I have a confession to make. I really dislike Christian music.
Now, Christian music is a very broad term, so I think some defining is in order. I don’t mean music that is written expressly for use in the church for praise and worship. I’m talking about Christian music that does not exactly fit in church, but has an unmistakable Christian theme in its lyrics and content, what I think is commonly referred to as CCM, or Christian Contemporary Music.
It tries to cleave to some of the lyrical and theological orthodoxy of worship music, but with the musical sensibilities of pop and rock (and sometimes even hip hop), and somehow manages to mangle both. I don’t like this kind of Christian music, and I know I’m not alone.
I listen to it everyday on the radio, partially because I find the lyrical content that’s broadcast on other stations repugnant (“Cuz your sex takes me to paradise, yeah your sex takes me to paradise … ”), and partially because, as a pastor, I feel somewhat guilty if I don’t. But I regularly grit my teeth while listening to the local Christian radio station.
My beef is that even though the music has such high production values and is performed by such high caliber musicians, it often lacks realness and authenticity. Amazingly, it manages to sound shallow even when talking about ideas of incredible depth. The lyrics are prosaic and affected, and the themes that it covers are shockingly narrow.
There are the “I’m a bad person but you love me anyway” songs, the “teach me to love like you” songs, and the “don’t give up” songs. Aaaand, that’s about it. Of course, I’m being facetious and stupid, which comes as no surprise to those of you who read this blog regularly.
But in mid-tooth grit this week, I realized something that made me have a lot more respect and compassion for people who are in the Christian music industry: They are in a ridiculously impossible position.
Think for a moment of the opinions and influences that a Christian musician must cater to:
First, Christian music must be theologically orthodox.
Even though Christianity is better understood as a relationship than a religion, it has obvious doctrines and beliefs associated with it. So that means that Christian musicians must write songs that are theologically consistent with the doctrines of Christianity.
This is a constraint that no other songwriter is forced to adhere to. After all, Brittney Spears doesn’t write songs with a mind towards theological orthodoxy … actually, I don’t even know if she can write songs at all. And being creative while striving to be orthodox isn’t easy — in fact, the creative process usually flourishes in the opposite environment.
But Christian musicians are forced to walk a difficult line: To be creative and expressive, while making sure that every word is consistent with a faith that is many thousands of years old. Not easy.