If you’ve been to an average American church, no doubt you know what a cheesy Christian song is all about. From “Shine Jesus Shine” to “From The Inside Out” to “I Can Only Imagine,” solid theology is out and emotions and feelings are in. I like what Stephen Nichols has to say about this. Commenting on “I Can Only Imagine,” he writes that it
“…Has a rich sound and explicitly religious, even Christian, lyrics, but in the end it presents a rather vacuous theology. These crossover artists remind me somewhat of the Osmonds. They are wholesome, safe, and clean-cut, especially compared to their purely secular counterparts, but you can listen for a long time and not hear anything overtly Mormon. Perhaps the same could be said of Christian crossover artists. They too are wholesome, safe, and clean-cut, but not much Christianity crosses over with them.”
“In some ways this problem confronts more than the crossover artists. The whole sweep of CCM may come under its purview. CCM itself attempts to crossover, combining tastes and styles of the popular culture with the sensibilities and (a modicum of) the lyrics of church music. How well it straddles that fence becomes a point of debate. One problem that arises, however, is what CCM communicates in general about evangelicalism’s ambivalence to culture. While the early days of Jesus music had an edge, arising as it did from the streets, CCM today has dulled the edge, producing music that is safe, not all that complex and artistically ranking a little below the songs on pop albums that don’t make it into radio circulation.”
“CCM has become ghettoized, the Christian suburban youth’s counter to what their unchurched friends listen to. James Davidson Hunter refers to this dynamic as parallel institutionalism, which means that you can listen to Christian music on Christian radio stations or at Christian concerts or on CDs brought at Christian stores. You can even download Christian ringtones for your phone bought, hopefully, from a Christian-owned-and-operated kiosk at the mall.”
“Hank Hill, the character from the animated series King of the Hill, sagaciously quipped in relation to Christian rock, ‘You aren’t making Christianity better, you’re just making rock and roll worse.’” (p. 134-5).
Since Christians learn much of their theology from the songs they sing in corporate worship (and privately), no wonder American Christianity is a mile wide but only an inch deep. You really can’t expect Christians singing quasi-Christian pop music week after week to mature into doctrinally sound believers (cf. Heb 5.13). The phrase “you are what you sing” might be a little cumbersome, but there is for sure some truth to it.
Get this book by Stephen Nichols: Jesus: Made In America (Downers’ Grove: IVP, 2008).
rev shane lems