Every day on my way to work, I play music. When I’m at work, I play music. When I’m doing dishes or cooking, I play music. There’s little that I do that doesn’t include music. And music plays a huge part in American culture. Radios, malls, and restaurants continually pump fresh new music into our ears. It’s pretty hard to escape music in America. But lots of Christians have grown up being told that that’s exactly what we should do as believers; I grew up essentially being told that secular music is bad and Christian music is good (remember those charts saying, “If you like this artist, listen to this Christian artist”?). My natural inclination now is to reject Christian music altogether, and I don’t think I’m the only college-aged Christian who feels this propensity. But should this be our response? Maybe we should reconsider our musical tendencies, so let’s talk about contemporary Christian music.
We should first address the current state of contemporary Christian music, easily the largest and most popular Christian genre on the radio. I’m honestly not sure if contemporary Christian music is improving or getting worse. I recently listened to a Spotify playlist of the top Christian songs, and in several of them the singer was directly addressing the listener, saying things like “…as you listen to this song in your car.” At first I thought it was just a weird song that snuck into the playlist, but then several other songs did the same thing. Should a genre of music be known for directly addressing its listeners? How artistic is that? But on the other hand, I think that it’s possible that contemporary Christian music is getting better at its unique genre, being more direct in speaking truth to the listener. That Christian radio station might just be embracing what it is: more sermonic than artistic. And if that’s what defines contemporary Christian music, then I suppose that’s OK.
Christians like me who grew up on contemporary Christian music need to ask themselves if our response should be to completely shun contemporary Christian music. I think Christians who share a similar upbringing as myself should take pause to consider this question. I rarely listen to contemporary Christian music, but sometimes there are seasons in life during which the only kind of music I will listen to is positive, uplifting Christian music (a mix of contemporary and worship). I’ll admit that these seasons are far and few between (I also admit it feels weird typing that last sentence), but there are difficult times in life when I need as many reminders of God’s promises as possible. During the storms of life, the sermonic tendencies of contemporary Christian music can be a breath of fresh air. And while the Bible doesn’t say that music should only be for reminding yourselves of biblical truth, the Bible does talk about the importance of having reminders about God’s word. Take Deuteronomy 6:6-9 for example:
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
I want to reiterate that music should not only be used for this purpose. I think that music should be artistic and diverse and not defined just by its lyrical content. But I also think that contemporary Christian music is not completely worthless. I think there’s a place for intentionally using this genre of music to further remind oneself of God’s truth and promises during tumultuous times. While contemporary Christian music isn’t my go-to genre, I occasionally turn on a sermonic song to remind myself of important aspects of the Good News. So before you throw away that Michael W. Smith CD, consider those seasons when you’ll need obviously clear truth sung to you. You might be glad you saved that truth-filled compact disc.