A Balanced Look at Christian Rock from a Long-Time Fan
by Tim Chaffey
This article is written as a follow up to JP Holding's comments (read here) concerning a harsh critique of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). JP specifically stated that he has “as much interest in CCM as” he does in “Japanese fiscal policy.” That being the case, I felt I could shed a little more light on the topic as someone who has been listening to it for over seventeen years (since Cornerstone Festival 1988).
Before I get going with my thoughts on CCM, I would like to add a comment regarding JP’s article. During the discussion of the impact of certain pitches and frequencies of sounds and their effects on particular plants I believe JP could have made a stronger rebuttal by simply showing that the CCM critic is comparing apples to oranges. As JP correctly noted, this research really had very little to do with rock music but even if it did, what does it prove? Even if rock music (even “Christian” rock music – ahh, the horror! I’m sorry if the use of this phrase caused any heart attacks) killed every plant within “hearing” range it would not prove anything about its impact on human beings – unless all plants were killed then we would obviously die out. Besides this little addition, JP did a wonderful job of critiquing this critic.
CCM stands for Contemporary Christian Music and usually refers to Christian pop and soft rock music. Most other styles are often thrown into the Christian rock label. Nonetheless, critics often group all of these into one bunch so we will use the terms Christian rock and CCM interchangeably throughout the article. First, I would like to address some of the common arguments used against CCM. Second, I will share some of my concerns about CCM. So, let’s dig in…
It seems that rational critiques of CCM are few and far between. I am a relatively young man but I am old enough to remember the church vs. Christian rock debates of the late seventies and throughout the eighties (not that all churches were opposed to it). It seemed that many who were opposed to Christian rock music used irrational arguments to bolster their case. At the same time, some Christian musicians reacted in an immature manner and spoofed these people in their songs. The entire situation could have been handled in a much more mature and edifying manner from both participants. Things have not changed much since those days. Many of the critics of Christian rock are using the same old fallacious arguments and many of the musicians have gone too far in the other direction. You’ll see what I mean as you read on.
Here is a summary of the six arguments against Christian rock we will examine:
1) All rock music (including Christian) uses a pagan or Voodoo beat.
2) CCM artists are just in it for the money.
3) CCM artists are guilty of appropriating the world’s entertainment.
4) The artists’ lifestyles and dress are not “Christian.”
5) Satan was heaven’s choir director and is therefore a master at using music to mislead and deceive people.
6) The lyrics of many CCM songs are downright non-Christian and/or satanic.
One of the most common arguments lodged against Christian rock is that it uses the so-called voodoo beat. Some have even referred to it as the “jungle beat.” This seems to smack of racism but that’s another issue for another time. This voodoo beat is normally called the backbeat, which is frequently used in rock and roll music. Backbeat refers to the second and fourth beats in a four beat measure, which are often emphasized by the drummer. So you will have one soft beat followed by a louder beat. The critics make the claim that all rock and roll follows this “voodoo beat,” and since voodoo is evil (I concur), then rock and roll is evil. Did I miss something? Does every Christian rock song have a voodoo beat? Does every Christian rock song have the same drum pattern? If so, why do we need drummers? Why not just record the one drum track and use it over and over? The rest of the band members could make a lot more money if they did this.
Of course, not every Christian rock song has the same beat. While the backbeat is certainly used in many songs it does not follow that these songs are therefore evil. Voodoo worshippers often live in huts and dance around fires during their pagan festivals, too. Does it follow that bonfires and huts are inherently evil? I am not denying that a methodical drumbeat can have detrimental effects – such as a hypnotizing influence when it is played over and over. This does not mean that it always has these negative influences. Music does not need to have a backbeat to be hypnotic. Just about any sound used continuously in a pattern can have a hypnotizing influence so it is a poor argument to single out rock and roll in this regard.
The second argument I have heard recently is that CCM’ers are just in it for the money. While this certainly was not true of the early Christian rockers, it is possible that it could be said for some of them today – although I do not know the hearts of the individuals in these bands so I would not be dogmatic on this. It is probable that some CCM artists have succumbed to the enticing lure of popularity, fame, and fortune. As a result, some have watered down their message so that they won’t lose their fans and their fans’ money. However, it is wrong to make a blanket accusation against all CCM’ers. Many of these people are fine, outstanding Christian men and women who desire to serve the Lord with the talents He has given them.
The third argument is perhaps the most common. Larry Norman cut right to the core of this issue in his song “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” (which was redone by Geoff Moore and the Distance in the 80’s). The argument is that we do not need to appropriate the world’s form of entertainment. I agree with this to a point. Just because the secular world is doing something that seems fun and exciting does not mean that the church should jump on board and “Christianize” it. One should consider whether or not a particular behavior brings honor and glory to the name of Christ before engaging in that activity. This argument fails to prove its point because it already assumes that this particular behavior (rock music) is evil and therefore it is wrong for Christians to play it. The problem is that the critic needs to prove that rock music is inherently evil.
One must wonder how many secular things these critics have attempted to “Christianize”? Apparently, it’s fine for them to use a computer and the Internet. Did Christians develop these things? They are certainly used for evil on a regular basis so what makes it okay for Christians to use the Internet? I believe this illustrates the hypocrisy that always comes from legalism. We need to remember (as Paul told the Corinthians) that we have liberty in Christ – all things are lawful but not all things edify.
I need to share a story here to illustrate the problem with the legalistic approach. A couple of years ago I was listening to a national Christian call-in radio program on my local Christian station. The host was bemoaning the biblical illiteracy that exists among Christian teenagers today (a serious problem – I agree). Rather than attacking the real problem the host started attacking Christian music, which she is strongly against. She said, “These teenagers should quit listening to Christian rock music and read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs instead.” I am thankful that the very next caller read my mind. He told the host that DC Talk had published two books entitled Jesus Freaks that were all about martyrs in the church, sort of a modern day Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Open mouth, insert foot! That must have happened because there was deafening silence for a few seconds until the host came back with something like, “Well, I don’t think Christian teenagers should be looking up to these tattooed artists as role models.” [For the record, Toby Mac claims he has one tattoo – it’s of his wedding band – and I’ve never seen one on either Kevin Max or Michael Tait but they might have some.] Some people are so set against Christian rock music that they just will not accept that some good has come from it.
The fourth argument is directed at the lifestyles and dress of Christian artists. I have been to several different Christian rock festivals and have seen some bizarre looking fellows. Some have had bones through their noses and others have had piercings in strange places. Personally, I would never do those things because I think they look ridiculous and have no desire to do that to my body. 1 Corinthians 9 is usually cited in support of these behaviors (i.e. – to the Jews I became as a Jew that I might win Jews…). These groups have a particular audience in mind that they want to reach and feel that they need to look like them in order to reach them. I will leave the reader to decide for himself/herself whether or not this is a good strategy.
Terry Watkins is an outspoken critic of CCM as evidenced by the articles on http://www.av1611.org/ He spends a great deal of time listing the sins committed by some of CCM’s big names, such as Amy Grant, Sandi Patti, Stryper, Michael English, and Jamarc from the band Raze. There is no doubt that many Christian musicians have committed terrible sins and I would never want to downplay that. However, once again, this does not mean that all Christian rock is evil. Many pastors have committed horrible sins. I read a poll stating that 25% of pastors struggle with pornography. If that is true, then should we reject all pastors because we will know them by their fruit? Again, I am not trying to downplay the severity of the sins committed by these individuals but it is not fair or logical to label all CCM as evil based on the sins of some of the people involved in it.
This contention of the critics has some merit. There is certainly a need for Christian artists to exhibit modesty in dress and to be examples of godly living – this goes for all Christians. We need to remember that these artists are human beings with the same sinful nature just like us. This does not excuse those who are poor examples. Christian artists are often placed on a pedestal (whether fan-made or self-made) when in many cases they are immature or young Christians (and sometimes, young people). It would certainly be helpful for the record labels and artists themselves to make sure that these men and women fit the God-given requirements for Christian leaders since that is what they inevitably become. It’s not good enough for the musician to say “I’m not a preacher – I’m just using my music to praise God.” One cannot say this because each song has a message that is being preached. Therefore, the musician must have the integrity to back up the message.
The fifth argument is probably the silliest argument I have heard. It is claimed that Satan was heaven’s choir director and is therefore a master at using music to deceive people. Of course, rock and roll is his method of choice in our day and age. This argument is rife with problems. First, where does the Bible ever say that Satan was heaven’s choir director? The only passage that could ever be used in support of this is found in Ezekiel 28. Many Christians believe that portions of this chapter were written about Satan. Verse 13 states “The workmanship of your [Satan’s] timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created.” Notice this verse does not say that Satan (if it is referring to him – I personally believe it is) was heaven’s choir director nor does any other verse in this passage. These critics make an illegitimate leap at this point. However, even if we grant them this stretching of the text, their argument is still weak. How long was Satan around before he fell? According to Exodus 20: 11, he was made during the creation week yet he had to have fallen soon after that. Remember, God created Adam and Eve on the sixth day and told them to be fruitful and multiply. Our first parents had perfect bodies so it would not have taken long for Eve to conceive. Yet Satan must have fallen before she did and in turn tempted Eve before she conceived or else Cain would have been born without a sinful nature (which he obviously had). So even if Satan was heaven’s choir director, he certainly was not in that position for a very long time – probably limited to a month or two. So this so-called master musician would not really be all that experienced after all.
I would like to add that there is some truth in the fifth argument despite its silliness. Music has certainly been used in ways that do not glorify God. Anyone can turn on the radio and within seconds hear a song that contains ungodly lyrics. This is not in dispute. What I am disputing is that Satan was heaven’s choir director and that he is now using Christian rock to mislead the church.
The sixth and final argument that I want to look at is the claim that CCM’ers often use non-Christian and/or satanic lyrics in their songs. To illustrate this, consider the following quote from the tract entitled “Christian Rock: Blessing or Blasphemy” by Terry Watkins (the full tract is available for viewing at http://www.av1611.org/crock.html). Watkins is right to examine the lyrics to make sure they are theologically sound but he makes several mistakes. Among the most problematic is his repeated use of pulling lyrics out of context to make the bands appear evil. For example, in his critique of the punk-thrash band One Bad Pig, Watkins quotes from the second song entitled: You’re a Pagan. Here is his quote:
Feeling low, smoke
Cuss real loud, make your point. . .
You re a pagan, that is what you be
There's no fakin , fry like bacon
You're a pagan
He does not tell us what is wrong with these lyrics. Either he is trying to claim that the band supports these behaviors or he has a problem with the band’s strong statements of judgment (i.e. calling someone a pagan and saying that they will “fry like bacon”). If the latter is true then he is being a hypocrite since his entire tract is aimed at labeling Christian rockers as pagans. If the former is his point of contention then he conveniently leaves out the fact that the song is extremely bold and is speaking against the behaviors listed in the first two lines. Consider the lyrics in context:
Feeling low, smoke a joint
Cuss real loud, make your point
Rock and roll is all you play
Always getting your own way
Where are you going?
Where have you been?
Your cruddy heart is full of sin
In the words of Kenneth Hagin
Face the facts, You’re a pagan!
You’re a pagan, with a capital P
You’re a pagan, full of idolatry
You’re a pagan, that is what you be
There’s no fakin’, fry like bacon, You’re a pagan!
You’re a man who’s out of shape
But before that you were an ape
In eons past you were a worm
Not long before you were a germ
Where are you going?
Where have you been?
Your cruddy heart is full of sin
Like Charlie Darwin and Carl Sagan
You evolved into a pagan!
I would hope that as one reads these lyrics they are able to see that the band is certainly speaking out against these behaviors as well as against evolution (which they also sing (or squeal – in their case) against in a song entitled Let’s Be Frank). For the record, the final two lines are some of my favorite. The point is that critics will often pull lyrics out of context to make it seem like the band is in favor of something they are against. Watkins is guilty of this on numerous occasions on this page as he attempts to connect these Christian artists to the occult.
Watkins’ energies are misplaced because the dangers of Christian rock are not found in lyrics that are overtly Satanic – they are subtle in that poor theology (possibly heretical theology) is sometimes introduced. There is a real problem here and I believe this is the most serious issue with CCM. This sixth argument leads us right into my main concerns with CCM. While we should not be pulling verses out of context and then criticize a band, we should be able to examine a group’s lyrics to see whether or not they are biblical. Sadly, in too many cases, CCM’ers come up short.
This seems to be a growing trend in CCM. In the early days of Christian rock (the 70s and 80s) the lyrics were often very bold. If one could understand the lyrics (right JP?) there was no mistaking that they were overtly Christian (or at least attempting to be). The name of Christ was consistently mentioned and concertgoers could expect to hear a Gospel presentation sometime during the show. The 90s saw a drastic increase in ambiguous lyrics. God was mentioned in many songs but oftentimes only in a generic sense. Seldom was the name of Christ specifically mentioned. In many cases it was hard to tell whether the band was singing about God or a girl, or worse, some other god (I’m not accusing these bands of this but many of the songs were vague enough to fit any belief system).
The new millennium brought about new changes. So-called praise and worship songs have become the most popular tunes. It seems that all the popular bands have come out with at least one praise disc. The benefit of this is that the name of Christ is being brought back into the music.
Along with this new development, there is the continued watering down of the message. Christian rock is often promoted as a “positive” alternative rather than something that glorifies Christ. Several bands fill their discs with goofy songs with a few serious tracks mixed in. For example, Relient K is a very talented and popular band. Each CD contains a few songs that are definitely Christian but most are just fun and silly. While this is perfectly legitimate for a group to do (although I would personally like to see the ratio of silly to Christian songs reversed) it seems this approach has impacted their concert performances. I attended a Relient K concert in St. Paul nearly two years ago with about 5,000 others on a college campus. With the audience’s full attention, the lead singer, Matt Thiessen, told the crowd that the following songs meant a lot to the band because they were “about heaven and stuff” and “salvation and stuff.” I was very disappointed because this band had an opportunity to share the Gospel with about 5,000 young people and they completely blew it. Maybe I caught them on a bad day but it seems to be a growing trend. Two bands were touring with them, one non-Christian and one Christian. The Christian band, Anberlin, did not spend any time sharing the Gospel and having heard their debut CD, it is hard to discern any distinct Christian message among their “positive” songs.
Of course, there are still some Christian artists who have not given in to the temptation to water things down. Petra is probably the best-known Christian rock group of all time and has been around the longest. They have recently announced their retirement after more than thirty years of ministry. Consider the words of “Sacred Trust” (the final song on their final CD – not a bad way to end things):
You never tried to
win more secular appeal
And water down Your message with a slightly different feel
You never tried to be politically correct
Or skirt around the issue attempting to connect
You spoke the
truth in love so faithfully
You expect no less from me
It's a sacred trust that You gave to us
To take Your Word into all the world
It's a sacred trust that You gave to us
The message of salvation and Your love
You never shied
away from critical debate
Or beat around the bushes when discussing human fate
You weren't ashamed to tell them who Your Father was
Never ran from persecution like human nature does
You prayed for all
believers on Your knees
Then you handed us the keys
You're trusting us
to be bold
The story has to be told
To every nation and tongue
Young and old
I'm gonna shout from the hill
How could I ever be still?
I'm gonna let the chips fall
Where they will
You spoke the
truth in love so faithfully
You expect no less from me
As someone who is very cautious about much of the modern “church-growth” methodologies, I believe this song hits the proverbial nail on the head. I don’t think you’ll find this song being played in our “seeker-sensitive” churches nowadays. While this is the final song on their CD Jekyll & Hyde the title track is all about our sinful nature. In fact, all of the songs are distinctly Christian. There are other bands that have not compromised the message of the Gospel in an effort to “not offend” people.
Another concern I have is with the attitude some people have toward these Christian “stars.” I have been to enough concerts to know the motives of some of the Christian young people in attendance. “This guy is so hot” or “she is such a babe” or similar phrases are common among young people. Oftentimes, band members are idolized or at least elevated to a dangerous level in a young person’s mind. This usually is not the fault of the artist but it can be. For example, I was more than a bit perturbed by the behavior of Kevin Max (from DC Talk) during a concert in 2000. During a song that many consider to be a praise song, he pulled a teenage girl out of the audience and danced with her on stage. The problem here is not with dancing but with taking the focus off of God during this part of the concert and placing it on self. I sincerely doubt this girl walked away from the concert thinking about God. I am quite certain her mind was on Kevin. Numerous examples from other bands and their fans could be cited but there is no need to elaborate because this problem is easily recognizable.
During the same festival, I was extremely impressed with Rebecca St. James. Here is a beautiful young woman who boldly talks and sings about Christ and abstinence until marriage. As people were applauding after each of her songs she would point to the sky reminding us that God is the One who should be praised. Near the end of the concert she began to lead people in some well-known praise songs. When most of the people had their eyes closed while singing praises to God, she walked off the stage and let them keep singing. She didn’t want the focus to be placed back on her. It was a very classy move from this young woman.
Clay Crosse, a popular CCM artist, was very candid in an interview a few years ago about this specific issue. He admitted that he loved the attention and worked hard to look his best so that he would be attractive to the audience. After a while he began to realize that he was not singing for God, he was doing it for himself. So there is a real danger here for the artists and their fans but this is not unique to Christian rock music. The same dangers exist for preachers, teachers, or any other person who is in a position of high visibility.
Another danger that exists is that many times when the Gospel is presented, it is in the context of a highly emotional frenzy. Many “decisions for Christ” have been made in the midst of these emotions. Many times, when the good feeling goes away, so does the alleged “decision for Christ.” Listeners should not be tricked into accepting Jesus by upping the emotionalism. The Gospel should be clearly presented in an effort to change one’s heart, mind, and soul. Repentance should be emotional but it must also involve the intellect.
The ecumenical movement is also being advanced through CCM. I am not against churches working together or having believers from various denominations praising God together. We should be willing to worship with those who are true believers, regardless of denomination. CCM has helped to break down the walls that have existed between denominations; however, there is a real danger here in that some who preach “a different gospel” are being accepted into the fold. Many CCM songs have been directed at bringing all the denominations together. But is it really okay for true believers to “fellowship” with Roman Catholics and others who preach a different gospel? Remember the Holy Spirit’s warning through the pen of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1: 8 – 9.
A growing problem in this movement is the seemingly blind acceptance as Christian of anything that is spiritual in nature. In the 80s it was the band U2 that was often hailed as a Christian band. In the 90s we had King's X. Now, we've got Christian teenagers buying P.O.D. and Evanescence thinking they are picking up a Christian CD. While all of these bands certainly have a spiritual message, it is not a distinctly Christian message. Upon hearing of his band's high ranking on Christian music charts, Evanescence's guitarist Ben Moody exclaimed, "We're actually high on the Christian charts, and I'm like, 'What the f*** are we even doing there?'" (Entertainment Weekly, April 18, 2003, p. 41) It is truly sad that so many Christian teenagers have picked up these CDs thinking they were supporting Christian artists when, in reality, they were supporting groups whose message was/is not Christian.
My final concern is in regards to the extent that one goes to reach the lost. In other words, how “Jewish” do we become to win the Jews? Yes, Jesus reached out to the worst of sinners, but He did not become a sinner to do it. We dare not become a prostitute to win the prostitute. Yes, this is an extreme example but this type of thinking is prevalent among many groups. Christian “death metal” seems to be a contradiction in terms, as does its use of gruesome art and lyrics to reach out to secular “death metal” fans. Are these things really okay? I don’t question the motives of these groups nor do I doubt that God can use them in this manner but I wonder if it is the best way to reach these people.
In summary, I do not think CCM should be automatically rejected as evil nor should it be uncritically accepted. I do not believe the music is inherently evil. Is there a Bible verse that says the drum and electric guitar are evil? Each artist should be examined from a biblical point of view on a case-by-case basis. Are their lyrics God-honoring? Does their lifestyle and on-stage behavior match the words they are singing? Does the style of music match the message they are proclaiming? Are they using their platform to glorify God or self? As Christians, we need to learn to think well about these types of issues rather than instantly running to one extreme or the other.
To those CCM critics who argue that God would never work through such “ungodly” methods, I am living proof that this is not true. I surrendered my life to Christ during a Christian concert and have been involved in ministry for many years now. To those CCM supporters, make sure that you “test all things” and be like the Bereans described in Acts 17: 11. JP, thanks for giving me the opportunity to share these thoughts. I pray that God will use it to give a balanced perspective on this issue.
 CCM critics, including the one being critiqued in JP’s article, often attack this song because it calls Jesus a good man. The critic would probably be happy to hear (probably not) that when Geoff Moore did this song in concert he substituted the words “good man” with “Jesus Christ.”
 The real problem is that many of these teenagers are either a) not born again believers and have no hunger for God’s Word or b) are very immature Christians and aren’t living like they should.
 The reader should realize that this is a fallacious argument. Reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs will not make one more biblically literate – even though it is an outstanding book and should be read by all Christians.
 I believe that preterists, like JP Holding, could also add that Satan is bound at this time so he isn’t the one leading the charge here.
 Midwest Apologetics does not in any way support the ministry of the late Kenneth Hagin. We are not aware of whether or not One Bad Pig supports it but this is an entirely different issue.
 I am not claiming that these songs do not honor God. I prefer to refer to them as praise songs because adding worship to the title seems to give the impression (to some people) that worship can only be done through these songs. Songs are just one of the many ways in which we can worship God, along with prayer, Bible study, godly living, etc. In other words, our entire lives are to be lived as an act of worship.
 I have worked with young people for many years and have heard these types of statements more times than I care to remember. A college buddy of mine once asked Rebecca St. James to marry him although he had never met her until that moment. While it might seem cute and innocent, many of our young people have obviously been trained to think like the world.
 DC Talk has many songs with bold Christian lyrics but sometimes their actions are in contradiction to their words (as we are all guilty of). At this same concert, they took about one minute to explain to the crowd that they could never do what they were doing without God’s help. They claimed that the reason for their songs was to lift up Christ’s name. The very next song began with the repeated phrase, “Down with the DC Talk.” Suddenly, the focus was placed right back on the band. Is it just me, or is something askew here?
 A portion of Clay’s testimony can be read here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/artists/claycrosse.html
 When a sinner understands that he has violated the laws of the one true God and that this same God was willing to die for the sinner, he should be emotional. If someone claims to have repented of their sins yet showed no remorse, I might question their sincerity. Nevertheless, the intellect should never be skipped in this process.
 Roman Catholicism and other so-called denominations preach that righteousness is based on our faith and works while the Bible clearly teaches salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
 I agree that the style of music can and often does have a physical effect on us. Even if rock music tends to make one more energetic or aggressive, it does not necessarily follow that this is an evil thing. This would be a good research topic for someone to work on.
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