Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Christ as Commodity
By Nathanael Blake, originally posted at www.townhall.com on 12 My 2006.
The link is no longer available and I could not find the article on the web. This post is copied from the article printed out and placed in my files.
Modern “Christian music” is neither good music nor good Christianity. Musically it’s bland and derivative, lyrically it’s banal, and the general artistry is slightly below an intoxicated lemur clambering about a toy piano. Of course, most music of any sort isn’t very good, but the Christian variety has managed to secure a reputation for especial atrociousness. The reason is that the industry which produces it isn’t much interested in musical quality. Rather, it is by definition more concerned with spiritual content than auditory standards.
But despite this focus, the spiritual value of the products of the Christian music industry (henceforth the CMI) remains minimal. The primary reason is that the construct is inherently flawed. Mark Solomon of the band Stavesacre makes the case elegantly in his book Simplicity, explaining why he left the CMI, “Christianity as an industry is a conflict of interest.”
However, it’s also a profitable industry. And so we get ChristianTM bookstores stuffed with ChristianTM books (not just Bibles, theology, and devotionals, but ChristianTM romances, and ChristianTM action-adventure books, and ChristianTM westerns…), ChristianTM music, ChristianTM movies, ChristianTM clothing, ChristianTM keychains, ChristianTM action figures, and ChristianTM night lights. Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a brand name.
The fundamental flaw of the CMI is that its stated missions are incompatible with each other and with its structure. The creation of genuine worship and devotional music, which Christians most certainly should do, does not lend itself to the rock star business model the CMI adopted from the mainstream. Adulation of a band, arena concerts, pyrotechnics, awards ceremonies, and tour merchandise are incongruous with worship and devotion to God.
The common defense of these consists of the other proclaimed purpose of CMI, evangelism. It’s not that they want to seek fame and fortune in the service of God; but they’re forced to it if they want to “reach the lost” and “minister.” This is ridiculous. Christian music is mostly sold to Christians; Christian concerts are mostly filled with bused in Christian youth groups. As far as evangelism goes, Christian music is the epitome of mediocrity.
Consequently, the only way a Christian group can reach a non-Christian audience is to cross over into the mainstream music industry. This creates awkward tensions in the genre. For while one of their declared missions demands that they move into the mainstream, any group that does so is immediately assailed as having sold out. This tension also devours artistic integrity. The general consensus is that going mainstream requires trimming the overtly Christian content, so there’s pressure to dilute the message; in order to reach the world with Christianity, they disassociate themselves from Christianity. Thus, there is some truth to the complaint that Christian groups sell out when they go mainstream, and the CMI responds by exerting pressure of its own.
Salomon notes that “the Gospel Music Association — giver of Dove awards, the Christian industry’s weak answer to the Grammy’s — at one point felt the need to make a standard with which they could judge whether or not a ‘Christian artist’ was Christian enough, that included how many times a band said ‘Jesus’ in their lyrics.” On both sides genuine Christianity is subsumed beneath another agenda; one removes Christ to appeal to the masses, the other mandates token us of Christ to maintain credence with the niche market. Neither encourages honest expression of the artist’s faith.
So we find ourselves caught between songs where it’s impossible to tell if the subject is God or a girlfriend, and songs filled with juvenile lyrics dropping the name of Jesus in order to make quota. And in both, emoting wins out over anything of importance. The average lyrics run along the lines of “I’m so happy/because you love me/my life is better/since I read your letter” (note the use of “letter” as code for the Bible, so clever). This has moved well beyond the rock star wannabes in the CMI into the very culture of the American church, with modern worship music trending toward the same level of puerility.
Treating Christianity as an industry, a business with a profit margin, has corrupted the church, and the crowning achievements of the CMI are at the core of the refuse pile. It’s time to end the token preaching to the choir, the coded religious messages, and the charging of money for events that supposedly exist to preach the gospel.
Get out. Those who want to create worship and devotional music, go back to where you belong, which isn’t arenas, festivals, and clubs, but churches. The rest of you, go out into the world; claiming Christianity and presenting Christian messages in your songs won’t prevent you from succeeding…if you have the necessary musical ability (U2, anyone?).
Quit pretending that Christianity is a brand name, because there will be Hell to pay for it, in the most literal sense. If Christianity is true, then there are lost souls dying and going to Hell all around us, while the church sits and sells Jesus to itself.