The Corner

‘I prefer my decadence pure’

Another e-mail on Christian rock with honesty that’s hard not to enjoy: 

Regarding your 9:58am post:

Your emailer’s description of Schoolhouse Rock is incomplete.  While some Schoolhouse Rock songs are indeed “rock,” many of them are folk influenced (see “The Preamble Song”) or blues/jazz (see “I’m Just a Bill”).  Going from memory, I suspect that at least half of all Schoolhouse Rock songs could reasonably be described as something other than rock. 

More to the point, the emailer is mistaken on form and content as they relate to music.  What differentiates song from poetry is that song is put to music, thus its ultimate meaning comes not from the words but from the musical form (melody and rhythm).  This is why Ira Gershwin, for example, insisted that his brother George write the melody to their songs before Ira wrote the lyrics; lyrics serve the melody, not the other way around.   I suggest you pick up a copy of Me First And The Gimmie Gimmie’s, a punk bank that does covers of non-punk tunes.  “Tomorrow” from Annie is a different song when done punk rather than as a show tune.  Given that music is a form with content added later to create song, we should ask whether every musical form is conducive or appropriate to prayer. 

A practical example from church.  Like you I am Catholic.  Some years ago I found myself at a “contemporary” mass with a drummer.  The Gloria was done as a rock song.  When you see kids head banging to the Gloria, you know that it matters not what the lyrics are, they are experiencing a rock concert rather than prayer.  I also found myself at a non-denominational church recently where they did Amazing Grace to the tune of “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by the Eagles (as in “God’s amazing grace gives me a peaceful easy feeling”).  Needless to say, there is a certain point where the song ceased to be Amazing Grace and was something else.

I enjoy rock music as much as the next guy, but I will not deny that as a musical form it is simplistic and a bit decadent.  This is why I refuse to listen to Christian Rock.  I prefer my decadence pure, not put in a pseudo-Christian wrapper.  And there is something slightly profane in attaching prayer to what is so clearly a worldly musical form.  If you want to rock, listen to rock; if you want to pray, listen to Bach.

Update: One of many dissenting e-mails: 

I have to disagree that putting Christian lyrics to “rock” is profane.  While the reader’s point is well taken that you may change the meaning of a song like Amazing Grace by setting to the music of the Eagles, he or she is mistaken that “rock” can only convey “worldly” themes, or that that “worldliness” somehow diminishes a Christian message.  It may in some circumstances, but isn’t the lesson of Christ that he was also of the world?  Depending upon how the style of music is used, it is just as capable of conveying heavenly values in the same manner as the original hymns.  It may take more skill on the part of the artist, and it may not always succeed, but that doesn’t mean all Christian rock should be banned due to hypocrisy.  10,000 days (Wings for Marie) by the band Tool is a very poignant song wherein the lead singer praises his mother’s life of faith and and wrestles with his faith struggles.  And it rocks, though it is not “Christian rock.”  There’s also a lot of contemporary Christian music that is truly inspiring in its praise of God and Jesus.

That said, Stryper should be avoided at all costs because it is bad, even though the message isn’t.

UPDATE: Okay, two more: 


Your emailer doesn’t understand the concept of subjective projection and emotional/situational association that takes place while listening to or enjoying music. It’s all—or mostly all—about patterning, how particular kinds of music are wired into our brains and the context in which this wiring takes place.

I learned early on to target music evangelistically, as a bridge from where a non-believer is presently to where I hope he will be shortly. When I was doing this, I did not care in the least whether I was pleasing onlookers, only whether I was successful in reaching those I was trying to reach. Most of the time this works. Some of the time—as with my own wife—it doesn’t work, or doesn’t work for long, because negative associations are too intimately wound with the music one enjoyed in the previous, non-believer life.

The emotional decoding of music is far more complex and fluid than most lay people are aware of.

My undergraduate degree is in Music Theory & Composition. My graduate degree is in Ministry of Church Music.


Subject: What the Apostle Paul said about Christian Rock OK, he didn’t say anything. But he did say this: 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (New International Version) Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. So perhaps he might add, “To the rocker I became like a rocker, to win the rockers…” 🙂

There are some relevant thoughts in this month’s First Things.

In closing, a Stryper video: