Tuesday, December 05, 2006

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


Blogger Divided_Heart said...

Wow, a lot of passion, a little anger and a lot of thought went into that post, thank you! I really needed to see it put in black and white...very well written!

12/06/2006 2:10 AM  
Blogger Strider said...

I completely understand what you're saying, and I must say, you did a great job of developing it! In regard to full_quiver_dad's comment in an earlier post, I do believe that there are bands/musicians out there who may very well hold to a Christian faith (U2, Creed, etc.), but they may simultaneously struggle with profanity or other issues that express themselves in their lyrics. I know several people that I am absolutely certain are Christians, but I do catch them occasionally using 4-letter words in conversation. Oftentimes, these people come from a background in which they were not raised in a Christian home and found themselves in the habit of cursing before they came to salvation. You don't just stop cursing when you accept Christ. Just like other deeply ingraved sins, it takes time for those habits to go away completely. I also know that when artists like Bono start speaking/singing about a topic they are passionate about, a curse word or two may unfortunately slip out. By no means are we to condone this behavior, but I do believe we should try to be somewhat understanding and forgiving. I may very well be wrong about Bono and other recording artists like him, and maybe I'm just playing the devil's advocate here, but I do think they deserve a break occasionally. It's really easy for ordinary people like us to point the finger and condemn those in lofty places whose sins are spotlighted for everyone to see. It wouldn't hurt every once in a while to put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand where they're coming from before we start condemning anybody. Granted, I don't think they should be labelled "Christian" music. But do you really have to be featured in CCM to be considered a Christian artist? I think not. I do think that God can use the lyrics of any artist He chooses to speak truth.

12/10/2006 10:52 PM  

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