The Corner

A Few More E-mails on Christian Rock



(First, in full disclosure, I have been an amateur musician for the past 25+ years, with a number of friends in and around the Christian music industry.  I also manage a group blog where – from time to time – we discuss the “evolution” of Christian music and its relationship with culture.)

I would like to respectfully disagree with a number of comments about the incompatibility of Christianity and “rock” music.  Many of the “traditional” hymns sung in the Christian church were originally bar German and English “bar tunes”, in which the common words were replaced with “Christian” lyrics (much like the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a lyrical replacement of “John Brown’s Body”, which, in itself, was a lyrical replacement of an earlier song).  One of the most popular “Old Hymns” of today is “How Great Thou Art”, which isn’t “old” at all, but is from the mid-twentieth century – popularized in Bill Graham’s crusades.

I would agree that “Christian Rock” of the 70’s was problematic for several reasons, the primary one being a severe lack in recording quality (and, in many cases, musicianship).  Additionally, the generational divide was much more pronounced between “rock” and “traditional” (mid-twentieth century) church music – which meant that quite often, the use of Christian “rock” had some element of rebelliousness associated with it.

However, by the mid- to late-1990’s, the generational divide in music was no longer as pronounced, and ‘rebellion’ was not the primary driver of rock music in the general culture – or in the church (at least in the evangelical/protestant church).  As such, a number of Christian musicians (nowhere near resembling the Stryper video you published in The Corner) began writing both for contemporary radio and (more importantly) for worship settings.  Rick Warren was a big influence in blending traditional worship music and modern/contemporary worship music in the Evangelical churches.

Some examples of quality artists who produce music for the church – both for worship and for general listening – are: Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Casting Crowns, Third Day, Lincoln Brewster, Hillsong United (and a number of others).  I’ve included some links to YouTube videos for you below.

There is still a bias against “rock” worhip music in parts of the Fundamentalist Christian church, but even those are softening…

Keeping the trajectory of music in the culture and within the church in mind, I believe, ultimately would suggest that your interviewee was painting with a bit too broad a brush…

And two:

I’m sure you’re over these e-mails by now, but I just wanted to say that Christian rock played a fairly significant role in my decision to accept Christ, and continues to do so in my daily life as a believer. I’ll be the first to admit that “rocking up” Amazing Grace is a little culturally suspect (and don’t get me started on the Eagles), but Christian rock really comes down to making the Gospel socially relevant. Take a look at the big crowd of young people worshiping God in this video from Australia’s Hillsong Church:

The message of the song is incredible, and I don’t exactly see people holding up beers in rock solidarity or grinding up against each other in sexual overdrive.

I know we can get wrapped up in doctrinal differences and all the usual inter-denominational silliness here, so I’ll focus my point on a simple issue that rings true for conservatives (believers and otherwise): How many times have you heard a song you’ve liked, only to find out that it’s got some awful message that you can’t stand? Good music makes an emotional connection with listeners, and as far as I’m concerned, an emotional connection to a message about the love of Christ is a fantastic thing, even when it’s got a good beat. The church has a desperate need to be socially relevant without compromising its principles… It needs to tell people in a culture without God that God exists, loves them, and can change their entire lives for the better.

And three:

Thanks for the posting of my e-mail, I was flattered. And that it

generated some further content!

  I thought I was making an embarrassingly obvious point that the tools

themselves are not evil, it’s the content that can be evil but that

seems to have been missed by a few. I suspect if we all had a long

conversation most of us would end up in agreement but sometimes

short-sightedness and forced brevity puts us in opposition.

 One can use a hammer and chisel to sculpt a Venus (profane to some) and

one could use the very same tools to sculpt a Pieta. This is

self-evident to me but is apparently lost on others. If you object to

the use of the rock or objectification of the human form then we will

remain in disagreement.

  There were vociferous arguments on these very subjects in the past,

e.g. the Byzantine Iconoclasts and the argument is still relevant in

Islam. Anyone with a decent knowledge of English Lit has to be familiar

with the (tired) case of the Metaphysical poets and their beliefs that

they were celebrating God as much as anyone else. Even the Catholic

church had the argument over adding musical instrumentation to

liturgical texts centuries ago. I thought that argument had been settled

in the affirmative. Obviously not to everyone’s liking.

  If one wants to retreat far from most civilization and chant

monotonically, that’s fine by me. Knock yourself out but some of us

might like a little peppy and polyphonic music. Honestly, Gregorian

Chants just don’t do it for 99% of us (and probably one-third of that 1%

are suspicious even of those chants)…

  I can’t be the only one to have noticed that Ravel’s Bolero is

devilishly reminiscent of Pachelbel’s Canon. One has a very sensual

reputation, deserved or not, while the other is considered highly

spiritual. Yet neither one is going to impel listeners into a Pavlovian

response of uncontrollable carnality.   

  I did find some of the counterexamples debatable. I could just as

easily set Ozzie Osbourne lyrics to the tune of Amazing Grace. What

would that prove? Not much (other than perhaps snagging me an NEA grant,

reaping applause from our cultural leaders and that I really have no

musical sense whatsoever). And how the Gershwin brothers collaborated is

of interest only in-so-far as how the Gershwin brothers collaborated.

They are not THE rule of how musical collaboration ALWAYS works. And

that was key point I was making, overgeneralization by Leaf.

  Same point on the song vs. poetry question. Poetry has been put to

music for centuries (millennia?) and music has been put to poetry for

just as long. Examples and counterexamples can be trotted out for both

sides – all of which, again, makes my point.

  If one doesn’t like Christian rock then don’t listen and don’t buy…

And, four:

I’m sure you’re getting lots of mail on the subject, but I couldn’t resist putting in my two cents.

I once attended a lecture on what defined music as ‘godly’ and was stunned.  It wasn’t what I expected at all.  I listened to an hour and a half of the lecturer telling us that music with anything other than a simple 4 part melody/harmony line was ‘ungodly’ because it distracted the listener/singer from worshipping God.  Then, the lecturer used as an example a song that I was very familiar with.  It was Sandi Patti and Larnelle Harris singing ‘More Than Wonderful’ as an example of ungodly music.  Some months earlier, God had used that very song to minister to me in the midst of a period of depression.  I worshipped God through that song. 

I was amused in a way at the lecturer’s reasoning; anything that was too rythmic etc., was distracting and therefore ‘ungodly’.  (syncopation was ‘of the devil’ and repetition was bad, I couldn’t help wondering if the lecturer had even read the Psalms)  It made me think of my dad, a music teacher and choir director talking about music history (a love of his).  I remember him talking about how the church had decided that simple harmony was ‘too beautiful’ and therefore was ‘ungodly’.  This was some centuries ago, and obviously the church changed it’s mind.  Gregorian chants are lovely in their own way, but they aren’t Handel’s ‘Messiah’ or Vaughn’s ‘Gloria’. 

Ultimately it comes down to attitude.  You can sing a traditional ‘Amazing Grace’ by rote and talk about ‘how beautiful it is’, without remembering that it is a song of praise to God.  On the other hand, some people listen to Christian Rock and worship God with it.  Music in and of itself is neutral, and  neither Christian or non-Christian.  Those who try to define music as ‘godly’ or ‘ungodly’ by the type of style it has are judging music by their own personal preferences, and forgetting that ALL music, even that which is perverted and evil operates under the rules for music set up by God himself.  He is the creator of music, we merely use it, some of us to praise God, others for glorifying perverse practices, and others to celebrate purely secular thoughts, (family, love, patriotism).  What defines the music is the lyrics, what the music says. 

In a related thought, how many times have you seen some liberal talk about purely instrumental music (of the classical variety, although dad says ‘classical’ is a specific period) and come up with some completely off the wall, usually sexual, interpretation of it’s meaning.  It’s goofy.  If you can’t think of any examples, ask Jay, I’ll bet he can!

And, finally:

I’ll defer to the wisdom of Hank Hill: “Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock n’ roll worse.”

As for my own preferences – I don’t care much for any hymns written before the turn of the last century. I am known as being a bit of a reactionary though.