Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Contemporary Christian Music: Theological Pablum

I was listening to the radio in my car recently as the new release of a certain well-known Christian music group was being played. This new song sounded much like their previous releases, not in terms of its style but in terms of its lyrics. It focused on the greatness of God and His mighty power in creating all that exists. The words were sound theologically as they pertained to that issue, but as I listened, I was struck by the fact that much of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is very man-centered; that is, it talks about “what God has done for me” rather than talking about Him in His essential nature, character, and attributes, and what the implication of that is for my worship.

When it does focus on God, it targets His glory and power as seen in creation, but very little of the music ever focuses on Christ or His work on the cross. The glorious work of Christ in dying in the place of sinners and taking upon Himself the wrath of God that they justly deserved is the central point of Christianity. No believer has anything of greater importance for which to praise and thank God. Yet it is largely a neglected area of theology among CCM writers.

There are a few CCM writers/musicians whose music does include lyrics that specifically talk about Christ’s sacrificial, substitutionary death for sinners. Fortunately, some of them are very popular and their songs are often sung in our churches. However, there are many others which include virtually nothing that could be considered sound Christian theology in their songs. In many cases, the theology that is included in the songs is incorrect.

For example, CCM artist Clay Crosse recently released a song titled “I Believe” which was previously released by the country music duo Brooks and Dunn. It is very popular on the CCM radio stations. The song talks about an old man in the singer’s neighborhood whose wife died and he tells the singer that he will soon see his wife “on the other side.” When asked what he means, he responds with what turns out to be the chorus, repeated numerous times throughout the ballad-style song:

I raised my hands, bowed my head,
I'm finding more and more truth in the words written in red;
They tell me that there's more to life than just what I can see,
Oh I believe!

If that is the depths of the theology that we can get into a CCM song, we are in serious trouble as an evangelical community when it comes to the future of Christian music!

First of all, it equates salvation with raising one’s hands and bowing one’s head. There are scores of people in churches around our nation who do just those things every Sunday, but they are lost and on their way to hell. Second, it says that he is “finding more and more truth in the words written in red,” an obvious reference to the words of Christ in a red-letter Bible. That implies that people determine what is truth in what Christ said, as well as implying that it “becomes truth” as the reader understands it more fully. Nothing could be further from the truth! Every word in Scripture is truth, both black letter and red letter. In fact, my own personal pet peeve with red letter Bibles is the inherent implication that the words of Christ are somehow more inspired and important than the black letter words. But no person determines which things Christ said are truth. They are truth by virtue of who said them and the fact that they are contained in God’s Word. Also, the words of Scripture do not “become truth” as we become more and more illumined to its meaning. They are already truth—we are just readers who are gaining understanding.

Finally, it makes the profound statement that there is more to life than he can see, so he believes! Believes what??? There are dozens of philosophers from throughout world history who recognized that there was more to life than could be seen with the eye, but they are in hell today because they didn’t trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior. Belief must be founded in the truth of the Word as expressed in the Gospel to be meaningful.

I am afraid that most of CCM has reached the point described so eloquently and succinctly by Dove Award winner Steve Camp. He writes, “Music that once fearlessly sang about the gospel, now sings of a Christ-less, watered-down, pabulum-based, positive alternative, aura-fluff cream of wheat, mush-kind-of-syrupy God-as-my-girlfriend thing.”

Fortunately, as I said before, there are some CCM artists who are writing and singing songs which are accurate theologically and talk about deeper things of the Lord, including salvation, grace, and God’s righteousness imputed to sinners. There is nothing wrong with singing about God’s glorious creation or His creation power, but believers need to get past the basics that even the unbelievers can agree upon, and get to the truths of the gospel upon which our faith has its foundation. Groups such as Casting Crowns, and individual musicians such as Chris Tomlin and Bebo Norman have produced several wonderful songs which do just that and are worthy of our use as a part of our worship.

With all the theological drivel that is available in much of CCM, we must be careful to find and promote those artists and music which glorify our Lord and Savior and praise Him for who He is and for all He has done in redeeming our souls.


Robert Fraire said...

I used to listen regularly to Christian music radio, but I don't listen much anymore. So many secular songs, along with their secular lyrics, have been re-made into "Christian" songs, that it really justs makes me angry. It really is a shame.

DigitalDisciple said...

"we must be careful to find and promote those artists and music which glorifies our Lord and Savior and praises Him for who He is and for all He has done in redeeming our souls."

I've got one. I know you're not a big rap fan Bruce,but for any readers that might be check out: Reach Records (In particular I like the songs by Lacrae). It was quite surprising to hear John MacArthur referenced in a rap song. They have a lyrics section for those who don't like the music itself.

Bruce Mills said...

Jeff, your link to Reach Records has a typo in it that leads to an unrelated website. You may wish to repair it.

DigitalDisciple said...

I misspelled records in the html

Reach Records