What is a Christian band, anyway? There are stories of foul language and fallen stars in the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) world. There are also heroes and songs that have brought us through tragedies and have been an encouraging soundtrack to our desire to follow Jesus.
What does this mean for Christian Bands?
Some Christian Bands are indeed fake. Where there is a profit to be earned, people will take advantage of the gospel–even when music is the vehicle. The story of Tim Lambesis, who is serving jail time for a murder-for-hire plot to kill his wife, is quoted as saying in an interview with Alternative Press that his band, As I Lay Dying, was fake. Or, more pointedly, he became an atheist even though he pretended in his prayers with kids after concerts to be a Christian. Lambesis said in the 2014 interview, “In 12 years of touring with As I Lay Dying, I would say maybe one in 10 Christian bands we toured with were actually Christian bands.”
Does this mean that only 10% of Christian bands are true to their message? I doubt this figure, based on my acquaintances with industry people over the years. However, there is a percentage that indeed have “un-Christian” motives. This should be no surprise. Pastors are fake at times. A percentage of Christian business owners are dishonest. Humanity’s depravity surely lives in us this side of heaven and it is naive to think that we should put people on a pedestal. Christ is the only one truly worthy of our devotion–not a band marketed in the CCM market.
How honest is too honest? Bono of the band U2–a group of Christians in a “secular” market–recently reflected on Christian music and the Psalms. “In the Psalms, you have people who are vulnerable to God in a good way. They are porous and open,” said Bono. “I find in Christian art a lot of dishonesty, and I think it’s a shame.” When we read the stories of the Bible, I believe we find it to be the most honest book about its heroes ever written. When the 12 disciples of Jesus could be shown as pious heroes, they are constantly stumbling like the rest of us. Does our Christian music show us as we really are? The Psalms truly are a model of great poetry.
Use of the “F” word for effect may give the image of honesty, but does it really express a story? In some cases, and in some venues, it may very well do that. It deserves to be labeled “explicit” for sure so our little ones won’t repeat such phrases in public, right? Kings Kaleidoscope released a song this year–“A Prayer”–that has caused a bit of controversy as it has the “F” word.
If I fall or if I misstep
If I fall or if I misstep
If I call you with my last breath
Will you be there for me after?
Cause I’m wasting in this silence
And my fear is f*ing violent
I’m a child thrown to lions
Is there hope on the horizon?
If I fall or if I misstep
Listening to the whole song, I’d say it’s truly based on a psalm pattern. The writer is questioning, as we all do as people. This internal struggle leads the writer to respond in the voice of Jesus sharing empathy and encouragement. It is like the Psalmist sharing his struggle then saying, “Yet will I praise Thee.” But, was the use of the “F” word proper? Honestly, I cannot answer that either way. Does this fit within our genre of “Christian music”, that is a Christian subculture of safe words? No.
Christian music is about more than the music. Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church says on their Facebook page that there is no Christian music, only Christian lyrics. This means that Christian music can be defined by what message it sends, regardless of the style or form it has. This is a good place to start, but does not go deep enough. People are Christian. Music is art. People are artists. Art is not people. So, only people can be Christian, not the music.
We need songs to express our worship as a family of multiple generations and groups of people. We also need songs to express what it really is like to live out our faith when we are not gathered with our church. The Christian band that helps us with the real-life expression is a godsend while the Christian band that keeps us in a safe Christian subculture may be isolating us, not from the world out there, but from our own humanity.
Great art is about asking questions. If we look at Christian music as a place for answers, we are limiting our view of art and the power the music can actually have, both on our heart as well as the world. If we expect Christian bands to only parrot ideas that are in our safe zone, maybe our view of art is working against us. Is a Christian subculture something we are called to live within?
In a 2014 interview with The Atlantic, Lecrae said the following. ”Many times, that’s how people see Christian art, or Christians making art: They see the art as having an agenda. Christians have really used and almost in some senses prostituted art in order to give answers instead of telling great stories and raising great questions.”
The questions we have from the big stories in the scriptures deal with the gritty humanity we all know we have. We are called to be disciples and, like the messiness of the 12, we also have to find our way. The place of art is to allow us to be unmasked before God. Even secular art unknowingly reveals our true intentions and nature.
The big issue in dealing with Christian bands is to know what their purpose is. Not all are called to write the answers of the faith in Romans. Some are called to be artists who ask the questions of the Psalms. Perhaps we should make room for both.