Parsing Contemporary Christian Music

Yesterday's post, Twice Excited, which referenced Jaeson Ma started a couple of discussions.  Some indirectly, in that I brought up the song 'Glory' in conversation, and some more directly via email and facebook messages.  From these conversations, two topics emerged: questioning the lyrical and theological content of contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and experiencing hesitancy in embracing Christian celebrities.  I will leave that second topic for another post. 

What, then, about CCM?

I need to begin by saying that I am overly sensitive to the lyrics of Christian music.  I find that many of the worship songs we sing, as well as more popular CCM, are devoid of any kind of theological grounding and can contain lyrics which are flat our wrong/bad. Let me give you some examples.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus" - (not such a contemporary song, I know.  I wanted to begin by reminding us that this is not a new problem, we just hear more new songs and so can find problems in them more easily.) As we see Jesus, do the things of this earth really grow dim? Or is this a hidden dualism?
"Trading my Sorrows" by David Evans - (Kristina can testify that this song has actually bothered me in the midst of worshiping) The focus is all on me and what I am doing. The joy of the Lord is not what we get instead of sickness and sorrow, but in the midst of those things.  And how many of us who sing this song really have any right to quote 2 Corinthians 4 as if it were our experience?
"Indescribable" by Chris Tomlin - we have a big problem if the answer to the question "who has told every lightning bolt where it should go" is God.
"Days of Elijah" by Hillsong - Do they even know what the days of Ezekiel were like? Do we? Have you read Ezekiel? And it was Solomon who built the temple, not David.  

I could go on, but I won't.  I will add, however, that I do not let these issues prevent me from worshiping our Lord.  

A second set of issues comes in when you begin to realize that much non-worship CCM is just specific enough to be Christian by implication or assumption but still vague enough to make it on non-Christian radio.  Artists like Switchfoot, TFK, and Jaeson Ma come to mind, among many others.  

I lament this trend in CCM.  I understand the motivation, but wonder what we are giving up to be on the radio.  Still, I try to give artists in such contexts the benefit of the doubt.

Thus, when it comes to a song like Glory, which I linked to yesterday, I make some assumptions:

- I assume that when his description of 'Glory' in the first verse matches the actions of Jesus Christ who is, according to John 1:14, the revelation of God's glory, that Ma has this in mind.
- I assume that when he claims his prayer is "show me the glory" that he is referring to God and self-consciously echoing the prayer of Moses.

And so on.  That Ma never explicitly makes the link between his song and God, nor Jesus, within the song itself (though he does so elsewhere) seems to be part of the way things are right now. 

Not being a musician myself I don't know what else I can say.  I enjoy good music, Christian or otherwise. I wish there was better and am open to suggestions from any of my readers!


Sherry said...

I was thinking of this too while listening to the Shine 105.9 station one night. I was baking away in kitchen, the radio was keeping me company. Song after song was so self-centered and wrong theologically. A lot of the themes were about Jesus "lifting me up", "helping me become all I can be", and generally giving me a reason to be better and feel good. Not too much about worshipping Jesus as Lord and Master of the whole universe, Him being the whole center of things, and all.

One song even had the gall to say "everything he makes is glorious; he made me, so what does that make me?" I am not against having a healthy self-esteem, but these songs are mostly about worshipping ourselves instead of bowing our hearts to the true Glory of God.

longing for better worship in our hearts, churches, and radios

Andrew said...

I am glad I am not the only one who feels this way!

The self focus can be overwhelming at times, I really agree with you there. Sometimes I fear we have forgotten what worship actually is...

PakG1 said...

When the music fades.... though I guess Matt Redman has issues in some of his songs too.

Amelia said...

As a musician, one of the biggest problems I have with CCM is the lack of actually complex, interesting music. Much of it is very simple chord structures which all sounds the same. I understand the importance of music that is accessible to a wide range of skill levels, but there are a lot of very musically capable Christians out there who I'm sure can (and do) play skillfully and write much more technically interesting music. If Bach could write a full set of liturgical music EVERY WEEK for years for Catholic mass, despite 17 kids underfoot, I'm pretty sure we can come up with something better than the current status quo.

By the way, much of classical music's great works were written for worship. And were not apologetic about it. Handel's Messiah, most of Bach's work, etc - and Vivaldi, the composer of everyone's favourite, the Four Seasons, was a priest. Interestingly, many of the more traditional denominations (Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics, and the entire Orthodox branch) have maintained musical traditions in worship (in both English and Latin/Greek) that are more God-focused that what we hear on the radio and in many contemporary church services.

As for classical music, there are few things like hearing a kyrie eleison sung in 8 part harmony by a huge choir to remind you of how small you are and how great God is.

Andrew said...

Thanks for those comments Amelia. I appreciate getting a musicians perspective.

I often 'feel' like CCM is boring and simple, but I never feel confident saying anything because for all I know it could be actually very difficult to play.

Thanks also for the reference to other traditions and classical music. I think I will have to try to find such a song in 8 part harmony; any links, CD recommendations or anything you can send my way?