Is there a point to it?
It came from the eighties... Stryper
Big-haired, spandexed, Christian Rock
I guess there's a point to it. Who am I to say there isn't? It's enormously popular, and obviously speaks to the hearts of a lot of people. We've been posting quite a bit lately in our small blogging circle about music, which brings to mind the fairly recent phenomenon of the rise of Christian Rock music. Apparently, it's the sixth most popular form of music in the US, outselling both jazz and classical.
Jars of Clay
I suppose we've come a very long way since the fifties, when DJs and preachers in the Bible Belt were incensed about Elvis Presley's swiveling hips and the acceptance by white society of the unmistakably sexual beat of what was called "race music" at the time. Now it has been fully co-opted and integrated into the religious landscape, with production values and styles not too far off of what is currently found in secular music. Most of these bands come out of the evangelical scene, although there are a few contemporary Catholic ones to be found now. There's Critical Mass, and of course, Father Stan Fortuna of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.
Speaking personally, and no offense is meant to anyone, but I've never especially cared for this type of music. I prefer the spiritual elements to be found as nuggets in secular music. They are usually more profound. To me, there's a rebellious streak that is supposed to be found in rock music and other contemporary forms, and for the message to be co-opted towards the purpose of overt evangelization does a sort of disservice to the purposes of both the music and the evangelization, in my view. In a spiritual sense, I tend to get a lot more out of songs like Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For by U2 and Redemption Song by Bob Marley than I would from most of these bands. But, hey... I'm older.
In May of 2007, David Nantais (a campus minister in Ann Arbor) wrote an article for America magazine called What Would Jesus Listen To: A Catholic looks at Christian Rock. I tend to be in agreement with him on most points. Some excerpts:
Christian rock has been derided for many reasons, including for what some see as the genre’s simplistic “Jesus is my friend” piety. Indeed there is not much theological substance to some Christian rock lyrics. Bands may legitimately be “on fire” for God, but few have the theological vocabulary to communicate their religious experience. Take dc Talk, a band that is often cited as boosting Christian rock’s popularity in the early 1990’s. The title track from their album “Jesus Freak” features lyrics I would expect to read in a second grade catechetical workbook: “People say I’m strange, does it make me a stranger/ That my best friend was born in a manger.”
Christian rock has also been characterized as mediocre music that sacrifices quality for a message. Hank Hill, a character on the Fox animated show “King of the Hill,” told the lead singer of a Christian rock band during one episode, “You aren’t making Christianity any better, you’re just making rock ’n’ roll worse.”
(My interjection here - I'm not sure that's entirely fair... Jars of Clay, for example, is a pretty decent band, in terms of their skills and production values and in comparison with their secular contremporaries)
The religious roots of Christian rock are largely evangelical Protestant. While there are likely many Catholics in the Christian rock fan base, I, as a Catholic music fan, have always felt uncomfortable listening to it. One reason for this discomfort lies in the foundational differences between Protestant and Catholic theology. Thomas Rausch, S.J., explains such differences cogently in his recent book, Being Catholic in a Culture of Choice. Rausch writes that Protestant theology has traditionally been more “pessimistic” than Catholic theology regarding the holiness of the world. The “Catholic religious imagination,” as portrayed by Andrew Greeley and others, helps Catholics to see the sacred in everyday life. The foundations of Protestant theology, however, focused on “Luther’s personal struggle over justification or his righteousness before God,” which, according to Rausch, “has resulted in Protestant theology’s stressing redemption more than incarnation.” This means that the world is more in need of being saved than it is good and holy. It makes sense that, if Christian rock emerged from this theological foundation, evangelicals would consider it vital to “redeem” rock music by baptizing it with Christian lyrics for a Christian audience. Yet for Catholic rock music fans, the approach is unnecessary.
Since the genre was born, many rock artists have addressed religious and spiritual themes in their music. Often they do it in a very subtle way, but the message can be quite powerful. As songwriter and BustedHalo.com’s editor in chief, Bill McGarvey, wrote in a recent article in The Tablet, “Although I was raised Catholic, I now realize that my first religious experience came through music.” McGarvey is referring to secular rock music and, more specifically, to Bob Dylan, an artist with a history of grappling with transcendent themes in his music, but also one you would never find in the “Christian rock” bin at your local record store. The same is true for Bruce Springsteen and U2, who are often cited for the religious and social justice themes in their lyrics. Through much of their music, these artists, and others like them, evoke emotions and convey important messages about faith without any heavy-handed proselytizing. In this way, their spiritual and religious roots are more “Catholic,” meaning that God can be found incarnated in the music itself and in the transcendent experience of listening to it. These songs do not need to be baptized or redeemed. They are reflections of the human beings who created them—simultaneously beautiful and sinful, capable of great pain and great joy....
At the end of the day, people are going to listen to the types of music that appeal to them. There are plenty of genres from which to choose, and the number of bands grows daily. If you find Christian rock enjoyable, then, by all means, listen to it. If it helps bring you closer to God, that is even a better reason to listen to it. Christian rock, however, is not somehow ontologically purer than secular rock. Nor do Christians have to forgo the pleasures of listening to a mainstream rock band because they believe their faith requires a spoonful of Christianity to make the rock music go down. For those who do believe this, I am sorry for what they are missing. As for me, I will continue to take my rock music straight with no religion chaser.
I tend to concur. Here's a far less charitable post by Nantais on SoMA Review, where he apparently didn't need to be as nice - I Hate Christian Rock.
Our Secular Franciscan friend Don, on his old blog once wrote...
I'm deeply religious and very profane. I read Thomas Merton and love George Carlin. I don't think there is a "war on Christmas". I think we should have a "war on bullshit." I think the Christian Right is actually the Christian Wrong. I love animals. I don't hunt. I live on the edge of the "hundred acre wood." I love to visit monasteries and stay in quiet places. I like Gregorian Chant and I like Jimi Hendrix. I love my wife and family and I miss our children being away at work and college. I've enjoyed being a blogger this year. Next Friday I'll be celebrating the 36th anniversary of my 18th birthday. December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Mary holds a special place in my heart. Blue is one of my favorite colors and though I carry a Rosary frequently I only pray it occasionally.
Amen. That was very well said, brother.