Thinking Out Loud

July 6, 2018

The Problem with Christian Music

While I don’t want this to be a defining feature of this blog, we have recently discussed some of the problems with Christian radio and the related problems with modern Church worship music. And now we’re doing it again.

A few notes: The video is 14-minutes long. I don’t know the creator. It was posted just over a year ago and was sent to me by a friend. I’m not endorsing every sentence in the video script, but I think this deserves a growing audience.

 

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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.

May 5, 2011

Living on Borrowed Vision

I want to raise a discussion topic here, and to do so, I’m going to appear to come out hittin’ fairly hard.  However, at no point in this am I trying to be presumptuous or judgmental.  I’m just bringing a topic to the forefront so that we can kick it around and see where it takes us.  I’m not suggesting for a minute that the story described here is necessarily a bad idea; in fact, time may prove otherwise…

…Over two years ago, when the movie Fireproof was releasing, I was really impressed not so much with the film’s quality, but with the idea that the movie — and others — were birthed out of a local church.  (The credits were a high point for just that reason.)

On 1/30/09 I wrote:

The movie Fireproof, for the most part, never played in theaters in Canada, so this week’s video release was our first look at the film.   Once again, the people at Sherwood Church delivered an amazing production.   This is the work of one local church. Where were these people when I was forced to view tacky Christian flicks as a kid?

…and a few weeks later on 2/15/09, I wrote

Watching the movies Facing the Giants and Fireproof have convinced me that even little churches can do big things.   Can you imagine the first time someone there said, “Why don’t we make a movie?”   Not everyone can make movies like Sherwood Church, but it costs nothing to dream big dreams, to brainstorm, to introduce possibilities; to empower individual church members with input into the local church’s ‘big picture;’  or input into choosing its destination.  Then comes the harder, next step: To designate one as its radical agenda for the balance of the year.

A few months later, USAToday did this profile of Sherwood Baptist Church, which noted:

Sherwood Baptist Church… is so successful in its movie making ministry that it now coaches others.

“Movies are the stained-glass windows of the 21st century, the place to tell the Gospel story to people who may not read a Bible,” says Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood in Albany, Ga.

The idea is simple.  Sherwood is saying to other churches, ‘If we can do this as a local church, you can do this.’  Or words to that effect.

There’s nothing wrong with catching someone else’s vision.  Hundreds of pastors noted what Bill Hybels was doing at Willow Creek and saw the wisdom of incorporating many of his ideas into their local church situation.  The result is the Willow Creek Association, a sort of non-denomination networking pastors with similar vision, hosting conferences and connecting churches with resources.

Larry Norman once said, “Christianity is in an imitative mode.”  I think he was speaking from the idea of wanting to create music that was different from anything the world had to offer.  But many singers picked up guitars and imitated Larry Norman resulting in the contemporary Christian music or CCM movement, which later birthed today’s modern worship movement.  While we all long for fresh vision, “the sincerest form of flattery” is one way of recognizing that God is using someone else’s vision in ways we can learn from and adapt.

So why did the story that follows grate on me a little bit?

Elgin mega-church hires Hollywood director

ELGIN — In 2002, members of a megachurch in Albany, Ga., felt that God was calling them to make a movie.

With a budget of just $20,000 — less than what big-name Hollywood flicks spend for lunches — Sherwood Baptist Church made a film about a crooked used-car salesman undergoing a moral crisis.

Named “Flywheel,” it was directed, starred in and co-written by Alex Kendrick, one of the church’s pastors. Unpaid members of the church did most of the other acting and crew work. The film was released in 2003, played in only a few theaters, and made just $37,000 at the box office, though it later would go on to sell 300,000 DVDs.

In 2006, Sherwood Baptist again released a movie, this time about a high school football coach facing a midlife crisis. Riding on the popularity a year before of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” it was distributed by a major studio, played in 441 theaters and took in $10 million, or about 1,000 times what the church spent making it.

In 2008, the Georgia church made a film about a firefighter with a failing marriage. Named “Fireproof,” it became the top-grossing independent movie of any type that year, grossing $33 million. Church officials claim that the movie’s message about strengthening one’s relationships “has saved a million marriages.” Sherwood will release its fourth film, a police/family drama named “Courageous,” in theaters all over the country on Sept. 30.

Feeling God’s call to move in the same direction, the Elgin-based megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel has hired a Hollywood director, Dallas Jenkins, as its media director, bought a TV studio/sound stage in Aurora and given Jenkins the assignment of making a series of “faith-based movies” for theatrical and DVD release over the coming years.

Jenkins said he expects Harvest’s leaders to decide on a topic and a budget for the first film within the next two months and start filming by late 2011 or early 2012…

…When Harvest’s pastor, Rev. James McDonald, got the idea of following Sherwood Baptist into the movie ministry, McDonald thought of Dallas Jenkins.

“James and my dad are friends,” Jenkins explains. “He came out to Los Angeles to have dinner with me and explained what he had in mind. I thought maybe I would come back to Illinois a couple times a year to work on these projects. But he asked me to go to work for Harvest full time. I had never expected to come back to the Midwest.”…

continue reading here

I don’t know why I have conflicting and contradictory thoughts about this.  But here are some possibilities.

  1. The Sherwood Baptist story seems so organic.  The films sprang up from within, so to speak.  To hire a director and purchase a suburban Chicago sound stage seems contrary to the spirit of the Sherwood story.
  2. God is already doing great things through Harvest Bible Chapel, Harvest Bible Fellowship and Walk in the Word.  I know that in the heart of every man — and every great Christian leader — there is desire to “enlarge their territory,” but I hope HBC doesn’t spread themselves out too thin.
  3. I keep wondering if the Sherwood story — despite their willingness to pass on their expertise — is something special that God did through a particular congregation which, unlike the Willow Creek example used earlier, isn’t particularly meant to be copied or perhaps isn’t really particularly copyable.

So don’t try to answer the question as to whether Harvest Bible Chapel should do this, because apparently — and hopefully through prayer and Godly advice — they’re already off and running.  I guess the discussion question is: When is a ministry vision transferable to other churches and locations, and when do we simply come alongside to support those to whom God gave the original vision without feeling the need to directly imitate the success that God gave to someone else? 

Today’s bonus item: A preview of the forthcoming Sherwood movie Courageous…

April 11, 2011

“Christian” Dancing — How Far is Too Far?

“On the Sundays where we do the Pole Fitness for Jesus we do the upbeat contemporary Christian music… people have to bring their church program to get in, so we’re basically just continuing the whole worship thing.”

~Crystal Deans, Christian pole dancing instructor

Christian pole dancing.

Seriously.

I was going to embed the video, but couldn’t bring myself to do that.  You’ll have to click over to Ragamuffin Soul to watch the 2-minute news clip.  I’ll wait right here for you to click back…

…Okay, where were we?

So let’s review our possible responses here:

  1. The arts, in their pure form, are morally neutral.  Like a blank piece of paper, any sense of “rightness” or “wrongness” that might be ascribed to a work of art relates to what the artist is doing, not the form itself.
  2. The issue isn’t moral neutrality, but one of legalism versus license.  All things may not be edifying, or even the best stewardship of your time, but they are fundamentally permissible since we’re under grace, not law.
  3. Certain art forms are not morally neutral, but are tainted.  This was the argument used against the early adopters of contemporary Christian music; the evil was in the beat, intrinsic to the rhythm.  The response of tribes in Africa — the famous, “Why are you calling up the spirits?” line — proves it.
  4. Certain forms are simply guilty by association.  You may think you’re playing an innocent game of “Crazy Eights” with your kids, but you’re acquainting them with a playing card deck that is used for gambling and has historical anti-Christian roots.  You should want to abstain from even the appearance of evil.
  5. None of the above.  This is simply a really, really bad idea.  Like a certain gift company in Seymour, Indiana that buys up picture frames in the general gift market and then tosses a Bible verse inside — one that actually disappears when you use them to frame a picture — this just cheapens the word “Christian,” which was never meant to be an adjective in the first place.

So there you have it.

I would write more on this subject, but I’m late for my Christian nudists meeting, which I have to wrap up by supper so I can meet tonight with my Christian pyramid sales group.

Ooops!  Did I say that last one out loud?

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