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Friday, December 6, 2013

The so-called problem with Christian music

Newworldson, from just over the border in St. Catharines, Ontario.
My inbox overflowed with comments yesterday about “the problem with contemporary Christian music”, after an essay by Michael Gungor. I was dumbfounded.

Gungor’s full of bunk. Contemporary Christian music has been in a renaissance for the past two decades. This makes sense in that we’ve been in a period of evangelical fervor (some have called it the Fourth Great Awakening) since the mid-sixties.

Of course, it’s important to remember that every artistic movement includes a lot of dreck. For example, the British Invasion gave us the Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies but it also gave us Do Wah Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann.

What the heck! Let's just feature photos of Canadians today. This is Starfield, from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Following is a list of current Christian music in a variety of styles. (I’m bypassing contemporary black gospel for the most part, because it’s at least another blog entry, one I’m not qualified to write.) After listening, can you really say that contemporary Christian music has a problem?

All Around/Israel Houghton
Break Every Chain/Jesus Culture
Count Me In/Leeland
Deathbed/Relient K
Everything About You/Sanctus Real
He Reigns/Newsboys
In the Light/DC Talk
Jesus Movement/Audio Adrenaline
Mighty to Save/Hillsong
My Delight Is In You/Christy Nockles
My Generation/Starfield
New Creation/Leeland
Revelation Song/Phillips, Craig & Dean
Rooftops/Jesus Culture
Signature of Divine/Needtobreathe
The Face of Love/Sanctus Real
The Orphan/Newsboys
The Saving One/Starfield
Your Great Name/Natalie Grant
Working Man/Newworldson*

*Full disclosure: my personal faves. And they’re from St. Catharines, Ontario.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!


Unknown said...

Daughter Mary here! I contributed a couple of songs to the playlist in this post before I had read the essay to which it was a response. Something he said really struck me about Christian rock music.
First of all, there’s a huge difference between death metal and screamo, and Gungor really doesn’t understand the subgenres of rock and metal, but, more importantly, it feels like Gungor is trying to say, “You can’t make Christian music that is also angry,” or, “If you’re a real Christian, you can’t relate to music that is angry.” I’m an angry person, sometimes. Heck, I’ll go so far as to say I’ve spent a significant chunk of the last two years. I’ve spent time desperate and suicidal and utterly, completely broken. The only place, and I do mean the only place, where I was able to feel God’s presence for a year was in Christian rock music, the same stuff that Gungor calls a “musical zombie”.
I think it presumes a lot on Gungor’s part to say that specific styles of Christian music are disingenuous. The best Christian speaking I’ve ever heard has been from Christian rock musicians, Lacey Sturm from Flyleaf and Kevin Young from Disciple, just to name a couple. I’m not the only one; I was pretty much front-row centre during Lacey Sturm’s testimony at Rock The Lakes, Buffalo. I saw how she was able to reach out to people, young and old, and I helped lift a fifteen-year-old girl over the crowd barrier so that she could receive prayer afterwards. I watched as people flooded forward, many of them crying and many of them grinning. This happens at concerts and at festivals all around the world every day.

Unknown said...

I’m going to get a little personal and tell a short story about the first time I listened to Until We Have Faces, RED’s third album. I still remember this really vividly, actually. It was about a month or so after I broke up with my boyfriend, who was truly horrible. At the time, he was harassing me and hanging out around the building where I lived, making it so that I was too scared to leave my room without a friend, preferably male, to keep me safe. I had let him do some horrible things to both my body and my mind and I felt, honestly, as if no one would ever be able to love me and that I was unworthy of God’s love, that He couldn’t love me.
I was sitting on my bed in my dorm and listening to music on my laptop and not really doing much else and I happened to see that there was a RED album I haven’t heard. I listened and I heard someone sing to me about things I could understand, things that reached through the haze in which I was living and shook me down to my core.
“Can You save me from the nothing I’ve become?”
“I’m finally breaking, so where are You now? (…) I’m suffocating, I need You to breathe, so reach down and pull me up, pull me out, before I am buried beneath.”
And then I got to the middle song, the sixth song on the album, “Not Alone”, and I just about lost it. It was like every word of that song reached out and tugged at my heart and I just bawled and bawled and bawled, because I have never before or since heard anything that describes my feelings so utterly perfectly. At a time when I really, honestly believed that I had brought what happened to me upon myself, that I deserved it and that I was too horrible a person to be loved, because how on Earth could God love someone who asked for what happened to me, a man that I will never meet wrote a song and that song reminded me that God still loves me, even when I just want to give up.
I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone, and so I hope Michael Gungor never has to go through that. For those of us who have, or those of us who just like music in all its forms, Christian rock music does something that neither secular rock music nor more conventional Christian music does. It acknowledges that there is pain in this life and it might not always be physical pain but it is there, and it says, in the words of Thousand Foot Krutch, “It’s not a joke, I’ve felt as messed up as you do. I’ve felt the feelings you’ve been feeling, been through the same things you’ve been through, and I know how hard it is to feel like you’re alone. We’ve all been given a second chance but the choices are our own.”

Unknown said...

And finally, my own personal 8-song sampler of Christian rock music, because I didn't have time to give my mom a comprehensive (and this is HARDLY comprehensive) list:
1. “Breathe Into Me” / “Hold Me Now” – RED
I want to start this blurb by saying Mike Barnes could probably sing the phone book and I’d still buy it. I tried to pick two songs that showed their diversity as a group, because they have songs for pretty much every mood I’m in. I would have included “Not Alone”, but my mom already included it in her list, so you’ve already listened to it.
IF YOU LIKED THIS YOU’LL PROBABLY LIKE: Ashes Remain, Love + Death, Fireflight

2. “The Lesser Worth” / “Mors Tua Nos Vita” – The Wedding
I first learned about these guys when I went to see Thousand Foot Krutch and Love + Death and they were one of the openers. It was great! They’re great!
IF YOU LIKED THIS YOU’LL PROBABLY LIKE: Hawk Nelson, Everyday Sunday, FM Static

3. “Rebirthing” / “Yours To Hold” – Skillet
Ah, Skillet. What would a sampler of Christian rock be without Skillet? They’ve had so many styles it was hard to pick just one. Every album of theirs has a distinct sound. These songs are both off of Comatose, which I think of as the most distinctively Skillet-sounding album, except for maybe Rise. I would caution the listener looking for good Christian rock that Awake was very much a secular album in a lot of ways.

4. “Outta Control” / “So Far Gone” – Thousand Foot Krutch
My showing from the rap-rock genre is Thousand Foot Krutch. They’re an odd group for this list, because a lot of their music is not particularly Christian in lyrics, but then they have music like “So Far Gone” and that’s quite religious.

*Disciple have worn many hats in their time and when I said you might like them here, I was referring to the hats they're wearing on Horseshoes & Handgrenades and O God Save Us All.

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Unknown said...

I think Gungor's initial point about Christian music containing mostly music that has been recycled so much that it is no longer heartfelt is true for much of what I would hear on the radio. It has generally turned me off to listening to Christian radio. From my very outside view, I also think his comments about the marketing machine behind the industry is a correct diagnosis of what is causing the soulless symptom.

However, Mary I do have to agree with your point that good Christian music can come out of music genres that Gungor bashed. While some of these types of music require underlying emotion to truly communicate their "creative" potential, all emotions are human. I think Christians do experience those emotions in such a way that can make real music that doesn't make me want to change the channel because i can sense that it is a "Christian" song.

I am impressed with the songs provided. Of the ones I have heard, they represent a artists that have the capacity to sing with genuine emotion and experience. I just wish this was the norm.

Carol Douglas said...

I probably wasn't clear about this, but ALL genres of art are mostly dreck when they're in full flower. Time allows us to weed out the losers, even if they have temporary popularity. That was true when Verdi or Bach were writing and it's true in painting as much as in music.

But Christian music is in fact far less drecky than popular music right now. I know this is an old-person thing to say, but I despair of its lack of originality.