Two Major Problems with Christian Music

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.

In Short…

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.

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15 thoughts on “Two Major Problems with Christian Music

  1. Another thing that came to my mind is: I’d like to hear more variety in the voice types, especially male voices. I feel that there is a good amount of variance in the female voices of modern Christian music but not enough in the male voices. Maybe I haven’t sampled enough?

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      1. Yeah. Having listened to Josh Groban for years, I’ve really come to appreciate the classically trained voice (that sings contemporary songs). And sometimes I find myself longing for something like that in modern Christian music. I do like Michael Card’s style. A friend pointed out that his voice sounds like the Broadway-type. I think I usually prefer the sweeter, rounded tone over the raspy type (but there are exceptions!).

        Something different you might appreciate is the Finnish Christian symphonic metal band HB. They perform in both English and Finnish. One of my favorites by them is Minä Olen, which is pretty much directly from Isaiah 58:3-9:

        They also recently had a Christmas song called “Mary”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G60Prnr3x9I

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      2. Finnish Christian symphonic metal band? I could kiss you! That’s exactly my style. Ever heard of Nightwish? Symphonic/euro-metal, quite similar, and I think Finnish, too. Not Christian, but my point is the style is similar and they’re awesome. I’m liking HB also. I looked up the lyrics to Mary and holy cow, that’s a genius song. Thanks so much for sharing! And I tend to like a variety of voices. I love Josh Groban’s smoothness, but a little grit is delightful to me, too.

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      3. Ooh, have you ever listened to a secular song, and thought, “This format/style/melody would be great for a worship/praise song”?

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      4. You know, I haven’t. However, my church once took “Hallelujah” and converted it to a strictly P&W song. Another church just used “Higher” by Creed, which was clever. Did you have any particular songs in mind?

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      5. Here’s another Christian metal band I stumbled upon, Theocracy. This song is like a symphony with a choir; you can hear the artistry put into this piece. The singer makes full use of his vocal range, and at 5:46 the 3-part vocal is mimics the Trinity. I am impressed!

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  2. Wow, you took the words straight out of my mouth with this post! As a huge Christian music fan, this hit it spot on! I’ll agree, most of the stuff they play on radio is well, boring, and it all pretty much sounds the same, which as a reviewer for music myself, it can get tricky if you write a below average review. I made a comment on Chris Tomlin’s new album once, saying I thought it needed some more creativity and diversity and that it sounded very alike to his previous albums and I got replied with the, “It’s not about the music, it’s about the message.” Maybe they know it’s bad music as well, they just don’t want to admit it, haha!
    Thank you for being a voice for those who desire something more in Christian music.
    God bless!

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    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement. Yeah, I’m sick of the message-not-music excuse as well. Good music can carry a message farther than bad music. You review Christian music? I may have to check your page out. Thanks again!

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      1. ^ The singer is Lozano (Vlatko Lozanoski). I discovered him through Eurovision, and thought he was sooo good, so I decided to check out his other stuff. If I could marry a voice, his would be it.

        I think “Oci sto tajni krijat” has that kind of “feel”, if you get my drift. But it might be hard for the average person to sing towards the end; he has a crazy range!

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