I just read one of the most fascinating and sad articles that I have read in a long time. The article is by Meghan O’Gieblyn, and it’s a brief narrative of her childhood transition from being a fan of contemporary Christian music (CCM) to being a fan of secular music. As an avid consumer of CCM through the 80?s and 90?s, I relate to a great deal of what is in this article.
She talks about how CCM changed from the 80?s to the 90?s and became more and more adept at producing material that could compete with its secular counterparts. She loved CCM and was the ultimate fan until one day as a young teenager she saw MTV for the first time in her life. She writes,
I couldn’t have told you what the word “irony” meant, but I knew I’d been cheated by Christian rock. This was crack, and I’d been wasting my time sniffing glue.
And so she forsakes her CCM fandom and begins smuggling the more secular fare into her parents’ home.
But this article isn’t really about music so much as it is about a girl who becomes increasingly disillusioned with a vapid, degraded church culture. She found evangelical church culture to be much like the CCM was listening to—just a lame imitation of another product that was by all accounts superior. Her church’s attempt to be cool was ultimately what turned her off to the faith altogether. She writes,
Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.
This story has a sad ending…so far. Perhaps we can all pray that her story will not end here.
In any case, there is a lesson here for all of us. You cannot market the gospel like you market a Big Mac. I have seen lots of Big Macs in my lifetime, but I’ve never seen one that looks as good as the picture on the billboard. That’s because marketers are in the business of taking something ordinary and making it to look better than it really is.
This is the opposite of the ministry of the gospel. We are not in the business of making the gospel to look better than it is. It is already far more glorious and weighty and substantial than we could ever describe. The gospel doesn’t need to be photoshopped to make it effective, nor does it need an extreme makeover “Madison Avenue Edition.” It just needs to be preached plainly and faithfully. And where that simple proclamation occurs, people find it to be the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 4:20; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
If we want our children to persevere and not to be drawn away by the siren song of the world, this is the kind of ministry will give ourselves to—the proclamation of Christ crucified and raised for sinners as it is taught in the scriptures. Madison Avenue has nothing that comes anywhere close to competing with that.
(HT: Scot McKnight)
P.S. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. There have been and still are some great Christian musicians out there. They are making great music that isn’t lame imitation at all, and they glorify Christ. More on them later.