Last week, Leah Libresco wrote a piece for FiftyThirtyEight about how peppy Christian pop music tends to be. She studied thematic content in the last five years of Billboard’s year-end top 50 Christian songs. She found that the lyrical content skewed disproportionately toward hopey-gracey themes and away from sinny-judgment themes. She writes:
I looked at pairs of concepts across the entire collection of lyrics (life and death, grace and sin, etc.) and calculated the ratio of positive to negative words. For every pair I checked, positive words were far more common than negative ones.
There were 2.5 times as many mentions of “grace” as “sin” in the songs’ lyrics. Other pairs were even more lopsided: There were more than eight mentions of “life” for every instance of “death,” and “love” was more than seven times as common as “fear.”
Just a few quick reflections on this.
1. The most obvious thing to note is how untrue to life this lyrical content is. It is a sad thing that this music doesn’t reflect more the reality of the human condition in a fallen world where children get cancer, fathers desert their families, and strong men rule and oppress as dictators. Life hurts. We suffer real evils and have real tears streaming down our faces. The church’s songbook ought to reflect that. Song writers would do well to take note that nearly a third of the Psalms are songs of lament (48 to be exact). They deal with death, depression, and all the darker themes that seem to be absent from the music mentioned above. And they teach the people of God how to hope in God in the midst of trial. It seems to me that Christian music done right would reflect the whole range of human experience and would do so with unflinching honesty and hope. That is what the Psalter does. Christian song writers and consumers should aspire for the same.
2. I used to be a big consumer of contemporary Christian music (CCM), but now I am not. In days gone by, I not only listened to the music, but I also read the liner notes. I could tell you that Chris Rodriguez and Wayne Kirkpatrick were regulars on Michael W. Smith albums in the 80’s and 90’s. But that was then, and this is now. I don’t know beans about what is happening currently in CCM. In fact, I was surprised to read that Christian “pop” music was still a thing at all. I thought it had gone the way of the Dodo and had given way to contemporary worship music (which I don’t listen to either). I say all that to let you know up front that there are others who could speak more authoritatively about the current landscape of CCM than I can. Having said that, I do know that there are artists and songwriters out there doing good work. They are writing the kind of music that does reflect the human condition with biblical faithfulness. I hear and learn of this music mainly in my church, and I have our worship pastor Matt Damico to thank for that. On a weekly basis, he mines the depths of both the church’s traditional hymnody and the best of what is available from modern song writers. The stuff is out there. We simply need to find it and support it.