What’s Wrong with Christian Singers?

Idea: People think CCM is bad because they don’t like feeling obligated to be fake.

Contemporary Christian music (CCM) isn’t bad, at least musically.1 But song lyrics invite you to sing along–pretending to be the singer–and people find that repulsive. Why?

Two wise friends have pointed out that CCM songs about problems tend to be resolved too quickly. Nobody likes pretending to be inauthentic or fake . . .

. . . but CCM songs feel like a 3-minute-long invitation to pretend God solves all your problems.

The main issue, in fact, may be that we experience CCM not only as an invitation to pretend to be the singers, but as a moral obligation to be like the singers.2 And most of us just can’t pull it off. We don’t have the experiences and feelings the singers seem to be expressing.

But why, then, aren’t people similarly repulsed by mainstream pop songs about love that don’t have anything to do with their singers’ actual lives (being written by male Scandinavians), or that claim powers for love and lovers that are clearly fantastical?3

The best I have been able to figure is that, generally, people don’t like young, white evangelicals, while young, white evangelicals make up the bulk of CCM artists.4 They’re willing to pretend to be just about anybody else but the CCM-singer kind of person. And that’s not a very satisfying conclusion.

FOOTNOTES

  1. Here’s the Spotify playlist to prove the point. Every other song is CCM.

  2. Thus, I think this whole problem falls under what I’ve just discovered philosophers call, “the puzzle of imaginative resistance.”
  3. But people like to make fun of Taylor Swift for producing break-up songs that clearly seem to be about her real-life relationships.
  4. And I doubt that ethnicity and age are the real issues here, given that so many mainstream pop singers are also young and white. That means there must be something people find annoying about evangelicals in general.

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Featured image of the Newsboys by Breezy Baldwin. Provided under a CC Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

4 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Christian Singers?

  • A few other possibilities:
    1) Could the imaginative resistance come from the fact that God is not a fictional character and is presumably aware of my singing? Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” may be great until you have an actual friend named Jolene. Similarly, “I know you’re married (but I love you still)” would be pretty uncomfortable to sing along with close married friends!
    2) Could the inauthenticity be connected to the triumphalist, victorious, overjoyed, overconfident, treacly attitude of the music? I am a Christian, but the only CCM I can stand is (by and large) more somber and thoughtful (e.g., Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins). But that may just be middle age.
    3) Could it be the inorganic feel of an entire hour or album of Christian music? Especially with the lyrical attitudes mentioned above? As I’ve commented before, bluegrass is my favorite musical genre. It is entirely typical for bluegrass albums and concerts to include one or two gospel songs, among songs about a variety of other material (e.g., love, heartaches, murders, tragedies, and paeans to traditional life). This makes Christian songs feel like a legitimate, but not overwhelming or overbearing, aspect of life.
    E.g., I’ve been listening to “Stringworks,” Kristin Scott Benson’s new solo album (full disclosure, KSB is my teacher and friend), which was on the Billboard Top Ten Bluegrass albums for a week in August (so probably not enough to get on Top 40 Philosophy, but still a respectable example of the genre). The album consists of six instrumentals and six songs. Of the songs, only two are Christian (one is a traditional evangelistic piece and the other is a somber reflective piece), despite the fact that Kristin is an outspoken evangelical Christian.

  • Brilliant!

    It is *really* odd that we listeners are so often addressed as “you” by love songs, and/or invited by them to sing to people we do not know. It’s okay because we know it’s all make believe, the singer isn’t in person, singing to our faces, and we aren’t in person, singing to whomever they (supposedly) are singing to. It’s still odd, but it’s okay. Yet with God, it *is* different — if you believe in God (as I do). That is an excellent point. I wonder what it’s like for people who *don’t* believe in God.

    I also resonate with your comments about the attitudes involved in a lot of CCM. I doubt *anyone* could listen to Rich Mullins and think his music deserves to be derided like other CCM. Oh Rich Mullins! How we miss thee!!!

    Finally, I also resonate with your comments about the volume (in terms of extent) of Christian songs in CCM contexts. I often find myself thinking, “ANOTHER song about God?” And then I ask myself, “But shouldn’t there be infinite songs to sing about an infinite God?” And then I think, “Yeah, but, there ARE other things in life that we need songs about.” And then I think, “That’s only because you’re not spiritual enough and God isn’t your everything.” And then I feel sad. And then I want to listen to songs about being sad.

    • Then you could choose from the myriad CCM songs about sadness and confusion, right?

      I have felt this discomfort when I have attempted to compose a prayer (or a song addressed to God). It’s like working through drafts of a love poem with its subject as a listener (or even collaborator). The feeling is even worse if it’s a song of questioning or complaint, which may also explain why those are rare in the CCM genre.

      These pressures to participate inauthentically are also felt by the musicians themselves. I had jam lessons from Jewish bluegrass musician, who addressed the many explicitly Christian songs in the genre. He said he personally thinks of them as just part of the tradition (presumably no differently than murder ballads), and so is able to sing along in good conscience. But he mentioned another Jewish musician whose compromise is to play the music, but who will not sing along.

      Also, does singing infinite songs over the rest of eternity mean they need to be sung in a row? Seems like there’s some kind of Hilbert’s Hotel paradox hiding in there.

      • Hah! Little did Hilbert et al. know what their explorations of infinity would one day lead to. . . .

        Re: Jewish bluegrass musicians, I’ve heard something similar about choral groups at public schools/universities, since–evidently–so many choral pieces are of the “sacred” variety.

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