The other afternoon while driving home from visiting with my grandparents I was shifting through the radio stations to find something to listen to. (Throughout my 70 mile drive between Cumberland, MD and Mt. Pleasant, PA I need to find a few different stations.) I came across a song which sounded like it was sung by the lead singer of a popular Christian band. However, the style of the song resembled something one would hear on a station that would be playing the likes of Lady Gaga or Katy Perry. In fact, I was unsure what type of station I had stumbled upon. I could not tell if I was listening to the "Newsboys" or a modern day equivalent of the "Backstreet Boys!" It was not until I heard the word "Christ" in the bridge at the end of the song that I deduced that I had indeed stumbled upon a Christian music station. Though I am very dismayed that it took me that long to decipher whether the song was a "Christian" song or not (and granted I may not be the brightest lightbulb in the chandelier sometimes). The more I listen to and take in much of what is termed "contemporary Christian music" today, the greater my concern grows. I fear that much of what we listen to on several Christian music stations has replaced genuine God-centered "worship" with me-centered shallow feel good sentimentalism.
A Few Disclaimers
Before I explain what I mean by this, let me issue a few disclaimers. I do listen to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). I have listened to it since high school. I came to a point where I began to see how many of the country music songs that I predominantly listened to did not edify me much or contribute to my sanctification. A majority of them glorify drinking, cheating, or divorce. I wanted to follow Paul's instructions to Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth (Colossians 3:2). Switching my dial to the local Christian radio station was a way to do just that. (For the record, Country Music remains a bad habit that I still listen to. I love the sound of the steel guitar! However, what normally happens is that I will put up with a few songs until I hear one that repulses me so much that I refuse to listen again for a week or so.)
Also, note that my complaint does not include every singer or song that could be classified as being under the Contemporary Christian brand or label. I do believe that there are several notable exceptions to the common trend. Hence that is why artists such as Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, David Crowder Band, Rich Mullins, Keith Green, Aaron Shust, and Kristin Stanfill serve as some of my favorites. My issue is with the direction the genre generally is currently taking. I am not the only one who has such concerns with the current state of Contemporary Christian Music either. Here is Steve Camp's (a Christian artist himself) "A Call for Reformation In the Contemporary Christian Music Industry" with his 107 theses (beating Luther's by 8!): http://www.bargenquast.com/steph/theses/opening.html
Staying in the Shallow End of the Pool
A major problem in much CCM today is that the lyrics are really shallow theologically. If you compare many of the popular Christian songs on the radio today with the old hymns of the church you will find that the songs of today lack in rich theology. When was the last time you heard a song on KLove that emphasized the Trinity? That explained Christ's atoning work on the cross in terms such as "in my place condemned He stood"? How much can you learn about the Bible from some of these modern popular songs? From time to time I like to take one of the hymns and just meditate on the words. So many of the words are so rich theologically in reminding me of Who Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross it just moves me to worship. Not many of the current songs played on several Christian radio stations have that effect because theologically they are lacking.
The songs that we sing should have an educational value to them. Paul instructs us to Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16). Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs are a way to let the word of Christ dwell in your richly. If the song barely mentions Christ, or worse yet, does not describe Him with the majesty and glory He deserves, it cannot let the word of Christ dwell in us richly.
The psalmist states that As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God (Psalm 42:1-2). In his depression, the author longs for God. In fact, he ends his poem by encouraging himself to find his hope in God (v. 11). He did not need some pep rally to motivate him. He needed to be reminded that he could find his comfort in God. He needed the very One that he yearned for. Likewise, what we need more than anything else today is not a fluffy fun song to make us feel good but a song that explains and magnifies Who God is. That is what would fulfill our deepest longings yet it appears so absent in much modern Christian music.
It is Really All About Me Lord, Not You
Another growing issue with modern CCM is just how "me centered" it has become. The central focus is not on Who God is and how great He is and how wonderful and majestic is His grace but instead on how I can benefit from Him or how worthy man supposedly is. Compare the recent song by the group, MikesChair, "Someone Worth Dying For" with the old hymn, "Beneath the Cross of Jesus." The former song seeks to comfort its listeners by reminding them that they are "someone worth dying for." The latter actually emphasizes the fact that none of us are worth the sinless Son of God experiencing the punishment that we deserved for our sins. "And from my smitten heart, with tears, These wonders I confess: The wonder of His glorious love, And my unworthiness." One of these elevates man while the other elevates God. Which emphasis do you think honors God more?
So many Christian songs today are about our emotions and not as much about the one these emotions should be directed to. The thing is, worship is not primarily about our emotions. It is about God! It is not about how we feel. In essence, when we sing about how we feel towards God, we actually shift the focus away from God to us. The issue becomes not "how great Thou art" but "how wonderful I feel." Instead of singing about our emotions, we should more so be singing about God. He must be the center in every aspect of our worship, including the songs that we sing. It must all be all about Him and not about us.
A Romance With Jesus
I think the worst element in the modern day CCM movement is how it has "romanticized" Jesus. If you replace the word "Lord" in many modern Christian songs with "baby," the words still make perfect sense. That is a scary thought! What happened to Jesus' holiness? What every happened to Him being Lord and worshiped? It is an affront to Jesus to sing to Him as if He were equal to our significant other. He must be seen and treated as greater than anyone or anything else. In a sense, we bring Jesus down to our level instead of exalting Him to where God the Father has lifted Him to. It is degrading to Him to sing of Him being our "home boy" or "best bud." Jesus must be honored as being holy and Lord or He is not honored at all.
If we are singing to a holy God, should not the songs we sing be holy? The word "holy" itself basically means "set apart." So the songs we sing should thus be "set apart" from those of the world. The world should not be comfortable with Christian music because the world hates Christ. The lyrics should be exalting Christ where the believer is moved to worship and the unbeliever repulsed unless the Holy Spirit uses the song to convict him and open his or her eyes to see the beauty of Christ and move them to embrace Him. An unbeliever should not gladly sing a Christian song if he or she truly pays attention to the lyrics. Yet, some Christian songs also double as top ten pop hits! The church has begun to become so much like the world that not even is there much difference in the message in their respective music. This should not be.
I am not calling for a boycott of Christian music but a reformation of it. The church is resembling more and more of the world and less and less of Christ. Oh for songs that would glorify God and edify His saints!
Soli Deo Gloria!!!