Stop lying to yourself. 60% of Christian music is garbage. Yes, there are gems, plenty of them, and Christians have written some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard. However, I’m tired of seeing both worship services and radio tracks falling short.
Now I know that there are plenty of problems with the industry and the current age of music, but I addressed some of those in a previous post (click here to read it), so I’ll focus on just the music. Ironically, the two major issues also plague secular music: extremes.
Music is an art an a science. Art creates beauty, science creates order. Woven together, they perfectly reveal the Creator God, who is both beauty and order. That’s why worship makes it so easy for many people to connect with God. But art and science are a spectrum and when you move too far to either side…blech.
Problem One: All Science, no Art (Pop Music)
What is pop music? What instruments do you use? What are the themes? What sounds can you expect? What culture did it originate from? You can’t answer because pop is the un-genre. It’s the generic nothingness. It’s not music, it’s just pleasant noise.
Music can strike a good chord in someone’s brain, so if you figure out how to use the right sounds, you can make somebody like your song without it ever being good. In Christian circles, this is the “reverent” sound. A mixture of oomph and softness that makes you look up in awe and wonder…at how phoned-in the music is. The same goes for the lyrics. Just say some Christian-ese words like joy, love, grace, etc, and you have a mega-platinum hit.
EXHIBIT A: Chris Tomlin’s “Joy to the World“.
It starts off well, as “Joy to the World” is a gorgeous song with exquisite lyrics and melodies. Tomlin thought he could one-up the classic by adding a bridge. It worked well with “Amazing Grace,” but not here.
“Joy, unspeakable joy/an overflowing well, no tongue can tell/Joy, unspeakable joy/rises in my soul, never lets me go.” How delightfully gauche. First off, the lyrics are dry in comparison to the rest of the song. Second, the rest of the song talks about why the world should have joy, that we should all rejoice because Christ has come. Tomlin talks about…just joy. Oh and what it does to us. It’s not about God, it’s about generic Christian themes.
On top of all that, the melody is uninspired. “Joy to the World” has great musical movements that showcase the era in which it was written. Tomlin’s insertion is more like an intrusion. It doesn’t fit the hymn in any way. The original sound was triumphant. Tomlin’s part is, again, Christianese. A reverent sound with no substance.
All in all, it says the right words and makes the right noises, but it’s not music.
Problem Two: All Art, No Science (Hipster Music)
Ah, hipsters. They’re tired of traditional media, so they make new things, not realizing that some things haven’t been tried before because they’re obviously horrible.
I’ve said before that music has rules. You can’t just do absolutely anything because that’s discordant chaos, not pleasing to either God or man. True, some of us don’t have the instrumental talent others have, but songwriters should be held accountable to the principles of music as well as worship. Psalm 33:3 says to play “skillfully.” In Exodus, when God oversaw the building of the Arc of the Covenant, he chose men who were skilled artisans, not just men with big hearts and good intentions (Ex 31:1-6). God cares about art, and good artists understand the need for order and precision in their craft.
EXHIBIT B: “Oh, how he loves.”
Don’t be me wrong, I like this song a lot. But man there are parts I despise. For one thing, the entire first verse is a run-on sentence, which grates my English Major gland. But here’s how it ends: “when all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions, eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful you are and how great your affections are for me.” That’s a clunky mouthful. Worse yet, the melody and meter actually end at the word “great,” but the hipster cares not for structure, only lyrics and melody.
Did you know that there is math in music? Good musicians do. That’s how the rhythm is made. It takes more to learn music than just listening to a lot of it. You have to understand it, not just emulate it. What makes the music rise and fall? What dynamics are best for what areas? If the tempo changes, why? Does the lyric fit within the measure? If you don’t know what any of that means, you probably shouldn’t be making music.
It’s music. MUSIC. It’s not just a platform for Christian ideals and it’s definitely not a sermon. If you want to spout your ideas alone, get a blog or become a preacher. But if you dare to put your ideology to music, do not disgrace God by disgracing one of his most powerful creations. Treat music like music, not a springboard for a message. Good music opens the soul and thus God can enter, but bad music is a horrid distraction.
Everybody starts out somewhere and all musicians have to grow in their craft. But if you eliminate either science or art from your melodic diet, you’re basically using scissors with only one blade. The amounts fluctuate (hip-hop is far more rhythm than melody and jazz is the opposite), but don’t fall to the traps of easy Christian music. There’s enough audio garbage out there already. Don’t add to the pile.