Music that Lets the Heart Lead the Way

This post appeared in a slightly different form in 2008. I am reposting it because I believe it is still true. The content of this post may be offensive to some Christians, and that is definitely not my intent, so if you are offended, please accept my apologies.  

I’ve never been a big fan of prom songs for Jesus. I have tried to like a lot of the mainstream Christian contemporary music, and there are a few artists out there who really strike me as incredible – Keith Green, Michael Card, Rich Mullins.

For the most part, however, the Christian music market feels recycled, bland and uncreative. Either the musicians are stealing phrases from their “secular” influences or they’re producing pure vanilla music in the name of creativity. It is an epidemic that has made me something of a cynical old crank when it comes to Christian music.

(And lest you think I am picking on only ‘contemporary’ Christian music, I feel this way about a lot of the hymns in the hymnbook as well. There are plenty of derivative, conventional tunes and predictable, mediocre lyrics in there, so there’s no reason to focus only on contemporary music.)

What Is It?

How many love songs to Jesus do we really need? And how many musicians are actually satisfied playing Gsus, C2, D2, Em7 OVER AND OVER AGAIN?

I understand the rationale behind praise and worship music – they are writing songs in recognizable, easily sung settings. I even understand the desire for contemporary Christian artists to “sound like” secular counterparts, but where is the creativity of the Spirit?

When I listen to something so tremendously creative like Starkindler or Hidden Face of God – in my opinion, two of Michael Card’s finest albums – or the demos of The Jesus Record by Rich Mullins, I come away frustrated by all the wanna-be’s who populate the Christian musical landscape. Card’s work in particular is just light years ahead of most of the stuff that passes for Christian.

If you’ve never listened to Michael’s music, then you might be tempted to class him as just “Christian” music, but he is so much more than that. The lamenting open chords of “The City of Doom”, the Celtic resonance of “The Hidden Face of God” or the Hammond organ and saxophone laying down incredible R&B influences in “Soul Anchor” – all of them are reflections of the message he is trying to convey. More than any other musician in the Christian world, Michael is a creative soul. Creativity transcends labels, and when it is really unleashed, the result is true music, true expression of the soul.

There is a famine of true creativity in Christian music today. It is reflected in the weak, unexpressive worship music churned out by the CD full from music mills around the world. You can hear it on any number of Christian CD’s that are feeble attempts to Christianize secular hip hop, alternative rock, nu-metal, swing and any other style you can imagine.

Rather than leading our culture, rather than speaking what is in our hearts, we attempt to get a set of beliefs to conform to particular musical styles. Erwin McManus speaks strongly to this problem of letting culture lead us:

An Alternate Way of Thinking

Rather than being Christian musicians, I think we need to be musicians who are Christian.

If we stop trying to do the “Christian” music and just write and play from our hearts, I think something new will come out of us – music with a spirit, with something distinctly Christian and yet creative. It can be done – Michael Card does it all the time – and it can probably even be done in whatever musical form is appropriate to it. I just don’t think it can be done when we’re focused on an agenda. Music is not about an agenda; it is just about the music. Music is the language of the heart, something more than just musical phrases and lyrical motifs.

That’s just my opinion.

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