It seems that for a style of music that attempts to promote a message of love that Christian Contemporary Music doesn’t receive very much love itself. Christian Rock and Rap bands and performers (like TobyMAC, his former band dc Talk, and the like) have ignorant bigots pronouncing their music as satanic . Let us examine two interrelated problems with Christian Contemporary Music (hereafter shortened to CCM) and its critics: what is the line between what is godly and satanic in the field of music, and what does this mean for our own hymnals and musical habits in general, beyond the field of CCM.
According to its critics, Christian Rock is a tool for Satan to deceive the young, and that no rock music of any kind can be Christian . Along with the usual statements against the ungodly lifestyles of many secular musicians (along with the well-documented struggles of many “Christian” musicians with alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual sins, and the like, problems which of course are to be found in spades among the ministry and general membership as well), there are criticisms of the satanic nature of rhythm. Some go as far as to argue that there is a fundamental difference between the timbrels and loud cymbals (and accompanying dancing) that are part of God’s authorized musical worship (see Exodus 15:20, Psalm 150:4-5) and the drums and rhythm that mark rock, rap, and other forms of CCM. The Bible, though, through its placement of rhythmic instruments (like cymbals and timbrels) and dancing as part of the accepted biblical standard of worship, makes a clear demarcation line based on instruments alone very difficult. Harps, violas, guitars, and banjos (as well as pianos) are all stringed instruments, after all (see Psalm 150:4).
Seeing, therefore, that the problems and immorality of many CCM acts are shared (lamentably) by the larger Christian community and that the Bible itself places stringed and rhythmic instruments within the acceptable instruments by which to praise Him, we must therefore seek to make sense of the vehemence of some people for CCM. Some of the hatred seems to be racist and ageist in nature. Rock & Roll and Rap specifically come from the much-maligned youth and urban communities. Like Gospel music, Rock & Roll and Rap spring from the mixture of European musical traditions with those of Africa. Is something inherently sinful simply because it comes from Africa? If we are hostile to Christian rap, are we as hostile to “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho” or “Amazing Grace?” Are not those people who brought (pagan) Africans across the Middle Passage as slaves and then sought to exploit them economically and in other ways responsible for bringing African rhythms and traditions onto these shores in the first place? Why blame those who had no say in coming here?
For if it is improper to mix the Christian truths of scripture with “secular” forms of music like rap and rock, would it not be equally sinful to mix Christian truths with any forms of secular music, whether they be European or African or from any culture? Is it not immoral then to sing songs like “Let All Things Now Living,” whose music comes from the Welsh folk song “Ash Grove ”? Is European paganism acceptable but somehow African paganism is not? And if European paganism is not acceptable in music, then we ought to consider our other pagan-influenced religious customs like the Trinity, and Christmas and Easter and Sunday observance. If the grounds of attacking CCM is its influence by African paganism, we have a lot to clean up in our European house as well. And if it is improper to mix Christian truths with secular musicians like the Beatles and the Byrds (one of whose hits, “Turn Turn Turn” was itself an adaptation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), then it is also improper to sing “secular” songs like Handel’s Messiah and Xerxes, Mendehlsson’s Elijah, or anything by Bach, Brahms, or Mozart. What’s good for secular musicians of the 20th century is good for those of the 17th, 18th, or 19th century too. We must not judge with partiality, after all (James 2:8-13). Judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.
What does this mean about our opinions towards CCM? I am not sure myself what to think of it—I feel ambivalent about it. On the one hand, I see nothing improper with seeking to explain the truths of God in the idiom of the youth or of other cultures. Are those who bash the satanic influence of Christian rock music doing anything to preach God’s truth as a witness to the youth, or are they merely insulting our intelligence and anyone who tries to reach out to the lost and struggling among our poor and minority populations? On the other hand, I think there are legitimate concerns about many efforts to water down doctrinal truths and to make church more about a spectacle to appeal to the masses than a sincere examination of biblical truth. I feel no need to single out CCM alone in this—it is a general problem of our entire Christian cultural enterprise.
At its core, the problem is this: what uniquely and genuinely Christian culture does the Church have to provide to its members and to the world? Do we have genuinely Christian novelists, musicians, artists, historians, mathematicians, scientists, filmmakers, journalists, engineers, farmers, judges, economists, teachers, and other professions, all teaching and practicing and applying God’s law in their respective professional and personal lives? Until we do, we will merely be baptizing secular culture with the veneer of Christianity. If this is unacceptable we need to have a genuine and complete understanding of what God’s culture is supposed to look like so we can be missionaries of that culture, both teaching the Church (which plainly has no idea what a genuinely biblical culture looks and acts like) as well as the world at large (which has even less of an idea than the Church).
Right now we are falling down on the job, and we probably don’t have much time left to learn how to do the job, so we might as well be shining some lights and hitting the books, rather than cursing the darkness. The critics of CCM are as much to blame for their purely negative attacks as CCM is for importing the latest secular musical trends and baptizing them as Christians. The process started a long time ago, and it’s high time to assess what sort of secular and “satanic” baggage we all are walking around with ourselves before we start pointing fingers at others. Are we prepared to show our own simon-pure biblical behavior? Or do we plead excuses and special privileges for those pagan traditions we happen to like. By the same standard we judge others we will be judged ourselves, and I think most of us would not fare very well by the biblical standard. Let us work on doing better—we have a lot of work to do.