Month: June 2019

End the Music Wars

Fighting Over Music Style when the church needs us to address actual issues and the world becomes more and more disillusioned with Christianity is unhelpful and destructive. 

 

Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter – Image from the Music Video for Died In My Sleep

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

There was a time in my life when my siblings made fun for me for not knowing any “secular” songs. I sort of deserved it, I used to carry around this empty coffee can with two FFH albums, a Jars of Clay album and a Toby Mac CD, those were my first albums and I refused to listen to anything else in my CD player. As far as my radio station choices went I had not even discovered the wonders of Christian Rock and Metal yet so there was no Demon Hunter and though Thousand Foot Krutch had been a part of God’s drawing me to himself, I listened to CCM stations exclusively. That had changed by the end of high school, but when I started collecting CD’s back in the late 90’s early 2000’s. By the end of my senior year in High School I had actually started listening to the band Train whose song “Soul Sista” was on a Prom mix. I was known as the Christian kid who only listened to Christian Music, CCM specifically, because all secular music was evil and Christian Rock/Metal were also evil and were out to destroy my faith.

 

I remember when my dad started buying heavier albums for me as part of his yearly CD brick Christmas present he gave to each of us based on our individual musical interests. It was my first Demon Hunter album, “Storm the Gates of Hell” which contained the ballads “Carry Me Down” and “Thorns” which did not prepare me for the heavier songs that make up the majority of the albums. I mean, I had heard “Not Ready to Die” on TVU at youth group, but the songs I knew were the two mentioned above. What I found though, was that unlike the CCM bands I was listening too (This was 2002 and the beginning of the Praise Craze that CCM has never gotten out of) the heavier bands were speaking to the pain and trauma I was experiencing, like Disciples “After the World” or Thousand Foot Krutch’s “Welcome to the Masquerade” One of my earliest heavy albums was Skillet’s “Collide” (2003) with the song “Savio” which got tons of airplay and I saw them play live a few times now.

 

Disciple, Demon Hunter, Red, Skillet, Thousand Foot Krutch, Lecrea, Project 86, so many bands that were much heavier than what my parents were comfortable with (plus rap) were the companions that played in my headphones more so than the bands being played on CCM stations. Yeah, I still listened to Jars of Clay and Downhere, Steven Curtis Chapman and FFH (the band that got me into Christian Music), but the trauma of the intense bullying, the pain of the identity crisis and the reality of God meeting me in those painful places was coming from the heavier bands and rap groups or artists. These bands brought me closer to Christ than CCM ever did (Jars of Clay and FFH being an exception to this) by telling me they understood the pain I was feeling and offering me hope to keep going when my life was its darkest or, in the case of Emery, scaring the crap out of me when it came to the consequences of a life of sin.

 

Some of CCM’s veterans like Matt Bronleewe (Jars of Clay, The Hawk in Paris) and Charlie Peacock have decried this irrelevancy within CCM and written books and articles on how CCM might regain relevancy. Recently I watched a YouTube video talking about all the unsigned bands that are not getting air time because the labels control what is played on the radio. His argument that bands who showed creativity and style were cashiered out of the industry and did not receive air time. The same has been true about bands in the Christian Rock industry, though Christian Rock/Metal radio is a lot more independent friendly. It seems once bands have the freedom from the label they are free to say what they want. Thousand Foot Krutch is a prime example, instead of writing ongs that kind of hint to their subject matter like they did on Welcome to the Masquerade” their first independent album since “Set it Off” “The End is Where We Begin” just came out and said what it was thinking. Disciples music followed the same trajectory, especially after they left Fair Trade.

 

Jars of Clay, Rich Mullins, Andrew Peterson, Steven Curtis Chapman, Tenth Avenue North and For King and Country are industry anomalies. Rich wrote worship music that caught us up into the wonder of God and worship of Him for everything from the creation of the color Green to the hills in Nebraska. Jars of Clay was a band my family started listening because they had something to say, Tenth Avenue North and For King And Country have both made moves towards relevancy, especially with songs like “God Forgive Us” (For King & Country) and “Still Listening” (Tenth Avenue North).

 

I actually had a representative of the band Building 429 that one of their big hits was actually a terrible song but the people just eat it up.

 

Which brings me to my point, we have bought the idea that Christians should only listen to Christian Music hook line and sinker and then turned around demanded that everyone conform to our version of Christian Music, labeling everything else as “Evil” or “UnChristian” even when that music is drawing countless people to Christ by meeting them in their pain. It’s the Evangelical Version of the Bob Jones teaching that only certain types of music (Classical or choral/congregational) were holy because they do not have a beat. Even when there is a much better alternative out there. Imagine being told you cannot listen to The Getty’s (In Christ Alone) or Andrew Peterson (Is He Worthy) because they have a beat, something that was prevalent in the circles my wife grew up in. The same has been said to me about my interest in and embracing of Christian Rock/Metal. We have bought the idea that CCM is the best form of Christian Music and if you do not conform you must be wrong and likely unchristian.

 

The fact is, many of these bands that I’ve listed from the Metal part of my discography have done more to draw me to Christ than much of CCM though Jars of Clay, Andrew Peterson, Rend Collective and The Getty’s have been extremely formative to me. Imagine the difference it can make for a teenager to hear Disciples sing “You’re not on your own, you’re not, invisible.” Compared to a prepacked pop song about being joyful that doesn’t begin to touch the reasons you feel invisible. Or hearing Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and then turning to K-Love and hearing the MercyMe equivalent “Shake.” Even though that equivalent doesn’t begin to address the pain that is behind Swift’s decision to “Shake it off” in the first place.

 

But this is also why we should allow secular music into our collections as well. I know the way disillusionment with Christianity has affected the people in my generation because I have listened to bands like Fun and Mumford and Sons both led by men who are disillusioned with the Church and with God because of it. It gives me a chance to pray through my response to these people in my own generation who might ask me why I believe and gives me a sense as to why they are disillusioned instead of being shocked with the fact that outside our Christian Bubble are people who are disillusioned with Christianity, the Church and by way or consequence, God Himself.

 

“But we don’t want our kids to be secular” but you want your kids to be able to minister in a world that is increasingly secular right? You want your kids to be able to address the pain their peers are feeling and the topics that are relevant to the issues their friends are facing? “But they look so much like the world, and sound like it too!” Did you stop and consider that maybe that is because we have forced these people to the fringes and their audiences are made up of kids whose parents tell them that music is evil and they shouldn’t listen to it? That they are doing ministry to teens who cannot find the issues they are facing in the mainstream CCM 10 song mixer? As for sound, Christian Rock, Metal and even Rap tend to be fairly unique and creative, look at bands like RED whose strings are infinitely greater than anything Michael W. Smith or Christ Tomlin have composed. Or Thousand Foot Krutch whose lead sing Trevor McNevan can rock as hard as the rest of them, then break it down in a sophisticated Rap followed by the most beautifully arranged ballad you can hope to hear. It’s not prepackaged synth pop, its music written to be creative.Take The Ongoing Concept for instance, I do not know I have ever heard a band that uses so many different variations on Metal or variety of instruments used in a Metal song including a sixty year old piano that sounds fresh out of the Saloon.

 

We get what we consume, those who run the industry have figured out we will consume anything that we sell as Christian, even if the theology of that music is extremely questionable if not openly heretical. Meanwhile we are telling young people that the best solution to their problems is to just be happy and that worship is something we do flippantly while listening to “family friendly” radio. Then condemn them when they branch out beyond what you think the music that actually addresses the issues the are facing is “evil” though it actually has the effect of drawing them closer to God.

 

Honestly, we should expect a lot more from CCM and from the Church than we do. We have adopted a purely consumerist model for something that should be so creative and so unique that it just flows out of us, to create like the creator did, out of our life and existence for the sake of creating something we love and which is beautiful. But at the same time offers a real and deep solutions to the issues that people face by 1. Acknowledging those issues and 2. Going to scripture to offer that hope in the darkest places. We can do both and have a myriad of examples of bands who have made that part of their mission. It’s time we lay to rest the worship wars and the comments about who is making the most perfect music and let God use what God has ordained to use because if we really believe God is all powerful, that means He can use anything, even really bad CCM…but I digress.

 

 

 

 

Father’s Day Reflection for those who have lost a child to Miscarriage and Infant Loss

Jonathan David Faulkner

 

On top of a small book shelf in my living room are a few trinkets and one picture, a very small knit hat, an angel holding a small baby and a picture of an ultrasound. Above all of this is the word Shalom written in Hebrew, the name we chose for the baby we lost on an unseasonably warm January night in 2018. It’s a daily reminder that we actually have 2 children, not just Erin, our little bundle of Joy, but Shalom, a child who we only saw on an ultrasound once before they told us she had passed away. The little baby that made me a father, but who I never met but who my wife and I both loved intensely.

 

Brother, I want you to hear this, even if you have lost a child, you are a father, you were part of creating that child, that life. I know this world has told you that you are nothing more than a “donor” and that you really have no say when it comes to pregnancy, but you helped create a life and now you are hurting because that life you helped create is gone. Or, you even held that baby in your arms and loved him or her with all your being, they were still born or they passed in the night, that child made you a father and this father’s day is as much for you as it is for the dad whose kids have grown up happy and healthy.

 

I know the wound is likely fresh for some of you, that your heart is hurting and you feel like you can’t talk about it because we are men and we just suck it up and take it. But brother you are allowed to be sad, to hurt from this, though you may have to delay your grief to lift up and love your wife through her pain, you are allowed to grieve the loss of your child. You are allowed to be angry and hurt, you are allowed to feel and when the time comes you are allowed to do what you need to do to heal.

 

Scripture promises us in so many places it would be hard to pick just one that God walks with us through suffering and cares for us in the midst of our deepest pain and worst trials. Oh dear brother you are not alone on this journey, I have felt what you are feeling in the last year, experienced that pain mix with the joy of a baby that would not exist had the first one lived. I have walked through our first child’s due date and cried. I am countless other brothers have experienced this and walked through this and so hear me when I say you are not alone. Remember too that the God you serve, the God you love sent his own son into the world to die on the cross, his only child, to die and show us what will happen for all who believe when our time of resurrection comes.

 

Brother, God is with you and your brothers are with you, stand firm in that fact even as you are too weak to stand, even as the pain feels like it is too much, even when the enemy and the world try to tell you that you are alone.

 

Dear brother, you are loved and you are a father.

Beware of Meme-Ology

Meme’s are fun, but when we try to theologize through them we usually just end up trivializing or oversimplifying larger, more nuanced theological concepts, ideas and teachings.

 

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

I am not a fan of Meme-ology.

What is Meme-ology you ask? Meme-Ology is the practice of summing up large pieces of theology from any theological discipline, biblical, systematic, historical etc. Into a pithy or over simplified meme that only supports one side of a theological argument of which scriptures supports both sides of that argument and which should be taken as a whole without a resolution to the tension with discernment for when a teaching is actually applicable to a situation. Or, the use of a single scripture, ripped from its context, to support a philosophical idea or ideology that may be either obliquely related or completely unrelated to how the text is being used.

We all know what I am talking about, how many of us shared Philippians 4:15? “I can do all things through Christ who Strengthens me” to relate to being able to do anything we desire to do. The full passage, Philippians 4 deals with contentment in the worst situations, for Paul, at the time of writing, it was incarceration and pending trial either leading to his death in Rome. Yet, the passage often gets used when we want to do something. As a kid I can remember trying to learn how to ride a bike and thinking “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Our self-indulgent Americanized Christianity applies this passage to the self, rather than the situation, it becomes a verse about self-empowerment rather than Christ’s power in our suffering. Yet to understand this verse in context we would have to have a much more robust understanding and theology of suffering than we currently have.

Philippians 4:15 is for the farmer who cannot make ends meet and who is feeling the pressure of maintaining his farm, so much so that he is on the verge of burn-out and may even be suicidal. It is for the mother and father who have just lost a child, whether that be to miscarriage, infant loss, suicide, overdose or what not. It is for the Christian in Pakistan who is under house arrest for believing in Jesus or the pastor in China who is also under house arrest for preaching the gospel outside of the Chinese National Church. Christ will strengthen them, give them hope and comfort when they reach out to Him.

It is not meant to be applied to the teenage boy who wants to date the cute girl at Youth Group but cannot get up the nerve to talk to her. It is not for the man who engages in get-rich-quick schemes. For the person sitting in the pew of the health and wealth preacher who believes if he just believes and claims riches, he will receive them. It is not speaking about the student who wants a 4.0 and has to pass a huge test to get it. It is not a passage about Christ helping us achieve self-advancement.

It is about Christ walking with us and strengthening us through the greatest suffering in life. Talking to a girl is hard for a teenage boy, but he is not imprisoned for believing she is cute. The Chinese pastor, who believes Jesus, preaches His word faithfully, loves God and is arrested for all that because his religion is seen as the religion of the colonizer, he is the one Christ will strengthen through helping him find comfort and contentment in the worst possible situation.

Yet, it is often the first scenario, the teenage boy, and not the Chinese pastor who this passage gets applied too. Because we lack a robust theology of suffering we apply this passage to self-enhancement, but Paul is not speaking of that, he is speaking of the suffering caused by imprisonment. We do not preach or posses a scripture of self-enhancement, we preach and poses a scripture that tells us we cannot, on our own, make ourselves better. That it is Christ living in us that makes it possible for Christians to live with contentment whatever the trial we may face. Apart from Christ, the pressures and trials of this world would completely overwhelm and destroy us.

Another example of Meme-Ology is the picture chosen for the cover of this article. It talks about how Christians are actually supposed to judge and lists a number of reasons and scripture passages as to why that is true. The problem is, the same Meme can and has been created by the “Judge Not” camp. Both groups believe they have the corner on scripture and see these ideas as at odds with one another. The problem is, Scripture allows for a healthy dose of tension. Jesus does command us “Judge Not” but he also tells us to make judgements, to discern the spirit. Each text has its specific context and specific instructions. The fact is that some of the passages listed are not describing person to person interaction but spiritual discernment. Many of the judgment passages pulled out are also talking about an eschatological judgment. As Rich Mullins says: “Because one day we are going to judge the nations and I have my favorites picked out.” In relationship to human beings, a fuller understanding of the judge/judge not commands would be that we should never put judgment before Love but we should have discernment about a persons actions based on a mature understanding of scripture and aid from the Holy Spirit who dwells within all who believe. As for spiritual discernment, we are to make judgment of what spirit is speaking, whether it be the Holy Spirit which indwells or spirits of the enemy who destroy. The words judgment and discernment are interchangeable. We should not pass a judgement on a human being, but we should be able to discern the actions and the spirit working in another person and react biblically, always putting love first.

These Meme’s also ignore other teachings of Jesus such as “Removing the log in our own eye before commenting on the speck in our brothers” and so on. They become justifications for saying and doing anything we want because our private judgments are infinitely more important than the consensus of the Body of Christ and certainly more important than the full, Spirit-Breathed council of scripture. At the point of Meme-Ology we are no longer even “Bible-thumping” we are “Private Judgment thumping.” Passing off our own private thoughts for biblical authority.

Not that there is not room of private judgments, but as John Williamson Nevin writes: “Private judgments must be brought into the church to see if they hold water alongside the corporate study of scripture.” That is, private judgments must be brought into the church so we can reason through them in a manner that glorifies God and encourages and strengthens the faith of fellow believers. That also means we may have adjust our private judgments to come in line with what scripture actually teaches us. The biggest disservice American Evangelicalism has done for us is give us the phrase: “This scripture means to me…”

That does not mean there is no room for individual revelation concerning scripture, in fact, Simon Chan in his book “Spiritual Theology” says that the nature end of a deep life in the spirit is what he calls “Private Revelation.” That is, the spirit leading us to do X,Y or Z and giving us the courage to follow through on that. This doesn’t mean you should keep it to yourself, but often we hear “Private Revelation” meant for us and try to apply it to another person, or we just make it up. These interaction with the spirit need to be filtered through a spiritual director or teacher who can help you discern the spirits and who is already praying for you. We are not meant to be isolated, sedentary Christians who act on every thought and who attribute every thought to the Holy Spirit.

The fact is, scripture is much more nuanced in its language then we tend to make it out to be. The fundamentalist and evangelical tendency to interpret scripture based on a “plain reading of the text” has done a lot of damage in the history of the American Church. It has excused us from actually digging deeply, to really examine the text. Down to the very languages in which it was originally written. English is actually problematic when it comes to interpretation because it does not allow for the kind of nuance that both Hebrew and Greek do. The example above serves as a good example of this. Judgement in scripture can mean judicial intent, but it can also mean discernment. In English we have this distinction, but for some reason, when we read scripture we apply one definition or the other to every use of the word. Instead, we should spend an hour or two digging into all the available background data to discover everything we can about the use of the word and how it is used in that particular passage.

We need to beware of Meme-Ology, it often tends towards a misrepresentation of scripture and the truth therein. As Christians, Christ is tells us explicitly no to do that in Rev 22:19. We are meant to consider the fullness of the council of scripture and that requires us to dig a little deeper than the plain English meaning or proof texting by pulling a verse out of context. So stay away from Meme-Ology, for the sake of the truth, so that you may teach the fullness of the word of God as you know Him more fully.

To Him be all glory, honor and praise, forever and ever, Amen.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel in the North Shore of Boston and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center Iowa.