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.
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.