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April 25, 2007

What IS ’Christian music,’ anyway?

We're introducing a new feature today (special thanks to Travis for setting this up): using polls to solicit your opinion on various topics of interest. First up is the question "What's the wisest path for a Christian musician to take?" You can vote in the poll at the right-hand side of the page, and then use the comments section under this post to specify what you meant by "Other" if you chose that option, or just to share further thoughts on the subject.

The inspiration for this topic came from two places:

1. My conversation with Motte Brown of The Line about Chris Rice and whether he could be said to be moving in a more secular direction.

2. An interesting article in Variety about some of the struggles and decisions Christian musicians face in trying to define themselves and their music. The Christian music industry, it seems, can be a help but also a hindrance in this area.

One of faith-based music's moral gatekeepers is Stace Whitmire, music director for CHRSN/WAY-FM. Before Whitmire will add a single, it has to pass several tests: "We look first for the message. If it's a good song with a good beat, we (won't play it) if the message doesn't connect. Second, sonically, it has to be good quality. Third, does the artist follow our beliefs?"

Whitmire says she thinks Carrie Underwood is probably a fine Christian, but that's not enough for "Jesus Take the Wheel" to get airplay on WAY-FM. "The album in general is a very country thematic album," she observes. "Looking at the whole package, would we recommend our audience buy it? No."

U2 may inspire Eucharist services, but the band isn't accepted in the Christian marketplace because of their cursing, smoking and their doubt-ridden single "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

It's a complex topic, with something to be said on both sides, so after you vote in the poll, please consider commenting here. We'd like to hear your thoughts, and we may use them in future posts.

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» The Point: What IS 'Christian music,' anyway? from Skilletfan-My first blog
what qualifies as "Christian music" and who qualifies as "Christian musicians"? [Read More]

» Christian Musicians Gone "Secular" from Boundless Line
A while back, when I first heard Christian artist Chris Rice was going to produce a more "secular" brand of music, I was disappointed. I don't know why exactly. I guess it's because I thought it would be the end [Read More]



I don't think this can be a cut-and-dried thing. I said "Other", meaning mostly "it depends". I think we as members of the body of Christ need to have an area of service, and for some people that is primarily inward-facing (exhortation, teaching, etc.) and for some that is primarily outward-facing (spread the Gospel, feed the poor, heal the sick, etc.). So for those who are called to serve in the music industry (and here I'm really talking about those for whom it is a calling rather than simply income-producing employment), they may be called to encourage and teach other members of the body through their music, or they may be called to use their music to reach out to folks who aren't yet believers, or their calling in this regard may change over time. And their songs should be written appropriately for whatever purpose it's to serve. So I say, "It depends", followed closely by "Anyway, is it my place to tell them what to do?"

Greg Laurichg

I think that Christian artists should do both if at all possible. It's all well and good to preach to the choir, but at some point we as Christians need to get out into the world to make a difference. I am thrilled when bands like Switchfoot, Mercy Me, P.O.D. etc., get airplay on secular stations because that means that God's message is getting to the people who need to hear it.

Michael Redmond

Huh? What are we talking about? Are we talking about Christian music -- that is, music inspired by and created to serve the faith and the church, dating all the way back to plainchant and up through Palestrina and Bach to the classic hymns of mainstream Christianity? Or are we talking about music written by Christians, which may be almost anything at all, including music that is completely personal in expression and which does not necessarily have anything to do with the witness and the mission of the church? Are we saying that because an artist identifies as Christian and his or her music invokes religious themes, this is ipso facto Christian music? If a Christian bakes a meat loaf and prays over it, does that make it a Christian meat loaf?

Gina Dalfonzo

Michael -- those are great questions. How would you answer them? (That's why I put a question in the post title, to get people thinking about these very subjects.)

Michael Redmond

I would answer them this way, provisionally, because this requires a lot of thought and I might see something else five minutes after I post this.

"Christian music" is not primarily about self-expression; it is about the expression of the worshipping and teaching mind and experience of the church, i.e., the body, not the individual.

"Christian music" is not primarily about my truth -- it is about THE truth.

"Christian music," like everything else having to do with the church, has a historical perspective. It sees itself as standing in a line that goes back and goes forward. It is intended for all believers, "the communion of saints," not for a certain generation or ethnicity or taste. It is not unduly concerned about the fads and trends of secular music. Its purpose is inspiration, not entertainment. It's not a performance, it's a prayer.

Insofar as "Christian music" is worship music, it must be worthy of the house of God. Study the scriptures. The Lord of Israel was very particular about the way He was to be worshipped, right down to details of decor and clothing. The fact that we are enjoined to worship "in spirit and in truth" does not remove from us the duty to ensure that everything in the church be done "decently and in order." That certainly includes worship music. Its purpose is to take us out of ourselves, to lift our gaze from earth to heaven.

How's that for starters?

Bill Rayborn

Michael said it well. Christian music is THE truth. But, that road to THE truth takes many paths.

I do think we compartmentalize it far too much. A good friend of mine is Jewish and yet wrote many songs sung by a very popular Christian artist. Is that Christian music? In my opinion, the answer is yes, for it has blessed many people. In fact, if we submitted all composers and lyricists to spiritual
testing we might remove many worthy songs from our radios churches and concerts.

Christian music is, to me, so very wide.
It could be a Bach cantata, "Messiah" or
"Jesus Take the Wheel" a Gaither song, or even "I'll Fly Away." If it blesses the saints and praises the Lord I will not criticize it.

I fear far too many who enjoy today's worship music (P&W) fail to see the broad scope of so much Christian music.

I taught at a completely Charismatic conference in OH a few years ago. When I said so many traditionalists were missing out on some of the wonderful praise and worship music I thought they were going to throw kisses at the stage.

However, when I said those who sang only P&W were bringing up a whole generation of people who will never know the great praise music in our hymns. I suggested that "When Morning Gilds the Skies" was some of ther greatest P&W music. I thought I was going to be attacked...and not with kisses.

Some Christian music means more to me than other types but we are wise to realize that is true of everyone and not all will choose the same type you do.

Wow! Sorry I got so wound up. Guess it's time to sing "Just as I am."

=Bill Rayborn=

John H.

Except in the sense of an industry, the distiction between "secular"
and "Christian" music doesn't really get to the issue. The issue is the quality of the music and its relationship to truth. The truth is that we live in a God-created and real world which has been fractured by the fall and which we live in as image-bearers and choice-makers. This truth can be effectively and truthfully communicated by an unbeliever (as an image-bearer which he/she cannot escape)in a "secular" song and sometimes is. Also, truth can be uneffectively and tritely communicated by a "Christian" song and sometimes is. Or, as I believe is the case with Stace in the blog, we can misunderstand the truthful message in a song (which she does with the U2 song).
A Christian musician should seek to write quality music which presents the truth as described above as well as the wider context of the impact of our redemption of Christ as whole persons (not abstract souls). To do this he/she does not need to "Christianize" the work by using accepted (and often expected) words and phrases, especially as the arts are most effective when they show rather than tell. Music of this quality is needed both within and outside of the Christian community but I would characterize it as "true" or "truthful" music rather than Christian or secular.


I would recommend that Christian artists get connected to the mainstream. It would be really nice to have artists getting a Christian message to that wide-world of people who need the musical message they have. Share the faith instead of keeping it within our club of believers. And definitely don't do a little of both, if it means you provide secular music to the mainstream and Christian music to the Christians.

Lisa Aldrich

What is music? Inspiration from God.

Jay Hostetler

Funny. All of the comments here seem to be stuck in what is "mainstream" CCM. With the exception of a comment about P.O.D. and a couple on U2, there has been no discussion about hip-hop, metal, screamo, or any other type of music that is truly "mainstream" in pop culture.

I agree with a lot that has been said when it comes to P&W, but Jesus didn't call us to preach the gospel to each other. Yes, there is a place for us to lift our souls to our Father, but can you sit in your comfortable pew singing "Just As I Am," and tell me that you are truly serving "My Jesus?" (Todd Agnew)

Personally, I am a 40+ metal head, who would rather be on the "Frontline!" Oh, that God would grant us great blessing in spreading His Gospel into the hearts & minds of the "Youth of the Nation" through song via the pop "mainstream." That "The Temptation Song" would forever be first in their minds when evil beset them.

It was said best in a song some thirty years or so ago: "Why Should the devil have All the Good Music?" - Do any of you have any clue who wrote and sang this song?


Wow! I have never been so spiritually stimulated as I was reading the comments about "What is Christian music?" God Bless you all for sharing your feelings. As for me, I grew up loving the old fabulous hymns & yet some modern "Christian music" ministers deeply to my soul. I believe it is between the individual person & the Holy Spirit as to their feelings about "Christian music".

Johnny Hinton

Lisa Aldrich It was said best in a song some thirty years or so ago: "Why Should the devil have All the Good Music?" - Do any of you have any clue who wrote and sang this song?
by Geoff Moore in 1970 But i dissagree HE didn't say it best, Jesus Christ put the music in my Soul, I found in the Holy Bible KJV in Exodus 15:21Chapter 15
Moses' song
1 Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. 2 The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. 3 The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. 4 Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. 5 The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. 6 Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. 7 And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. 8 And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea. 9 The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. 10 Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters. 11 Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? 12 Thou stretchedst out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them. 13 Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation. 14 The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. 15 Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. 16 Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased. 17 Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established. 18 The LORD shall reign for ever and ever. 19 For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought again the waters of the sea upon them; but the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea. 20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. 21 And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.


I think Switchfoot said it well, "Christians are defined by faith, not genre."
I think the hardest thing for me, when I listen to most christian music, is that it lacks a lot of originality and quality. I tire of the CCM industry trying to put out a christian version of Gwen Stefani or of the Backstreet Boys, etc. It's a cheap rip-off with a lower quality sound. Whatever happened to being original anymore?
I struggle with the cotton candy sugar coated sound. This happy go lucky music where the same old recycled lyrics seem to always have resolve in the end. Life isn't like that a lot of the times. Whatever happened to making music where you talk about the honesty of your struggle right then and there? Most christian music always talks about the other side of struggle and how everything is resolved.
Christians talk about a lot things: movies, music, relationships, feeling, struggles....they don't always talk about God 24/7, but that doesn't make them any less christian. So if we can talk about just about everything under the sun with eachother, why can't we sing about it?

Patrick Partridge

It was said best in a song some thirty years or so ago: "Why Should the devil have All the Good Music?" - Do any of you have any clue who wrote and sang this song?

It was Larry Norman who wrote that song

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