August 1, 2014

Contemporary Christian Music’s Sinking Witness

Admitting the problem is the first step towards recovery. So let’s admit it: if we swap the lyrics of a Taylor Swift ballad with some of today’s contemporary Christian worship songs, no one would know the difference.

Others have noted the “Jesus-is-your-boyfriend” style worship songs clogging the airwaves of contemporary Christian radio and Sunday morning worship sets lack depth and reverence to the Almighty. They’re right. But there’s an even bigger problem when contemporary Christian songs downplay, even scold Christian’s public witness for the sake of couch-potato Christianity.

Last week a fellow pro-life, pro-family activist turned on his local “family-friendly” contemporary Christian radio station while driving his kids to camp. As his kids were belting the words to a new hit, my friend was shocked by the lyrics.

The song was Family Force 5’s “Let It Be Love,” number #14 on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs list. Of course this means it is one of 20 songs that local contemporary Christian radio programs play over and over ad nauseam. The song’s lyrics go:

 I’ve never seen a soul set free

Through an argument

I’ve never seen a hurt get healed

In a protest…

It’s not about the stand we take

But the grace we give

 For my friend, the first line “I’ve never seen a soul set free through an argument” couldn’t be further from reality with the conservative Christian movement. In addition remembering that the Apostle Peter urged Believers, “[A]lways being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

My friend witnessed a life changed from a same-sex lifestyle to a redeemed follower of Christ thanks to a bold, counter-cultural argument presented at a Parents and Family of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) event. A young gay man made the decision to offer over his life to Christ after listening to Robert Knight, Senior Fellow for the American Civil Rights Union, described God’s love for humanity and purpose for sexuality and marriage.

Most devastating is the lyric’s second line, which reads, “I’ve never seen a hurt get healed in a protest.” I’m not sure what kind of protests these band members have attended, but they must not have been pro-life oriented.

A beautiful example of lives transformed at a protest is told by Wendy Wright, former President of Concerned Women for America and Vice President for Government Relations and Communications. Wendy spent many days peacefully protesting outside of abortion clinics. She and her fellow protestors not only offered hurt women prayer and side-walk counseling, but worked to save the lives of their unborn babies.

Wendy was blessed to come face to face with a young woman whose mother protected her from abortion because of Wendy’s abortion protest. “After speaking to Generation Joshua home school students, telling stories of rescuing babies from abortion,” explained Wendy. “A young woman asked, “Have you ever met one of those babies that you rescued?”

Shaking her head no, Wendy explained that while she hadn’t she would love the opportunity. “I was rescued from abortion and adopted because of you,” the young woman told Wendy.

Lives are changed, in part, through vessels willing to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3) Sadly you wouldn’t know that based on the premise of this “Christian worship” song.

To be fair, Family Force 5 is correct that grace is a necessary component to lead others to salvation in Christ. But it alone it is not enough. Grace without substance is pity and nothing more. Behind our compassion must be a willingness to share the totality of Christ’s character and His command to turn from sin.

Contemporary Christian music has a tremendous ministry opportunity that expands beyond the borders of the local church. Christians cannot present half-truths for the sake of easy listening and broader audiences. As followers of Christ, we can do better. Or at least turn off the radio.

14 Responses to Contemporary Christian Music’s Sinking Witness

  1. Guest says:

    “But it (sic) alone it [Grace} is not enough”. You lost me there. I grew up in Fundamentalism where grace was not enough. It was a crushing environment.

    And both of your examples had their basis in love and grace. Two of the most common themes of contemporary Christian music.

    • Vance says:

      Read the whole paragraph. The grace is *our* grace (compassion), not God’s. If it is all by itself, it is just pity, and pity is not enough. It’s like saying to the cold and hungry, “Be warmed and filled,” and then sending them on their way without offering any help. A person expressing such “grace” (or “compassion”) may feel a sense of pity, but what good is that; they’re still cold and hungry.

  2. Paul Zesewitz says:

    Contemporary Christian Music is the main reason I no longer attend church regularly, because it has invaded the church. Sadly, the hymnal looks to be a thing of the past, replaced by a ‘song’ shown on the back wall of the church near the pulpit via overhead projector or some other means. This is especially happening in churches that describe themselves a being ‘Evangelical and Bible-believing’. I don’t mind a contemporary song as long as its lyrics describe what Christ does, and has done, for the believer. IN CHRIST ALONE is a perfect contemporary song! But there are simply not too many others like it. I fail to see how the worshiper is edified by singing songs like I LOVE YOU, LORD repeatedly, without singing exactly WHY we love the Lord! That is just one example. I am aware that the Psalmist (Psalm 150) does not give clear direction on specifically how we are to worship, but in my opinion most of this music is nothing more than an imitation of the secular pop music, and therefore does not belong in church. They can have their ‘songs’. I am plenty content listening to sermons online and playing NET HYMNAL in the background.

    • courtney says:

      Paul, Im sorry to hear you’ve left the church based on music and not stayed based on your relationship with your Savior. I recently heard something that really stuck with me ” Your faith should never be based on anyone else’s words, views and actions. Your faith should be baed on your personal experience with God.” I hope this brings healing.

    • Cathy Farr Fothergill says:

      If you’re singing “I love you Lord” in order to edify yourself, you are singing it for the wrong reason.

      • Paul Zesewitz says:

        Somehow, Cathy, I don’t think St. Paul would agree with you. He urges us in Romans 14:13 to ‘pursue those things that make for peace and mutual edification’. I have always understood the word edification to mean the building up or uplifting of believers. and when we worship, are we not lifting up our souls to God? He says again in 1 Cor. 10:23, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful and not all things edify.” (or build up). Paul really seems to like that word, given he uses it around 15 times between all his letters! If it’s that important to Paul, it should be important to us as well, especially applying to worship.

        • Cathy Farr Fothergill says:

          We obviously don’t see worship in the same way. I believe worship describes our direct communication with God. I believe edification describes our connection with each other. Was Paul actually speaking of worship? No. In both passages he was speaking of law keeping versus grace.

  3. Teresa Rincon says:

    Convincing women to not have abortions, while commendable, is not the same as winning them to Christ. Many false religions also oppose homosexuality and abortion.

    • courtney says:

      On that very true note I’d like to add to Teresa. God will never has never “needed” us and our works to brings his children to himself. He simply allows us to be apart of this life and share our life with others.

  4. John S. says:

    Looking to CCM for valid theology is a futile exercise. It is, however, a good time to read the bible in a service while ignoring the “praise” band.

  5. mbarker12474 says:

    Please cut CCM tunes some slack.
    CCM is musically simple and lyrically syrupy (typically). After all, it is pop music meant to appeal to a wide audience and lend itself to the sing-along. And those looking for “valid theology” in a two verse, one chorus and bridge pop song formatted piece are asking more than two paragraphs of text are capable of giving.
    The CCM format is also, by design, praise and worship music. So if you are looking for the darker or more frightening or more sobering or gut-checking aspects of Christian life, belief, doctrine, theology, condition, and reality expressed in the art form of music and song, then CCM is, by design, not going to provide.
    But my observation of the lyrical content of CCM is that nearly 100% of the tunes present nuggets of Biblical content and Christian belief.
    Just like traditional hymns, by the way. And just like Fannie Crosby songs, by the way. Neither a Charles Wesley hymn of eight verses nor a David Crowder song of two verses comes close to covering the content of 66 books of the Bible. But both carry legitimate Biblical content in their very, very, very, very short summaries of some doctrinal belief.
    CCM is is for the most part feel-good music. It is so by design praise and worship music for the pop audience. This is a fine thing.
    Musically, it is neither Duke Ellington nor Gustav Mahler.
    It is a banner designed by the Bible School, not an oil painted by Titian.
    Musically, it is bland. So what. It is pop music.
    Give it a break.
    Lyrically, it is 20 words, not the 2000 of Wesley or Spurgeon sermon . It is two verses. Not the 3667 verses of the four gospels.
    So please cut CCM some slack. Put your hands in the air and use the music and the lyric and the atmosphere to tell God how great he is.
    And then continue reading your Bible and your unabridged Matthew Henry commentary.

  6. Paul Zesewitz says:

    Courtney, there’s a lot more to it than one’s relationship with Jesus Christ. When a Church goes so far as to get rid of not only their hymnal but also the piano and organ and replace them with a band–yes, a band complete with guitars and drums–to use this music with, that’s hypocrisy, plain and simple. Keep rock and roll music out of the Church! And the Bible is very clear that God will one day judge the Church for its heresy and hypocrisy. Read chapters 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Two or three praise songs during a worship service aren’t bad, but when it’s all a church sings that simply isn’t right.

  7. Bruce427 says:

    This You Tube video aptly captures the “substance” of much modern “praise” music (that is, there is very little substance).

    • Bruce427 says:

      I should have said “captures the substance of *much* modern praise music.” There is some that is well written and theologically sound — unfortunately, it’s not the majority.

      I have a friend who once worked for a major Christian music publication and I asked him why so much of modern praise music was so shallow (theologically and lyrically). He replied that it takes very little talent to get into the Christian music business and that the words and music simply reflected that. The video I linked to illustrates what he was talking about.

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