Friday, August 27, 2010

Why I'd Rather Listen to Secular Music

I don't listen to much Contemporary Christian Music.  Granted, I haven't listened to much of anything beyond highlighted selections of the Wiggles and the theme songs of various Thomas the Tank Engine characters during the last few years.  But even back when I did listen to music, I didn't listen to much CCM.

There are, I suppose, a few reasons for this.  I will now list them with numbers because it makes them look more authentic.  So here we go...

P10208361. I am a dude.  And CCM music is very girly.  Even when a CCM song is sung by a guy, generally speaking, it is still oozing in estrogen because it sounds like the super-emotive ballads that fledgling male songwriters write about exgirlfriends in an effort to get new girlfriends.  (Trust me, I know something about this.)  And it doesn't matter how manly the manly singer is because even the rawest machismo in the world is trumped by lady pandering every time.  Like how Clint Eastwood both directed and starred in The Bridges of Madison County and yet no man in the entire world has ever watched that movie.  Including Clint Eastwood.  So, in summary, I don't listen to much CCM for the same reason that I don't watch Lifetime.

2. Amy Grant.  No offense to Ms. Grant, but if she was the best talent that the early 90's CCM industry had to lease to the pop charts, well, that's not a very compelling case for me to twist the radio dial to one of the holier stations. 

3. Musically speaking, CCM generally gets it wrong on both sides, both in its spiritual aspects as well as in its secular ones.

For those who are fans of CCM, that may sound like somewhat of an unfair claim.  But since I strongly agree with myself, I would argue that it's true.  And I would also argue that it's actually quite simple to see how it's true.  And I'm going to argue that right now, once again using numbers to give greater weight to my claims.

1. Church music is, in essence, didactic.  Its job is to heal broken hearts by teaching.  St. Paul says precisely this in Galatians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord," (NKJV).  So,when Church music teaches us who God is, when it teaches us what Jesus Christ has done for us and what we've conquered through His blood, our broken hearts are healed, our loads are lightened and are faith is strengthened.  And Church music has done its job.

2. Secular music is, in essence, cathartic.  Its job is to heal broken hearts by purify the emotions.  So, when secular music sings of a pain that you thought only you had ever felt, when it wails of a common heartbreak and pulls the tears out of your eyes, when it bubbles up joy inside your blood by making you dance, then secular music has done its job.

So, with regard to point 1, if CCM wants to be legitimate, worthwhile Church music, then it must be didactic.  It must teach.  But, by and large, it doesn't.  Instead, it often seeks to emulate the emotional soarings of secular/pop music which are achieved by focusing on the songwriter's love of the object and not so much on the object itself/himself/herself, a la this ridiculously awesome secular song.  (It's a long point, but I'd also argue that the non-sacramental theology behind most CCM is even more to blame for this than mimicry of secular music.)  So, instead of focusing on the objective work of Christ, instead of proclaiming who God is and what He has done for us, it focuses instead on our love for God and how we feel about him.  Granted, these aren't bad things to talk about.  But telling me how crazy you are about Jesus won't teach me who Jesus is.  And if your music doesn't teach me about Him, it really doesn't have much place in His Church.

So if CCM doesn't prove to be of great value when it comes to Sunday morning, one could at least hope that it could feature some of the value found in point 2.  And yet, I think it's here that CCMS also falls a bit flat.  You see, while secular music can't give us the Triune God, it can give us raw, beautifully raw humanity, a la the wild, manic emotion found in the latter half of this piece.  And when it does that well, it's a great and wonderful thing.

But in order for that to happen, you need the songwriter, the singer, the guitar solist, the whomever, to pour out his or her soul without reservation.  If you've ever found yourself, surrounded by the fragments of a shattered heart, listening to the same song over and over and over again until three o'clock in the morning, you've discovered a song that does this.  You've discovered a song that achieves true catharsis because of its honesty.

And, in my experience with CCM, this honesty is deeply and profoundly lacking.  Again, it's too long a point to argue in much detail now, but non-sacramental theology, by and large, does not permit Christians to be honest with themselves and with each other.  So, if your theology won't let you find God's love in Baptism, or the Lord's Supper, or in the Word, then the only place left to find God is inside your own heart where your faith resides.  And when the quality and quantity of your faith determines the amount of God's love that you get, that's not an environment that's conducive to being an honest Christian.  If acknowledging your doubt , your weakness, your shriveled, pathetic little faith means acknowledging that God must therefore be very, very far away from you, then you're simply going to act like there's no doubt to see here at all.  Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.  This is why your average CCM song has a hard time truly connecting on a gut level-because no one else in the world has experienced what it's like to always feel super about everything, to never doubt God's mercies and to have so magnificently triumphed over every one of life's temptations through your perfect adoration of God's awesomeness.  Show me a guy who feels like he could have written the latest CCM hit and I'll show you a guy whose closet is jammed full of sins and doubts because he's far too terrified to actually look at them.

And so, in the end, I find more value in a song that talks honestly about sin even if it doesn't talk about salvation than I do in the song that talks insincerely about both.  In the end, I'd rather listen to a heavy piece of humanity than an empty puff of theology.

P.S. If any CCM apologists would like to challenge my rather broad genre assertions, I'm up for discussion.  But, first, I challenge you to find me one CCM song that speaks more honestly about sin, guilt and our fallen world than this secular piece.  Or this one.  Or this one.  And, sorry, but you will not top this one.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading.


Grev Lindgren said...

Great reading! No ccm band will ever write like Nine Inch Nails in "hurt" (maybe more famous when its song by Johnny Cash", or Metallicas "Untill it sleeps", its wierd, but my biggest complaint about ccm-music is that its lyrics has a total unrealistic view on humans, in other words... its to happy.

Pastor Fiene said...

Yes, Grev! If our theology won't let us be honest about who we are, our music suffers greatly...

Anonymous said...

with respect to point number 1 I guess you've never heard of bands like Living Sacrifice:

Pastor Fiene said...


I tried to watch the videos you linked. You are certainly right that these guys are not girly. But I don't know how anyone can listen to that stuff.

cheri' said...

Hi Pastor Feine,
I recently found your blog because of the Lutheran Satire and began to read it from the beginning. If it is possible, you might want to relink the broken ones in this post. Judging by the links that are good, I'm sure they would be helpful for others who like to begin at the beginning. Thank you for your teaching.

Jason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason said...

Pastor, even if someone proved you wrong would you really admit it? It's kind of hard to win this challenge when you are the plaintiff, judge and jury rolled into one. Here is one to consider.