Why I Have A Hard Time Being A Fan of Contemporary Christian Music

ImageI sometimes get into to friendly ribbings with my peers over the subject of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). As a youth pastor, I think sometimes it’s assumed my musical world revolves around TobyMac, Casting Crowns, and Michael W. Smith. Truth is, it doesn’t. As with all music, there are some songs and groups I like to hear, and some I don’t. I feel as though I’m expected to embrace and accept all CCM without question. But, as a discerning Christian, I believe that just because it’s “Christian music” doesn’t mean it should be immune to my scrutiny and criticism. It shouldn’t be given a “free pass” just because of its genre.

I apply the same standards to Contemporary Christian Music as I do to anything else I listen to: What does it tell me about God? I see nothing wrong with asking if a CCM song holds water as far as scriptural fidelity. Not only that, I like to examine the sound, feel, and message of all music I listen to (as well as movies/shows I watch). With these thoughts in mind, I want to tell you why I have a hard time being a very big fan of CCM.

Lack of originality. When I’m scanning though the radio stations, I can always tell when I land on a CCM station. It all sounds the same.  The same style of vocals. The same guitar riffs. The same synthetic keyboards and drums. Same soupy lyrics. Nothing seems like the artist is truly trying to break new ground, or at least trying to put a new spin on the same three chords. Right now, most everything in CCM sounds like a bad imitation of Coldplay (which is itself a so-so imitation of U2).

But when I listen to Queen or Pink Floyd or Metallica or even Lady Gaga (which is rare), I hear artists trying to advance their genre, musicians trying to be creative and original. They’re pushing boundaries and thinking outside the box. It’s as if CCM bands are handed the same template and told, “Here, follow this and do not deviate at any cost.” And they follow suit. Have you ever heard what B.B. King can do with five notes? Did you ever listen to what the Beatles did with three chords? My point exactly.

Substandard production values. When most artists go into the studio, they go to create art, and will do so to the minutest detail. Artists will generally use whatever is available to them in the studio to get their vision on tape (or file). Production values consists of things like musicianship, tone, mix, balance, technical quality, equipment, and on and on. Amazing things have been accomplished on small budgets, so that’s no excuse.

Hearkening back to my first point, I believe CCM more often than not falls prey to the song mill. I’m not doubting these artists go into the studio with a creative vision, but before it’s over I’m sure they have very little creative control over the final product. The record companies know which demographic they want to reach, what sound they’re looking for, and what formulas have “worked” in the past. CCM sounds like it came off an assembly line: “Brrrr…whizzzz….bap, bap….ka-ching, next!”

Unrealistic worldview. Mostly every CCM station touts itself as “family friendly” and “positive and uplifting.” There’s nothing wrong with being family friendly, positive, and uplifting. I appreciate all three. However, the Bible and experience tells us that real life is not always family friendly, positive, and uplifting. I get that CCM and the stations which plays it are trying to shield its listeners from the over-sexed, raunchy, and oftentimes antichristian themes of “secular” radio.

However, what we need to understand is that CCM is basically insulating its listeners in a reality-denying bubble in which pain, struggles, disappointments, failures, death, and sin do not exist. It’s like a Ned Flanders musical ghetto. Everything is all smiles, all happy, all clean and pressed, and all white all the time. It’s apparent those writing CCM songs have never read the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, or Lamentations, and if they did they obviously dismissed the “bad” parts. This is not reality.

We live in a fallen world. Sin is very real and very present. Christians struggle with real issues. Family friendly and positive might make people feel assured, but it can never save, nor can it speak to the soul’s greatest need. We need to hear the whole truth in order to relate, then we can hear the beauty and excellencies of the gospel even more clearly.

Faulty theology. This is the main reason I have a hard time listening and liking the majority of CCM. It amazes me at how folks will gladly accept heresy from a “Christian” artist, but will deny truth from a “secular” artist. As someone who plays CCM, probably the hardest thing for me is to see all the faulty theology that exists in the songs floating over the CCM airwaves. I won’t call out any names, but in listening to a CCM station for an hour one day, I heard a song basically deny the Trinity (or at least it exhibited a misunderstanding of the work of each Person of the Trinity), heard several misuses/misquotations of scripture, noticed most songs lacked anything pointing anyone to Jesus (i.e. the gospel), other than saying our Lord was an okay Guy who loves everyone. Heard one song that gave the impression salvation might possibly come by works, and all songs seemed to believe that we’re all just good people who need to be happy. Add a sprinkle of Jesus for true CCM legitimacy.

Again, I will not question the artist’s intent. However, because of the nature of our enemy, I cannot say for certain these errors were not intentional. That’s just the truth of the matter. I believe CCM artists should be held to a very high theological standard. Look at all the potential people they’re reaching. Music can speak to a person where mere words cannot. If music is a vehicle for truth, it’d better be a Hummer, and not a Smart Car. And unlike many, I am most definitely saying that CCM artists should be theologians.

And there you have it. I hope my points are valid. Again, I love listening to many CCM artists, both new and old. But, I refuse to like something I don’t like just because I’m expected to like it. I am calling Christians everywhere to be discerning about what they’re hearing. Just because it has the Christian label on it doesn’t make it safe for consumption. I’m calling on them to not simply discount music because it exists outside the “family friendly, positive and uplifitng” realm. Be discerning. Be a music snob, even to CCM. What are your thoughts?

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3 thoughts on “Why I Have A Hard Time Being A Fan of Contemporary Christian Music

  1. I find most of what you said right on. Christians used to be known for the art that set the standard for the world and is still sought after around the world. Think of the cathedrals, paintings, sculptures, hymns, and novels that have been produced dating back as late as medieval times. Many of these are the most valuable works of art today. We travel thousands of miles just to get a glimpse or visit the grave of the artist.

    Today are songs are so great that we often send Albums to the “Do not play” list after a couple of years. I used to listen to much more CCM, but I am finding myself increasingly disappointed. It all sounds the same. Unfortunately, “praise and worship” music is often more predictable that regular CCM and that’s the stuff we often have to sing in Church. Honestly I find myself going back to hymns and other classical music. I guess it takes a little time to find my taste. Obviously, a couple hundred years will do wonders to weed out the bad music from the good.

    I would also say that modern Pop music isn’t much better. Most of that stuff is also very manufactured as well. The big problem is that Christians just tend to be more loyal in a weird way. It isn’t all bad but it has certainly made our music less appealing.

  2. First off, I’m a guitarist of over 20 years. I’ve played in both secular and praise bands. This blog is really insightful. You have put into words in your second bullet “Lack of Originality” what I’ve been trying to lick my finger and put it into the wind about what I don’t like about CCM. I’ve been a fan of Christian radio for all the obvious reasons that others could agree with me on; we are fan’s for what the waves are “good at”. We love something positive and uplifting because our world, especially in the entertainment business, is anything but these days. We love the good “vibes” that come from anything wholesome and are likely to even fund the efforts if it can keep our kids from hearing F-bombs or crass and uncouth innuendo- and we really don’t want to hear it either for that matter. I get that. But let’s face it, the music isn’t profound or thought provoking.

    I’ve grown up around music. All different kinds and have found myself enjoying elements from secular artists of very different genres. I grew up with the 50’s, the 80’s, and everything new, and in the last 10 years, CCM. The CCM movement is even more of what I hate about secular popular music. I hate the “cookie-cutter” mold that I hear in Christian music. It all sounds the same- and I liken it to junk food. It feels/ tastes good for a moment but I find myself still hungry and grasping for something else until I get my hands on something wholesome. Until I get my hands on something I can really relate to- something gritty. Sometimes I want something cheesy- but I want natural cheese. Something with 5 ingredients that just tastes good and doesn’t weigh me down in doubt about what I just ingested. I don’t want partially hydrogenated soybean oil, sodium benzoate, monosodium glutamate in my food. I don’t like it in music either.

    It’s really hard to put into words what I’m trying to say, but I really like the “art” of so much music that has come from the secular. Even from the pop music of the last 4 decades. The music is often strange, unsettling, or even downright frightening. It mirrors what true life really is. Your illustration of what Queen, Metallica or Lady Gaga can do with music is what we are talking about. They stretch the boundaries of what our ears can take, and we don’t even always “get it” at first. Sometimes we have to be coaxed into eating our vegetables before we realize that we actually feel better and maybe even begin to like them. Some of my favorite secular artists have been Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, just to name a few. These people know how to write compositions. There isn’t always an intro, verse, verse II, chorus, verse III, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. Sometimes the “song” is 2.5 minutes, sometimes 10 minutes long. Sometimes it sounds like a bunch of noise. But, after a few listens maybe you even “like” what you didn’t at first. It grows on you. It’s interesting. Some of the tunes from these greats will be heard 50 years from now. Just like we are still listening to the classical compositions of the last 3 centuries. Will we remember repetitive “feel good” lyrics that are positive and uplifting? Will we really be singing (enter the catchy phrase from the hottest song on KLove right now here) 40 years from now? Even 10 years? No, we won’t be.

    Christians should be writing the most amazing music on the planet. We should be writing songs that will be in books 100 years from now that will be found in every pew- but maybe the music is just a sign of our times. It sounds like it was ordered from the drive-thru, and the songs rotated will not be played on the music devices of the future but will more likely be found amid stray stale french fries instead.

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