Monday, September 06, 2010

Musical Theology

Off the book topic for a minute here.

These days its harder and harder for me to turn on the Christian radio stations. Every song I hear seems to be about "me, myself and I" and I get frustrated listening to all of the theological holes in the singer/songwriter's songs. I can't decide if the singer doesn't care to be accurate or if there is just a general laziness and lack of understanding. Usually I can make it about 3 songs in and then I've had my fill and I find myself, er, growling at the radio station. For example - take the song, "What do I know of Holy?" (I won't link it, although I am tempted.) I want to scream out, "You better know SOMETHING about holy!!!"But then again, some of the other song lyrics by this same group express the fact that all that matters to them is that God loved them and set them free. That's all that matters. Love = freedom. But freedom to . . . what? (I watched a couple of interviews of the band and I'm not sure that they know the answer to that question.)

All throughout scripture God tells His people that they are a holy people because they belong to Him. "You are to be my holy people." (Ex. 22:31) "I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be Holy . . ." (Lev. 11:44) "I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy because I am holy." (Lev. 11:45) "The Lord will establish you as His holy people..." (Deut. 28:9) "Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship." (Romans 12:1) "For He chose us before the creation of the world to be holy . . ." (Eph. 1:4) "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life." (1 Tim. 4:7)

It just feels like every singer is getting foot loose and fancy free with the gospel message and it is disturbing to me. So I find myself pulling out my old CD's and looking for new albums from older artists. Here's what I'm looking for:

1. Singers and song writers who are passionate about God and care more about scripturally based lyrics than being on CCM's countdown magazine by means of 'a rhythm and a clever rhyme.' I don't mind if such musicians make that playlist. In fact, I think that playlist should feature only the best and most scripturally accurate songs to begin with!

2. Skill. Whatever Christians do, should be done to the glory of God - whether that is eating, sleeping, singing or playing the drums. Skill.

Admittedly, my list of self approved Christian musicians to listen to is growing shorter by the day. I feel like there are fewer places to turn. When I "get down" I'm not looking for bee-bop lyrics assuring me that "He lifts me up" in some sort of quick turn around. I'm looking for songs that assure me calmly and forcefully of the following scriptural truth:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." Romans 8:28-29

It's one thing to tell me that when I get down, He'll lift me up again. However, when the agony you are experience when you are down is enough to rip your heart out, it's good to know that there is a fuller purpose behind the pain. He is at work for my good, for His glory, to make me more like Him. And there is no assurance that I'll be picked up again to go boppin' down the street in the next 5 minutes. Sometimes the pain lasts awhile. God is STILL good. Always.

I get rankled when I'm told that sometimes it's the laughing or the crying, kissing the baby or watching the movie is "Better than a Hallelujah" sometimes. Yes, God can definitely handle our pain and He wants to hear it. But. We must learn to praise Him in the pain. Why? Because He is God. Because His holiness and His glory demands praise. He is not interested in sharing His glory with us. He cannot do that. He is exclusively deserving of glory and that means that shouting out a, "HALLELUJAH" even in the pain is the most holy thing that can be done. But we have to have understanding of the fact that God is good all of the time before we can say, "You give and You take away - blessed be YOUR name!" Not mine. Let's not focus on me and my temporary problem. The holiness and glory of God is timelessly demanding of our admiration, worship and praise. And if we fail to cry out 'Hallelujah' then the rocks will take our place - which would be shamefully embarrassing indeed. (Luke 19:39-40)

We need to return to a heart of worship - that IS all about Him.

As listeners and consumers of CCM, we can make a statement of our own. Listen to the lyrics. Are they speaking truth? Just because something plays on the Christian station apparently does not mean that it's been run through the ringer of scripture.

"Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22
I just feel that we haven't been good at testing song lyrics of late. We ignore blatant misquotes of scripture and assume all is well. Just turn your dial to the proper station and you are doing pretty good, right? It's easy to want to think so.

Why is it important to filter the lyrics, be discerning and avoid those which are scripturally weak? Because nothing about the cross is weak. It is biting reality, full of pain, agony, glory and holiness. If I say that I am a Christian -than I must be loyal to the cross and the message that it conveys.

In short, I should know something of holiness. I should seek after it and pursue it. When it comes to "sacred music" - should I not also require it?


Anonymous said...

Carrie ~ I totally hear your heart and passion for hearing Truth spoken through the lyrics of "Christian" songs. I totally identify with your frustration over some of the songs that slip onto the play lists and even into our worship time at church. I agree that there are many songs being played on Christian radio that are - I would say - downright blasphemous in their message. It's frustrating, isn't it?

I will say, however, that I can actually appreciate the song you're talking about. Did you happen to look up the lyrics? I found them on www(dot)lyrics(dot)com.

Upon reading the song in full, I take a totally different approach to them. I think the author of the lyrics was actually recognizing how much Holier and Awesome God is than what they have recognized Him to be up to that point.

I guess I thought that I had figured you out
I knew all the stories, and I learned to talk about
How you are mighty to save
But those were only empty words on a page

Then I caught a glimpse
Of who you might me
The slightest hint of you
Brought me down to my knees

In these lyrics, I see someone who has received fresh insight into their own lack of understanding of God's holiness and who is now going to seek that holiness.

I wonder if you heard it that way or if the line, "What do I know of holy" got stuck in your mind out of the greater context of the song?

I'll "however" myself again to say this: how many people actually look up the lyrics to songs to understand what they are saying? Most, unfortunately, do not and end up misunderstanding the Gospel because of the combination of songs that only edge on truth and the songs that are a little hard to understand because of the background noise.

It's a conundrum.

Jennifer said...

I completely agree with what you are saying. I have been thoroughly disappointed with some of the songs on Christian radio. Not all are theologically shaky; but not all are sound either.

Barbara H. said...

A hearty Amen! Though I am not familiar with the specific songs you mention, I appreciate what you're saying.

Annette W. said...

It's also sad when some of those songs are being sung in our churches.

B said...

I've been avoiding Christian music for years. Every once in a while, I stumble across an exception, but most of the time the music sounds the same (regardless of artist), says the same thing (Christianity as some kind of self-discovery), and has minimal doctrine. I know this makes me a grump, but this music is, for the most part, highly uninspired. Sad but true.

Besides, if I have to listen to music that repeats itself ad nauseum, I might as well listen to Gregorian chants. Often more pleasing to the ear and always less focused on self.

Carrie said...

Annette W - Yup. I didn't even want to touch singing these songs in church. Drives me NUTS!

Chef Crista - Yup. I listened to the song in full, over and over again. I read the lyrics several times over. And then I pulled up interviews by the band and tried to find a behind-the-scenes story about the song.

The bottom line is this: The lyrics don't make sense all put together and you could read them in multiple ways. In the end, without explanation and just listening to a couple of band interviews to try to figure out what their theology is, I came to the conclusion that....well...they don't do think too hard about theology and it resulted in a confusing song with a catchy lyrical melody (something, btw, that they said was very important to them and made them "happy"). If you can't be clear about what you are saying, and you are on a public stage, then you have a duty to clarify and correct. They chose not to. So I take issue with it.

It's a pretty song. Lots of people on Youtube absolutely love it. But it doesn't make complete sense and therefore it's in question.

Anonymous said...

My personal "favorite" right now is the song with the chorus, "more like falling in love, than something to believe in". Drives me CRAZY! Great, so when we don't feel "in love", like I haven't for the past year or so, we aren't saved?! Sorry, I think it's more about something to believe in, the falling in love with HIM is just a bonus!

Anonymous said...

SeeMommySew ~ I agree...that song drives me nuts!! Especially now that I've been married for a couple years, I've learned that the "in-love" feeling is fleeting. My love for God and my love for my husband are decisions I make every commitment! Every once in a while, I get "warm fuzzys" and have mountain-top encounters with God, but my day-to-day relationship with Him is defined by discipline and Truth, not by feelings.

Carrie ~ It's a sad day when our Christian artists are more concerned about money and making the charts than they are about proclaiming the Truth. I guess I've always assumed that a writer wouldn't write a song unless it came from some deep, meaningful experience in their life. Based on what you read in their interviews, I see that I've been naive to assume the best of the writers. Like I's a sad day.

Anonymous said...

One more comment:

One of the main reasons I so appreciate Pandora(dot)com is because I can choose my music and hear new music. If I don't like a song, I "thumbs-down" it and don't have to hear it again. My hubby and I pay for the subscription (only a few bucks a month) and it's SO worth it to us! We don't listen much to the radio anymore because we can hear what we like on Pandora!

Carrie said...

Chef Crista - I was REALLY put off by their interviews. They were very focused on things like popularity, how many people had downloaded their song, and one of the band members said that he was doing Christian music just because it "made him the happiest" but he really liked all styles. He came across as saying to me, "It's just a gig. It's just a show."

They are definitely about being in a band and playing shows around the country.

But then I wouldn't care even if they weren't - they are saying things in public. If you have a public voice and you stand up and say something - you'd better make sure you are sure about what you are saying. (Hence, I really did try my best to research that song AND the band as a whole before I put up that post!) Accuracy shouldn't be so hard to obtain and I'm not looking for, "Oh, well, I FELT right about it even if I didn't sing what I actually meant." Sentimentality doesn't trump truth. It is things like that that cause Christians to stumble out of weakness. Our food isn't solid. It's watered down milk, sometimes, at best! This, "Well, it sounds pretty and it makes me happy" thing would make people - SHOULD make people - roll their eyes and question everything. Truth. We need it. We crave it. Without it we are led astray. I think it's a HUGE problem and it speaks poorly of Christians and their desire to be solidly educated in the word.

As I've been listening to the radio (less and less) I have felt (more and more) convicted about these things for myself.

Truth should always be a big deal. Why? Because we are supposed to be loving the One who is Truth. He is truth, we should pursue it. He is accurate, we should strive for it. He is holy - we should grow in it.

Anyway, I appreciate your back-and-forth with me this morning!

Seemommysew- Haven't heard that song but I'm groaning already.

Annette W. said...

I wanted to add...I am very thankful for the worship music in our church...we have one very conservative person as part of the team, and I think he is extremely careful about what we call worship music.

Krista said...

I'm an old schooler here! ;) And the biggest reason I don't listen to our local Christian station is because even though they mostly only play old school music (seriously, I'd like to know when they bought new song rights!) they play the same songs about once an hour. Really lame! ;)

Beth said...

Carrie, what timely words! I cringe at what I hear on the Christian radio. I've noticed when problems arise in my life, I'm not thinking of the latest Christian song, but it seems that the words of the hymns I learned as a child are what rolls around in my head and heart.

Ronnica said...

I avoid "Christian" music (except for solid worship music) like I avoid "Christian" fiction...the theology is usually quite weak (or worse).

Stephanie Kay said...

I've had similar thoughts. So much of the music out there seems to say "God you're great and here's what I'm going to do for you." The focus seems to be mostly on ME and not on HIM. I've found that silence is way better than questionable Christian music. With silence I can hear my own thoughts and listen to the Holy Spirit when he speaks.

Mark said...

great thoughts.... I listen to more Southern Gospel than CCM, but it has the same issues. Sometimes I think there is more thought put into what will make a #1 song than what will glorify God. And yes, there is too much "we" and "I" in the modern songs. No matter what the genre' - Southern Gospel, CCM, P&W.... the songs of yesterday are so much better - it could be in this day of modern convenience where we are so rushed and busy, that no one has time to get God's mind on songwriting, and just churn out songs on their own.

Great post - someone sent me a link

Amy said...

It amuses me that Christian music is approved by so many Christians when sometimes it's more theologically damaging than other stuff!
Having said that my favorite music artists are you know any of the following? I'm not sure they create the kind of music you're most interested in, but I'd be interested in what you think of them:
Andrew Peterson
Jeremy Casella
Jill Phillips
JJ Heller
Andrew Osenga
Sara Groves
Jason Gray

This isn't music in the style of worship music, but it's beautiful thought provoking stuff. Actually if you don't like Andrew Peterson don't tell me because that's how much I love his stuff. :) but if you don't know about it, I recommend checking out his group blog, The Rabbit Room ( it's inspired by the Inklings (which is why I think you might like it...I know you're a huge Lewis fan) It's my favorite blog and has some excellent essays. Not just music, but a lot about books as well.

Lisa Spence said...

How I love your rants! And I agree. One hundred and twenty percent.

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