There’s only so much Christian radio I can take at a time. So much of the music is simplistic, most of them using the same four chords over and over again, and the melodies are beyond predictable… there are times when a song’s intro will start, and it could be any one of five or six songs that I know that all sound nearly exactly the same. And don’t get me started on the messages. Occasionally there’ll be a song with a good message, but many just have overly simplified versions of feel-good pop theology, aka the Joel Osteen method, set to a simple poppy tune. And when tacky music is set to questionable messages, it makes me cringe like nails on a chalkboard.
One of the stations interviews people about why they listen, and the common answers are that that it’s safe for their kids to listen to, and that it makes them feel good as they drive to work or school. Sure, compared to the normal radio, it has less profanity and more positive messages, but that’s not really a high bar that we’ve set for Christian music. In fact, I think we should be expecting, and demanding, much more from Christian music.
Christian musicians have a duty to serve God with their gifts, but they also have a responsibility to excellent musicianship. We should not be lowering our standards for music just because it has a Christian message. Really, we ought to be demanding that the musical vessel conveying the message is actually worthy of the Word. If the music doesn’t do the message justice, it’d be better if it wasn’t sung at all. Plus, all people will be drawn to good music, but only Christians will be drawn to Christian music regardless of its quality. So why are we singing in the first place? Is our music only for the members-only club of Christianity, or are we singing to help spread the gospel?
In the evangelizing mission of the church, we have forgone much of media to the secular world- music, movies, writing, tv, and the arts- and the secular world has become very good at media and producing what people want. I know that the church has people as talented as that, but they aren’t in the forefront of the church. If the church wants to stay relevant, it needs use those people to produce the quality of media that the secular world has perfected over the years.
The current contemporary Christian music scene is largely made up of people who are good Christians and fair musicians, and that’s simply not good enough in this day and age. Books that are written to be expressly Christian stories tend to be heavy on the Christianity and light on the writing quality, and that’s not good enough either. It’s a responsibility of the church to support individuals who are faithful and will excel in these artistic areas, to be representatives of the church within the secular media world. It’s the only way for us to level the playing field, so that non-Christians can seek out Christian music because it’s good, and then be introduced to the Word through that.
This will pave the way for the day that I hope I live to see, when it’s okay for a character in a movie to mention that he’s a Christian without being relegated to the plot character of the radical fundamentalist who’s planning to blow up City Hall “for his faith”. By proving there’s artistic talent within the church as well as without, it can legitimize Christian faith to many, it can provide a way for more people to relate to the church and to faith, and it provides potential role models for young Christians.
One of the most shocking Christian characters and role models in pop culture, actually one of the only positive portrayals of Christians that I can think of, was a supporting actress in the show Studio 60, a brilliant, funny, fast-paced show from 2006 about the behind-the-scenes of a Saturday Night Live equivalent. It was cancelled after one season because apparently 2006 didn’t need any quality tv shows, but you can watch the season for free on hulu, or on netflix, and I highly recommend it, it’ll be a good waste of a Sunday afternoon.
In the show, Sarah Paulson plays a comedienne, Harriet Hayes, who is a star of the skit show and a Christian, She traverses the landmines of working in a liberal industry that has nothing but misconceptions about Christians, and the reporters who selectively edit and twist what she says to make her look stark raving mad– much like reporters do now to prominent Christians and politicians with whom they disagree. She is attacked by gay activists, and she is treated almost like an alien species by some of her coworkers. Within all of this uproar, she tries to live a faithful, humble life within the secular world, and she is a remarkably positive representation of Christianity.
We need more characters like her. We need more music like Switchfoot, a Christian band who went mainstream in the early 2000’s because their music was just good. We need more movies like Passion of the Christ, a critical hit that was also faithful to the Bible. In the world of Christian media, don’t accept anything that’s less than worthy of God. When we all begin demanding that level of aesthetic quality from the media we consume, when we demand that the vessel be worthy of the message, then we can begin to use the arts as God intended: a gift from Him to be used to further His kingdom.