Just What Theology Are You Listening To?
Ecclesiastes 1:1-5 – The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
I grew up listening to rock music. From the time I was young, my favorite band was KISS. I distinctly remember a day when I was about 10 or 11, my grandma was visiting us and I had an old KISS album playing on the record player. The song Hotter Than Hell came on and I proceeded to serenade my grandma with that song.
Ephesians 5:19 – Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart
She laughed it off. I enjoyed myself. I thought everything was ok.
For anyone who ever listened to that song, there is A LOT in that song that a young child should never listen to. For one, it talks about taking a woman back home to where there is “so much to do.” I can only imagine that Paul Stanley is not talking about baking a cake or changing the oil in the car. Even more than that, he is trying to pick up a married woman as she shows him her wedding band.
35 years later, I wish I could go back and apologize to my grandma for that moment.
A few years later, I would find myself making the decision to follow Christ. In the single moment, I actually broke in half every KISS album I had and threw them in the trash and started listening to groups like Sweet Comfort Band and Petra. For those of you who don’t listen to Christian rock from the 70s and 80s, that would be like trading in KISS for Journey or Rush.
As time went on, I found a little Christian music station on the radio (FM90.3, WJTL) that had a “3 hour rock block” every Saturday night headed up by Fred McNaughton and a few others. The first song I heard on there was Daniel Amos’ Travelogue. To this day I have no clue what that has to do with Christianity but I loved the flanged guitar intro and creative use of drums throughout the song.
More and more I got into Christian music.
Because I could have the sound I loved and feel I was listening to something that praised the God I loved.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
The Christian band Jacob’s Trouble once said in concert that they use music to break down the defenses so that they can slip the message they want you to hear into your mind and soul. Now before you condemn them for being sneaky and underhanded, that is a very real thing for all musicians. How many times do you say during a song, “that song really moved me!” I’m sorry to say, that was not b accident. It was well planned out to make you have that reaction.
It is why church services have a formula for their worship music. Most churches do 3-4 songs. The opening song is really upbeat and gets the blood pumping. The second song is upbeat, but allows a little bit of introspection and reflection. The third song (if there are 4 per service) is very upbeat and meant to get you ready for the lights to raise and get you into the mood to shake peoples’ hands. You want to fellowship with people. You feel good about saying “hi” to the stranger next to you. The fourth song is usually a very slow song. This is a song of true reflection that usually contains something that touches upon the sermon topic. This is the song that gets your heart ready to hear the message. It slows you down, gets you reflecting, and, yes, sometimes I have cried during this song.
But what about all those songs? And what about that Christian station you listen to throughout the week?
More people quote Christian song lyrics than they do Scripture. And many times the people believe that the words are coming directly from Scripture.
A lot of times, that simply is not true.
Sadly, there is a LOT of bad theology in the CHRISTIAN music we listen to.
Ephesians 4:14 – As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming
Part of the problem lies in what we see as the purpose for Christian music. When we see music used in the Bible, the overarching theme of music is to PRAISE GOD. The music is never meant for the unbelievers. It is meant for believers.
Today, entire record labels are created to reach the lost. Just look at Lecrae, Tedashii and the 1:16 Clique. They go out with a focus of reaching the lost for Christ.
But Fred, aren’t we supposed to go out and reach the lost?
Hmmm….I don’t know if we are truly reading the same Bible if that is our only mission in the church. Jesus’ Great Commission to us is to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have taught you.”
We get stuck on that word “Go” but we rarely focus on the word “disciples.”
Much of our music is “Go” music.
Very little is “disciple” music.
When I heard Daniel Amos for the first time (and, by the way, I still love their music, but I have a different view of it) I thought these guys were amazing Christian scholars. Without even realizing it, their album praised the name of William Blake more than it praised the name of Jesus. As a matter of fact, the name of Jesus is not said once in that first album that I bought. And this band put out 14 albums under the name Daniel Amos (or DA in their post-punk years), 7 solo albums by the lead singer Terry Scott Taylor, 6 albums as their pop alter egos of The Swirling Eddies, and 11 albums as another alter ego (this time Americana and Country music) of the Lost Dogs.
In total, 38 albums since the band went public in 1976. And they still tour today!
But with some very flawed theology over the years.
Titus 1:10-11 – For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain
And that was painful to write because I grew up emulating them. My Mohawk years were because of their song Home Permanent (“my hair points to the sky, the place I want to be”). My entire senior year of high school was spent dressing like them on their Vox Humana album. As a freshman in college I wrote a lot of poetry, some published in local mags, that people said sounded like a dark William Blake.
I idolized Daniel Amos.
And their bad theology.
It wasn’t until YEARS later that I started to realize that their music was Christian in name only.
And a lot of the Christian music scene of the 70s, 80s and 90s was the same.
One of the pioneer Christian punk bands was Undercover. For years they played raucous concerts that pogo’ed and moshed and slammed to songs like God Rulz, their re-write of Holy, Holy, Holy, and Three Nails.
Years later, their lead singer, Ojo Taylor, can be found teaching music at a college in the mid-Atlantic area. In an interview with him for Christianity Today, he came out saying that after spending all those years in the Christian music scene, he realized that he just could not believe in what he was singing about. He became at best agnostic and more likely, atheist.
The co-founder of the Newsboys in 1985 left the faith and calls himself an atheist.
Look at some others: Katy Perry, Roger Martinez from Vengeance Rising, Jennifer Knapp, Leslie Philips, Pete Stewart of Grammatrain, Scott Kerr and Andy Verdecchio of Five Iron Frenzy, Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying, Jason Barnes of Haste the Day, and David Bazan from Pedro the Lion. These are just a few!
The danger with music is that it DOES break down those defenses. It allows in whatever the singer is singing. And if that is not Bible-focused, then there is a danger of replacing the truth in your spirit with a lie.
Hebrews 13:9 – Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.
This is true even today in our churches.
The theology in the music can be damaging to the overall message you want your listener to receive.
Here is an example: In Christ Alone.
This is a beautiful song. But I want you to look at the theology of it. When you read the lyrics for it do you see the blatant Calvinist view? “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”
I am not saying that I don’t hold a somewhat Calvinist view of the church and theology in a lot of what I do. But how divisive is a song like this to non-Calvinists?
What about another example? How about Shine, Jesus, Shine. This song was among Britain’s top hymns in 2005 and was written in 1987. The line goes “shine on me, shine on me…” that I want to bring to the fore here. When we call to God continually to “shine on me” we are playing with the idea that Jesus is primarily concerned with our personal prosperity and that individual relationship benefits us as believers. The New Testament is pretty clear that the lyric should have read “shine on us.” The New Testament is about the community of believers.
How about the song, “Let My Words Be Few.” This song was given the dubious title of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” song. The danger with placing so much of our faith in Jesus with our emotions is that emotions come and go. Our love for Christ goes beyond emotion. Our music needs to reflect that.
What about a song that causes confusion? Let’s say, Cornerstone (My Hope is Built on Nothing Less). Let me start by saying I LOVE THIS SONG! But one REALLY needs to know the Bible to understand where the imagery is coming from for this song! Much of this song is based around the Biblical passages to Jewish Christians who were tempted to return to Judaism. While this song is theologically accurate, does it truly have a place in a seeker-driven church? How many will sing that song and not truly understand the imagery in it? How can they praise God if they don’t even understand what they are saying?
Or what about the action songs? A good example is the song “Hungry.” The line goes, “I am falling on my knees offering all of me.” How many of us are standing there in the sanctuary with our arms at our sides muttering these words nonsensically. Many people fear alienation and making a spectacle of themselves that they sing the lines of the songs deadpan.
I haven’t even hit all the major theological issues with our music today. For example, I didn’t even touch upon the songs that say I will be happy when I have Christ. Or songs that speak too hypothetically, such as “I can only imagine” (ooooh! there is sacrilege! That song was the impetus for propelling Christian music into the mainstream permanently!).
We as church leaders need to be cognizant of what we believe God’s call for our church is and target our music to those moments. We need to make sure that our own theologies are not compromised by using a song that counters it.
And we need to simply get better music. Honestly, most of the music is too repetitive and monotone to be truly good. If the lyrics had to do with someone’s girlfriend, the song would get laughed off the radio and iTunes. But when we tack God onto it, it seems like even the most suckish song turns platinum.
But that is a topic for another day.
2 Peter 3:17 – You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness