Must Christian pop culture always suck? (Probably)

Another transfer from Live Journal. I still never read Rapture Ready like I said I was going to… Note that I’m not being disrespectful about Christianity. I just think it doesn’t always mesh well with pop culture, especially pop music. Give me good, rootsy gospel or a church hymn over any CCM or Christian rock. I went into a lot of detail about my thoughts on LJ, where it might’ve been read by 2 people:

Must Christian pop culture always suck? (Probably).

BTW, you want to hear some great Christian music? Check these out:

I’m going to go ahead and post the entire LJ article. I think more people will read it here…

I just read a very interesting article in Slate about a book called Rapture Ready by Daniel Radosh. One of these days I’m going to have to read it. It gets to the heart of an issue I’ve been pondering for years: what’s wrong with Christian music? Only it goes further, talking about other Christian pop culture – comedy, fashion, etc.

This is a pretty good excerpt:

When you make loving Christ sound just like loving your boyfriend, you can do damage to both your faith and your ballad. That’s true when you create a sanitized version of bands like Nirvana or artists like Jay-Z, too: You shoehorn a message that’s essentially about obeying authority into a genre that’s rebellious and nihilistic, and the result can be ugly, fake, or just limp.


I guess the reason I still care about this topic is that I grew up in that Christian conservative culture, even though I’m not a part of it now. The whole “separate but equal” Christian pop culture thing wasn’t really in full swing until I was already out of high school. Closest thing to a Christian pop song I remember is “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone. I do remember feeling there was a certain something lacking in Christian “culture” though, at least the stuff that came to us via church camp performers, revival evangelists and musical “specials” that some church members liked to perform, with canned background music.

One of the worst offenders was a musical family that came to our church several times with a Christian ventriloquist show. They also sang and sold records of themselves in the church foyer. Their ventriloquist dummy was cheesy and embarrassing (as those things usually are, Christian or otherwise) and their singing was dreadfully out of key. I also remember feeling there was something very inappropriate about selling merchandise inside a church. How was that different from the moneychangers Jesus kicked out of the temple?

Things got a little more sophisticated in the early- to mid-80s, when I was already a very hypocritical partying college student. I went to a Christian conference in Dallas and there was a wide array of Christian Contemporary music – not really rock yet, but close, it definitely wasn’t any kind of gospel, with the exception of Larnelle Harris. I remember some of the groups weren’t horrible to listen to – one called Gabriel that was just your basic pop, with Christian lyrics, and a group called Silverwind that had a female vocalist from somewhere in Europe, and sounded suspiciously like they were copying Abba. Not long afterward, my youngest brother got totally hooked on the Christian Contemporary music – his faves included Petra, Sandi Patti, and of course Amy Grant. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t satisfying either. I would’ve had a very hard time if that had been all I could listen to and hadn’t had “real” rock ‘n’ roll. I was an art student and needed something with some heart and some punch. The CCM and Christian Rock just struck me as soulless (ironically) and shallow.

Now, that didn’t and doesn’t apply to all Christian music. I say something like this everytime the subject comes up: Christianity always works best when it comes with roots. While the groups I mentioned left me unmoved, I was at times strongly moved by some of the congregational hymns we sang in church. Hymns written by people like John Wesley and Fanny Crosby that I knew had been sung in church for generations. My father was the choir director and mom played piano. Dad sometimes sang solos, songs like the “Old Rugged Cross” and had a lovely tenor voice. That was art to me. Still is.

I feel the same way about black church music. I used to listen to a radio station from Prairie View A&M outside of Houston and I loved it, and for a while, I used to work in an office building that had a little black church in it. The people would not only sing, they would sing their prayers. There was a little speaker aimed out to the street so people could hear. Sometimes when I was working late I would go stand on the sidewalk and listen to them. That stuff is art too. It has a cultural richness to it that the stuff on the Christian rock station just doesn’t, never will have.

One of my Baptist preachers, the one who was most fundamentalist, who said some of the most cringe-worthy things, once said “Christian rock? No such thing!” We made fun of that for years, because it sounded so ignorant. But you know what? I think he might’ve been onto something. As the article above said, trying to force Christianity, which is about devotion and obedience, into a genre that’s about rebellion doesn’t quite work. You’re bound to kill either the Christian message or the rock ‘n’ roll.

I guess I feel the same about Christian music as I do about “folk.” I would MUCH rather listen to an American folk song like “John Henry” sung by some old man on an archival recording after it had been passed down through generations, than listen to that same song by a group like the Kingston Trio. I’d also rather listen to black or country gospel, or a congregational hymn, than some tricked-up modern-sounding thing. Granted the traditional songs were new once. But I think they were created for a different purpose than a lot of the new Christian music today. They were about devotion to God, not making money, or trying to copy another genre of music.

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6 Comments

Filed under commentary, folk, Livejournal, music, roots

6 responses to “Must Christian pop culture always suck? (Probably)

  1. woodjean

    Oh come on! MM you’re invited over to Pflugerville UMC to hear some really great Christian rock music! Just let me know and I’ll give you the details. ‘Bet you’ll change your mind.

  2. I’ve heard that before, but I’ll consider it. BTW, did you read the Live Journal article?

  3. gipnip

    “…my youngest brother got totally hooked on the Christian Contemporary music – his faves included Petra, Sandi Patti, and of course Amy Grant.”

    Um, Sandi Patti? I hated her. Petra and Amy Grant, yes. Sandi Patti, though…uh, no. I couldn’t stand her music. That just pisses me off. Bam, you made me so mad I worship the devil now. Great job music missionary!

    But, good article overall–except for the part that made me start worshiping Lucifer as my lord and saviour…

  4. Pingback: Tool puts on mindblowing spectacle « The MusicMissionary

  5. well

    Brother it’s not about you. Not anymore. You have Jesus in your heart. It’s about the sea of humanity, dying and going to a place called hell — intended for the devil and the demons — because humanity has chosen to disregard God’s call. Well – I say you have to have bait. We are fishers of men, and to quabble about what your likes and dislikes are, is in the words of Solomon – meaningless. Let’s find out what the fish (humanity) likes. Let’s give them the bait, and top it off with the plan of salvation. That’s a topic worth discussing — not reduntant I want…I need…I feel topics.

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