and high horses, to shed elitism and pretentiousness…to listen.  I speak for myself when I say that I’ve been given eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.  I’m with Jay that Christian music needs to reboot, but we can’t demand that musicians write better songs if we won’t listen.

4.  Progressive Christians need to (re)engage mass media.  As one who has mocked Christian radio and television programming incessantly for the better part of 7 years, it’s time for progressive Christians (including myself) to think creatively about mass media.

I’m not suggesting we take to the channels and airwaves and become the Keith Olbermann answer to the religious right, although that would be interesting.  There needs to be an influx of forward thinking, sane yet interesting Christians in radio and television.  And don’t get me wrong, with the advent of social media (blogs, twitter, youtube, ustream, podcasts etc.) anyone can have a voice , but there are few blogs and podcasts that have the weight of radio and television.  You can’t tell me that TBN is the best we have.

I’m suggesting we take the parable seriously:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

There are many other thoughts brewing in my mind, but they are still fragmented at this moment, so I’ll pause here and leave space for your thoughts/comments.  But before I do, I’ll ask that you pray for this man because he’s

“looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find my place in this world,
my place in this world.”

  1. September 28, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    Boom. Roasted.

    I agree with your points, especially regarding the fact that although there are countless ways to engage musicians and artists, TV/radio is still a dominant form. Hence, the outlet that is currently being used to divy Christian music to the masses is critical, and why I think it is missing the mark.

    The only point I would counter you with is number 2. While Christian radio does have an audience, you’ve quoted stats making it the number 1 bandwidth for white middle aged conservative women. I would offer a similar scenario exists within our churches, except that there is a growing dichotomy between those who prefer hymns/organs/quartets and those who prefer rock/lights/projection screens. While there is still a wide fan base for hymnals and their music, many churhces have already begun to at least incorporate a younger style and feel, because they know that the hymn generation is fleeting. You would think Christian music would do likewise. I think they are trying, but they’re not there yet.

    Looking forward to discussing this further Friday night.

  2. September 30, 2010 at 8:16 PM

    I reply with the only quote I can:

    “The point is, how do you know *Christian Music* isn’t a crazy glue sniffer?
    “Building model airplanes” says the little fairy, well, we’re not buying
    it. He sneaks into your house once, that’s all it takes. The next thing
    you know, there’s money missing off the dresser and your daughter’s
    knocked up, I’ve seen it a hundred times.”

  3. jeffnearlife
    October 1, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    You guys are talking about several different things, so I’ll go after them piece by piece.
    1) christian radio is christian pop music. And most of Christian Radio is some form of praise and worship (or Ravi Zacharias…given the choice, i take Ravi). So by the transitive property, christian Radio is praise and worship. Now, let’s go under the assumption that praise and worship is analagous to “secular” pop music (this is not without precedent as we know Luther wrote hymns from German drinking song tunes…the 15th century Apologetix, if you will), then I think we’re getting somewhere in this discussion.
    Here’s an example…these are actual lyrics from an actual pop song right now “I throw my hands up in the air sometimes
    Saying ay-oh, gotta let go.
    I wanna celebrate and live my life
    Saying ay-oh, baby let’s go.”
    Now, is it that hard for you to imagine a song with a similar tune on Christian radio that substituted “and live my life” with “jesus christ”? It’s not for me. It’s pop music. It’s low brain power and low intellectual investment and THAT’S WHY PEOPLE LIKE IT. To make the argument that emo christian bands need to be substituted for pop christian music is absurd. You don’t make the claim that G105 should play more slayer (even though maybe you should).

    Our mutual friend that works with building 429 told me once that Christian bands needed to make music to “tickle” the Christian market. After I got done throwing up in my mouth, I realized there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s JUST WHAT POP MUSIC IS. You pick your market, you make low intelligence crap with a good tune and people will buy it. In the christian market, this means writing simple sentences, saying Jesus and God a few times, then calling it a day.

    2) There are indie bands that are “christian” but have managed to make it into the playlists of non-Christian people. These people are discerning music listeners and will give a chance to something if it’s not crap. I’ve heard such people mention mewithoutyou and norma jean, for example, so I’m sure that others could make this crossover if they were producing enough quality. The sad truth is I think they’re not good enough.

    3) Sad truth – the “progressive Christian” market is kinda like the “people looking for healthy food at mcdonalds market”, nearly non-existent. Certainly there are progressive Christians but the reason that nearly every church isn’t and all of Jesusland isn’t is because there just aren’t many of them. To paraphase a quote from George Carlin, the reason that things are the way they are is very simple, the church (and “christian culture” whatever the hell that means) sucks because the church people suck. They’re too busy watching American Idol, going to their jobs, and driving their kids to soccer practice listening to K-Love to think on a deeper level about their faith. And dont’ even get me started on reading.

    Tyler asked the hammer to be brought. It has been brought-en. Enjoy.

  1. September 28, 2010 at 9:24 AM

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