Wrestling With God + CCM

Background: Pride

For as long as I’ve had Spotify (which has been a LONG time), Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) has consistently been one of my top genres. And this has often bugged me, since I associate that label with the fluffy stuff on the radio today that often focuses too much on us and too little on God. It’s encouraging, but it’s rarely convicting. However, CCM has defined my childhood and relationship with God for so long!

  • Stellar Kart’s All In (Apologize) wrecked me as a 14 year old. I heard it the first time I ever listened to K-Love, and I googled it asap and listened to it again, amazed that a song with such radical lyrics would be on Christian radio.
  • The Afters premiered Broken Hallelujah at one of my first concerts and I WEPT. It was one of the first times I had put my heart’s sorrows into a worship song like that — where you don’t ignore the issues, but you lay them at His feet. This set a huge precedent for my life!
  • Tenth Avenue North’s songs were popular for most of my childhood (and their concert was my very first concert!), but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that they’re the one of the only Christian bands who are addressing sexual sin in their music!!!! As that’s the area of my biggest struggles, their music has brought incredible balm to my soul and such truth to combat temptation. I really recommend their EP Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say.

Having these standards, I get frustrated with a lot of the mass-produced Christian music that gets popular. It’s been a matter of pride for me that I don’t listen to the “stupid fluffy stuff,” but instead take the time to search out the lesser-known songs full of Biblical truth by people like Jon Guerra and Andrew Osenga and The Porter’s Gate and Beautiful Eulogy. I still go back to what I grew up on: dc Talk, Rich Mullins, Audio Adrenaline, and Petra. When you have Petra writing about spiritual warfare, it’s hard to be content with songs that the world can listen to and never hear the Truth in.

But I’m realizing that I actually need CCM in my life. I need Christian music. I need good to fill my soul, even if it’s occasionally frothy good. It’s still propounding a Godly worldview, even if it’s watered-down. It’s not wrong.

Part 2: Influence + Protecting Yourself

The media we consume influences what we value. I can attribute my desires to be a self-sufficient woman who kicks butt to games like Tomb Raider that I watched my dad play when I was little and to shows like Alias that I watched as a teen. I’ve always been a hopeFUL romantic, but when I listen to love songs, my heart focuses much more on that beautiful thing that I happen to lack at the moment.

My heart learns to long after other things when it marinates in music that longs after other things. Secular music doesn’t bring peace, and it doesn’t bring comfort. It’s good to rock out to, and can even be productive since I’m not being convicted all the time XD (my eMo-pOp-pUnk-rOck-oUt playlist is amazing for crunch time paper writing, for example). But it’s not ultimately beneficial for my soul; It’s junk food. In moderation, it can be great, but if it’s being used as primary sustenance, it’s destructive to what is best!

I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing sinful about listening to music of Any kind, but it’s ultimately detrimental to consume Any media (visual OR audible) without considering the worldview it both starts at + ends up at. There is no neutral music. Either it glorifies God, or it doesn’t. But you’d be surprised at what I believe Does glorify God vs what doesn’t.

The song Weak by AJR is a ROCKING song. It’s got a great hook, great mix, great feel to it. It’s not explicit, and it never talks about sex or anything. However, I cannot listen to it. it’s an extremely natural + primal cry of rejecting God’s authority over your life.

But I’m weak, and what’s wrong with that?
Boy, oh boy I love it when I fall for that

Even though obviously you can reject the message (and as a Christian, you better!), if you’re not careful, it still permeates my soul just a bit, weakening my resolve to fight temptation.
(side note, tho. AJR is an awesome group, and their song Turning Out breaks me EVERY time I listen to it)

Or, for example, there is something unavoidably destructive about listening to a song that glorifies sex outside of marriage. (mind you, a song that merely Talks about it without painting it as normal or good might be OK!) Things that God condemns are condemned for our benefit! They are harmful to us! When the music we listen to preaches a different gospel, our hearts’ focus is changed, and we’re more open to the devil’s influence. He seeks to destroy us, remember? If he gains a foothold by what we do, including what we listen to, then there will be practical consequences for our souls and relationships with God. We can choose to risk that, but we must be aware of the impact it has on us.

If the piece of media is a fly on the wall of our culture, what web is it caught in, and what kind of spider spun it?

Peter Edgar 12/18/20

But common grace is a thing! God gives insight to even those who don’t know Him!
Love songs written by even atheists can wrestle with what love actually means. Sometimes the content can be graphic, but life is graphic. We do ourselves and our witness a disservice if we hide from that.
Christians can write songs about doubt and sin and what it means to be a believer, and they might just so happen to use strong language! (more on that later)

I’ve been listening to a good deal of music recently that I couldn’t listen to in the car with my mom or my little 6 year old brother. And it’s hard to listen to sometimes! Songs like Dear God by Dax aren’t my cup of tea stylistically, but others like Dear God by Confetti are. Both of them drop a couple f-bombs and speak candidly with God about what they think He’s doing wrong, but this comforts me!! It reminds me that there are still people out there who are bold enough to wrestle with God. They’re listening to the heart He put in them, even if they don’t realize it. It reminds me that every human who rejects God is still loved by Him and coveted after by Him. It gives me an insight into their heart so I can engage with them more empathetically. It also encourages me to wrestle with God from my strong theological foundation.

On the less obvious side, I found the creative project The Narcissist Cookbook about halfway through this past semester. The creator, Matt Johnston, is British, so his accent is awesome in general, but it’s his ADHD rambling about important and complicated things that my soul just adores. He admits at one point that he doesn’t believe in God and uses female pronouns in a nod to the postmodern trend, but he’s got such a deep and intentional insight into the brokenness of the world that I cannot ignore, for the reasons above.

He has a song called Apple that rethinks how Satan temped Eve in the garden. It struck a chord in my soul, because he ends with “I don’t think God can see what I can see [the beauty of the human race post-Fall].” And I remember the first time I heard it, I wanted to yelp, because he addresses it! He addresses the problem he has with God! He doesn’t see Him properly, so he doesn’t realize that the value system he’s processing everything through comes from the One he thinks he’s thinking clearer than. He says at one point that God is afraid of what humans could become + achieve, and it’s just so fascinating to see how someone could have so much insight and yet miss the fundamental Truth! He comes to the wrong conclusion because he has the wrong starting assumptions, but his wrestling helped me process a possible reason why God let the Fall happen in the first place! Maybe God DID see what Matt saw 🙂 (taking a Doctrine class will get you excited over the coolest niche things XD)

Even agnostics’ songs wrestle honestly, and I think that that honors God, possibly even more than frothy feel-good “Christian” songs that miss the point of the mind-boggling Gospel.

However, wrestling =/= condoning. If I wrestle with my propensity to fall into temptation and enjoy it, I’m not pretending it’s OK, but I’m acknowledging the real danger and bringing it to God so that He can show me how to move forward through it. Instead of Weak, I raise you Maybe IDK by Jon Bellion.

Although I guess if I knew tomorrow
I guess I wouldn’t need faith
I guess if I never fell
I guess I wouldn’t need grace
I guess if I knew His plans
I guess He wouldn’t be God, God, God

So maybe I don’t know…
But maybe that’s okay

Maybe IDK – Jon Bellion

Songs that address brokenness as brokenness and address God as the only reason life is worth living give my soul life! even if I’m mourning what they describe.

It almost feels like I have hypocritical music standards. I don’t want to listen to Weak, because it doesn’t benefit my soul at all, but it’s technically clean. Apple (and other TNC songs) and most Jon Bellion songs are definitely not clean, but they do my soul good and bring me closer to God!! Profanity does not define the content of a song. Jon Bellion is much more an honest Christian than some CCM artists who later go on to renounce their faith, and curating that opinion has taken a long time and lots of, well, wrestling with God!

Part 3: Wrapping Up?

I started writing this post over a week ago, and then forgot my laptop existed… oops

Today, I discovered Jars of Clay’s 2013 album Inland and fell in love with it. Jars of Clay have always been extremely intentional about not being cliché in their writing; staying away from Christianese and making their music accessible to unbelievers has been one of their primary focuses.

Haseltine [the lead singer] said, “our songs … [are] not really there to explain our faith,” but are “written about our life that is affected by our faith.” Haseltine explained the decision to “shy away from … traditional religious language” as a conscious one, in part to make their music more accessible to those “put off by religion”, and to “love people in a way that isn’t exclusive to simply people that understand the language of Christianity.”

Dan Mitchell (March 30, 2002). “NPR Weekend Edition Saturday interview”. Npr.org. Archived from the original on February 13, 2011. Retrieved December 31, 2011.

I think that it’s really important to have believers who make music for the Whole body of Christ. What I find inaccessible might be exactly what someone else needs to hear. What brings me back to the Lord might be offensive to you, and vice versa! I ask my friends to skip Weak when it comes on in the car. Not for their sake because I’m somehow holier than them and want to protect them from its influence, but because I know that it leads me into temptation that much easier.

Paul focuses a lot on the role that the Holy Spirit plays in individual conviction on non-essential matters. I think this falls under that. 1 Corinthians 8 warns us about exercising our rights if they’re a detriment to the faith of others; verse 13 says “If what I consume causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” Please bear with each other, listening to the weaknesses of each other’s consciences, and rejoicing in self-sacrifice.

Love you all 🙂

Squid

P.S. Don’t even get me STARTED on Kanye’s Jesus is King 😉

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