“I Just Want To Sing About Jesus”

By

I just returned home from a joyous, frustrating, exciting, confused, fun, boring week in Nashville. It’s properly called GMA Week and it stands for Gospel Music Association’s week-long event of seminars, interviews, luncheons, dinners, concerts, schmoozing and culminates in the Dove Awards (the Christian Grammy).

It’s an adjective-filled week (see above) for myself because I’m mostly there to interview approximately 25 bands and artists of various types – Tooth & Nail screamo acts to worship leaders. And the process is either thoroughly enjoyable or a Job-like exercise in patience and slow mental torture.

Exhibit A – Giant band. Enormous band. Not in girth, mind you, but in record sales. One of the top Christian acts around today, if not the top-selling (I’m not well versed enough in Billboard lists to say for sure one way or another) was easily the worst interview I’ve ever conducted. Any attempts to discuss songwriting, artistry or any level of thoughtfulness about their craft was completely dissolved at the outset. Or should I say that those questions flew over their head.

“We just want to sing about Jesus.”

Sounds simple enough. In fact, it’s the perfect answer … if we were sitting around in Sunday School. But in this kind of interview, it’s a boring answer. And it’s not a good one. Unfortunately, things get worse.

“You know, the music doesn’t even matter. Fast or slow. Good lyrics or not. I’m not concerned at all with those things – whether someone thinks it’s good music or not. The music doesn’t matter. It’s just the platter the meat is served on. So talking about the music or lyrics as artwork is inconsequential.”

At this point, I don’t even know what to do. All of my questions are about that very topic. Music critics have been unkind to their music, which in the Christian world is not very common. So I wanted to tackle these questions – wondering if they were aware of such criticisms and making steps to ‘get better.’ Apparently, I was ill prepared.

When I first left the interview, I was completely shocked at how poorly it went and how little we had to discuss. I fell back on standard interview questions of tour dates, naming processes and band history. It sucked. And I left feeling dirty – that in some way I was shallow and missing completely what this life was about.

Why am I asking those questions? I shouldn’t be concerned with artistry. In fact, why am I writing about music and books and movies at all? Why am I concerned about criticism, in fact? That only separates and divides the body of Christ. I’m called to encourage and exhort my brothers, not tear them down. (Note, this is what this artist told me) And for a moment, he had me. I completely believed him. After all, he said the magic word “Jesus”, which is always the right answer.

My very next interview set me back in a ‘right’ place. It was with a solo artist who completely believes that excellence in art, in creation, is essential to being a Christian. To strive toward beauty and truth in the arts is a high calling to this person and it was beautiful to discuss these issues with them.

What is it about this divide – to some it’s a mission field with no real thought toward anything but saying ‘Jesus’ as many times as possible; to others it’s the pursuit of the entire package.

I recognize that we are all brothers and sisters. At the end of all things, we will be united together under a common banner and Jesus was quick to call us to love one another and that we will be surprised by who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ … that, in other words, I don’t need to crucify an artist or band over their artistic convictions (or lack of) as if they are not Christians.

Yet there is this part of me that’s just absolutely sick over this kind of thing. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want to talk to them. It rendered me speechless, ruined an interview and I lose all respect for anything they are doing.

So I guess I turn it over here. What’s the proper response?

Matt Conner is the teaching pastor at Trinity Church in the heart of Indianapolis and the founder of Analogue Media.


46 Comments

  1. Curan

    Did those artists know that they are serving a God who created the universe?

    that is if they claimed they served and want to proclaim God to the world, they should be aware of that fact cause i don’t think God is glorified if his children would water down His being creative by representing Him in an uncreative manner.

    And to sing about Jesus means to tell the world who He is and therefore if they tell it in a sucking way, then the world will get the wrong impression of Jesus. That’s why many unbelievers think christians are not creative.

  2. josh

    I think people like that really believe they’re doing the right thing by making art and creativity secondary to saying Jesus as many times as possible. It all comes down to how they were brought up in their churches. Most major churches are about as deep as a mud puddle and what comes across in what can loosely be described as their “teaching” is this “as long as you do it for Jesus it doesn’t have to be that great”… I’ve dealt with this same thing a million times myself and it’s always frustrating.

    The worst thing I ever had somebody tell me was when I was talking to some people after a BSU service a few years ago. Some of us were talking about how the speaker that night didn’t really say anything worth while. He just rambled on about how much he loved his wife and how great it was to pursue her when they were in college and how wonderful it was to finally make her his bride and then have children together and get the white picket fence and the dog in the yard. And then he said that’s kinda what it’s like with us and Jesus, let’s pray…. One of the girls who had been listening in suddenly erupted at us and started ranting about how we shouldn’t be so negative and we shouldn’t tear down someone who’s preaching for Jesus. She actually backed up her defense by saying this: “I would rather hear about his love story with his wife than that deep theological stuff. I always stop listening when somebody goes there.”… I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I remember standing there thinking how so much was wrong with what she had just said, but I couldn’t bring myself to even address it. So I just nodded and told her maybe she had a point and left it alone.

    As I would come to find out, it turns out there were many, many, many, many, people in the student ministries at that school who felt the same way. I was worship leader for one of them and I got so much flack from them because I wouldn’t play Hill Songs, Chris Tomlin, or pretty much any popular worship songs. They kept telling me I was just up there “performing” and distracting from the worship service because they couldn’t follow along on most of my song choices. Those choices were songs like Come Thou Fount, Nothing but the Blood, I Boast No More, Just as I Am (A.P.’s song), etc… It was the single most frustrating time of my life… And in all honesty I am very opinionated and more confrontational than I should be so I didn’t exactly help matters when I spoke my mind unfiltered and uncensored a couple of times. But I admit my mistake there, I miss handled those situations. But man, they just sparked my temper a few times with some of the strange complaints and (what felt like) thinly vailed insults… At least I learned what not to do…

    But really, it’s frustrating when people take such a shallow, superficial, easy approach to this Christianity thing. It shouldn’t be acceptable to just “pour a little Jesus in it” to make mediocre art the norm. It kills me that the biggest Christian bands and artists are just really not good and all the best talent (the kind that can stand up next to anything in the secular music realm) is getting overlooked and going largely unnoticed. What a shame…

  3. Greg

    Okay fine,

    I’ll say it because EVERYONE else is thinking it.

    Who is it? Who is it? Who could it be? Is it Newsboys? Is it Mercy Me? It’s gotta be the Newsboys. Who is it. Tell us! Tell us! Come on, please? Tell us! Is it Casting Crowns? Give us a hint. Do they rhyme with Chronic Mud? Jews Toys?

  4. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Matt – you know I’m with you man. This is why I’ve given up on most Christian music. I get more edification from a Sufjan Stevens record or Over The Rhine than I do 95 % of “Christian” entertainment. I’m so grateful for the handful of artists who are making Christ centered music that is excellent (AP, Sara Groves, Derek Webb, Mutemath, etc.). I’m on the inside of a lot of conversations with these kinds of artists, and most of them are struggling without radio support and are trying to be faithful in a religious subculture that is a hostile environment for excellence. It reminds me of a Mark Heard lyric: “she will tell the truth and she will ache and she will bleed / for the idiots who own the air the prophets have to breathe…”

    This is the way it’s always been, though, and I don’t see any change coming soon. The greatest work, perhaps, for those of us who care deeply about things, who care about the “whole package”, is to continue to care and invest our hearts and not give in to cynicism. Written on the wall of Michael Card’s studio are the words: “Let the excellence of your work be your protest.” That’s as good advice as any.

  5. Kenneth Coble

    I definitely believe that art is extremely important and I believe that as image-bearers we will image God’s creativity.

    That said, I don’t think what the first artist you interviewed was so wrong. One of the beauties of life is that there is room for so much diversity. There can be bands that honor God through artistry and creativity and there can be bands that honor God by putting the name of God in their lyrics above anything else. And there can be diversity in the audience–we can choose which we prefer to listen to.

    I think that’s beautiful.

    I don’t think we need to be disappointed by others just because they don’t share our means for honoring God. We can rejoice that what we both have in common is that we want to honor God.

    Now, I’m not saying I know the hearts of you or either artist. I just think it’s important we leave room for giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

    So, to answer your question, I think a good response is to, instead of accusing (out loud or in our hearts) how they do what they do, ask questions about WHY they do what they do.

    I’m not sure if that was clear. And I hope I don’t sound like some know-it-all. I’ve struggled with these kinds of things a lot myself. I’m just trying to share some ideas I’ve been learning about seeking understanding and loving my (more-different-than-I’d-prefer-but-all-I-have) diverse family of believers and humans.

  6. Kenneth Coble

    And also.

    There have been times when I have been so grateful for those bands that sing about Jesus with conviction (if not with much artistry).

    They have brought me to a place of worship, because sometimes I just “want (and need) to sing about Jesus.”

    I think it’s true that there are many people who are encouraged and brought to a place of worship by those bands.

    And even if we’re not, maybe we should just be grateful that others are. And they wouldn’t necessarily be by Over the Rhine or Sufjan Stevens or Derek Webb.

    There is room for both and our community needs both.

    PS. I would like to say that OtR, Sufjan, and DW are three of my favorite artists and that I find great joy in converting CCM fans over to these artistes when I can.

  7. Alex G

    It makes me think of sports for little kids. You see, we could give everyone a ribbon for singing for Jesus. But if we don’t differentiate between those who just sings what “Christian music needs to be” and those who consider their offering to God a beautiful piece of art we end up getting only a superficial spiritual experiance from them. Not that I am ragging on contemporary worship music, but there is a time for the spiritual jump-start that those songs provide and a time to experiance the fullness of God in a rich deep song that makes you think about who you are and who God is. If we let ourselves be content with a participation ribbon in our worship we will never strive to put in the practice and effort to win that blue ribbon for having the deepest relationship with God we can have. Our spiritual life is one thing we should never settle for less than the best we can offer. (Note: hopefully my metaphors hang together okay)

  8. Curan

    SONICFLOOd will be having a concert here in Cebu City on June 14. Dunno if im gonna watch it.I still crave the old SONICFLOOd….

    Hope real artists would come here in our city rather than these industry driven bands.

  9. Mike

    I’ve got two pastor friends who have told me that they have to keep their preaching shallow on Sunday mornings because there are so many immature believers. Radio is the same way. They must cater to the masses and the masses are very immature when it comes to deep spiritual things. I told AP after a concert one time (after we barged into his privacy) that his music had “messed me up” and it really has in a real good way. Its different and if we are going to make a difference we have to be different. I am reminded that the Pharisees where the religious majority in their day and they were dead wrong.

  10. Chris Slaten

    It’s just like Beatlejuice. We treat the name of Jesus like an incantation that, said enough times, makes God appear. ‘Jesus’ is the magic word that gives some power and authority to our message. I heard a speaker once say that within Christian culture it is possible to take the word ‘Jesus’, fill it up with whatever we want and present it as truth. Many people will accept most of what is in the package so long as the right stamp is on it.
    “‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out many demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers!’”

    While I realize that when they say they want to sing about Jesus they mean a little more than just saying his name, It seems that the magic name mentality plays some role in it.

  11. Corey McGalliard

    The problem does not stop with musicians and pastors… I do not go a day with out thinking is that what the Cross has been reduced to “God is Love?” instead of “God is Holy” first and foremost? I am so sick of people mocking my God… calling him powerless…. saying that he will just give up on sin and continue.. that is not the God i know!… The positive that i’ve see is that slowly people are waking up…

  12. Lee Younger

    The music that encourages me most is almost always by indy artists no one has heard of, but i think it’s really easy for people who appreciate really well-crafted and less available art to turn their noses up at people who have every toby mac record because they really like it and it’s meant a lot to them and impacted their relationship with Jesus.

    I am very troubled by so much of the Christian media machine, but I think that we should lift up our brothers and sisters in the biz (who have very often times simply found themselves in these positions) instead of bashing them as people who don’t really serve Christ because they don’t play the style of music that we find palatable or clever. I don’t enjoy Casting Crowns’ music, but I know a lot of sweet middle school kids in my church who love our Lord Jesus and are encouraged by their music to live for Him.

    That being said, I love exposing them to the music of Ryan Long and Eric Peters, but i don’t want to take the former from their hands simply because I don’t like it.

    I’ve written a ton of songs that weren’t triumphs of human endeavor, but were just trying to be sweet songs to sing to the Lord… either for myself, my kids or my congregation, but it’s a difficult thing to think that my offering was useless or unacceptable because i didn’t absolutely pour my whole heart into meticulously crafting those songs into pinnacles of artistic expression. I don’t even have those gears some days, but I still want to praise… is that okay?

    I kinda think so.

    Telling Christians that what they’re sincerely trying to do in the name of Jesus is worthless isn’t my job…

  13. Stacy Grubb

    Maybe I’m off-base and misunderstanding what they meant when they said “lyrics don’t matter,” but as far as I’m concerned, if your lyrics don’t matter, then what does? What’s your message? If you’re a singer, your lyrics are exactly what matters because that’s what people are listening to. Your lyrics are what you’re throwing out there to get your point across. So, if they don’t matter, then your point doesn’t matter. And if your point is to “sing about Jesus,”…well, that needs to matter.

    I’ve had family members ask me why I don’t try to break into the Christian music business and, frankly, it’s because not every song that I like to sing is specifically Christian and I think you take on a huge responsibility when you bill yourself as a Christian artist. I’m not saying that I’m not trying to glorify God with my music, but some of my lyrics may be about love gone wrong or, on the incredibly rare occasion, love gone right (I just don’t sing about happy things, generally). I’ve always felt that my responsibility in glorifying God with my music rested in giving it my all, so to speak. For me, that means really using the creativity that God gave me. It just comes across as lazy effort to me if you don’t account for the importance of a creative process and rest on the excuse that you just want to “sing about Jesus.” Alright, but why not sing it in a way that makes people want to hear it? You want people to be drawn in and really be moved and inspired by the lyrics.

    I had a friend many years ago and her one and only exposure to God’s Word was through some of my music that I was listening to at the time (contemporary Christian stuff). In that regard, when you consider people like her, the lyrics and the creative appeal are very important. She didn’t want to go to church with us. She didn’t like it when we sat around singing hymns. She tuned that stuff out. But she loved DC Talk. We would sit around listening to them and their lyrics sparked many religious discussions between us. But for the fact that she liked the way they sounded, she never would’ve listened to them. And but for the fact that she listened to them, the gears in her brain would’ve never started turning toward God. We fell out of contact many years ago and I truly don’t know if she ever became a believer or not, but I do know that music played a huge role in getting her to understand more about what it means to be a Christian and who God is.

    I’m not saying anything about what music *should* sound like in order to be good. My point is that I truly believe that one should walk away from anything they do feeling as though they sincerely gave 100% and did the best job that they could’ve possibly done. In a creativity-driven arena like music, I believe that means employing…you guessed it…creativity. I view creativity as a gift and, if you’ve been blessed with it, then you have an obligation to use it to glorify God.

  14. Chris Slaten

    Stacey, it would be great if you put some link to your name so that we can listen to your music (if you have anything recorded and available to listen to online). Just a suggestion, if you are comfortable with it. I’ve enjoyed clicking on peoples names who have commented and listening to the music they refer too. A lot of talented people participate in this website.

  15. Jud

    If “Jesus” is the only thing that matters, and an artist isn’t willing (or able) to truly create something new and beautiful in which to share Him, then why bother creating something new in the first place? There’s more than enough good music in existence today to satisfy the singular purpose of “singing about Jesus”.

    The same sort of thing goes on in the Christian publishing industry. Most of what is written these days was already published 100 years ago by better authors. I figure if you can’t cook up something fresh to bring the table, please do us all a favor and bring carryout.

    I suppose that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s frustrating when I see people clogging their time reading and listening to “the latest thing” and don’t have time for the time-tested classics of ages past. We’re so used to seeing “New and Improved!” on the shelves of Wal*Mart that we forget the two words are not synonymous.

  16. Xavier Duncan

    I love seeing so many reference Sufjan Stevens. I only recently have been exposed to his work, but Casimir Pulaski Day is one of the most moving and emotionally heavy songs I’ve ever heard. How about Langhorne Slim’s ‘Rebel Side of Heaven, or Steven Delopoulos with ‘She Held My Hand.’

    Music can bring a powerful message, and also reflect serious doubts and difficulties. There is simply no greater avenue for emotional expression than through the arts. Belle and Sebastian’s song ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ is one of the most scathing commentaries on the institutional catholic church that I’ve heard, but the emotion and pain is real.

    It hurts to see so many think that Bono is the only christian who can perform in the secular world. We need excellence in all areas. I so appreciate the work of all I have found here. Thanks AP and others for all you do.

  17. Aaron Roughton

    This is dangerous territory. I think the two main dangers are in passing judgment on art at one extreme and in resting in mediocrity for the sake of Jesus on the other. Most people create to the extent they are able, and who are we to say that their creation has less value? Others are blinded by the lie that if we’re too good at anything it means Jesus obviously isn’t our primary focus.

    In the situation that Matt has written about with Petra or Stryper, or whomever the real band was, it sounds like the issue is a lot deeper than a limit on creative abilities. Their attitude during the interview sounds a lot like a response they’ve developed to criticism or analysis, and it serves a definitive purpose for them…to shut that stuff down. Who is going to argue with Jesus?

    It sounds like they’re blind and missing the big picture, and that’s easy for me to diagnose as an outsider with a dayjob that feeds my family. I GET to make music at my own pace, with my own flavor, without any concern for the “Jesus quotient” or whether or not it’s radio friendly…Heck, I don’t even have to worry about whether it’s listener friendly (as some of you very talented folks might notice). I like to think my perspective would still be pure and true if my art were my paycheck…because I just can’t picture Michelangelo laying on his back painting the word Jesus in puffy graffiti letters on that ceiling and then being satisfied. But to be honest, I’d probably mass produce whatever crap would sell and hide behind some excuses if it was criticized.

  18. josh

    I think what happens sometimes is people create the best work they’re capable of for the Christian market knowing that Christian music is not looked at favorably by the secular market. But they decide to go ahead and write songs about how much they love Jesus and how much Jesus loves them, which is good. But eventually you have to deal with the fact that there’s more to write about.

    So when these mega bands eventually hit the point in their careers where they realize they’re either going to have to keep recycling the same ideas over and over again or find more things to write about, they usually find they can’t quite come up with anything new ideas. So what happens is they start recycling and inevitably come under criticism for it. When the criticism comes they know they don’t have a good answer for why they’re not being original or maturing in their writing so they get defensive. They start throwing out things like “well we just want to sing about Jesus” knowing that nobody’s going to call their bluff.

    Sure it’s great to be devoted enough to Jesus to just want to shout His praise, and that’s something every Christian is called to do. But not every Christian is called to be a high profile musician. If you’re going to be so visible in the spotlight then you dang sure better have something good to say and you better be able to back it up. You’re going to be challenged by people and you better have a better answer than “we just want to sing about Jesus” because that answer only works in one place and at one time: Sunday morning at church…

  19. tom

    I’m really loving all that everyone has to say about this topic. As a worship leader, I battle this thought process all the time. I don’t want to go over the heads of most of the audience with songs that deal with things they aren’t quite ready to grasp, but I can’t stomach singing “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” all the time either. The songs that I am constantly in search of are the ones that communicate a deeper message, but aren’t too obscure for a non-intellectual to comprehend the first time through. And a song has to move me personally before I can, in good conscience, sing it and expect others to be moved as well. These songs are hard to find. And I usually can’t find them on christian radio, or even at the christian bookstores. I have to search and dig for these treasures. Some examples of what I’ve found are Derek Webb/Aaron Tate’s “Take To the World”, Jill Phillips’ “The Door”, Joel Hanson’s “Captured” and Andy Gullahorn’s “You Never Let Me Down”. I’ve seen audiences connect in worship through some of these songs and talk to me about how they were used to draw them in to a deeper worship experience much, much more than any of the big worship “hits” out there.
    But this is the middle ground. I think that both ends of the spectrum and everything in between has its place. I’m not that moved by “How Great Is Our God” most of the time, but many people are. And those people are probably not that moved by A.P.’s “Mountains On the Ocean Floor”, but that song gets me every time.
    When I was a younger man, younger believer, I just wanted to be told everything. You know, spoon-fed sunday school stuff. But as I’ve matured, that doesn’t satisfy anymore and I search and dig into this wonderful mystery of the gospel and am blown away by my findings. But I wouldn’t have been all that interested in any of this stuff 10 years ago.
    Maybe that’s why the music works the same way. The easy cheesy stuff is easy to find, but when that no longer satisfies then there’s more under the surface that you have to dig for. There’s room for everyone. Even if your musical taste is bad…..

  20. Nathan Bubna

    If you guys will forgive aan extreme, but more-true-than-you’d-think statement, “the medium is the message.” Seriously. The medium really is the message. How you say what you say matters in every conversation you have. More often than people like to admit, the how is most of the message. It changes everything.

    Tone, language, grammar, word choice, delivery vehicle make up the bulk of meaning in any communication. Think how different this would be if i gave you all this message by personal phone call, using the biggest words i know as one long sentence in angry arabic instead of what you’re reading now. (sorry, dumb example, but i’ve got only a short break…)

    So if some band produces and sells (don’t forget that point!) CDs and digital files of popularly accessible, derivative music with simplistic, cliche, english, christian lyrics delivered with sincerely worshipful emotion, what does that say about Jesus? I guess to me it’s a mixed bag. They could surely do better.

  21. Nate

    I just wanted to throw in, Matt, that this first band guy who told you that you are to exhort really kinda misued the scripture. What he said is true, but the same verse (2 Tim 4:2 I think) says that we are also to reprove and rebuke. Reprove, rebuke, exhort and preach the gospel – in season and out!

    I agree about most of these big bands these days. Except David Crowder. He has some really good stuff. Like the song “Wholly Yours” I’m sure its got to be really hard to focus on Christ and not on success, sales, popularity, etc. So my heart goes out to these guys. But at the same time, its easy to get fed up sometimes.

  22. Stacy Grubb

    Chris,

    Thanks so much for your interest :). I have a few sites here and there that have some things, but most of my original stuff has never been recorded. That will hopefully change this summer as I have plans to record a solo CD (everything else I’ve done has been with my band, South 52). Anyhoo, I did add my you tube profile so that it’s accessible by clicking my name if you’d like to check out anything I’ve got on there. I hope to create a website and My Space music page in the coming months. Thanks again and I’ll quit hijacking this post, now.

    Stacy

  23. Curan

    Aaron,

    you got great tunes. i dunno why u say some is not listener friendly. Here in Cebu CIty people will listen to anything middle-of-the-road style music. They don’t care what lyrics would come out as long as its mellow,light rock, and power pop, then you have a chance on radio…

    By the way most mainstream artists here are christians and write in the realm of AP, chris rice, and sandra mccracken. They are Kitchie Nadal, Arcele Van Ommen, Hilera, Moonstar 88, Tiny Cactus, Pigs With Pearls, Barbie Almadis, and Still….

  24. becky

    Ecc. 9:10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

    Col. 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you serve.”

    These verses are commands. Which means that for the believer excellence is not optional but mandatory. Whatever my profession I am to be the best at it that I can be. No more and no less. It sounds like the band you spoke to is capable of doing better, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with challenging that attitude. I think that when Jesus was a carpenter, he made tables that were beautiful, functional, and the best he was capable of producing. When God created he made the universe, “and it was very good.” When God designed a building for his people to worship him, it was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The temple was a feast for all of the senses, as well as being functional. Shouldn’t we follow his example in this, as in every other area of life?

    I’m not saying that there is no place for simple, joyful music. The Psalms contain everything from #119, a long, complex poem that explores different aspects of the Law, to #150 which repeats a similar phrase 13 times in its six verses. With that in mind, I don’t think we can say that the only songs with value are the ones that have deep theological lyrics. Simple expressions of praise are also glorifying to God. But “working for men” is not glorifying God. Giving God less than our best is not glorifying him. He is the Lord of the Universe, and he deserves the very best we can give, whether we are musicians, artists, writers, or plumbers.

  25. josh

    That bit about the psalms illustrates the point beautifully… The psalms encompass everything from simple to complex and so should our artistic efforts… Any artist that deals exclusively in the simple is definitely not making much of an effort towards excellence.

    I hate how people will often defend mediocre art with the classic “not everybody is ready for the deep theological stuff”. That’s true, but why do we go to such pains to to make concessions for the ones who aren’t very far along yet? Why can’t we encourage them to come along and grow and mature? Why do we have to excuse shallow, mediocre art for the sake of the ones that aren’t willing to grow? It seems to me that it would make more sense to encourage them towards the deeper truths where God can really be experienced in a much more real way.

    If a band is consistently putting out shallow art and not even bothering to make an attempt at something deeper or more mature, then they are simply not doing much good. It’s OK to challenge anyone who is in such a place in their career. And by challenge I don’t mean write a scathing review or publicly rebuke them. It’s like the whole iron sharpening iron thing. It’s perfectly OK for other Christians to encourage a “Christian” band to leave the milk behind and start into the solid food that has substance.

    It’s not OK for a band to keep on producing shallow “Jesus is my girlfriend” music if they’re capable of something better. IF they’re not capable of something better I would question why they’re in the music business in the first place.

  26. Dan K

    I’m stuck between two views on this:
    A)
    The Christian music market has closed the gap and is almost exactly like the secular except for how often they can say Jesus. For years it was the goal to have band X which sounds just like secular band Y, except there Christian. Done. Now it’s mostly bubble gum music. Groups/music marketed towards the masses. The market is more the problem than the groups. The groups are formed to fill a market appeal.

    B)
    Okay they’re appealling to the masses. So what. Billy Graham was never about deep preaching. He was about heartfelt preaching of the Truth. God loves you and sent his son to die for you. Jesus died on the cross and rose again. People will go deeper (theology, music, books, film, etc) as they are called to in their walk. Their walk is not my walk (mind your own plate). Groups focussing at being at specific points along the way is fine. Also unlike other music, worship songs are meant to be sung as a congregation. They will be simpler or else the congregation is lost in the music or theology. Some of my biggest frustrations at my college church was when they’d try new songs that were extremely difficult or ended up being a concert for the worship group because no one could follow.

    I’m not a musician so I have fewer ruffled feathers over this. My “art” is designing machines. A new-hire fellow “artist” may not do things with the same passion and depth as me (and may get high praise for incredibly simple things) but it serves the audience fine. It works and my call is to some deeper creativity. Frustrating, but only if I’m using my sense of what’s “right” instead of focussing on serving God. Bordering on the prodigal’s older brother.

  27. Aaron Roughton

    I’m getting a little confused here, and once again, I think some distinctions need to be made. I’m not sure I understand this “frustration” with artists who focus on simple things, or who don’t desire to create “deep” works of art. Haven’t you guys ever been moved powerfully by something desperately simple? And I don’t just mean something simple created by an artist of simple means, which can obviously be beautiful. I’m also talking about an artist whose technical merits could spin your head, but who performs the simplest melody and makes you weep. Are they performing to the best of their abilities? Are we judging art here? Are we the qualified experts? If we were the qualified experts, does that give us the right to judge?

    I think what it sounds like is that we’re looking at the art that is produced and then judging the heart of the artist. Again, that’s dangerous territory, as everyone knows. When Matt interviewed Whiteheart or DeGarmo and Key, or whoever it was, we all heard his take on their attitude about their art, and we all made some assumptions about their hearts. Then we applied it to the CCM world as we know it and started ranting. Right?

    So does this mean that we should sit idly by while the mass market tells us what is good art and what is bad art? No way. But does it mean someone is wrong to think NSync is the most awesomest “band” ever? Not a chance…because they are. And does it mean we shouldn’t encourage the members of our artistic communities to create the best art that they are capable of? No way. Does it end there? No way…We should encourage the members of our Christian communities to follow Jesus wholeheartedly in everything they do…whether in their artistic pursuits, career pursuits, relational pursuits, or whatever. But I’m not sure that “deepness” or “complexity” corresponds directly to wholeheartedly.

  28. josh

    I didn’t mean to say that something has to be “deep” to have worth. My point was that a one-dimensional artist is no artist at all. A group that produces only simple art is questionable in my opinion. As is a group that deals solely in deep, obscure, abstract, and pretentious art. There are plenty of Christian bands who have been at it for years and have yet to produce something with a meaning that goes beyond “Jesus is like a lover and a father all in one”. I have a problem with that because I know this Christianity thing goes much much deeper than that. I’m not saying it’s never Ok to write a simple little Jesus song, but I am saying it’s not OK to ONLY write simple little Jesus songs.

    Just because not every person in a given crowd is as mature as you doesn’t mean you’re also excused from growing and maturing. A lot of people on here have talked about how they weren’t always at the point they’re at now. I know for me, I haven’t always felt this way about music. I used to think it was perfectly OK to just have nothing but simple Jesus songs all the time, but then I discovered Caedmon’s Call and everything changed. They’re a perfect example of a band that is able to cover the board from simple to complex beautifully.

    Music is powerful and those who are in a position to use it on grand scale like these mega bands have a chance to teach and to shepherd in an unprecedented way. But sadly, they’re, for the most part, just telling us what we already know. Granted it can move you every now and then, but over all it just doesn’t do much for me. And I’m not questioning their heart, i’m questioning their talent and artistic ability.

    It’s like someone said about NSync. They’re not artists. They’re a secular creation of a corporation for strictly entertainment. Which is fine in that realm. But when you get into worship music, it’s not supposed to be reduced to entertainment value. Those should be sacred songs intended to teach and reveal the beautiful and intricate nuances of our relationship with God. But today it seems our musicians are more concerned with “is this easy to sing’ more than they are with “could people learn something from this”.

    Another thing you’ve got to understand is that a ton of popular worship songs are written by professional song writers in Nashville who aren’t even Christians. They’re just people who know enough Christian language and are good at writing catchy pop songs. Someone who doesn’t even know God in the first place should never be able to sneak a song past the industry watch dogs. That makes me believe our standards for content have gotten way too low. It’s time for songs with substance.

  29. Dan K

    I’ll throw this out there for discussion, as it just hit me.

    What if the bubblegum leading track leads ppl to buy the CD and catch the more artistic song that the record company lets slide onto the album just to fill it. FFH’s “on my cross” absolutely blows me away everytime and stands in contrast to some of their other pieces. basically use the market vehicle to get the other stuff delivered.

  30. micheal

    Maybe, but I really can’t stand how the Christian market is like that. It should be the other way around. the bubble gum stuff should be what is allowed to slide in as a filler now and then, not the rich, complex songs.

    I really feel bad for artists like Derek Webb and Andrew Osenga because they’re both so good and no one wants to give them any air play. The Christian market tells them their too secular and the Secular market tells them they’re too Christian. Christian radio is letting some of the best music being produced by Christian artists just waste away largely unnoticed. I promise you that if songs like “I want to marry you all over again” by Derek Webb or “Following the Blind” by
    Andrew Osenga ever made their way onto Christian radio stations they would find a major audience. Between those two and pretty much any of the musicians reperesented here in the rabbit room there’s a wealth of excellent art that is just not getting the credit it deserves. It’s frustrating.

    I wish more people would wake up and realize that God can be praised in more ways than just saying his name over and over. It’s like when you compliment a woman: If you just tell her things like “your name is laura, you have blue eyes, you have blonde hair, you are 5’6″, you are 23 years old, you like spaghetti, you have a dog named max, you have little hands, you have straight teeth, you are pretty” she’ll be flattered and she’ll probably understand where you’re coming from and what your intent is, but would it not be more meaningful if you put some thought into it. How much better is it to tell her things that let her know that you really really know her deep down. Things like “I love the way you laugh at cheesey mushy parts in romantic comedies just to keep from crying because you’re embarassed to let people see you get emotional over something so silly”. Or “I love the way you make nonchalant little comments about something you’re wearing when we go out in hopes that i’ll tell you you’re beautiful because there’s little else you love more than hearing me tell you i think you’re gorgeous”. Or “I understand that sometimes when you come home from work and yell at me over something stupid it’s usually because you’re mad about something else and you feel safe enough around me to vent and just let it all out knowing that i’ll understand and you just desperately need a safe place to fall apart sometimes”.

    That’s how it should be in our songs to God. Do more than just state the facts. Music can take those simple truths written on paper in the bible and make them come alive by expanding further on them, relating them to our daily lives, and singing it to you in a nice melody.

    To an extent it’s the thought that counts, but when you start excusing mediocre art because “that’s the way the industry works” we have a problem. Maybe you won’t sell ten million records if you refuse to write people pleasing songs, but personally i’d rather sell 100 records full of good songs than 10 million full of catchy shallow pop anthems. But that’s just me.

  31. Lee Younger

    “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the Gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached, and because of this I will rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…”

    Philippians 1:15-18

  32. josh

    Maybe, but I really can’t stand how the Christian market is like that. It should be the other way around. the bubble gum stuff should be what is allowed to slide in as a filler now and then, not the rich, complex songs.

    I really feel bad for artists like Derek Webb and Andrew Osenga because they’re both so good and no one wants to give them any air play. The Christian market tells them their too secular and the Secular market tells them they’re too Christian. Christian radio is letting some of the best music being produced by Christian artists just waste away largely unnoticed. I promise you that if songs like “I want to marry you all over again” by Derek Webb or “Following the Blind” by
    Andrew Osenga ever made their way onto Christian radio stations they would find a major audience. Between those two and pretty much any of the musicians reperesented here in the rabbit room there’s a wealth of excellent art that is just not getting the credit it deserves. It’s frustrating.

    I wish more people would wake up and realize that God can be praised in more ways than just saying his name over and over. It’s like when you compliment a woman: If you just tell her things like “your name is laura, you have blue eyes, you have blonde hair, you are 5’6″, you are 23 years old, you like spaghetti, you have a dog named max, you have little hands, you have straight teeth, you are pretty” she’ll be flattered and she’ll probably understand where you’re coming from and what your intent is, but would it not be more meaningful if you put some thought into it. How much better is it to tell her things that let her know that you really really know her deep down. Things like “I love the way you laugh at cheesey mushy parts in romantic comedies just to keep from crying because you’re embarassed to let people see you get emotional over something so silly”. Or “I love the way you make nonchalant little comments about something you’re wearing when we go out in hopes that i’ll tell you you’re beautiful because there’s little else you love more than hearing me tell you i think you’re gorgeous”. Or “I understand that sometimes when you come home from work and yell at me over something stupid it’s usually because you’re mad about something else and you feel safe enough around me to vent and just let it all out knowing that i’ll understand and you just desperately need a safe place to fall apart sometimes”.

    That’s how it should be in our songs to God. Do more than just state the facts. Music can take those simple truths written on paper in the bible and make them come alive by expanding further on them, relating them to our daily lives, and singing it to you in a nice melody.

    To an extent it’s the thought that counts, but when you start excusing mediocre art because “that’s the way the industry works” we have a problem. Maybe you won’t sell ten million records if you refuse to write people pleasing songs, but personally i’d rather sell 100 records full of good songs than 10 million full of catchy shallow pop anthems. But that’s just me.

  33. Molly

    … an interesting discussion to follow, especially as one whose creative talents are more evident in my kitchen (what creative talents I have, anyhow!)

    I fell asleep thinking of the story of Martha and Mary last night. In Luke’s gospel, Martha really wants Jesus to make Mary help her, but He didn’t. Neither did he make Martha stop what she was doing to join Mary at his feet, even though He said she had chosen the better portion.

    Might there be room for both, done well, “as unto the Lord?”

    Or maybe I’m missing something, too …

  34. c.Lates

    music is an art form. so to say that the artistic side of it doesn’t matter is bullonie (use that one at your leisure). it should be a musician’s desire that every piece of a song should bring glory to God–each word, note, instrument, etc.

    reading through paul’s epistles, it would be impossible to not notice his intentionality of almost every word. they weren’t just fly-by-the-seat letters; they were thought out so that each word would support the next, bringing the entire gospel into view. and the artistic quality of the psalms, focusing on God in many different ways. praising him or crying out in despair, the psalmists used different word pictures purposefully.

    i love listening to certain musicians, such as david crowder. listening to a lot of his songs, it seems as though he put each note next to each word, and even put intentionally put the songs in a specific order so that each one enhances and builds upon the previous. mewithoutyou is another band whose music has a deeper quality and meaning than might first be noticed.

    tom put it wonderfully that desire for depth comes with maturity. but for an artist to not care about their art is appalling. but maybe there’s a connection here between shallow christian music and shallow christianity…

  35. Bill B

    I am on my local CCM station’s “listener advisory panel”. I find that out of 15 songs, a solid 10 usually get a 3. Most of them kind of run into each other lyrically and musically. It sad.

    I do not believe these songs are representative of what the artists can do. Rather, it is their accomodation in order to gain or maintain an audience making it possible to make music for a living.

    I especially admire the faithful who risk their career by making music that is lyrically and musically excellent.

  36. Chris Slaten

    Not sure when T-Bone Burnett said this, but I like it:
    “If Jesus is the light of the world, there are two kinds of songs you can write. You can write songs about the light, or you can write songs about what you can see from the light.”

  37. Kevin B.

    C’mon, man!!! If you’re gonna do an interview… you’ve gotta tell us who the subjects of your interview were!!! It’s the only upright thing to do!

    So… Who were these artists???

  38. Clay Marbry

    I’m an engineer snooping on an artists’ board, so bear wtith me…

    I think Becky said it well – challenging a believer to be excellent in what he/she does is no problem at all. As for your frustration regarding their seeming shallowness – that is your critique as an artist. I get frustrated with people who don’t do their jobs well – regardless of their profession. Just be careful transferring your convictions (making “deep” art) to others. Pushing our convictions on others has ruined so many Christian setting. I’ve actually be through two church splits/shake-ups over these type issues. Want a good example? Just mention alcohol among believers.

    On a similar note, I am in the midst of making a career change because I realize that I do not enjoy what I do…at all. I’ve been at if for almost 8 years now in various capacities. I’ve struggled with “working as to the Lord” and striving to be excellent in something I really just don’t care about. While I realize that you can work “as to the Lord’ even in places you don’t like or aren’t comfortable, finding the place where God has called you – where your talents, desires, and HIs blessing meet – is the best place to be. I don’t want to wander through life being mediocre. I want my many hours away from home to matter. Can I witness on the job no matter where I am? Yes. But work is from the Lord. Adam had work in the garden of Eden – it preceded the fall. Further, Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3:13 “That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.” I desire that gift and am making strides to go where I believe the Lord has called me.

    To sum up my ramblings:
    A.P., don’t be ashamed of your critique. You (and others) have a special calling in music. Glorify God in all you do. Push us non-artistic folks with your gift. Let us see beauty in art.
    And when you come across someone different, encourage them to be the best they are called to be. Maybe they need a push like me to try something different. Encourage all you meet to seek God’s calling for their life. Let God show you your passion and where He has gifted you. Once you know – GET AFTER IT.

    Final note – please keep the band’s name confidential. I may like their stuff (probably not, but it’s possible) and would rather not have my opinion colored by something I really know nothing about. Plus, I can’t see how posting their name without them being here to defend themselves would edify the body in any way. Thanks for keeping it generic so we could discuss without bashing.

  39. Mary

    This is a bit of a ramble…sorry.

    Thank you all for your great insights. It is refreshing to hear from people who really THINK about worship. To me, the argument seems to boil down to THINKING vs. FEELING. Personally, I like to have those “mountaintop” moments or spiritual highs. They are incredible. However, if I had these moments all the time, I wouldn’t get anywhere in my relationship with God. I’d just bask in feeling. It is a GOOD thing to think and dig and search and study and read. It is essential if we want to have any sort of deep relationship with Him. But it seems like the people in the “FEELING” camp believe that we should just stay in the spiritual high world, trying to maintain that good, warm feeling all the time – because it’s the only “true” worship, or it’s the evidence of a personal relationship and closeness with God. This is wrong. Who are we to say who does or doesn’t have a closeness to God? To me, if someone is putting in the effort to seek Christ, then they will have the desire to know Him through prayer and through His word. If you aren’t thinking and searching the Scriptures, then what exactly do you have? Warm feelings because you lift your hands during a praise song?

    I think that if you are searching the Scriptures, you will find that God doesn’t make junk. He isn’t mediocre. He didn’t ask the Israelites to build an ordinary temple out of boring bricks and then make a bunch of signs that said “God” and paste them all over it. Just saying His name in a song…okay, I don’t see the excellence in that. Just because His name is in it? Why wouldn’t you want to strive for excellence, since you are supposed to be doing this “unto the Lord, and not unto men”? I’d be ashamed of myself if I chose a junk-food hymn or praise song for my congregation. I do it once in awhile because people like those songs, but they honestly turn my stomach. If no one can really explain what the words mean, or what you are supposed to learn or take away from them, or how they are supposed to convict you, then you shouldn’t be singing the song. Just because it is popular doesn’t mean it’s good, and it shouldn’t be anyone’s steady worship diet. Eating sugary foods all the time sure tastes great – but you end up crashing with exhaustion because you have nothing of substance in your body. Nothing to sustain you.

    I’m not trying to say that excellence is only in complicated music or lyrics, or that lousy music is really basic or simple. Neither is true. Either form is fine if the composer is working to the best of his or her ability, and basing the work on the fruit from their prayer and study life.

    Although I do understand that the industry really gets in the way of this. It does explain why there’s so much junk out there. And I know musicians have to eat. I’m a musician, too, and sometimes have to sing and play stuff I’m not really into. I just wish that people would open their eyes to how it COULD be…

  40. Aaron Roughton

    A memory just occurred to me considering excellence. In 8th grade I got second place in the Orange County Regional Science Fair in Orlando Florida. The reason I got second place instead of first was because the judges thought my display looked “too perfect.” It looked like my parents had helped me, and it couldn’t have possibly been done by an 8th grader…Even one with perfectionist tendencies who spent hours aligning each white stick-on letter on the royal blue poster board display. The kid who won 1st place couldn’t even spell “environment” correctly. Needless to say, I was furious, and I gave up my obviously illustrious future in acid rain/earthworm research. Why would I bother shooting for excellence when I could have done far less work and faired just as well? But the kid who beat me went on to change the “eviromnental” world. His name? Al Gore.

    Actually, I don’t know who the kid was or what he went on to. But there’s little need to ruin a good story with facts.

    Anyway, I have friends who pass over music that is “too polished” or “too produced” in favor of stuff that “has integrity.” How does that play into the quest for artistic excellence? Where does the artistry end and the alleged “lack of integrity” begin?

    I still like Nsync.

  41. Tony Heringer

    Matt,

    You really opened up a can of worms here lad. I wish I could read all these posts, but only so much time this afternoon — sorry if I digress here. However, I had some thoughts on a couple of your points.

    First, you say:

    “At this point, I don’t even know what to do. All of my questions are about that very topic. Music critics have been unkind to their music, which in the Christian world is not very common. So I wanted to tackle these questions – wondering if they were aware of such criticisms and making steps to ‘get better.’ Apparently, I was ill prepared.”

    I think you said it: “critics have been unkind to their music.” How about that, why are the critics so tough on you guys? Which they probably shrug their shoulders and say “So?”

    Then comes the next part:

    “Why am I asking those questions? I shouldn’t be concerned with artistry. In fact, why am I writing about music and books and movies at all? Why am I concerned about criticism, in fact? That only separates and divides the body of Christ. I’m called to encourage and exhort my brothers, not tear them down. (Note, this is what this artist told me) And for a moment, he had me. I completely believed him. After all, he said the magic word “Jesus”, which is always the right answer.”

    Woody Allen said “If Jesus is the answer, what’s the question?”

    Why would a Christian concern himself with constructively critiquing music, film and books? Because you are seeking truth and likely are trying to convey that truth to your audience much like any other artist tries to reach their audience. Good criticism is an art form that should help both the artist and their fans better appreciate the art itself.

    Truth leads to freedom (I think Jesus said something like that :-)). So, the next time, someone asks you why you are concerned with criticism tell them because you are concerned about what is true.

    Truth spoken in love shouldn’t separate, it ultimately should unite us. It may not be without conflict, but the Bible doesn’t seem to have an issue with raising a stink over the right issues — including the quality of someone’s work. Here’s a passage that hits that point (and even mentions music — Christian music no less :-)):

    Colossians3:15-17 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

    Notice the word admonish here? Here’s how Webster defines it:

    1 a: to indicate duties or obligations to b: to express warning or disapproval to especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner
    2: to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement to

    Sounds like criticism to me. Now, all criticism, in keeping with Scripture should be constructive, but we are sinners here, so sometimes we will flub it and hurt someone’s feelings because we are being mean spirited. That is really good news though because it means we get yet another opportunity to be forgiven.

    We can deliver truth in a loving way and not come off like the two extremes of Simon Cowell (“Appalling rubbish!”) or Paula Abdul (“I just love you and everything thing you do! You are sooooooo special!”). Not easy apart from the Spirit’s work in our hearts (I’m more of a Simon if left to my flesh).

    As was pointed out above, that’s not to say that their lack of artistry will be a turn off to everyone –based on record sales obviously not. Unfortunately, all media suffers from these lower forms of art – kind of like fast food. We shouldn’t eat that stuff, but man it tastes good. I think with a lot of popular culture (including the popular Christian subculture) we wonder the same roads.

    C.S. Lewis said, “the only reason for good philosophy is bad philosophy.” We can add to that, the only reason for good art is bad art. 🙂

    So, you keep fighting the good fight as a critic. Maybe chowder heads like me will read your reviews and give these artists a little more scrutiny 🙂

  42. Curan

    i compiled some of my personal worship music into a disc and here it is:

    1.Thankful- JONNY LANG ft MICHAEL McDONALD

    2. Ain’t No Grace- CROOKED STILL

    3. Praise The Lord- DAN TYMINSKI

    4. Waiting For The Rain To Come Down- GRIFFIN HOUSE

    5. Everything I Own- JASON GRAY

    6. Only Love Remains- JJ HELLER

    7. Be Merciful To Me- CAEDMON’s CALL

    8. Faith To Be Strong- ANDREW PETERSON

    9. Last Chance ( Psalm 88)- ANDREW OSENGA/JEREMY CASELLA/ SANDRA MCCRACKEN

    10. Your Love Will Never Change- DAVE BARNES

    11. Let Your Light Shine- BETHANY DILLON

    12. O, For A Thousand Tongues To Sing- DAVID CROWDER BAND

    13. Calmer of the Storm- DOWNHERE

    14. Strong Tower- KUTLESS

    15. Your Ways Are Higher- CHRIS NESBITT

    16. Every Grain of Sand- BOB DYLAN

    17. I Need Thee Every Hour- ANATHALLO

    18. All That I Am- THE AFTERS

    19. Prayer of saint Francis- DENISON WITMER

    20. A Living Prayer- ALISON KRAUSS & UNION STATION

  43. Claire Strebeck

    My question is, why are these guys in the business of music? If the quality of the music doesn’t matter, then why not work at McDonalds or some business somewhere. Though that brings me to another thought, aren’t we supposed to do everything for the glory of God? With all his specifications for how the Israelites were supposed to approach Him in worship (though I know this is different) I highly doubt He appreciates our half-hearted efforts at singing music, especially with His name at stake. Next, the “platter the meat is served on” would not be likened to the form of the Quality of music, but rather, I dont’ know, something like the outfits that they wear in performance. Or, how about (though, I know this is important in performance to an extent) the instruments on which they play. I doubt they would be willing to trade their no doubt high-end American Deluxes for a Japanese made Fenders. Surely that would effect their music. But, no, they do not seem to be interested in the quality of the music, b/c they are not concerned about the writing, the soul of the music. But I don’t believe that they are truely interested in glorifying God through their music, but rather are interested in selling catchy tunes and calling it good art because it has God’s name in it 8 times a minute. Ridiculous.

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