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 When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish.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.
Wow, that is really sad. That being said, I though the 80s and 90s were some of CCM’s best years. I could even better understand a story like that set in today’s context.
Denny, thanks for sharing this article. Lately I’ve been so captivated by the thought that we are to raise our children to believe truths that are completely contrary to what pop culture, and even culture in general believes. So imitating that culture just doesn’t make any sense at all… Thanks again.
That’s an interesting story. It reminds me somewhat of Christmas. We lose the message or real meaning behind what the world has made it to be. Hopefully the gal will see someday that she’s been sold down the river by what the world has made the gospel message to her.
Interesting. There are a lot of variables about CCM, but this is a serious flaw the Church should think about. My local station took off the Gospel preachers, Sproul, Swindoll, and others, so that they could play CCM from morning to night. Seems they have an audience for the same 50 songs played over, and over, and over, and over, and over. I have had some dialouge with the DJ’s and producer. I asked the station manager if he liked every song they played; and I mean every single song. He said, “Yes , I do like each song.” “My goodness” i thought. He likes every song. If that’s not a brainfezze in the marketing mentality.
It is sad that $$$$$ is the bottom line, though they will say the Gospel is. Instead of being able to listen to RC Sproul, we listen to some young girl sing how she wants Jesus to hold me, “I love the way you hold me, I love, I love, I love, I love, I love, the way you hold me.” Not to mention Toby mac is in there singing. Sad.
Nice post. Thanks. Thanks for letting me blow off a little steam. It’s a good thing we need to do, every once in a while.
Don, I’ve heard that one. I first heard of it when my dad came home and said, “I just heard the worst song ever on the radio today.” It is indeed awful to say the least.
I don’t think the problem is that there aren’t Christian musicians capable of making some breathtaking music. It’s that the Nashville music culture (for both Country and CCM) casts out anything that isn’t eager to be part of the machine. When Mute Math seems about as close as you’re going to get to groundbreaking any time soon, you have MASSIVE problems with your industry (and I love Mute Math, but if they’re breaking new ground, I’m wearing skinny jeans right now). If the CCM powers that be are actively refusing to allow interesting and left of center bands the power to be heard, then this will be the result. I know for a fact that I struggle with my faith at times because of the fact that every time I turn on the radio or MP3 player that I’m not going to hear much in the way of encouragement. Instead, I’m going to hear hedonistic rants about “joy” with no real joy to them. But what choice do I have?
I feel this girl’s pain. I’m not in her space, but I get where she’s coming from.
I miss Rich Mullins.
. . . . “the profit-driven world has zilch to offer”
AMEN . . . time people of faith affirmed this . . . there has been too-much worship of the idol of corporate ‘profit’ in some Christian quarters
Thanks so much for sharing from this article. I took the time to read the entire thing and find it horribly heart breaking and as a wakeup call for the entire CCM industry. I grew up an angry, headbanging atheist and shortly after my conversion found my musical choices to be less than ideal. One day I ran across Pillar, a Christian metal group, and found something I could bang my head to and worship Christ through. However, as years passed I found the gospel message became more vague in their music and searched for it in several other groups across the Christian rock scene. At best, a mediocre representation of Christ was offered. It seemed that a compromise was being made – water down the message of Christ to appeal to seekers and unbelievers. In so doing, a lukewarm form of music was created. It was not gospel centered enough to nourish a believer, and it was merely a cheesy ripoff and poor clone of secular stuff that offered little appeal to the fan of worldly metal. Why trade in your Disturbed and Shinedown CDs for a poor imitation?
Finally I ran across the Christian Hip Hop scene. Never was a fan of rap in my atheist days. What appealed to me more than anything in the work of artists like Lecrae, Trip Lee, Tedashii, J’Son, Thi’sl, Flame and others was an outright representation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel was at the forefront and the music was in the background. I found this to be the problem with other CCM I had listened to: the music was at the forefront and the gospel was in the background, often so much so that you had to really dig to find it. The message of Jesus was not compromised to appeal to a certain culture. Instead of hiding the gospel in a form of music, a form of music was hidden in the gospel.
The quest for relevance in the church I believe has brought disillusionment to an entire generation. We have sacrificed the authenticity of the gospel for the trappings of the world. If all we are is a poor imitation of what the world has to offer, then why are we surprised to lose young people to it?
Wow… saddened to hear about this young lady’s choice to step away from her belief, her faith. I guess I’m not sure I understand… would love it if someone could explain this to me: I’ve listened to CCM since the days of Sweet Comfort Band, Larry Norman, Keith Green. But my faith, my surrendered, yielded, committed life to Christ– has never rested on, depended on what’s being played on CCM or what is perceived to be cool by our culture. My belief is founded upon God, His Word, His redemptive purpose accomplished in and through His Son Jesus Christ… and His Gospel is relevant to our world today. I will not deny as Spuregon has said: “One reason why the church has little influence over the world is because the world has much influence over it.” We must keep our focus on God’s mission of reaching people for Christ, and helping them become disciples, and then seeing them go out and make disciples for His kingdom and for His glory!
It seems she, and perhaps some others have placed their faith in CCM– let me ask once again– was her commitment to God, or to something that she believes must compete with MTV or the world? When did we decide to take our eyes off of God and instead look at what the world is saying or doing– and make that our goal– to look like, to be like MTV and the world. Sad… so sad!
As Christians we do not compete with the world– we offer what God presents and that is Jesus– Him crucified and resurrected– and Jesus is more than enough!
Well, I don’t know what CCM she was listening to, but some of it is far better than the competition. I’ll take Stryper over KISS any day!
except that Stryper owed a lot of what they did to KISS in the first place. KISS was always kind of meh, at best, musically speaking, to be sure. But they were the first to make rock a theatrical experience, and without them (and the glammy punk bands like the New York Dolls), the whole hair metal thing would have never taken off.
About the only band I can think of where the CCM version was at least as good, if not better than their secular counterparts were the O.C. Supertones, who had the unmitigated chutzpah to open the first track from their first disc with a quote from Metallica’s version of “Am I Evil.” The first time I heard that (with some guys from a college church group), I spit the diet coke I was drinking all over the table that we were at. And I thought the W’s were pretty charming, as well.
But Starflyer 59? A clear rip off of My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Third Day? Second-rate rip-off of southern rock. As I’ve said before, where’s CCM’s Jane’s Addiction? Where’s it’s Tool? Where’s it’s Flaming Lips? Where’s it’s Grateful Dead? (and Water Deep is painful to listen to, so please don’t bring them up).
What the end result is, when parents force feed their kids this stuff, the kids are bound to go and seek out the real thing instead of the pale imitations. And that’s basically forcing their kids to sin, getting the whole conversation off on the wrong foot.
Personally, I would much rather that my kids seek out the godly messages of kernels buried deep within the music that they like. I would much rather that they recognize that the enemy might be found in “satanic rock” but that he’s much more pervasive in the so-called harmless pop music of Katy Perry or the denials of God’s very existence in the music of Tool or XTC. Because armed with that knowledge, you can always listen with a guarded ear. But, leave someone always longing for something better, and they’ll listen to whatever the message of the pied piper is, hook, line and sinker.
Uh, I wouldn’t exactly call Katy Perry harmless anymore. Her latest got the “explicit” label on Amazon. She’s turning into a trash machine like all her contemporaries.
And frankly, I wouldn’t want my kids to go looking for the hidden gospel message in Eminem, Lady Gaga, etc. No, I don’t want them to be malnourished with cheap CCM either, but that’s what Rich Mullins is for! Why must it be an either/or kind of thing?
First off, Katy Perry, for the mainstream American audience, is still considered pretty lightweight and harmless. Secondly, how much Eminem have you listened to? And the Amazon explicit thing is just as pointless as the old PMRC Parental Advisory stickers. Find me a Rolling Stones album with an explicit warning on it (none of them do). Now find me all of the Rolling Stones albums which would be justified in having them (pretty much everything they did in the 70’s).
And while Eminem and Lady Gaga might not have many kernels of gospel truth in them (and to tell the truth, I’ve heard maybe 40 bars of Gaga’s music, so I’m not the one to judge), certainly plenty of pop/rock tunes have big chunks of gospel truth to be found in them, even if accidentally.
I will grant you that as someone that rarely listens to pop radio and has pretty off the wall tastes in music, that I’m not the everyday voice in this debate. But, as that pertains to my kids, there will likely not be too much in the way of run of the mill pop music floating around our house, even as my kids get older, and as they dig a little deeper to separate the wheat from the chaff in finding things suitable to their ears, artists like Gaga and Perry probably won’t even enter the fray too often (I know that I can’t gauge anything from a 3 year old’s tastes, but I’d like to think I can pat myself on the back for having a kid that requests The Beatles and Tchaikovsky on a regular basis).
As for Rich Mullins and Keith Green though, the lyrics ARE great. But great lyrics tied to pedestrian soft-rock Fleetwood Mac lite are probably even more distressing to me. If you’re going to put that much effort into your lyrics, would it kill you to make sure that there’s some decent harmonic movement or something interesting going on rhythmically speaking?
I learned everything I needed to know and probably more about Katy Perry’s latest from this review (written by somebody who listens to and reviews a very wide variety of music both Christian and secular). Let just say he was unimpressed, and so am I:
I haven’t listened to any Eminem, and I don’t need to. Second-hand knowledge is quite enough.
And I can enjoy the Beatles, Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, etc. too. I just don’t think we should leave our kids hungry for the true gospel, which can take a variety of forms.
And how ironic is it, in the light of this discussion, that Katy Perry’s first album recorded in the mid-90s was a Christian pop album?
It would seem that Katy (Hudson) Perry could be the poster child for this trajectory of music=faith. She rejected the faith of her parents and went on to record the same sort of dance pop she performed as a Christian teenager, just with far racier lyrical content.
“But my faith, my surrendered, yielded, committed life to Christ…”-Bryan
there are a lot of christs out there Bryan. Satan is an angel of light, and his ministers are righteous ministers of light as well. 2 Cor. 11
CCM may have different christs and a different gospel. They don’t think they do, but how much of the Bible do they stand upon, and do they have a great understanding of how wicked sin is, and we deserve God’s wrath. Hos the Cross was where Jesus was the Lamb of God, and He took upon Himself His father’s wrath, for all those who would come to faith in the risen Lord.
Very shallow theology in the Body of Christ today. The Gospel is watered down to make it nice for basically nice people. Overall the CCm needs a shot in the arm with the Scriptures. That’s what I’m thinking. The Bible is such a incredible treasure. I think of all the hymns and how Structurally sound and deep many of them are. Sure, there are the simple ones to. I guess we need something, that’s why it’s good to discuss these things and hopefully people will pray and seek our Lord how to grow deeper in the Lord in our CCM.
To me the real problem is that theologicaly sound music that is edifying to the body of Christ is out there. However, consumers aren’t buying it and Christian radio isn’t playing it. They’ve all chosen the music that is at best a mediocre representation of the gospel if containing the gospel at all. Just a snippet from Christian hip hop artist shai linne:
“We’re cursed from our birth, sinning from the beginning
The womb to the tomb, depraved to the grave
Astray every day, every breath brings death
In Adam all die, In Adam all die”
His whole album “The Atonement” has more theology in it than you will hear in an entire week on most Christian radio stations. He is one of many artists that you’ll never hear on the air waves but is well grounded in Christ, the gospel and theology. Apparently he is not approved for mass consumption.
The same could be said of what fills the front shelves at most Christian bookstores: gospel fluff and bubble gum theology. You have to dig deep in the dusty aisles of the store to turn up the good books…or have them special ordered.
Perhaps the problem is not with the “product” but with the “consumer.” The Christian consumer demands a certain product, and the industry is more than willing to meet that need. Why? Perhaps the motivation has become more about how many books you can sell, how far up the charts your album is, and how much popularity you have and not about how biblically grounded you are.
Psssst… I know somebody who knows shai linne. No, really, I do!
I think there is a market for Christian hip-hop though. I mean Lecrae has solid lyrics and he’s not doing too bad. Now me, I have my own reservations on whether Christians should be trying to redeem hip-hop at all, but that’s another story…
Well said gospel-girl. Your words always have a depth to them, and your thoughts are edifying and good to hear. Keep on my sister.
How about a little CCM quality folks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVTop7pzqcM&feature=related
Thanks, Don. Great clip—miss Rich too.
This is a sad story, but I’m also surprised it hasn’t already been mentioned. CCM is NOT the gospel. Faith comes by hearing and hearing the words of Christ, so can we at least say it appears that this poor girl only equated the gospel with music and that music let her down. Perhaps I’m missing something, but we need to teach our children that performances and cool music is not the gospel. This girl needed to be grounded in the word of God.
Her story is funny and sad… And reminds me of a story…
The Kingdom of heaven on earth is sometimes like treasure hidden in a field. When CCM found it, they hid it again, and built upon the land a corny amusement park–complete with CDs, concerts, costumes, and consumerism.
Tons of teens enjoyed the carnival atmosphere, but in-authenticity and edgier competition eventually put the park out of business.
Years later, a woman–wearied by the glitzy culture’s hollow center–stopped by the abandoned amusement park. She laughed at all the old memories, but was taken aback to one particular moment when she saw an old shovel. She recalled the words of one of the carnival workers. This one spoke like he genuinely believed the message he proclaimed–“Inside this park is buried treasure!”
Taking the shovel, she began to dig. After a few moments, much to her surprise, deep in the dirt, there it was–the hidden treasure.
When she found it, she hid it again, and then in her joy went and sold all she had, and bought that field.
Well said, Ted.
The problem with “Christian music” isn’t that it’s a cheap imitation. The problem is that it’s just plain terrible. I call it the 7-11 syndrome. Seven words repeated 11 times. It’s like the industry pulls from a database of 50 words to write every song…
Call it naive, but I let music be music. To that extent, I agree with the earlier comment that argued for seeking the kernel of truth in every artist. There’s great stuff in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (as but one example). Many times, however, I just enjoy the beat without taking the lyrics to heart (think Zeppelin). At the end of the day, listening to “secular’ music makes me no less and listening to “christian” music makes me no more. Let music be music, and worship be worship. It takes discernment, for sure. But mindlessly driving around listening to CCM has no inherent benefit as far as I can tell.
Scott, reading your comment makes me wonder if you’ve ever heard any truly horrible secular music… or any truly great Christian music.
I’M still waiting to hear some truly great Christian music made in this century.
Have you heard of Andrew Peterson?
Andrew Peterson, definitely, but also Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Keith & Kristyn Getty, Sojourn, Aaron Keyes, & Red Mountain Music are excellent examples of truly great Christian music – both in content & in instrumentation. And, of course, Shai Linne & Lecrae, as others have mentioned.
I think that it is just too easy to blame a certain medium for failure, and not the content of faith.
If the medium is the problem, such as CCM or even secular music, then we should have many more dismal failures among Christians and even well-known ministers who do listen to some secular music.
Rather, look at this person’s faith. It was obviously not in the life-saving Christ of the Scriptures, but in titillation and experiences. And, searching after experiences is like a drug. The more you use it, the more you want.
Rom 8:35-39 NASB
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I disagree Scott. Music has a difference, and makes a difference. There is a lot of shallow empty music, and there is good music that makes you think, and feel good, or even sad. Music is a wonderful gift from our Lord to us. There’s music in heaven as well. We shall have music throughout eternity. Hallelujah!!!
I really miss Ray Boltz. OK, he had plenty of challenges, and because of those challenges he has walked away from the faith. I believe we should be praying for him, that God will have mercy on him and bring him back. We in the church need to believe that the Gospel can change people no matter what, a belief that the enemy of our souls would rather have us forget so that he can continue to dominate in the lives of poor lost souls. None of this “once ___, always ___” nonsense!
The reason I still listen to Ray’s music is that he has a real, authentic, powerful focus on the atonement. No doubt his struggles with homosexual temptation gave him an awareness of his sinfulness that led to him throwing himself on God for mercy. I can strongly identify with that!
I think my biggest problem with a lot of CCM is that the music often doesn’t match the lyrics. The songs are “beat” driven rather than “worship” driven. Which is exactly the focus of secular music as well. It’s hard to take the song seriously when they’re singing about how much we’ve sinned accompanied by upbeat pop rythyms that are more conducive to club dancing than serious, heartfelt reflection.
As the saying goes, he who marries the spirit of the age shall soon become a widower…
“Beat” driving CCM will fade tomorrow while true, heartfelt worship-centered music will last though the ages (e.g. Amazing Grace).
I know southern gospel music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, to say the least, but I found a lot more to like there once I became sufficiently annoyed with CCM. It may help to clarify that southern gospel isn’t equivalent to old men who can’t carry a tune singing painful harmony around a plinky piano.
To illustrate, a sample of quite the opposite:
like a friend of mine said: if the music makes your feet beat, instead of your heart, plug yer ears !.
Well, that was just one example of a toe-tapper, but there’s plenty of the “heart-beating” stuff out there too. I think there’s a time for each in its proper place… Ecclesiastes and all that.
I love SGM. I’ll be attending the National Quartet Convention for my first time next month. I love Fernando Ortega. I rarely listen to secular music anymore as I find it dull, though I was happy to discover Mumford & Sons last year watching the Grammys. My choices in music, the way I see it, are driven by my faith. If there is no inner relationship with Christ, then it doesn’t matter if you’re listening to Handel’s Messiah – there is no inner connection. I feel sorry for the poor girl and pray she finds her way to Christ.
Fernando Ortega, boo yeah! [E-high-five?]
I attended a Sacred Harp convention sometime ago, hosted by a Mennonite congregation up in Rochester, NY.
There were over a hundred singers and enthusiasts of Sacred Harp singing that came in from as far as New York city, of all ages, from under 18 to over 60 (me and my wife..lol).
Now, I’m used to singing FASOLA, similar to Sacred Harp beat (up/down/up/down) with just three basic notes (fa, sol, la..hence the name), but man, when worshippers come together and sing the Sacred Harp songs in parts, the enthusiasm is contagious.
Too bad most churches today cannot do without the drums, cymbals, organs, pianos, electric guitars, etc.
God, in the Person of the Son, sang with His apostles and their only instruments were their hearts.
All I know is secular music has never produced something this epic:
Well if we have to listen to Sonseed then it must be time to interject Stevie Ray Vaughan into the conversation. If ya’ll didn’t know – Stevie was a born again Christian, young in his faith, but still born again. Amen. A few songs of his and one that really struck a chord with me ( pun intended ) was Life by the drop. Written by Doyle Bramhall. Legend has it that SRV chose to record this song because it was similar to his journey to Christ. Stevie’s ” drop ” used to be whiskey and cocaine, which he drank, until it almost killed him. His new ” drop ” became the blood of Christ. As the lyrics go .. outside in the pouring rain .. he collapsed in London in the pouring rain and soon after gave his life to Christ. His mother wrote about it several years after his death. Cool stuff.
So occasionally, while a song isn’t overtly Christian – the story behind it can be:
This also gets a little drawn out but as a musician I’m not a big lyric guy. We express ourselves through our particular instrument. Even though there’s about five seconds in this I don’t like what we or at least I play for is found at 1:19 – 1:28 of this song of his called Tightrope. Another not overtly Christian song but definately rooted in SRV’s faith.
I’m a rocker at heart. Sorry. 🙂
Denny – my last post is in moderation still. I fear that if at least one of those youtubes isn’t allowed to balance out the song from Sonseed the fate of the world, as we know it, could, well, I don’t even want to say…
Be patient Dillon—funny stuff sometimes happens to comments with youtube links. Here, I’ll see what happens with this one:
Not a big deal YGG, I was explaining the virtues of a few songs from born again Christian, Stevie Ray Vaughan and was speaking to sometimes while songs aren’t overtly Christian, the meaning and inspiration behind them was. SRV’s mother wrote about his conversion, pretty cool stuff. Darn fine musician and singer.
I never lost my faith listening to CCM. My lunch, on the other hand….
Faimon, you crack me up, bro!
A new installment of Dr. Russel Moore’s Cross and the Jukebox.