Friday, December 08, 2006

In:brief: 12-8

The Newsboys just wrapped up their international tour in support of their latest release, Go. The group visited countries from Dennmark and Norway to parts of Asia and Canada. The group is set to kick off their American tour in February

Sixsteprecords is getting ready to release a best-of collection of Passion songs on December 26. The record label that has brought fans all the Passion series will release a 30-song compilation of artists like David Crowder Band and Chris Tomlin. The series is called: The Best of Passion (So far...)

Grammy nominations are in, and newcomers Leeland are up for Best pop/contemporary Gospel album of the year for their Sound of Melodies. Also up in this category is Third Day, garnering their 8th career nomination for Wherever You Are (Wire and Come Together both won this award). Other artists who are up for a Grammy include DecembeRadio, Red and MercyMe.

In the world, but...

What does it mean to be in the world, and not of it? This verse may be one of the most controversial verses in scripture, with so many different interpretations of what it means to actually be in the world, but not of it. This is also a crucial question when it comes to Christian musicians, especially those appealing to a secular audience, but also those in the CCM industry. As this is one of the most important questions in this 3-part series look at what Christian music is, I saved it for last.

Jesus told us to be in the world but not of it. When I interpret this verse, I look at it as our obviously being in this world, living in a worldly home, but not conforming to this world. But what does it mean to not conform to this world? I believe this means not fitting in, not being "just like everyone else" and most importantly not conforming to the standards of this world. What does this include? I believe this is a call for all Christians to be different from those who don't believe not only in attitude, faith and beliefs, but also in looks and convictions. Let me explain.

Many Christian musicians believe that in order for them to actually have any form of success, or for them to be accepted by the mainstream audience and thus minister to them, they have to look, sound and even act like them. Billy Grahm tried this when he grew his hair long, trying to appeal to a certian people. The apostle Paul, in Corinthians talks about this subject and he says that he was everything to all peoples, to the Jews, he was a Jew, to the Gentiles a Gentile, to those without the law, as without the law. So, does this justify our becoming like unto the world?

Far from it! People should be able to look at us as Christians and clearly be able to tell that we are in fact Christians, that we are different, that we are not "just like everyone else." I believe this should apply not only to our language and sex life but also to our looks and appearances. The Bible refers to our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit. What does this say about tattoos and earrings? God did not intend for our bodies, His temple, to be a walking billboard. Just as the Jews would never think of spraypainting graffiti on the walls of the temple, I don't believe Christians should be putting ink into their bodies. The same goes for earrings. The Bible clearly speaks against excess jewelry (this isn't saying that necklaces and bracelets are of the devil) and this, together with the passage against marring your body (don't even tell me poking holes in your body isn't defacing it) would prohibit earrings.

Now, I am not saying we should all wear uncool clothing and part our hair to the right and wear polo shirts all day. God forbid. Music plays a large roll in youth's lives, and if they see us as weirdos who wear pocket protectors (ok, so that's an exaggeration) they won't want to listen to us and claim that we can't relate to them. But, that doesn't mean we have to be like them and stick holes in our noses and dye our hair pink. If God wants to use us, by golly, He can use some geek in pink with a pocket protector! We need to demonstrate our faith in Him, and not conform to this world.

I believe that Christian musicians largely fail in this area. You will be hard-pressed to find a group with no tats and piercings. Some claim they are just being artistic, not trying to be bland. But using the scriptural arguments above, I believe there are plenty of Biblical ways of being artistic with our appearance without shoving needles in our body!

So, in summary of this series:
I think Christians should be strongly cautioned in listening to secular music. I am not saying that all secular music is wrong and evil, God can use it for His good and you can find some worth listening to, but it would almost be better to err on the side of caution, especially if you have a weakness in this area. There are several artistic Christian artists (Delirious? in particular). However, this should also be a wakeup call to those steeped in the Christian music industry to venture outside of their comfortable box/bubble and use their God-given talents to the fullest, to be creative, innovative, expressive. Let your music (not just the lyrics) show God's glory (include some wicked guitar riffs...).

As far as lyrics are concerned, Christian musicians need to continue offering great melodies for the Church, but also be sure to address the practical issues of life. One of my early blog posts (Feb. 7, 2006) took a look at artists who do so....but the list is short and the artists limited. Suicide, depression, sex, anorexia, divorce, loss, school, jobs-- all of these need to be addressed from a Biblical perspective, because if they aren't, Christians are going to look elsewhere.

And finally, as to Christian musicians who venture into the mainstream market: Their intentions and motivations need to be pure. Why are they doing so? Is it simply to make more money or is it to make a difference in someone's life? Their lyrics need to completley moral and relavant, while at the same time don't have to have Jesus in every line. But you should clearly be able to see the positive themes, and the music should always point to Christ. The artists cannot shy away from their faith, but instead must be bold and be a strong witness for Christ. But I believe this is a valid calling for reach an unreachable people with the love of Christ through a relavant

I hope this series has been helpful to you. Please let me know what you think!
Zachary Foster

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What is Christian Music?

My last post, which included a brief mention of Christianity Today's look at Evanescence seems to have provoked some instresting and provocative comments and questions. I want to reply in a series of posts about what exactly Christian music is, if there is such a thing, what it implies, who the artists are, and how different Christian artists are from secular artists.

First off, in defense of Christianity Today, the website did not refer to the group as a Christian group and pointed out that the group does not like to be associated with Christianity. What the article was trying to do was point out their spiritual searching, which is obvious in their lyrics. This does not make them any more Christian than Creed, which does the same thing in many of their songs. I commend Christianity Today for their efforts in looking at secular songs with an unbiased viewpoint and actually seeing what is in them. They caught on to Five for Five's spiritual wanderings from their latest CD and in their section Glimpses of God had an excellent interview with their lead singer and his questions about Christianity. If you totally reject secular music as being completely of the devil and have nothing to do with it, I believe you are creating a separate world for yourself....a bubble.

Now, I am not advocating that all secular music is acceptable (far from it) or that you are required to listen to it. But you can benefit from some songs. Now, publications and industries that claim every group which says 'God' in a song lyric as Christian deserve a reprimand. But, if you carefully look at Christianity Today, they recognize that these artists aren't Christian, but bring out the positive in their music. They also are instrumental in telling readers of mainstream group's faith, such as Lifehouse and the Fray that others ignore just because they are mainstream.

If you do a search for the defintion of 'Christian music' you will not return any results. There are definitions for sub genres such as Contemporary Chrisitian Music, etc., but none for just Christian Music. Why is this? Well, if you think about it, there is no such thing as Christian music. There are Christian lyrics, but music itself isn't Christian or secular. Now, I do believe that some music can be used demonically, but for the most part, music is unaffiliated with any faith or worldview. It is the lyrics that make the music Christian or not.

In the same way, there really isn't any such thing as a Christian band. There are Christians in a band, but a band isn't saved. Jon Foreman, from Switchfoot summed it up best in his statement "we're Christian by faith, not genre." So, what does this mean? Well, for the sake of argument, there is nothing wrong with calling a band a Christian band or saying they sing Christian music. But makes up Christian music? I do not believe it is the music, it can't be the way a group looks (Jesus never said you can't be a Christian if you have dyed hair and tattoos), and a record label doesn't make you Christian or not. What in fact makes music Christian and bands Christian is their lyrics. But what are Christian lyrics?

Christian Lyrics

What are Christian lyrics? This question has many answers, all depending on whom you ask. But no matter what, there is no perfect answer to this question. The Bible does not give an explicit definition of what Christian lyrics are, but says "whatever things are pure..." So, what is a pure lyric? For the most part, Contemporary Christian music has defined this as lyrics with spiritual intent. The most prominent lyricists and musicians in the business are Michael W. Smith, Marc Hall, Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day and MercyMe.

"Don't you know I've always loved you/even before there was time/and though you turn away/I'll tell you still/don't you know I've always loved you/and I always will" These words from Third Day are a good example of what Christian lyrics are. They are usually encouraging and exhortational in nature, directed towards Christians and their Christian walk. These lyrics talk about Christ's love for us even when we don't follow Him. "Our God is an awesome God we know/from heaven above with wisdom and power and love/our God is an awesome God." Michael W. Smith's classic "Awesome God" is a vertical song, directed towards God, but also meant to uplift Christian worshipers. Casting Crowns ventures slightly outside the lines by singing about life in the Church, speaking against prejudice and lethargy in the pews, but stays in the box by preaching to the choir (I'm not saying this is a bad thing, the choir in this case needs it). MercyMe has made it big in the mainstream, without watering down their lyrics (see I Can Only Imagine), but they are the rare example of this situation. "I waited patiently for the Lord/He inclined and heard my cry/He brought me up out of the pit/out of the miry clay/And I will sing, sing a new song." And that was, oh wait, a secular, non-Christian group by the name of U2. Now, if you just look at these lyrics, they may not come from Christians, but they seem pure to me. Which raises the question, can 'Christian lyrics' come only from Christians? Can God use others to speak His message, and perhaps, God forbid, in a creative and artistic manner?

Again, I repeat, there is nothing whatsover wrong with Third Day and others who sing great songs. The problem with listening and accepting only these types of songs is that it is way too narrow. Let me explain. The only thing you are getting out of these songs is primarily Church related. What about day-to-day issues, vital to our faith, but not necessarily what you're going to hear from the pulpit on Sunday morning? What about dating the right person (Superchic[k]'s Bowling Ball) and people who cut themselves (Plumb's Cut) and other many practical issues in life that aren't addressed very often and are not deemed by some 'Christian lyrics'? If these issues are not being addressed in Christian music, an entire side of people's lives is being ignored. And is there anything inherently wrong in Relient K singing about a failed relationship? Hey, this is life, it happens to all of us, and if one person benefits from this song and is encouraged, isn't it worth it? Sure, it may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I believe it is possible to be a Christian and have fun.

But some people claim these songs are not Christian. Ok, is a Christian basketweaver required to weave only "Christian baskets"? Can a painter only paint pictures of Churches and Jesus? Why do we put such restrictions on christian musicians? Can they not write pure lyrics, that may or may not have explicitly Christian lyrics, that allow them to demonstrate their God-given talent and abilities?

How about the christian musicians who are in the mainstream, such as Lifehouse and newcomers The Fray? Are they outside of God's will because they aren't playing in Churches and do not have strictly Christian lyrics? In a Christianity Today interview with the Fray, the lead singer said: Jesus used stories that contained much earthly imagery. "The Pharisees just quoted Bible verses," Slade says. "Jesus related the parables to people's lives. The people were drawn in by the plot development, character and conflict." The Fray is reaching a whole new audience, millions of young people, with pure lyrics that are uplifting. Is this wrong? Slade said that the reason they are mainstream is that because many of their friends were not interested in Christian lyrics, that they wouldn't of their own free will pick up Smitty's latest CD. But their music is drawing millions of unsaved listeners in. Lifehouse is an extremely poplular group with all three Christian members. Their lyrics may not reach into the Church, but they address many tough issues (such as a parent's divorce) with a Biblical perspective.

And finally, how about seeing positive messages in secular music? Can you honestly listen to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" without getting chills. It's a sermon in a song, sung by an unsaved Jewish man. U2's Spiritual meanderings include songs like "One" and "40" that have incredible thoughts about faith. Should we throw the baby out with the bath water?
I think you really need to look at motives. If a musician is Christian and yet denies it or tries to distance himself/herself from the faith, there is a definite problem. However, groups like The Fray and Lifehouse are not ashamed of their faith, and while they may not give an altar call at their concerts, don't mind sharing their faith with others. In my opinion, Christians are called to minister to other Christians, but we are also called to reach the lost, and singing Point of Grace songs might not be the best method to win some gothic kid to the Lord. I commend groups that do not water down their lyrics and yet are able to reach an audience outside of "Contemporary Christian Music."
I believe the following lyrics, from Paul Colman's song "My Brother Jack" aptly sum up my feelings:

We got into the car with the true believers
We could tell they were by the words they spoke
They were talking of Jesus and all He was doing
They were sharing their favourites from the Holy Book
And I was with them every step of the way
‘Cause I’m a believer saved by grace
And they didn’t know in the back seat was my brother Jack
We travelled on the 2 hour journey
Singing along to gospel radio
Then my brother Jack quite unexpected
said “Do you mind if I listen to my favourite band?”
And maybe it was when the singer let out a word
Four syllables long and not ever heard
In their church circles That the believers attacked
How could you play music that evil?
How could you speak of someone’s mother like that?
Whatever is pure, whatever is holy
We think on these things “so here’s your record back!”
And maybe it was just ‘cause we arrived at the place
My fellow believers didn’t see his face
But red was the anger all over my brother Jack
Well I pulled them aside just before our performance
And told them the story of my brother Jack
He’s not a believer but one who is searching
And I told him that Jesus loves him where he’s at
And when I was speaking
Well suddenly I wondered If we really knew why
Millions of people felt like my brother Jack
They’ve come to our churches and they're not coming back
Please God save our souls And my sweet brother Jack

Monday, December 04, 2006

In:brief: December 4

Jars of Clay has wrapped up the final leg of its most recent tour, Good Monsters, promoting its album of the same title. The group toured with former Sixpence None the Richer singer Leigh Nash filling venues worldwide. In other Jars news, their song "Work" can be heard this week promoting the TV shows "House" and "Standoff."

Michael W. Smith's 19th studio release, Stand, is #1 atop many charts, including the Nielson Christian chart and the Combined SoundScan charts. The album is being hailed as his best project since the early 90s. In other Smitty news, he is embarking on his Christmastime tour this month.

And finally, Christianity Today took another look at the group Evanescence and their spiritual ties. The website reviewed some of the songs off of their latest album, The Open Door, drawing out some of the group's spiritual searching. The article can be found here.