As a musician who likes both secular, sacred, and crossover bands, I have often engaged in conversations around what makes christian music “christian.” Last week, I discovered a metal band I really like, Killswitch Engage. As I was listening, I started noticing some Christian codewords – language that was distinctly biblical. So I looked them up, and as it turns out, one of the band members is a Christian, but they don’t really do Christian music – but some of the xian viewpoints show through.
Then, I came across the band Evanescence, whose music I instantly liked, and so I decided to search the web to find out if they were Christian. As it turns out, they have been asked this question so many times, they purchased www.notachristianband.com to explain themselves, since the content of their songs sounds Christianesque. Here’s what they say:
Evanescence is Not a Christian Band, although in their personal lives they are all Christians.
Well, it seems that they’ve gained enough visibility among xian youth that Focus on the Family’s teen magazine Brio even did an article on them.
I heard Evanescence was a Christian group, so I bought Fallen. I was troubled by the lyrics. How do you feel about the CD?
Disappointed. The Arkansas goth-metal band created lots of buzz on the Christian music scene, but after listening to Fallen I had to wonder why. There’s a passing reference to God and Christ, but aside from that the themes are grim. Most of the disc expresses inner turmoil without offering hope.
This shows an unfortunate utilitarian view of music, rightly condemned by Franky Schaeffer and others – it’s thinking is “if it ain’t preaching the gospel, it ain’t no good.” In his excellent book Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christianity and the Arts, he says that this utilitarian view of the arts is due to an overemphasis on man’s sinfulness, to the exclusion of appreciation of his beauty and gifts (made in God’s image), and has reduced Christian art to “sloganeering.” I think this is the unfortunate error that the above evaluation of Evanescence’s excellent work makes.
So in my mind I began to analyze music, and I think that there are only three attributes to consider – musical style, lyrical content, and the spirit and orientation of the performer(s).
1. Musical Style
Let me emphatically say that all styles of music are acceptable for Christina music, and none are “demonic.” I own a Jimmy Swaggart book called Religious Rock and Roll: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing that makes the argument that rock comes a spirit of rebellion, and from pagan African rhythms used in demon incantations. I have two things to say about this.
First, a little healthy rebellion is a good thing, and in fact, all emotions are valid for expression in human life, and in Christian music. Joy and sorrow aren’t the only “valid” emotions to express. The bible says “be angry but do not sin.” Even anger can be valid. But I digress. In the bible, we see sorrow and joy, but also anger and complaint from the prophets – don’t you think that Jeremiah might have wanted to put his complaints to music that expressed his discouragement and anger? Something like grunge, perhaps? The vehicle is largely inert – and some styles are better at expressing certain emotions, and should and can be used by Christian artists.
Second, having enjoyed a drum circle, I can attest to the power of certain rhythms creating certain atmospheres, and the power of a rhythm to call up feelings, maybe even spirits, is not that far-fetched. However, I think most of what they do is create moods in our spirits – whether or not demons are coming around is questionable – but not out of the question.
One last thing about musical style being sacred. Some styles are more conducive to creating an attitude of worship. But just because we are used to some quiet or familiar style doesn’t mean that another style might not be worshipful for someone else. Music should be a natural expression in our familiar language and style – God doesn’t speak King James English, if you know what I mean. In general, what makes music Christian is not style, but content and the spiritual state of the performer.
2. Content and Spiritual State of the Performer
The other two attributes can be dumped into the matrix to the right, giving us 9 distinct types of music.
a. Christian Music – Music that is expressly Christian in content, and performed by Christians. This can be either God-focused (worship) or people focused (ministry/performance)
b. Christian Crossover – this is where bands like Kings X (I’m dating myself) or Sixpence None The Richer fit in (or the queen of crossover, Amy Grant). Or bands like Evanescence.
c. Backslider Music – OK, I had trouble naming this one, but the key distinction here is that the artists are not just complaining, but doing so in a fashion that attributes God with evil and expresses unbelief and doubt.
It’s like the difference between the complaint of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, and that of Mary, mother of Jesus. Both were told by an angel about the birth of a son, and both asked “How can this be?” But God treated them differently – Mary was praised, while Zechariah was struck dumb. Why? Because Mary asked out of a sense of wonderment with faith, while Zechariah asked out of doubt and unbelief. Those who complain without impinging the character of God are being honest – they can even be honest about having a weak faith – but blaming God, and obviously doubting God makes one a “backslider”, or “doubter” – something God rebukes (with love). But even blaming God is not quite enough to be in the wrong – but some have left the faith, and become attackers. These are securely in this category.
d. Cultural Christian or danielg Music – This type of band sings Christian content without understanding or yet believing it. Not only do many cultural Christians sing this way on Sundays, but often, those seeking the truth begin to recognize it as truth, but haven’t passed the tipping point of being believers. Two examples come to mind – one is a favorite CD of mine, III Sides to Every Story by Extreme. This album is rich with old and new testament scripture, yet the band was largely secular until Gary Cherone starting leaning towards Christianity on Extreme’s second album (Pornografitti, which had a few Christianesque songs including the title track and Hole in My Heart).
A second example, though not in music, was M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. Up until that time, he was mostly read by non-Christians and new agers. But the ideas he presented in that book seemed so Christian that a lot of people started asking him if he had converted. However, as he relates in Further Along the Road Less Traveled, he had not converted from Zen to Christianity until *after* writing the earlier book – it was part of his process. He was a danielg.
The remainder of the types of music are somewhat self-explanatory, and as I show in the diagram, I can’t figure out why someone who was explicitly non-christian would want to sing christian content, except perhaps as a mockery or parody. But there you have it.
One Last Point on Evaluating Music
One last idea, described well in this article from leaderU is that more important than trying to judge whether music is Christian or not is, how do you experience it? Does it bring you closer to God, to self-knowledge and freedom of heart, or does it move you the other way? For example, when I was working on my inner child issues, Pearl Jam helped me access the anger and grief I had at the hurts in my childhood. Was the music Christian? Not by the definitions above. But it helped me plenty because it was honest and open.
Arguably, there is good and bad art, but it’s highly subjective. But as Franky Schaeffer teaches, I think that good art must embody beauty and truth – not just God’s truth, but the honest expression of the soul. So be it.