Thinking Out Loud

September 3, 2012

Why I Thank God for Contemporary Christian Music

Last week I received some advertising for three books by Kimberly Smith in which she allegedly is able to make a case for intrinsic evil in contemporary music forms.

I had always thought that the music war had ended, but much like soldiers carrying on the fight in the jungle years after World War II ended, it seems that some people are still waging the battle.

I have a great admiration for people who have a certain position that is by their admission based on preference. By all means, listen to what you like, and include in your church services that which meets the needs of your congregation.  Furthermore, mix it up a bit. Blended worship is always going to be balanced worship.

But don’t start citing studies and Biblical principles to support what is ultimately your preference, and don’t you dare dictate your personal choices to others as being normative Christian behavior, when neither statistics nor the weight of good argument are on your side.

For example, take a blank piece of 8.5 x 11 paper.  (That’s A4 for our British readers, I think.) You can use that paper to paint a beautiful watercolor picture of a valley with a stream. You can use it to write a poem about a friend who has been a help and encouragement to you.  You can insert it in your computer printer and print out your September budget.  You can do all sorts of good things with it.

Or…

You can write a slanderous article about someone in your city. You can draw a charcoal picture of a fox devouring a songbird. You can put up a sign in your front window telling peddlers to stay away and children to keep off your lawn.

But don’t blame paper, or pens, or markers, or computer printers for things people do with them. The paper is morally neutral, and so are the writing and drawing implements.  That is what I have always believed, what I have taught others, and what I still hold to. Morality rests in the heart of man (mankind) who posses moral agency.

A piece of paper has no such agency. It can’t act. A deck of playing cards may be guilty-by-association, but even there, the morality of a deck of cards would be tough to argue among skilled debaters or scholars.

None of this would sway Kimberly Smith, however. With books published in 1997, 2001 and 2006, she has spent 15 years making the case against Christian contemporary music. That’s her target. Not Top 40 radio. Not MTV. Not your local record store.  True, she is probably not enamored with those, but her focus is against the music that, without which, I cannot presume to be where I am today with Christ and who I am today in Christ.

That’s right. At the end of the day, I’m not prepared to argue with her. I’d rather use this space — and invite you to join in the comments — to say that I am so very, very thankful for the early Jesus Music and CCM artists who took the time to compose, to record, to tour and to thereby encourage me so much in the formative years of my Christian journey.

Would I have been a Christ follower anyway? Perhaps. But not with the same passion. The scriptures I learned, the Biblical principles the songs taught, the examples of the performing artists and songwriters were so very much needed and appreciated.

Here’s an example of what readers can expect in the book Music and Morals.

Chapter One: By showing how music is used successfully by the film industry to create moods and convey morality, the fact is established that music is a powerful entity and should not be considered amoral by the Church.

So in other words, because it’s evocative it’s disqualified. What about “O Sacred Head Now Wounded;” or for that matter, “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  Sorry, Kimberly, that just doesn’t fly.  Then there’s

Chapter Seven: Shows how specific rock music techniques are purposely used to manipulate, and if we as Christians are imitating those same techniques, the intent of manipulation remains, no matter the lyrics.

So much for William Booth or Charles Wesley appropriating the music of the day and making lyrical alterations. The lyrics don’t have weight in this discussion.

Or this blurb for For Those Who Have Ears to Hear:

This book gives solid, biblical answers to refute fifty common defenses (excuses) by proponents of contemporary Christian music in the chapter, “What We Believe is Our Truth.” Some of the statements answered are: “People are saved at CCM concerts”; “The music makes me feel closer to God”; “Where in the Bible does it say a certain beat is wrong?”; “Psalm 33:3 says we’re to sing ‘a new song’ to the Lord”; “It’s all relative; everyone has his or her own tastes,” and many more.

That’s right. Kimberly is able to deflect fifty defenses of CCM without ever stopping to consider, ‘My goodness, there are fifty of them!’

A chapter in Oh Be Careful Little Ears is titled, “The Origins of Unnatural Rhythms.” Yes, they’re still playing that song. The market for this book is obviously the same people who are sucked into the King James Only argument. Or lack of argument. People who don’t want to actually think, but want to be told what to think.

I noticed that one of the largest online Christian book vendors doesn’t touch this title. Why should they? This is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire. (This type of book is never released through major Christian publishers; and usually contains sections underlined, in capital letters and in bold print — the publishing equivalent of being yelled at.)

Again, I am so thankful for those who have followed the advice of Isaiah 42:10 to “create new songs of praise.” And songs of hope. And songs of testimony. And songs for justice and mercy.

And I am so very sad that perfectly good trees are being cut down to print books that in the very long scheme of things, will do more harm than good.

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7 Comments »

  1. I think your post is an important one and I agree with most of it wholeheartedly. The church I pastor uses a blended style of worship which I think is very healthy in the life of the church. Allow me to mention two caveats. Probably my main problem with at least some of contemporary music is its vapidness. This type of music has been often referred to as “7-11 songs.” That is seven words sung eleven times. We avoid those songs like the plague. That being said, there is much in CCM that is rich in theological content and those songs should be used and celebrated. Secondly, I feel you may have passed over the evocative nature of music too easily. We would be hard pressed to make a case that music does not affect us at the soulish level–in that respect it does not have the “blank slate” nature of a piece of paper. I think we have all had the experience of listening to a piece of Christian music in which the music was very compelling and yet the message was errant. I do not think we can ignore this aspect. I greatly appreciated your post and would agree that many of these arguments are rather old and tired. Of course, that in and of itself does not make them incorrect or useless.

    Comment by pastorjeffcma — September 3, 2012 @ 8:41 am

    • Thanks so much for your comments. It was hard to deal with this in a very short space; maybe I should write my own book!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 3, 2012 @ 9:01 am

  2. Reblogged this on GoodOleWoody's Blog and Website.

    Comment by goodolewoody — September 3, 2012 @ 9:13 am

  3. I have a personal friend that teaches music, band, and also leads choir. He reminds his students (and occasionally the rest of us) that all music was new once. Good music lasts through the ages, so a few “contemporary” praise and worship songs may someday become old standards in the church hymnal.

    Before “Awesome God” becomes my generation’s “Amazing Grace” Kimberly Smith will grow old and die. Someone in the future will undoubtedly pick up the torch.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — September 3, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

  4. I am glad there is CCM but I’m not glad that it has overtaken the song time in church. Just because a song plays on the radio does not mean it is fitting for Sunday morning Worship service. The songs with irregular beat and irregular phrasing cannot be sung corporately. Trying to sing these in a corporate fashion is not a good idea. Also, the 7-11s are not good in too great a portion as has already been mentioned. Good songs from any period of time should get equal time. Also, cut the lead guitar solos…these are in poor taste. Thanks for talking about this issue with us.

    Comment by Truthinator — September 5, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

    • I agree that too many songs are being introduced in weekend services which are not appropriate for congregational singing. It can sometime be a painful process to watch, or worse, to have to remain standing and watch.

      I am a strong believer in blended worship.

      I’m not sure if the author of the three books in question is referring to the modern worship genre or just CCM, which in my view is now a different genre altogether.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 5, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

      • True plus worship is much more than just music. Thanks again.

        Comment by Truthinator — September 5, 2012 @ 10:12 pm


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