"IS THERE SUCH A THING AS 'CHRISTIAN MUSIC'"?

 

 The question "What makes music (or lyrics) Christian" needs to be pursued, wrestled with prayerfully and carefully and maybe even eventually (only post-wrestling)..left abandoned and unanswered, or at least left uncomfortably open.  On the other hand, maybe it can be..after the hard theological work and crucible, be dogmatically closed.  (Whatever the ultimate answer,and meaning of "case dogmatically closed", it cannot ...sorry dear reader... include either sibling of the following twin reductionist heresies: 1.) "As long as it's not_____{fill in supposedly "satanic" genre: rock, rap, Gaithers, opera, whatever}, or 2.) "As long as it satisfies the minimum count/quota of the 'J-word' (an actual quota and litmus test by some "Christian labels.")  A quick and cursory “goggle" for this exactly phrased question {'What makes music Christian?'}  Yielded no less than 92 links, representing nearly as many articles and essays asking and probing the depths and rabbit-trails of this at first all-too-obvious question.  (To start somewhere, try Dr. Thomas Hohstadt's stimulating "What Makes Music 'Christian'?" here:click here.  

 To survey the whole search,  if for no other reason than to resonate in your soul the validity, urgency, and  universality of the question, click the goggle page here: "What makes music Christian?” Click here)

   Often the very asking of this focused, perhaps rhetorical, question grows out of the evangelical disequilibrium we are reeled into upon hearing passionate and bold Christian musicians..from P.O.D. to Jars of Clay... say things like "We are not a Christian band. We are a band of Christians."  Or "our love songs are just as Christian as our worship songs...because all of life is sacred and Christian".  Take the following defining example as a microcosmic window into this forced sacred/secular dichotomy..and be prepared then to unashamedly but gently smash the dichotomy and window..in Jesus name:

    The Christian in-house debate over ( and at times near ex-communication of ) “ Sixpence None The Richer's” breakthrough single on the secular charts "Kiss Me" was both humungous and hilarious; both necessary on one level and fruitful on one level,  and ridiculously unnecessary on another; both intrinsically-motivated in some, and extrinsically and Pharisaical-so in others;  both appropriately Christian at points and sub-Christian and unadulterated Gnostic at others ("all matter is inherently evil", "clear distinction between secular and sacred", etc)..  at others.  Said song may have not mentioned God, or met  the "J' word quota, (but who is to say whether it is ultimately..or simultaneously..about a human romantic kiss , and/or a kiss between our Divine Lover and us),  but it sovereignty led  (in a way a "straight-up" worship song couldn't have) to an amazingly prophetic moment between Sixpence  singer Leigh Nash and David Letterman on Letterman's show,  where God convicted Letterman, and not only literally turned him red in from of millions of viewers, but momentarily and Spiritaneously turned him into an articulate evangelist, who theologized aloud about God and salvation  through the lens of C.S. Lewis before his studio and worldwide "congregation".  Is that "Christian"?   See John Fischer's article here for "the rest of the story" and a proposed answer:click here

  To coin oneself a " Christian" band may sound like a God-honoring thing to do (and it may well be), but nowadays can get one  relegated/ banished/ shelved (literally) in only "Christian" stores (where few pre-Christians haunt)   or the "religious" sections (ghettos) of secular stores, which "forgets to remember" that  the point of Christianity  is to give it away.  U2's Bono, in his liner notes to Johnny Cash's "God" CD, admitted he  always felt like Johnny, .though saved,  was "not only singing TO the damned, he was singing WITH the damned..and sometimes he preferred their company."  The fact that Cash's "God" CD was one of a trilogy of CDs named "God", "Love" and "Murder",  shows that the late Cash was right on time and in touch with the all-too-often less-than-honest, pseudo-reality of much "Christian" music.  "I shot a man..just to watch him die", Cash belts out on the "Murder" disc, not because he ever did such a thing or sanctions it, but because he was honest enough..meaning Christian enough, E. Stanley Jones would add....to say (and thus pray) publicly that he had flirted with such a thing in his heart. (There are some wonderful articles on John Cash's faith on our website here: Click here)

    Bono's own introduction to the Psalms is an amazing essay  which addresses this question in the stream-of consciousness yet profound and confounding  style  only Bono can navigate.  It is required reading, and brief even..So I'd read it yesterday and respond it… sooner than later, here: Click here

 

   All this to say;  I have a sneaking suspicion that the great theologian Lucy  Crawford, in her post , has got it right in her tentative proposed thesis: "There is no such thing as Christian music."  Another articulate theologian, E. Stanley Jones, has often keynoted the theme that reality itself is Christian. The Kingdom of God is ultimate reality, wherever the Kingdom  is, there is reality; therefore..hold your breath and your heresy gun...wherever reality is, there is the Kingdom (in however a veiled, pre-Christian  singer or player; or no matter even how demonic the wrapping or wineskin.)   Evett Wilson is a splendid and insightful interpreter of Jones at this juncture:

     "Few men in the history of the Church understood this as well as E. Stanley Jones, who saw the Kingdom as God's way of doing things-as the way the universe is planned. Therefore, said Jones, the people of the Kingdom have the whole universe backing them up." Click here

    So, anything that is in essence real; honest, is by definition or by default  Christian/Kingdom, at least in its purest genesis. Music, no matter how twisted, misused or tweaked,  no matter how later demonized by anti-Christ lyrics, is, at heart,  at first, and at nutshell,  a  gift of God. Bono of U2, again, (note the original article, which triggered this discussion, singles out U2 as the only "Christian” music that some non-Christians may listen to), is worthy of quoting:

     "Songs are the language of the Spirit...the melodies are how you sing to God. It is a deep language. But they can't explain everything; because really great songs touch places that you can't explain." In another interview, he tips his hand..

     "All our songs are about God or women..and sometimes we confuse the two,"  he confesses with a casual, almost "throwaway"  honesty which shocks, but which would benefit, traditional Christians.  Part of the honesty of his confession stems from his fear of fans idolizing him, not just as a rock star, but as a professing Christian (or "Christian singer"..if there is such a thing): "I am a  believer and I have faith in Christ," he is quick to put on the table. "But I am not a very good advertisement for God."  The band in fact, "went into the baptismal waters..and almost drowned"  when, against their church's advice, they felt called to stay in the "secular" music industry and eschew the ghetto  of "Christian music" .

     I think you will be glad they did when you read these reports of how intensively God uses them in the "secular" arena ("arena" meant symbolically), as in genre, and literally as in stadium..read Steve Beard's very helpful article here: Click here,  and Tarry Mattingly's equally penetrating analysis of how the "Spirit is in U2's house" here: Click here

    "I'm just drawing my fish in the sand", Bono offers.  And "every great song”,  he reflects, in perhaps an ultimately even more accurate quote than his God/woman confession, "is either about running to God, or from God".  I ask: Is a song about "running from God" Christian?  I dunno, but try some of the Psalms on for size. The shoes may fit.  How about songs honest and real enough to be "agnostic prayers"?.Psalms again.. Also a heartfelt, heartbroken Bono lyric, responding in part to the death of his mother:" Jesus! Jesus, help me, I'm alone in this world, and a f____up world it is, too."  Blasphemy  or Christian?  You decide, but to hear Bono pray/ sing it, one does not walk away saying "Bono swore,"  but "Bono just articulated, -psalmlike, something I had felt..and may never feel comfortable saying aloud..but in an odd way..maybe a God way..I find myself healed and worshipping afresh as I listen."

     For follow-up, you will be stretched by the column that the editor of Worship Leader magazine wrote, carefully entitled "Why I Would Follow Bono into Hell", kept here: Click here

    "Turn each song into a prayer," Bono has outright recommended in countless interviews, and finally even proffers and commands in the lyric of "Always".  He implies that ANY song, no matter how base, can be so turned.

     Very often a song by a person who is likely not a Christian by our definition (Peter Gabriel, for example), may nail down and articulate a heretofore-latent worship emotion or expression.  Thus: "This old familiar craving/ Don't know who the hell /I'm saving anymore/ Let it go, let it pass, let it leave/ from the deepest place I grieve/ This time I believe..And I let go.." is a song ("Gabriel's "Love to be Loved" with more passion and  raw honesty than many an official or self-proclaimed "Christian" song or church "prayer"...yes, depite, maybe even PRECISELY BECAUSE OF  the unedited "h" word...even at the expense of naming the "J" word, which is in between every line.   And how about his belting  out for life and death, in the song "Supper's Ready" (named after the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation): "There's an angel standing in the sun/Crying with a loud voice?/ This is the supper of the Mighty One...The Lord of Lord , King of Kings.. returns to take His children home/To take them to the New Jerusalem."  There is something in Gabriel that  believes this with all his heart and more.  Is he Christian? I do not think he would claim it.  However, his lyric and voice do!  Are his music and  lyric "Christian?"  Take a listen. No wonder his songs (like "In Your Eyes": "In Your eyes, the light, the heat/ I am complete in Your eyes/ I see the doorway of a thousand churches, the resolution of a  thousand fruitless searches" ) have been recorded by "Christian artists" without a need to baptize the lyrics.  Is "In Your Eyes"  "Christian”, even if Gabriel sometimes wonders if the words  are written to God or a woman?  Here I can only speak for myself:  I fall on my face and worship Jesus to these lyrics.   Do they come from a flawed even non-Christian messenger?  Of course.  But the music and lyric is Christian to the core and reached and teaches the core of my soul.

 

      Is there such thing as "Christian music"?  I dare to believe the answer may well be yes, but not in the way the typical evangelical might frame question, or mean the answer. I don't believe I am "frame-jacking" to  dare to believe there is Christian music everywhere...even from the mouths of babes, the mouths of backsliders, and moreoften than we have admitted, the mouths of pagans.   The ever provocative Leonard  Sweet (p 163ff of "Eleven Genetic Gateways to Spiritual Awakening")  makes the case that life is "at its very base" music.:

 

"Scientists are finding  that they are no different than theologians...They are finding that...Music does more than help us experience God as spirit as we experience life as spirit . Music is more accurately the essence of who we are created in the image of God.  If the most elemental and elementary aspect of life is "energy that vibrates" (as scientists say they have discovered),  then life is at base music...For anything  that vibrates gives off sound..You and I are at base a song..There is no one who isn't musical..My personal definition of Jesus is 'God's perfect Pitch.  It is in our genes to see (God's Words) as musical notes....As Pythagoras said, '  A stone is frozen music.'"

 

Whew! Maybe the starting point is now not "Is there Christian music?", but “Isn’t music Christian? Alternatively "Is life Christian?"

Join me as we pray and explore..and sing..together

 

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