Monday, June 8, 2009

Rant: Christian Music

I don’t listen to a lot of Christian music. The reason for this is twofold. First, the quality of the music—creativity, power, beauty—is lacking. There don’t seem to be a lot of Christian songwriters who have a good feel for inventive chord changes, beautiful melodic structure, rhythmic dynamism. It’s as if they've only ever listened to…Christian music.

Having spent years making my living as a Christian musician, majoring in composition in college, even first coming to know the Lord as a result of Christian music, I’m heartbroken by the sheer boredom I experience upon a couple of minutes tuned into national Christian radio.

The other reason I don’t listen to much Christian music is lack of lyrical depth. This, again, is a twofold problem. First, there seems to be only a very basic theological grounding. Now, if the intent is only to present the Gospel in its simplest form, maybe this isn’t the worst thing. I was drawn to Christ by Stryper singing, “We are the soldiers under God’s command / we hold his two-edged sword within our hands.” As a teenage guitarist into Motley Crue and Ratt, but also a 5th-generation Methodist, this scratched me where I itched. But what next?

I eventually found Rich Mullins—a real poet by anyone’s standards—but then he died, having spent his career being largely ignored by the Christian industry. People have their favorites, but they always end up sounding as cheesy as most preachers trying to sound “relevant” (more on that in another post).

The other end of the shallow lyric pool in Christian songwriting is lack of lyrical quality. If the theology is shallow, the actual lyrical craftsmanship is all but absent. Christian songwriters seem to think it a badge of honor NOT to have really worked on their lyrics. “It just came to me and I wrote it down.” You don’t say! I’m sure that’s much more spiritual than actually working hard and straining toward perfection with God’s gifts. Or maybe the gift is lacking. (Oh snap! No I didn’t!)

One of my favorite bands—King’s X—a prime example of brilliant musicianship and stunning lyrics, ended up getting shunned by their Christian fans when their lead singer/bassist came out as a homosexual. Maybe this shunning was warranted, we make our own decisions about such things. My decision is quality and honesty. I am not deaf to the point of view of the artist, so there are plenty of conclusions that secular (and Christian!) artists come to with which I completely disagree. But I would rather listen to someone’s honest, creative, and beautiful music about their pain and questions rather than someone’s trite, contrived, and bland music about their shallow faith and empty answers.

So, I continue to search. There are a handful of decent Christian artists out there. There are many hymns that have proven their quality through time. But the findings are few and far between, so I search on. The world is searching. In a culture that communicates more and more through the sights and sounds of the arts, the church desperately needs creators worthy of the Creator. Step it up, Christians. We haven’t come as far as you think.


seanb724 said...

Have you listened to Jon Foreman's EP's? His Switchfoot lyrics are fantastic, though a bit more crossover, while his solo stuff, while also fantastic, is much more Christian on most tracks.

Nuclearity had an interview with him that is worth listening to, to get some insight into the music.

robert c. pelfrey said...

I'll check it out. Switchfoot has been a solid band, musically and lyrically creative. Way back to "New Way to Be Human," those guys were playing and saying some powerful stuff. Seem to have had some trouble navigating the "crossover" waters, but we'll see. I'll look into Foreman's stuff.

seanb724 said...

I'd especially recommend the following songs:

You're Love is Strong
Deep in Your Eyes
Instead of A Show
House of God Forever

Some are almost straight words from the Bible, while others are intermixed with other thoughts.

The nuclearity podcast is from 8/13/08 and is titled "Spring Summer Fall Winter"

Brent Aiken said...

Its really hard to say all christian music is lacking in style and fluidness. It really depends on your genre of christian music you listen to.

Off the top of my head, I can name you a few.

Generic Pop Christian

Jimmy Needham-Forgiven and Loved
Rush of Fools-Undo
Matthew West-The Motions
Addison Road-Hope Now
Building 429-Glory Defined
Remedy Drive-All Along
Tenth Avenue North-By Your Side
The Classic Crime-Salt in the Snow

Christian Rock

Disciple-Lay My Burdens
Decypher Down-Fading
Day of Fire-Cornerstone

Christian Rap

KJ52-#1 Fan
Lecrae-Will you take me as i am?

You can look up the lyrics to all of these songs on

All those bands have pretty indepth lyrics for songs, but dont get me wrong some of the have goofy songs too.

I hope I have listed some bands that appeal to your taste in music. If not feel free to facebook me and ill give you some more.

God Bless
Brent Aiken

robert c. pelfrey said...

You guys are helpful, and I'm glad you've dug and found some good ones. I am a fan of several you mentioned, Brent. My point was not that there isn't any good Christian music. I try to be a fan and supporter of my Christian siblings. My point was, if you take say the top 40 secular vs. the top 40 Christian acts on any given week or even year, there is a stark difference in quality (favoring the secular).

Unknown said...

Hey Robert,

I agree that a lot of Christian music is crappy, and of course there is some good Christian music. I would also point out that most pop music currently on the radio is crappy, with some good stuff. The state of Christian music largely mirrors the state of popular music generally.

I highly recommend anyone in the Square Peg Alliance. You will not be disappointed.

Do you think Rich was ignored by Christian music? I wouldn't have said that, but I've never asked around.

I think if there became some moral standard we held musicians to, most of folks' favorite Christian bands would be in big trouble. Want to lose the gay people from Christian music? Fans would lose a whole lot more than they realize.

Seriously, you have bands made up of 21 year old single guys touring the country as rock stars, and folks expect them to maintain some sort of purity? Lots of luck.

Well, enough from Nashville.

Kiley C Breitling said...

This is a great and important topic that has plagued Christian music since the 80's. There is a rumbling within the hearts and souls of those who are musicians that follow Christ. We are wanting to find that diamond in the rough. That album that grabs your ear, your heart, your mind and spirit. It perplexes me that we as Christians create less than cool and creative music and are all but forced to either abstain from listening to secular music or put up with the content of the lyrics to get our "rock" off. While we have come a long way since the 80's with it's lack of artistic choices, I'm afraid you are right that we just have more mediocrity to choose from.

Rich Mullins wasn't ignored by those in the industry, just by the general public in my opinion. Unfortunately the true artists generally aren't recognized until they are dead, history proves that to be true. We (Robert you and I and others we know) loved Rich's creations while he was alive. I still dig out those albums from time to time and find that they stir my creative juices and lead me to the cross and on to running and finishing the race. Sadly, just like with Rich, anybody with real creativity will be considered an underground sensation at best and most people won't even know they existed until somebody in the main stream of Christian music covers their song 15 years later and introduces them to the masses.

So for now, I search the internet and iTunes every few months to see what's new. Continually I am disappointed and wish that I was blessed with the talent to create what my heart and ears long for. And I quote "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

Unknown said...

I feel your sentiment... Even among young people, christian music lyrics don't receive high appreciation because of the lack of ingenuity in the poetry of the words.

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