Random Thoughts on the Ultimate “Un-Cool” that is Contemporary Christian Music

On First Things today, Peter Blair offers a plea to Christian artists out there to stop producing “Christian Art” and start making true art of real beauty if they want any hope of transforming our culture.

As I’ve been driving back and forth up and down the East Coast this summer, I’ve listened to may fair share of Christian music on the radio, and honestly, I’m confused by two things. 1) Why does it need to be called “Christian” music and 2) why “positive” or “encouraging” music a euphemism for the genre? And thus tonight I ramble on my confusion.

1) American culture is perhaps defined by its individualism- therefore, everyone can have a club for themselves, where their own subculture reigns supreme (I know, I know, we all know this). Yet, there is still some sort of “mainstream”- especially in the controlled markets of radio and cinema. So-called Christian music seems to mar both aspects of the Christian call to be in the world but not of it: instead of branching out to all persons and creating a catholic (small c) atmosphere that branches out to speak to all of society, it instead sings to those who are already “saved,” and instead of rejecting this American temptation to ghettoize and slant facts to fit one’s worldview instead of taking our fallen world as it is, and transform it by example- not just sticking to one’s own bright and positive bubble.

2) Ok, so since when has the Cross been “positive” and “uplifting” alone? What about the whole humility and penitence thing that comes along with Joy? Don’t get me wrong- are we called to rejoice? Of course! And is all Contemporary Christian Music all yippy-skippy all day every day?? Nope. And sure the Gospels and the Crucifixion and Resurrection are the most positive and glorious thing- indeed what redeems all that is sinful and base and all that! But come on: don’t make your celebration of those gifts so flat and boring and so gosh darn just BAD- at least if you want it to be enticing. The same can be said (and has been) about Christian movies such as Fireproof- and the marginally better Bella and There be Dragons.*
This ultimately may be why I’m Catholic and not Evangelical.

To be fair, our world could deal with a lot more positivity, a lot less sin, and an emphasis on truth and virtue. From personal experience, I can say that Christian music is pretty positive and peppy and at least isn’t an affront to morality. But it is an affront to good taste, and even one’s conscience if we’re willing to go out on a limb and claim beauty as a virtue as essential to the proper understanding of Truth.

*Yes, I went there. Eduardo Verastegui, eres guapisimo y tienes buenas intenciones. Pero Bella es demaciado “vanilla” y “preachy” para ser arte. Sorrrrry

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4 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on the Ultimate “Un-Cool” that is Contemporary Christian Music

  1. Yes!

    There is, of course, a point at which it’s better to start making and/or buying good art than to read or write one more essay (or blog comment) on the topic. But the topic IS important, worth reading and writing about.

    The following deserve a look — though it wouldn’t surprise me if you have read some or all of them already:

    1) http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/what-would-it-take-for-christianity-to-dominate-the-arts/

    2) http://korrektivpress.com/2011/10/rally-kollektiv-rally/ (a response to ‘1’)

    3) http://scrutinies.net/category/art-for-the-sake-of-grace (an ongoing series of posts, focusing on the idea of art patronage; scroll down for the series)

    4) http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/9124/Catholic-media-matters.aspx

    5) http://korrektivpress.com/2012/02/there-werent-dragons/ (a response to ‘4’)

    6) http://korrektivpress.com/2012/03/there-just-might-be-dragons/ (a response to ‘5’)

    7) http://korrektivpress.com/2012/03/how-christ-can-heal-the-breach-between-art-and-faith/ (review of a book that Peter Blair mentions in the First Things column)

  2. Just curious: do you find that you can listen to any other kind of radio station for more than a few minutes at a time? FM radio doesn’t really offer the best of any genre right now, unless the only genre you’re interested in is “Call Me Maybe” (which is the case with me).

    My favorite essay on Christian rock is this one: http://www.guernicamag.com/features/meghan_ogieblyn_7_15_11/

    It gets beneath the common perception of Christian music as a clumsy set of manipulations by showing that mainstream music is an infinitely cynical set of manipulations, to the point that CCM’s clumsiness looks almost charming.

  3. “There is, of course, a point at which it’s better to start making and/or buying good art than to read or write one more essay (or blog comment) on the topic.”

    Are you saying you want to buy my novel?

    William–that article was great. I really like your description, too, of mainstream music as an “infinitely cynical set of manipulations.” I think this is CCM’s real problem–you would think that Christian music would try to avoid the music-for-robots approach taken by the culture industry, but instead they just ape it. They ghettoize themselves and recreate the problem of pop culture within a ghetto–all the mass-production, none of the mass appeal.

    I do like listening to NPR college radio stations. They play Lucinda Williams a lot.

    Also, relevant?

    http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/07/youve-got-to-sell-your-heart.html

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