What Have We Become (or What is Wrong with CCM)?

Guest commentary by Brendan Gallagher

Let me begin by saying thank you to Gabe for asking me to be a part of this from the beginning. It has been immense fun watching a Twitter account with a few followers grow to hundreds and then thousands which transformed into a blog,with more additions to follow. Gabe and I share a huge love and passion for music of all sorts, but our common bond started with a shared love of DC Talk and another band that you may have heard of, U2. I have had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with all three members of DC Talk in my adult years and it only furthered my support of them as musicians, but most importantly as humans and as believers.

Any DC Talk fan is going to recognize the title of this article as a reference to the title of a song from their double platinum album Jesus Freak. I was listening to the album the other day during an eight hour drive and What Have We Become started playing. As I was listening the thought hit me, “Where are the Christians writing these lyrics today?” The lyrical content of this song alone should be enough to make any believer examine their faith and beliefs about the human condition. For those who are unfamiliar, (Why are you unfamiliar? Why do you not own this album? Why do you hate freedom?) here are the lyrics:

A preacher shuns his brother

Cause his bride’s a different color

And this is not acceptable

His papa taught him so

It was love that he’d been preaching

But this was overreaching

The boundaries stretchin’ further

Than his heart would choose to go

Like an angel with no wings

Like a kingdom with no king

dc Talk's Jesus Freak

dc Talk’s Jesus Freak

A self indulgent people

What have we become?

Tell me where are the righteous ones?

What have we become?

In a world degenerating

What have we become?

Speak your mind, look out for yourself

The answer to it all is a life of wealth

Grab all you can cause you live just once

You got the right to do whatever you want

Don’t worry about others or where you came from

It ain’t what you were, it’s what you have become

Mom and Dad are fightin’

As Rosie lies there crying

For once again she’s overheard

Regrets of their mistake

With Christmas bells a-ringing

Little Rosie’d leave them grieving The gift she’d give her family

Would be the pills she’d take

An inconvenient child

She wasn’t worth their while

What have we become?

A self indulgent people

What have we become?

Tell me where are the righteous ones?

What have we become?

In a world degenerating

What have we become?

Speak your mind, look out for yourself

The answer to it all is a life of wealth

Grab all you can cause you live just once

You got the right to do whatever you want

Don’t worry about others or where you came from

It ain’t what you were, it’s what you have become

What about love? What about God?

What about holiness? What about mercy, compassion and selflessness?

You know it’s true

He is there for me and you

Doesn’t matter what you do

Racism, hate, family disunity, selfishness, pride, greed, loneliness, depression and suicide ALL in one song!  And, it is quite possible that Toby dropped the first YOLO in music. Okay, fine, it was YLJO (You Live Just Once) but that’s pretty close.

This is not a hit piece on modern Christian music, but a call to consider what has happened to the audience and the artists, that we no longer have lyrics that are introspective.

Can we no longer handle looking in the mirror and discussing our issues?  Do we no longer want our music to have depth? I would say that based on the landscape of what is “big” in CCM (contemporary christian music) that the answer is no.

I am a music enthusiast. I play music, make music, listen to music and pick apart music. I was a teenager in the mid nineties. My first cassette was the group Was Not Was. My first CD was Nevermind The Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, followed by Led Zeppelin’s 2 and U2’s Joshua Tree. The next 3,000 discs were almost all Christian artists. And during the 90’s Christian music was firing on all cylinders. Ok, yes, we had the early 90’s and we will leave it at that. But in 1995 everything changed. Jesus Freak was released and Christian music changed with it. The synth driven Christian industry, that seemed to be a bunch of Captain and Tennilles with 1990’s yearbook laser backgrounds, died. An entire new group of artists flew onto the scene.

The artists of that era were amazing. A few for your consideration: The OC Supertones, Bleach, Five Iron Frenzy, Plankeye, Poor Old Lu, Big Tent Revival, Seven Day Jesus, POD, All Star United, and thats just a few. But the thing that was truly amazing about all of these artists was the way they balanced excellent music with great theology, messages of social justice, or just pointing out the error of our ways. Here are a few examples:

Pick your poison
Pseudo-Christian, neo-orthodoxy, false philosophy
Triple-X pornography, L S D, P C P, self-idolatry
Listen you can hear the laugh of Mephistopheles

The OC Supertones
The OC Supertones

‘Cause once you start, it’s so very hard to cease
To say the least it’s hard enough to keep it from increase
That’s the box you can never close it once it’s open
You can’t contain what’s inside once the seal is broken

Who knocked the locks off a Pandora’s box?
Praise apostate while they mock the orthodox
Who knocked the locks off a Pandora’s box?
Pandora’s box, Pandora’s box

     Pandoras Box – OC Supertones

And another…

All Star United

All Star United

Join His name to any cause

Drop His name to get applause

They never get enough

Nothing here to be ashamed of

Those ever loyal fans

They wanna get their hands

On His newest merchandising

Ignoring overpricing

Now

Oh Wow

We’ve gone wrong

This Jesus thing, it’s a smash hit

It’s packaged right

All stocks have split, it’s a smash hit

It’s gone worldwide

Smash Hit – All Star United

Now lets compare those lyrics to the modern music landscape. I am not going to pick on specific songs, but a quick perusal of the top ten on Christian Radio will tell the story. The summary would go like this:

We love you

You Love me

We’re a happy Family

With a great big hug and a

kiss from me to you,

Thank you God for all my loot!

Ok, I realize that’s a huge generalization, but the lyrical content of these songs is about as deep as a puddle in a Sahara desert rain storm. So why is this what we have settled for? I believe it can be best summed up in a term that Matt Chandler used in his book The Explicit Gospel, “Therapeutic Moral Deism”. This is the presentation of the gospel as nothing more than an elixir to cure all of our ailments and make us happy. We go to church to be happy. We read the bible to be happy. And we want our music to make us happy. We don’t want music that asks about our doubts, our fears, and the issues in our churches. I am not saying those types of songs do not exist to some degree, but finding them is another story. Those artists still exist but they are not getting played on Christian radio. And a lot of those artists that would be good for us to listen to have bypassed the Christian industry altogether. For example, give the band Twenty One Pilots a spin and you will hear some incredible lyrics mixed with top notch music. Obviously we have Lecrae and a few others but the top ten tells me what we want to hear. Lecrae’s album Anomaly released as the number one album in the country two weeks ago yet somehow he doesn’t have a top ten single on KLOVE. That’s the problem.

Kevin Max will be releasing a new record soon and I know it will have themes that are similar to what I have discussed. But will it see the top ten? Only when we choose to examine ourselves and desire to listen to music that helps us do that. Music that challenges our thought processes. Music that inspires us to reach out to those who are hurting. Music that acknowledges we are broken people in need of a perfect savior. Now, with all of that said, I have to end this because I just found out that you can download Carl Papa from iTunes…. so maybe you should take this with a grain of salt.

About the author

Brendan Gallagher is a husband, father of three, and a motivational speaker. He is also a Lego enthusiast and a self professing geek. Follow him on Twitter @TheBrendan_G.

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About Gabriel Jones

Follower of Christ, husband, new father, wannabe-musician with a random Bachelor's degree in History (yes I'm a nerd). I'm passionate about music and social justice. Follow me on Twitter: GabePride
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6 Responses to What Have We Become (or What is Wrong with CCM)?

  1. Leslie Thomas says:

    Thank you for saying what has been on my heart also. It seems that Christian radio has turned into an extended Sunday morning worship service. I don’t dislike it, it is good to worship. But just like television has desensitized us to violence and immorality, Christian music or at least what the radio stations will play has turned so many into “Stepford” Christians. I know I can just pop in a Kmax cd whenever I want, however I believe that As Christians we need to be constantly checking ourselves, looking deeper into our hearts and souls, questioning what and why we believe. I believe Christian radio should be playing music that helps people do just that. I wish more of the artist would stand up against some of the “giants”. But maybe they don’t realize just how many of us have their backs. I will be praying this blog will grow even more and maybe spur more people on to try and make a change.

    Like

  2. Mark says:

    K-Luv is K-Luv. Don’t worry about them playing anything decent. They have their target. Which is a sad scenario. There are alternatives. Check out http://www.classicchristainrock.com

    Like

  3. Joan J says:

    Very interesting. You have given me a lot to think about…
    I just wanted to comment that Matthew West has several songs that inspire action, and several artists such as Steven Curtis Chapman and (my fav.) The Newsboys have several songs that encourage us as listeners to examine what we believe and why we believe this or that as well as songs that make us examine how we are putting our faith into action.

    Like

  4. Greg says:

    There can be a different focus in the message of music. The get real or ask tough questions or even self doubt can be the focus of the lyrics. Different artists have different talents and ironically the world used to compllain about Christian music being to serious and trying to say to much. There has always been some who liked the music that they heard as Christians when they grew up. For example in the 80s and 90s when Christian music was serious I can recall a 30 something guy complaining that everything was to serious and to self doubting in Cbristian music and radio or even to pop like and he complained that he wished that there was more Praise and worship mucus like Evie or other Christian music from the 70s which was more proclaim the gospel or praise and worship oriented. I think peope naturally tend to like music when they were young adults and in college. Thy tend to look modern fondly of that and slam younger artists and trends. Yes there is Christain music that is church acceptable. Contemporary secular media attacks the church enough constanly saying we are hypocrites, don’t show enough love or are close minded and pro life, etc. With all the secular attacks people naturally have their fill of false criticism so they have less patience for true self doubt. Self doubt can be a glamorized stylistic trap or just an artistic style. For example new wave punk could be that style and Steve Taylor who addressed real issues and hot button issues could write very valid and capable lyrics well before the mid nineties. They can all be valid and we don’t need to confuse the style with the valid substance of the truth any style or lyrical fad might make. There are plenty of good bands that still have plenty of lyrics that are great but of course there is also bands that are less talented and growing or pushed perhaps in churches. The low talent preachers son writing praise music that is not that good comes to mind. There are a lot of lower talent acts that can be pushed more than their talent can carry them. With the music industry they have to go or decide what will sell. Some folks that were older appreciated some mid nineties bands and really liked them but they thought some of there more recent music was just cool but not as talented as earlier musical styles a d they would support these as being cool and young at the time but thiught more highly of earlier musicians from their youth as well. So the cycle of nostalgia continues. It’s almost funny sometimes that people may become converted and like or are influenced by the music when they went to high school, and they become a kind of fossilized preservative of style filled with the admiration of bands from their time. Like a fossil layer.

    I see the value in many of the bands a d their approach. There is of course fluff, filler and less inspiring lyrics from every age and the business of music just pushes what it feels are the best chances of selling.

    Like

  5. Adam says:

    Great article. And I LOVE that you mentioned Plankeye and Seven Day Jesus. I thought I was the only person who remembered/knew about them anymore. May have just become my new favorite place to read.

    Like

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