There is a problem with Christian Rock. It’s the problem that makes your modern post-Christian – that is to say, your average American – laugh when it comes on the radio, and then switch the dial. It’s the problem that makes so many Christians, particularly those of the liturgical denominations, laugh as loud, if not harder. It’s the problem that makes music-lovers annoyed at the sound of it, saintly friends vaguely offended by it, the problem that causes musicians to grimace when it is turned up, and – most importantly – the problem that devalues Christianity in the eyes of the world. It’s also, by way of example, the problem with Jeremy Camp.
To begin my 99 Theses, most Christian rock is imitation. ‘Jesus Saves’ – and just about every song you hear on Christian radio – follows to the last, sickly sweet, catchy detail the Pop-music template. It’s essentially a bad Pop song with lyrics about Jesus, complete with the Verse/Pre-Chorus/Chorus/Verse/Pre-Chorus/Second Chorus/Bridge/Quiet Chorus, sshhhh/OK WE’RE BACK AT THE LAST CHORUS OMG standard, the 4-chord refrain, the kick drum hammering out every beat during the chorus (just like Lady Gaga!); everything. This imitation is nothing new, in fact it could be well argued that Christian Rock was founded on a culture of imitation. One of first recognized Christian Rock albums is entitled ”Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”, which rather neatly sums up the first part of the problem; Why Are Christians Still Imitating the World? Think on this: If worship is our response to God’s grace, why are we satisfied with so banal a response? Now, this is not to say that you might not have liked the song above. Sure, why not? But this I guarantee: You like it as a Pop song. You probably like it in the same way you liked The Fray’s Cable Car, great, fun to come back to, but after a couple listening’s on the radio, well we’re done, give me something new. Why is it that when we turn our eyes to God we end up writing the same structure and sound as when Katy Perry lifts her eyes to…well, whatever she’s lifting her eyes to? Scratch that, Perry is more original.
The problem is exacerbated by Christian radio, who takes it upon itself to choose the weakest, broadest, most watered-down, mass-appealing songs, just like – wait for it – Pop Music Stations. Pop Music Stations? If we’re going to imitate the culture, why must imitate the worst parts of it? Pop Music Stations are owned, by and large, by the massive, monopolist media company ‘Clear Channel’, practically solely responsible for the 15 song rotating playlist, “profit” artists like Ke$ha, the general tasty awfulness of modern music, and should be damned and hanged. If there is still The Man left in the world, Clear Channel is him, and Christian radio has sold out to the Man. How else do you explain the otherwise excellent Matt Maher’s new song, if not as an attempt to sell? How else do you explain that no one has heard of Future of Forestry? (click on that link, you’ll thank me forever.)
Secondly, Christian Rock artists seem to think that singing about Jesus compensates for bad songwriting.
What we rarely get:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory
What we get all the time:
Ooh, ooh, you know it’s gonna be alright
Ooh, ooh, you know it’s gonna be alright
There’s a love much stronger than everything that holds you down right now
Sayin’, ooh, ooh, you know it’s gonna be alright
I’m not joking, that’s MercyMe. Not that they’ve never written a better song, but still. If you’re a songwriter, you have a duty to write brilliantly. If it is your craft, do not settle for mediocrity. If you are writing about God, don’t settle for less than the very deepest poetry of your soul.
Imagine, for an instant, that you’re writing a song for a girl you love, a girl you want to marry (or a guy, as the case may be). Would it be fine and dandy to write all your songs with an “I love you so much, your love feels so good, I’m really grateful that you love me, it’s so amazing that you love me” approach? Would you rhyme “the way she walks” with “the way she talks” all the time? Alright, that wouldn’t be completely miserable, but it’s the most macroscopic view you could take of the subject. You’re not singing about your girl, about what she – as a person, as your lover – speaks to your heart, about your insecurities, your doubts, your fears, your hopes, no. You’re singing about General Girl and General Love. Eventually, you’re gonna have to mention that you love her blue eyes, her pretty, short blonde hair, and her incredible sense of humor, or else she’ll leave you for a man who does. But somehow, when we’re singing about the Lover of Lovers, the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords, we think we can get away with singing “Jesus Saves”, “Our God Reigns” and rhyming “grace” with “face” all the time. Now God won’t leave you, but any human who appreciates the poetry of music will. And that’s a lot of people.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the problem with Christian Rock is its lack of authenticity. I truly believe that if we are responding to God’s grace by way of art, that art will be fantastic. Christian rock – or Christian rock that gets played – is not fantastic. It’s interesting to note where the authentic music is. It’s with Mumford and Sons.
It’s with bands who aren’t even defined as being Christian. And why should they be? This cuts to the root of it all, what does it mean to be Christian? To bear Christ. So what should Christian music sound like? Anything. Anything incredible. Anything beautiful, that glorifies God, whether it sings ‘Jesus Saves’ during the chorus or not, whether it’s a cello concerto or an a capella choir or Switchfoot screaming their guts out on stage and getting accused of being on drugs for acting so wild. Beauty glorifies God, and while the world will immediately shut down upon hearing “Jesus died for your sins” sung to some hokey 4 chords, the world will never stop responding to beauty. Wouldn’t it be incredible if Catholics could lead a Renaissance into beauty? Wouldn’t it be a beautiful thing if it was the Church that saved Christian Rock, gave it depth and poetry, authenticity and beauty? Oh wait…we are.
This is the kind of topic that needs a blog, not a blog post, but I don’t mind coming back to it. I wrote about it from a more positive angle here. Part Two of this discussion can be found right here.
Category: New Media