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Christian Music: Is There Such A Thing?

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Two completely unrelated events gave me the inspiration for this article. The first was an awards show that I did not watch and the second was a drive home from a rather dull meeting.

The American Music Awards were presented this week and for just the third year, one was presented in the category of Favorite Artist in Contemporary Inspirational Music with Steven Curtis Chapman taking home the award. Not being a fan of award shows, I merely read about this the day after the event. The second event was devoid of any real significance. I happened to be driving home from a meeting with a client of mine and flipped on the radio. I heard a song I used to enjoy in my youth but had not heard for a number of years. The song was Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do which of course was the most popular song from the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Soundtrack.

So what do these events have to do with each other? I already told you! Absolutely nothing! However, they combined to make me start thinking about something.

What is Christian music? What makes one song Christian and another mainstream? What makes an artist Christian while another is mainstream?

The American Music Awards distribute awards based on genres. They give out awards for rap music, jazz, pop and heavy metal. Each of these forms its own musical genre. Though the lines dividing the genres may not be perfectly clear, there is usually little doubt as to what constitutes a jazz album versus what constitutes a blues album. But then there is the award for Christian music (or, as they call it, Contemporary Inspirational Music). This one is not awarded based on a style of music, but on lyrical content, or further, on the beliefs of the artist. Is it not strange that Christian music forms the sole exception to the rule? Is it not strange that in a system divided by genre, a hard rock Christian album can be considered in the same category as an adult contemporary album?

I have no answers except to suggest that according to the American Music Awards, a Christian album is probably one that has been distributed by a Christian label. How those labels define a Christian album or song is anyone’s guess, though I’m sure it varies greatly from company to company. I know the Gospel Music Association holds to the following definition. A Christian song is one:

  • substantially based upon historically orthodox Christian truth contained in or derived from the Holy Bible
  • and/or apparently prompted and informed by a Christian world view.

Now, let’s bring Bryan Adams into the mix. I already mentioned that as I was driving home today I heard Everything I Do. I noticed that it does not have any words in it explicit enough to tell the listener for whom it was written. The only object he refers to is “you,” with no reference to the usual “baby,” “girl,” or “lover.” Therefore, it could be a song sung from a woman to a man or a man to a woman. Fair enough. I’m sure we can all think of examples of songs that are written in such a vague fashion. As I listened to it I began to wonder what would happen if we were to sing that song in our church. Couldn’t we just direct the song towards God? Listen to these words:

Look into my heart – you will find
There’s nothin’ there to hide
Take me as I am – take my life
I would give it all – I would sacrifice
Don’t tell me it’s not worth fightin’ for
I can’t help it – there’s nothin’ I want more

You know it’s true
Everything I do – I do it for you
There’s no love – like your love
And no other – could give more love

There’s nowhere – unless you’re there
All the time – all the way

There are songs we sing in church that are little different than that. Consider Sonicflood’s I Want To Know You:

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for You
Cause, I want to know You more
I want to know You more
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more
I want to touch You
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more

Surely if heard outside a Christian context no one would guess that I Want To Know You is directed to God. Similarly, inside a Christian context I doubt if anyone would guess that Everything I Do is just another mainstream love song. Evidently this further complicates the matter.

So again I ask, what constitutes a Christian song? Though certainly not an exhaustive list, here are some options. Perhaps a Christian song is:

  • A song written by a Christian. This speaks of the songs’s authorship.
  • A song written to be a Christian song. This speaks of the motive of the song’s author.
  • A song sung as a Christian song. This speaks of the motives of the individuals singing the song.
  • A song with explicitly or obviously Christian lyrics. This speaks of the song’s content.

Does any one of these, taken alone, provide a definition of Christian music? I don’t think so, as each of them seems to have an obvious flaw.

[Note from Tim] I wrote this far into the article and got stuck. When I began writing I had a pretty clear idea of the conclusion I would reach, but suddenly found it was not so clear. I was truly stuck, so decided to define ‘Christian’ before proceeding.

Maybe it would be helpful to look at a definition of the word ‘Christian.’ A Christian is a person who professes a faith in Jesus Christ. A Christian is a person who has been saved by the blood of Jesus. The very essence of the word ‘Christian’ speaks of people. In that light, can any song truly be Christian? No, in reality no song, book, bumper sticker or t-shirt can be called Christian. They may be read, sung or used by Christians, but that does not make them Christian.

So what are we to do with music? Again, at this point I am without answers. All I can suggest is that there are songs that are honoring to God and there are songs that are dishonoring. If singing a song draws attention from ourselves and focuses our attention on praising God; if it helps us to learn about God and to glorify Him, it honors Him.

So might Everything I Do become the “Heart of Worship” of the next generation. I certainly hope not as I simply can’t imagine my church singing anything by Bryan Adams, but if it helped Christians bring glory to their creator, who would I be to complain?

I would love to get some feedback on this, so if you have something to say, please post a comment.

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