Break Your Knees: How Christian is Our Christian Music
Throughout my teenage and adult life I have complained (yes, that’s the right word) that Christian music isn’t what it should be. That is, that the Christian industry has largely failed to produce music which is a genuine testimony to what it is that we’re proclaiming. From my earliest days I couldn’t stand the Christian radio stations. It seemed to me that the Christian stations played Christian music, mostly, as an alternative to secular music, not as something within its own right. I remember thinking this once when reading a popular teen magazine which listed out the similar sounds between secular bands and Christian ones: If you like Linkin Park, you’ll really like x. Even for some, secular music was more than secular; it was anti-Christian. As a former teacher of mine put it, secular music was a tool of the devil (and so were electric guitars). Christian music was different though. It was safe. Of course, this latter opinion is dying out quick enough, so I won’t even pursue it.
The complaint that I had growing up is still present, though with a theological understanding of what, in fact, constitutes a “Christian” message (I think now it’s a critique). Much of what we produce in the music scene, while being labelled Christian, simply isn’t. For instance, much of the lyrical content in the Christian industry actually fails to describe reality, man’s place in it, God’s place in it, and our devotion to him in an honest and genuine way. And if Christianity is the greatest expression of reality, if we find our identity and meaning in Christ, then the way we speak about this world should reflect it. How often do we hear songs of lament, of feeling despair? We don’t. With cheap production and poor expression, we often reflect a portrait of the world which simply doesn’t correspond to reality. But perhaps more importantly, to proclaim to God that we love him more than anything or that he is the most important thing in our lives is simply, usually, false. There are some people who do, I am sure, and these are the people who I look at daily and think “how do they get it so well?” But for most of us, we tell God things–at the top of our voices–which simply aren’t true. We proclaim to him in worship that he is our greatest desire when, later, it becomes clear that we are our greatest desire. Pride and the desire to think we are god is still the natural proclivity of man. Why tell God it’s not?
Our lyrical content should match with our hearts. Instead of proclaiming to God how in love with him we are (“you are the air I breathe”, “I’m madly in love with you”, “Every breath I take I take in you”), what if we chose to sing songs about his grace in spite of our failures and pride; what if we chose to sing instead about our own wretchedness; what if we chose to sing that we worship him, though without acting like we’ve got it all figured out and he’s our number one priority; what if we were honest with God in our worship.
What if we said, “God, I often choose other things over you. I’m sorry. I love you, just not like I should. Help me love you more.” (Tweet This Quote)
I remember singing the song “I’m Madly in Love With You” in my HS chapel years ago and thinking “I choose other things, sinful or not, over God all the time…I’m pretty sure I’m more madly in love with myself and my friends more than I am with God.”
These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught (Isaiah 29.13)
Poetry is no excuse for falsehood (indeed, even in our own prayers we tell God that he is our sole passion). The proclamation to come as you are (a great worship song, IMHO) is an invitation to come bear boned and naked before God. It means to have your knees broken and your heart wrenched. It is an invitation not to say “I love you more than anything Jesus” (because we usually don’t) but to say “My Lord and my God, here am I.” It is an invitation to be bold and honest and genuine. Indeed, if worship is anything, it should be genuine.
*As a disclaimer, I am not suggesting that no one can sing genuine songs declaring God to be our greatest love or our sole focus. For some people, this may be true. But for most of us–including this writer–we need to be careful of the worship we give God and the claims we make about our devotion to him. Music stirs the sole, but it should also reflect it.