Two views on CCM: art conflicts with ministry

For those who love it, those who think it sucks, and everything in between.

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musicmonkey
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Two views on CCM: art conflicts with ministry

Unread postby musicmonkey » Mon Feb 07, 2005 3:33 am

Part 1 by Johnathan Borsodi

Last week in this space there appeared an article concerning the growing popularity of "Christian" music. This makes me wonder, though - what exactly is this "Christian" music, and, as a Christian, what reasons are there for me to listen to it, and to avoid "secular" music.

Several years ago in True Tunes magazine, I read in an editorial by John J. Thompson the statement that "[True Tunes] is a music magazine for Christians, rather than a Christian music magazine." This statement repeatedly came to mind as I was reading Ms. Vos's article last week.

I think that Mr. Thompson's distinction can be applied directly to music itself: there is music for Christians and there is Christian music. Now my question is this: how do I tell which is which? The answer is simple in nature but complex in operation - at least with intelligence and discernment.

But first, I want to know how music can be "Christian." For an answer, I am quoting Mr. Thompson from an interview I conducted with him: "Can music actually be 'Christian'? Is it possible for an inanimate object to be saved? We say that music is Christian usually because the people making it are Christians. Well then, if I hire a Christian to fix my toilet, do I now have sanctified plumbing?" And he is exactly right - in and of itself, music cannot be "Christian." But it can reflect a "Christian" worldview or perspective. Is this, then, "Christian" music? Perhaps.

To be frank, I personally do not recognize the existence of "Christian" music, but instead view music as being either "good" or "bad." But now I am using some extremely ambiguous terms, so let me add a bit more: music is either quality or it is cr*p. This "quality" is highly subjective - what you look for in music is more than likely much different than what I am looking for. There are obviously many factors that one's list of what is "quality" is influenced by.

Presumably the fact that one is a Christian will be one of those factors used in determining what "quality" is and is not. Again, this is a highly subjective matter, and one that I have neither the time nor desire to go into (if you really are wondering what "quality" is, read Robert Pirsig's Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).

But I am straying from the topic now. In an attempt to avoid getting caught up in a quagmire of semantics, let us say that "Christian music" is that which presents a Christian perspective. This includes "traditional" groups such as DC Talk and DeGarmo & Key working from a "ministry band" or so-called evangelistic approach to bands such as The Choir and Vigilantes of Love, producing such high-quality (there's that word again!) questioning and confessionals.

As far as music for Christians goes, almost anything can fit into this category. I define music for this Christian as anything that has Beauty. You will need to decide what it is that you value, and go from there.

So now that I nominally know what Christian music is, why should I listen to it? The most frequently given reason is Philippians 4:8. I just wonder how "true, right, pure, lovely, and admirable" something as inartistic as most CCM is today.

The lyrical content to most CCM around today is absolute nonsense, and the music is even worse. As Mr. Thompson says, "Take away the 'Christian' out of 98% of most 'Christian music' and you're left with absolutely nothing." It appears that most Christian musicians today have forgotten or are perhaps even ignoring their role as artists, for most of today's CCM is, at best, Art of a very low quality.

The motives behind CCM is perhaps good, but good intentions are not quite enough. Where is the sense in trying to evangelize those who are already redeemed? The "artists" are using music as a means to preach the word, and while I am not against the preaching of the Word, I feel that it should at least be done in a medium that will not instantly turn off most people.

But not all "Christian" music is trying to evangelize. It is bands such as Vigilantes of Love, The Choir, Mark Heard, the Prayer Chain, and Starflyer 59 that make up this remaining 2%, as they call things as they see them, with honesty and intelligence. They are not trying to evangelize, but rather, raise some serious questions about life, love, and purity. This is what I personally appreciate about "Christian music." But is this a reason to listen to "Christian" music? If you are looking for music written with honesty and passion, then yes.

But, as a Christian, what should be my response to secular music? I believe that it is not that different from my response to "Christian" music, namely, that I listen with intelligence and discernment. Discerning for what? For good Art, of course. It would be a waste of our time to go into what 'good Art' is; so I will not, as it is completely subjective.

Well there. I think that I have answered all of the questions I set forth to answer at the beginning of this piece. If I actually had a point to this, it is that "Christian" really is not, and that anything one chooses to listen [to] must be chosen with much discernment and held to a standard of Good Art.

Part 2 by Sarah Potter

"Why should the devil have all the good music?" asked pioneering Christian musician Larry Norman more than 25 years ago. The answer is still the same: there is no reason at all. Or at least not a reason good enough.

Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) or ministry music (as we at Chimes prefer to call it) seems to have a two-fold mission.

First, it is music that Christians can listen to, with lyrics that reflect biblical principles; they offer an alternative to secular music. To rephrase Ms. Vos, some Christians would rather listen to ministry music than sort through all of the "obscenities, sexual allusions or references to violence" in secular music. Ministry music exists to minister, comfort and reassure Christians.

Secondly, the purpose of CCM is to witness to non-Christians. It provides non-Christians with evangelical lyrics that may "turn their life around."

But it is my view that while these are noble and worthy causes, the CCM industry as a whole falls short of meeting these objectives and perhaps a greater one -- writing good music.

While many Christians are happy listening to ministry music, I count myself among the group that is not. While I am familiar with a lot of CCM, it is usually not my choice to listen to it.

After some recent discussions on this subject, I began to ask myself why I buy my music at Best Buy instead of Family Bookstore.

Aided with the recent Dialogue interview, "Vigilante on a Slow Dark Train" I have come to believe that ministry music is a lot more ministry than it is music. As Bill Mallonee of Vigilantes of Love points out: Christian music is the only music style separated by philosophy and not what it sounds like.

Somehow in trying to remain pure and biblical, the art of writing and performing music is lost.

I am not saying that I disagree with the lyrics of Christian groups - maybe it's just that I agree too much. There is no room for question or thought. The happy-go-lucky words do not help my three-dimensional problems.

As far as CCM being a valid evangelical avenue, I cannot even imagine a non-Christian stepping foot into anywhere that sells Christian music. I suppose a Christian could play some ministry music for his or her friends, but this does not seem like it should be a thrust of the industry.

I believe that CCM should bear a new cross: manufacturing good music. Not music that sounds just like good secular music, but actual original pieces of art.

Music is a form of art, and like anything Christians do, Christ will be seen in art regardless of what the song is actually about. You do not have to sing about Jesus to reflect Biblical ideas.

While ministry music is obviously meaningful to many Christians, there are other Christians out there that are looking for something more.

Something thought provoking, something Christian and something good.

musicmonkey
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Two-fold music mission prompts questioning

Unread postby musicmonkey » Mon Feb 07, 2005 3:39 am

I want to take the time to comment on the two articles on the opinion page last week. First, Ms. Potter. I agree with your two-fold Christian music mission. The first being to "comfort and reassure Christians" and the second to "witness to non-Christians," but I think that God is the only one who can judge whether or not Christian music is fulfilling its mission. How do you know who has been reassured or witnessed to? I have certainly been reassured. At the beginning of the semester I was spiritually low, then I heard the song "Clumsy" by Chris Rice. The song talks about God's love for us no matter how "stupid" or "clumsy" we are. While the song did not take my troubles away it reminded my that God still loved me despite my troubles.

Mr. Borsodi, I think God is hurt by your quote: "The lyrical content to most CCM around today is absolute nonsense, and the music is even worse." These "artists" are not trying to impress you. They are doing the job God has given them. Do you think the lyrics "Praise the Lord!" are nonsense? If you read the book of Psalms it says over and over to "Sing to the Lord!" CCM writers are doing what God commands and what God has called them to do. They are proclaiming the Good News of God. It doesn't matter if it fits your description of art. They are singing a new song to God the way they know how.

- Mike Hoekstra, student, Calvin College


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