On our Sunday School class blog, some folks have been discussing the nature of Christian music by comparing it to mainstream music. It brings to mind a classic debate in the Christian music world. What makes Christian music Christian? In the music business, Christian is a label for a particular genre of music. There are Christian record labels and Christian distribution. There are Christian stores that sell the Christian music. But what is the unifying bond between all of the diverse styles listed as Christian music? A band like August Burns Red is very different from the David Crowder Band. Red tours with mainstream rock bands and plays in smokey clubs. Nicole Nordeman tours with other Christian artists and  plays in churches and at Christian conferences. I’m not knocking on any of these artists. I’m simply making the point that there is a great deal of diversity in the genre of Christian music. So again…what makes a Christian artist Christian? It certainly can’t be about musical style. It must be the message. Yet some bands overtly write Jesus into their lyrics and others create hidden messages. We could certainly debate what we think about both approaches (as well as others). But here’s my real question:

Should we have a genre called Christian music? Why or why not?

I have a lot of things that I want to say about this but I will leave that for the comments and maybe some further posts.

3 Replies to “The Monday Muse: Christian Music

  1. “Christian music” is a marketing term created by the music industry and mass retail to sell recorded product to a niche group. At the outset, I don’t think there was any “spiritual” thought or reason about why we call it that… it just made selling those records easier, and it created an easy market segment to make millions of dollars off of.

    Money and greed aside, I think some positive things have come out of the designation Christian music: Christian radio is heard by over 25 million people on a daily basis with many positive effects, the Christian music industry has fostered a collaborative environment for Christ-oriented artists, and the industry has the advantage of standing as a unified force which bolsters artists presence within the Christian market, as well as the mainstream market.

    Without the Christian genre designation, you wouldn’t have the Christian music industry, and vice-versa. Some days I’m really appreciative of it, and some days I hate that it exists… because within it good and evil coexists.

    I think it would be great if artists who are Christians were empowered within themselves to create great music that honors God and were received by the music community at large as innovators, and creative thinking people. In some ways the Christian music classification preempts their ability to do this naturally.

    And as a result, unfortunately, the nature of the Christian music industry mutes some of the most brilliant artists, dampens most of the fringe artists, and leaves us with a mediocre majority that fails to adequately challenge society in Christian thought, values, morals, and theology.

    Christian music as it exists today has created many opportunities… but we don’t know how many opportunities have been lost as a result of that industry existing.

  2. Burns…I think your comments are some of the most balanced and well-thought I have heard on this subject. Of course, you do have the advantage of seeing things from an industry perspective so I shouldn’t expect any less from you.

    I agree that millions of people have been encouraged and even witnessed to by “Christian music” and this industry. And like you said, many of these artists would not have a platform to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ if it weren’t for this industry (although I do think there are some who have a platform that probably shouldn’t). Yet I wonder how many nonbelievers listen to Christian music or even give it a chance. Much of it is lacking in originality. In fact, Christian music has gotten the reputation for being a knock off of mainstream music. We seem to have created Christian versions of everything from Limp Bizkit to Britney Spears (maybe with more clothes on). However, maybe its similarities are the reason why some people, nonbelievers in fact, give it a chance in the first place. It sounds like their favorite band or artist and so they give it a spin. It is a quandary.

    This brings me to another question. Do you think the Christian industry and artists themselves would benefit from having the Christian industry solely create music for the church (to be sung by the gathered church) and thus encouraging other types of artists who are Christians to pursue the mainstream industry?

  3. Jeff; I am not sure I understand your question fully but I will retort. For music to be sung by the collective it must be lacking in complexity. Some songs are just hard to sing as a group. I think this endeavor may lead to less creativity, at least musically.

    Personally I am glad that a few record labels decided to call themselves Christian and start singing and promoting bands that share at least some of the core beliefs of the whole. Personally, I may need to take a more constructive point of view when I criticize the Christian music genre. Because, in fact, I think there is more creativity in this space than there has ever been. This does not mean we should stop pushing for better and better.

    I believe the divide is good and serves a fine purpose. If there were no such thing as “Christian” music, many overtly Christian bands would not have found the platform on which they now stand.

    I may try to kick’em in the kidneys every once in a while, but its out of love.

What Do You Think?