Is contemporary Christian music Satanic?

Let's get a few things straight up front:

This means that when someone asked me of late to comment on some material alleging that contemporary Christian music (CCM) was "satanic" (the source of the material was an extremist fundamentalist website, but it has been reprinted elsewhere), I had to shake my head. We obviously have CCM that is from bad sources (such as the heretical Philips, Craig and Dean, who ought to not be offered on any sound Christian radio station).

But satanic? No, I think that even if Satan was loose, he'd be too busy just now to be doing such things; and even if he were not, he'd probably come up with a better method anyway.

But let's reduce it to a more basic question even so: Is CCM immoral?

I will say this to start: Too often I think artists offer "pop" theology either because a) they don't know any better; b) they try too hard to make a rhyme at the expense of clarity.

The measure for this, for me, is that my dearly beloved wife (who enjoys some CCM) will tell me what a song is saying (since I can't understand it) and then pose some deeper theological question about what the singer means. Most of the time my answer is as above: What they did say has little or no meaning; it was just an effort to make a rhyme using the lingo.

Thus I can agree with certain "Biblical screens" set out by the material, at least in terms of whether something represents Christianity in a worthwhile way. It goes too far to say that music must pass all of these screens to merely be labeled "Christian".

Let's go over those "screens," in fact:

It is in the specifics indeed that we must deal. Cited first is someone I must admit I have not heard of much: Larry Norman, allegedly "the father of Christian rock." It is claimed that Norman makes the incredulous statement that rock 'n' roll music originated in the Church hundreds of years ago, and that the devil stole it!!.

Norman is not actually quoted to this effect. But here are some more specific charges:

The critic closes with another series of brief points which, while offering some gems (such as, not making "how we feel" a criteria for whether music is good -- which sort of contradicts the points above about how bad it is supposed to make us feel on the other hand), are also mixed with a few threats of hellfire for those who disagree, and closes with questions from a "booklet" by someone of unknown authority, Sears:

Gordon Sears, in his booklet, Is Today's Christian Music "Sacred"?, asks six questions of those who think that CCM is indeed acceptable to God: If the new style and sound of music is of God then:
(1) Why is it causing so much confusion and division among Christians?;

Is it? I see no confusion at all over it, and no division either, except among types such as this critic. One might add that the same could be said over the doctrine of the Trinity.

(2) Why is it not received by all fundamental Bible-believing churches?;

I am inclined to reply that restricting to the category of "fundamental Bible-believing churches" rather skews the results (not to mention that it begs the question as well that such churches are the sole and final arbiters).

(3) Why is it readily accepted by the non-Christian world? The ungodly never accepted the old Christian hymns;

They don't? Funny, because the movie Minority Report, for example, made use of the old song, Jesu: Joy of Man's Desiring. By the way, why is Christian charity so readily accepted by the non-Christian world? And when was the last time you heard Internet Infidels unite in saying that they found "Breakfast" by the Newsboys to be an "acceptable" tune?

(4) Why is it that Bible-denying universities and popular secular TV entertainment shows invite well-known Christian artists to give concerts with CCM? This never happened with the great spiritual hymns;

No examples are given of which universities and secular TV shows do this (much less is it shown that this is any sort of norm), so it is hard to comment, but I have to wonder if a) it is Christian groups on university grounds that offer such invitations; b) whether authors of "great spiritual hymns" would be invited to shows if they sang, "Happy Birthday". In other words, maybe it is the subject of the songs and not the genre that makes for the invitation?

(5) Why are there hundreds of churches with godly pastors across America that strictly reject it and forbid it in their services?;

As with (2) this simply begs a question of who is a rightful arbiter (not to mention that it makes no effort to count how many "godly" pastors hold the opposite view).

(6) Why does it have such a strong effect upon the physical body? (As shown earlier, music does have a strong physical effect -- to ignore this would be negligent.)

As noted above, the issue is a particular range of frequencies, not a genre of music. I wonder again if these fellows would lose their objection if the frequencies were outside the range in question.

In the end, the critic is forced to resort to guidelines that are hardly exclusive of CCM ("The text and music should not be cheap or tawdry.") or else have more to do with subjectiveness and weakness of character ("It will be free of mental association with worldly musical styles and evidence a holy consecrated character (Rom. 12:2; I Jn. 2:15).") than with anything specific or objective -- which is no doubt why our critic offers so little in the way of specifics.

In the end, the critic chases himself in a circle, setting his own guidelines and then force-fitting Scripture into validating those guidelines. As a tone-deaf listener who doesn't care about CCM in the first place, I think I can objectively say that beyond the warnings that could be applied as well to any form or art of communication, critics of CCM I have seen are far not engaged in serious exegesis or understanding.

This section we begin profiling the theological content of popular Christian music and commenting on it in terms of issues of concern to apologetics. We begin with a look at a sampling of lyrics from the popular group Mercy Me. I chose them first because they offer what I frankly consider to be the worst song in popular Christian music today in terms of theological content, and it is with this song that I also begin:

I can only imagine

What it will be like

When I walk

By your side

I can only imagine

What my eyes will see

When your face

Is before me

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel

Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still

Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall

Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all

The emphasis here is heavily on personal experience – so much so that I once thought to rewrite the repeated main line as, “I can only think of what I’ll do.” But of course, it’s not really that unusual: it fits in with what is already going on in so many churches now that place a heavy emphasis on “praise and worship” as some sort of revitalizing experience – to a goodly extent, a sort of drugless high. The sense transmitted is that of eternity as one long worship service of this sort – as is further offered, “I can only imagine, When all I will do, Is forever, forever worship you.” The options listed – feelings of the heart, dancing, being still and in awe, and so on – offer no hint of eternal life as one of continued responsibilities. Messages like these do little to encourage a sense of the Christian life as that of a disciple and servant.

Not surprisingly, Mercy Me also offers the expected message that God is a personal buddy:

My imagination

Gets me all the time

No matter where I look You're all I'm seeing

You're my fascination

The very reason why

The reason why I'll never stop believing

There is a disturbing turn to this message: It fits all too well into the notion the Christian worships their God unthinkingly, choosing to believe not because the truth or evidence demands it, but because they have chosen by fiat to see nothing else. Worse yet:

And I'm so amazed that I

Am always on Your mind

I believe that You're always here with me

You're everywhere but still within my reach

Cause how could You save the day

If You're a million miles away

The contrast is stark: My own studies have reached the conclusion that God is best understood in terms of a patron whose involvement is far from intimate. Mercy Me’s deity is, on the contrary, a personal buddy, “always here with me” and out to “save the day” (as if this were indeed God’s purpose and role!). This is a theology impossible to reconcile with even the most poorly formulated assertion of the problem of evil, and it sends the same mixed message not only to Christian suffering in their own way, but to the world at large.

Next, we have a song which reads more like a self-esteem pep talk than anything which ought to be presented by a Christian music group:

Days will come when you don't have the strength

And all you hear is you're not worth anything

Wondering if you ever could be loved

And if they truly saw your heart

They'd see so much

You're beautiful, You're beautiful

You are made for so much more than all of this

You're beautiful, You're beautiful

You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His

You're beautiful

This is the sort of thing I’d expect to emerge, though, in an era where our leading teachers are persons like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer – whose sermons are also more like pep talks than meat to be eaten by serious disciples.

Is there anything that could be called theology in any of this? One song offers the sadly misplaced conception of faith so common today:

I was taught to be practical in everything I do

Holding on to what is tangible, and then came You

That's when I found myself so far away, from everything I knew

I took a leap of faith

You're everything I cannot see

You're everything I cannot say

I know it all seems so illogical

But that's okay

What's so hard to understand

What I cannot comprehend

Is that You love me the way I am

The message is one that rejects evidence and reason – for what need is there of such things when we “feel the love”?

Other songs do offer some semblance of serious theology; but this appears to be incidental to a larger theme of using such theology as a vehicle for “praise” – as in this case:

Even before there was a drop in the ocean

even before there was a star in the sky

even before the world was put in motion

You were on Your throne

You were on Your throne.

You reign

glory in the highest You reign

every knee will bow

and every tongue proclaim

that Jesus reigns.

Biblical authors using the same imagery had in mind honoring a deserving and powerful king; but Mercy Me has reduced this to a vehicle for emotional and therapeutic highs – as indeed so much modern “praise and worship” has done.

The most positive lyrics I could find in my selection were these:

And I know that I can find You here

'Cause You promised me You'll always be there

Times like these, it's hard to see

But somehow I have a peace, You're near

And I pray that You will use my life

In whatever way Your name is glorified

Even if surrendering

Means leaving everything behind

My life has never been this clear

Now I know the reason why I'm here

You never know why You're alive

Until you know what you would die for

I would die for You

These sentiments are elevated and correct. Yet they ring hollow coming from the mouth of modern American who has likely known little in the way of serious suffering, much less a threat of martyrdom. I am not saying that the sentiments are insincere – only that I very much doubt the artist has a comprehensive picture of exactly what it is they are pledging.

Finally, though it may not seem so at first, consider the anti-reason sentiments implicit in this selection:

I'm finding myself at a loss for words

And the funny thing is it's okay

The last thing I need is to be heard

But to hear what You would say

Word of God speak

Would You pour down like rain

Washing my eyes to see

Your majesty

To be still and know

That You're in this place

Please let me stay and rest

In Your holiness

Word of God speak

I'm finding myself in the midst of You

Beyond the music, beyond the noise

All that I need is to be with You

And in the quiet hear Your voice

So also would a Mormon say. And while I am not expecting instructions for discernment in a song (! – for one thing, what rhymes with “discernment”?) the theme is one we have seen here abundantly from today’s shallow teachers, to the effect that the voice of God is a public resource for Christians to listen to, and all you have to do is “be still” – which is much the same as saying, in the modern parlance, “don’t think it through.”

If the reader thinks that this evaluation has been harsh, please consider what is at stake: The lyrics we see here are emitted daily on our Christian radio stations and are called upon for inspiration by the church at large. If what we are feeding ourselves for inspiration is a polluted stream, then it will inevitably reflect the way we act and believe as well.

Frankly, lyrics like these make me glad that I do hear, “got my eyeballs stuck to my plate.”

Next, I have purposely chosen the group Casting Crowns (CC) -- one I have been told by many listeners is perhaps the most theologically solid of the CMC groups out there. What remained to be seen is whether that was in any way significant, or if it meant simply something like, "Chuck got the highest grade in class...he got a D. Everyone else got an F."

The good news: It doesn't mean that. CC does a fairly good job, as good as can be expected given the amount of time and the creative restrictions they have. Much of their orientation is set towards pricking the conscience of the church, as in this popular song:

She is running

A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction

She is trying

But the canyon's ever widening

In the depths of her cold heart

So she sets out on another misadventure just to find

She's another two years older

And she's three more steps behind

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

Or does anybody even know she's going down today

Under the shadow of our steeple

With all the lost and lonely people

Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

Although I'm somewhat nonplussed by the effort to relate the Gospel to modern neuroses of loneliness, as is done here, it remains that this is a powerful and proper indictment of the irresponsibility of the ekklesia at large to act as salt and light. Even I relate to warnings against "lofty glances from lofty people" -- for apologists, in their own way, wear a "scarlet letter" in the eyes of many modern Christians. (it's not a sin, as what the song alludes to is, but it does make the "lofty glances" all the more ironic).

The theme of meeting modern psychological needs is repeated here as well:

The love of her life is drifting away

They're losing the fight for another day

The life that she's known is falling apart

A fatherless home, a child's broken heart

You're holding her hand, you're straining for words

You trying to make sense of it all

She's desperate for hope, darkness clouding her view

She's looking to you

Just love her like Jesus, carry her to Him

His yoke is easy, His burden is light

You don't need the answers to all of life's questions

Just know that He loves her and stay by her side

And love her like Jesus, love her like Jesus

First century Christians, as agonistic peoples, would probably be astounded to learn that we had turned Jesus into a personal psychologist this way. Still and all, CC does get this much right, again: The salt and light is missing and we're controlling both the shaker and the switch. And although I wouldn't recommend using Jesus in such a cavalier way, our general mission of support does fall within the parameters of comfort and counsel, even for what would be termed a modern emotional problem.

The call to action theme can be seen yet again here:

What if the armies of the Lord

Picked up and dusted off their swords

Vowed to set the captives free

And not let Satan have one more?

What if the church, for Heaven's sake

Finally stepped up to the plate

Took a stand upon God's promise

And stormed Hell's rusted gates?


And what would happen if we prayed

For those raised up to lead the way?

Then maybe kids in school could pray

And unborn children see light of day

What if the life that we pursue

Came from a hunger for the truth?

What if the family turned to Jesus

Stopped asking Oprah what to do?

Ouch. Had to love that last line! I could nitpick about the dispensational tinge, of course, but other than that, these are magnificent statements of the need for us to recognize valid and proper authority -- and take action on it. The rest of the song I find a little questionable in terms of how it envisions prayer:

He said that He would hear

His promise has been made

He'd answer loud and clear, yeah

If only we would pray

But, it's not made clear what exactly is meant by an "answer," so I can't object. The lyrics further on do imply that an "answer" implies also action on our part, though, so there's probably no "magic wand" view of prayer here.

In contrast, here's one that takes Jesus a little too close for comfort:

Living on my own, thinking of myself

Castles in the sand, temporary wealth

Now the walls are falling down

Now the storms are closing in

And here I am again

Jesus, hold me now

I need to feel You in this place

To know You're by my side

And hear Your voice tonight

We've written before of this too-intimate language, when used by writers like Stanley and Lucado, so there's no need to discuss it further here. In contrast, here's a set of lyrics that are unusually meaty in the theology department, for CCM:

Looking out from his throne

Father of light and of men

Chose to make himself known

And show us the way back to Him

Speaking wisdom and truth

Into the hearts of peasants and kings

He began to unveil

The word that would change the course of all things

With eyes wide open all who'd see

The word is alive

And it cuts like the sword through the darkness

With a message of life to the hopeless and the frail

Breathing life into all who believe

Simple strokes on a page

Eternities, secrets revealed

Carried on from age to age

It speaks truth to us even still

I think if John had written his prologue to music, this probably would have been something like what it would have ended up as. And then we have this from the same song, which sounds a bit like chapter 1 of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict:

The Bible was inscribed over a period of 2000 years

In times of war and in days of peace

By kings, physicians, tax collectors, farmers

Fishermen, singers and shepherds

The marvel is that a library so perfectly cohesive

Could have been produced by such a diverse crowd

Over a period of time which staggers the imagination

Jesus is its grand subject, our good is designed

And the glory of God is its end

Basic though it is, it's hard not to be pleased by the effort to add a dash of historical confirmation when most groups are emphasizing nothing but feeling.

In light of CC's calls for action, it's somewhat more forgiveable to see them also going the way of Mercy Me with the praise aspects in another song:

Oh God, You are my God

And earnestly I seek You

O how I long for You

In this dry and weary land

I’ve seen You in the sanctuary

And I beheld Your glory

So I can think of only one thing I can do

I lift my hands

I lift my hands and I will praise You all my days

I lift my voice

I lift my voice to You in this simple song of praise

I lift my eyes

So I will think of You through the watches of the night

Hear the voices ring as Your children sing

In the shadow of Your wings

So in the end, CC gets a B minus. Even so, that they do get a grade that high doesn't say much for the content of modern Christian music as a whole.

Our next music group is a controversial one, though we will only touch on the controvery long enough to see to what extent, if any, it touches on music. Philips, Craig and Dean (PCD) is known to be composed of ministers from ther Oneness Pentacostal movement. Some have noted their reticence on this subject, and others have questioned the propriety of using their music. That is not an issue we will settle here, but we will be checking to see if "Oneness" theology makes it into their lyrics.

One song it arguably does appear in -- obliquely -- is this one:

You are not a god

Created by human hands

You are not a god

Dependant on any mortal man

You are not a god

In need of anything we can give

By Your plan, that's just the way it is

You are God alone

From before time began

You were on Your throne

You are God alone

There's a certain ambiguity in "you are God alone" that under the circumstances warrants a question: Is this line meant in a "Oneness" sense? Of course, mainstream Trinitarianism can accept tht statement and fill it with its own theology, and has done so. But it can be little unnerving to realize that PCD means something else by it -- akin to being fond of a love song, and having it all ruined when you are told the man singing it is talking to his horse.

Apart from that, the sing does contain some surprisingly deep creation theology, but it goes downhill from there and turns into a musical security blanket of the sort more frequently found in Christian music:

And right now

In the good times and bad

You are on Your throne

You are God alone

Your the only God

Whose power none can contend

Your the only God

Whose name and praise will never end

Your the only God

Whose worthy of everything we can give

You are God

And that's just the way it is




That's what You are

These include accurate descriptions of the attributes of God, but the uneasy sense of this is that they are listed more for personal reassurance ("my Dad is big and strong") than out of any desire to honor God. I could be wrong, but other songs tend to indicate not, such as this one:

Father I see that you are drawing a line in the sand

And I want to be standing on your side, holding your hand

So let your kingdom come, let it live in me

This is my prayer, this is my plea

Hand holding? With God? It is but one indignity in song that is otherwise acceptable (even if devoid of signifying content). In this case, though, the indignity is at a fever pitch:

I don't know how to say exactly how I feel

And I can't begin to tell you what your love has meant

I'm lost for words

Is there a way to show the passion in my heart

Can I express how truly great I think you are

My dearest friend

Lord, this is my desire

To pour my love on You

Like oil upon your feet

Like wine for you to drink

Like water from my heart

I pour my love on you

If praise is like perfume

I'll lavish mine on you

Till every drop is gone

I'll pour my love on you

This picture of God -- a combination of personal psychological counselor and BFF -- is something we've addressed as inappropriate more than enough times little else need be said.

On the other hand, this represents something I have not seen yet:

I feel quite sure if I did my best

I could maybe impress you

With tender words and a harmony

A clever rhyme or two

But if all I've done in the time we've shared

Is turn your eyes on me

Then I've failed at what I've been called to do

There's someone else I want you to see

Will you love Jesus more

When we go our different ways

When this moment is a memory

Will you remember His face

Will you look back and realize

You sensed His love more than you did before

I'd pray for nothing less

Than for you to love Jesus more

I'd like to keep these memories

In frames of gold and silver

And reminisce a year from now

About the smiles we've shared

But above all else I hope you will come

To know the Father's love

When you see the Lord face to face

You'll hear Him say "well done"

It is not clear what the nature of the relationship between the two persons in this song is, and perhaps it makes no difference. However, it is the first time I have seen a song posed as dialogue between two persons, in which it is made explicit that the "relationship" between a person and Jesus is markedly undifferentiated from any between person and person. So the indignity is not new; but the way of explaining it is.

PCD is a group I know well (better than I'd like) because they seem to have become a favorite of music ministers. Perhaps this is because the "praise chorus" is one of their specialties, and it would be good to close with commentary on that aspect of performance, with examples such as:

Who am I that You are mindful of me?

That you hear me

When I call

Is it true that You are thinking of me?

How You love me

It's amazing


I am a friend of God

I am a friend of God

I am a friend of God

He calls me friend

Who am I that You are mindful of me?

That you hear me

When I call, yeah

Is it true that You are thinking of me?

How You love me

It's amazing, so amazing, it's amazing


Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

Open the eyes of my heart

I want to see You

I want to see You

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

Open the eyes of my heart

I want to see You

I want to see You

To see You high and lifted up

Shining in the light of Your glory

As we sing holy, holy, holy

Holy, holy, holy

Holy, holy, holy

Holy, holy, holy

The unique convenience of the praise chorus (if I may be facetious) is that it enables performers to fill three minutes of time with 30 seconds' worth of words. Now the lack of taxing on creativity if bad enough, but it is a matter of psychological truth that the effect of repetition like this is to dull the senses and (if it gets far enough) alter one's state of consciousness. Comparison has been made before between such choruses and the repeating of mantras in Eastern faiths.

To conclude this evaluation: While I didn't find much in the way of Oneness theology in PCD's material, I did find much the same unfortunate sentimentalism we have seen elsewhere. It'd hard to say which would have been worse to find at this stage.

Next, we'll take a step back in time to one of the more classic bands, Petra. I once read this group described as a "meat and potatoes" band, which might suggest that we'll see a lot less fluff than we do in many of the groups we have reviewed so far. That does seem indeed to be the case.

Consider first this set of lyrics:

This thirsting within my soul

Won't cease till I've been made whole

To know You, to walk with You

To please You in all I do

You uphold the righteous and Your faithfulness shall endure

Adonai, Master of the earth and sky

You alone are worthy, Adonai

Adonai, let creation testify

Let Your majesty be magnified in me

Adonai you are an endless mystery

Unchanging consuming fire

Lift me up from mud and mire

Set my feet on Your rock, let me dwell in Your righteousness

When the storms surround me, speak the word and they will be still

And this thirst and hunger is a longing only You can fill

Although there are certainly touches of what we would come to see as an over-focus on a too-personal relationship, the balance of these lyrics is weighted overwhelmingly towards the attributes and majesty of God, and the references to our own experience, even so, are the minimum necessary to express the inevitable I-thou aspect of interaction with God. In short, there is a transcendence here that has been missing from so many of the groups we have previously surveyed.

And where before have we seen doctrinal matters so clearly laid out, than with words like these?

When our labor all retire

there will be a trial by fire

Will your treasure pass the test

Or will it burn up with the rest

You may build upon a sure foundation

With your building in delapidation

When it all comes down to rubble

Will it be wood hay and stubble

Or precious stones, gold and silver--

Are you really sure

And we all will stand at the Bema Seat

All will be revealed--it will be complete

Will there be reward in the fiery heat

When we see our lives at the Bema Seat

Every talent will be surely counted

Every word will have to be accounted

Not a story will be left untold

We will stand and watch the truth unfold

Every score--will be evened--nothing to defend

Every building will be shaken

Every motive will be tried

He'll give reward to the faithful

Will you recieve or be denied

Apart from Casting Crowns, we have seen no group put such a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility -- but not even CC laid the weight this heavily upon the listener, and placed their focus in the main on the experience of the one who suffered, as opposed to the process of judgment. Arguably one might say that there was a balance that needed to be struck between both, and that this is a case of a pendulum swung too far, reactionarily, in the wrong direction.

Petra was, as I recall, not a group that considered themselves beneath a little humor. To this day, "Breakfast" by the Newsboys remains one of my favorite songs, and this one by Petra seems to have been of the same type:

Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?

We're beginnin' to think you're touched

We hear ya got religion

Ya ain't been 'round to see us much

Ya threw away your corncob pipe

And your jug of moonshine brew

And we hear ya ain't been doin'

All those things you used to do

Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?

You're shavin' ev'ry day

You ain't been chasin' women

And you kissed your wife today

You went to church last Sunday

And you shook the preacher's hand

And they say that you been talkin'

'Bout a home beyond this land

Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?

Ya never cuss no more

We hear you ain't been feudin'

You hung your rifle by the door

Ya take a bath each Sunday

If ya need it or not

And ya go to work on Monday

Even when it's hot

Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?

We're beginnin' to think you're touched

We hear ya got religion

Ya ain't been 'round to see us much

But ya know we've all been wonderin'

If what ya got just might be real

And all the while we're laughin'

Is it really God, Is it really God

Is it really God you feel?

I must confess to have never heard this one before, on Christian radio or anywhere else! But we probably should have. The emphasis on personal testimony, which I normally consider out of place, likely has its best expression in settings like these where it becomes a sort of self-effacing mechanism (as opposed to a sort of "tell all scandal" format).

Even more amazingly, Petra offered a similar song based on an incident in the life of St. Augustine: night I heard a knock at the door

The boys were really painting the town

I was just another bored teenage boy

Kickin' up and actin' the clown... Yeah

One dare led to another dare

Then things were getting out of control

We hopped the fence and we stole the pears

And I threw away a part of my soul

Yes, I threw away a part of my soul (now it's)

Haunting me how I stole those pears

'Cause I loved the wrong

Even though I knew a better way

Not for hunger or poverty

It is hard to imagine some of our current groups (aside from CC) making use of what is a relatively obscure story like this one; but there is perhaps a connection to be made here between depth of theological knowledge and awareness and "meatiness" of lyrics. Those who make themselves earnest disciples will bear fruit (not pears!) in accord with that.

Petra was also not afraid to be critical of the brethren for misplaced priorities:

Everybody look there's a new bandwagon in town

Hop on board and let the wind carry you around

Seems like there's not enough to keep us busy till the Lord comes back

Don Quixote's gotta have another windmill to attack

Another Witch Hunt looking for evil wherever we can find it

Off on a tangent, hope the Lord won't mind it

Another Witch Hunt, takin' a break from all our gospel labor

On a crusade but we forgot our saber

There's a new way to spend all our energies

We're up in arms instead of down on our knees

Walkin' over dollars trying to find another dime So send out the dogs and tally ho

Before we sleep tonight we've got miles to go

No one is safe, no stones left unturned

And we won't stop until somebody gets burned

Bro Bro Bro Bro Bro Bro Brothers

My one reservation is that I have no idea where Petra would draw the line between a "witch hunt" and a genuine doctrinal dispute worthy of attention. I can only say based on their lyrics that I tend to think they'd draw a line that was a responsible one.

Did I find anything that looked too familiar, like so much of today's music? This came closest to crossing the line:

Why should the Father bother to call us His children?,

Why should the Spirit hear it when we pray?,

Why should the Father bother to be concerned with all our needs?

It's all Because of what the Son has done.

Once we were lost out on the Ocean with no direction or devotion,

tossed about by every wind & wave , Now we are in the world not of it,

and we can surely rise above it, Because the Lord has risen from the grave

And we cry "Abba Father", "Abba Father" ,"Abba Father" , "Abba Father"

We cry "Abba Father", "Abba Father", "Abba Father" , "Abba Father",

Once we were strangers from the Promise, We were doubters worse than Thomas,

Till the Spirit opened up our eyes, Now he has offered us Adoption & we have taken up the option, To be His family Eternally.

It's all Because of what the Son has done.

It came closest....but was ambiguous enough to not cross the line into the problematic "buddy God" treatment. In that regard I found Petra to be entirely sound and never lacking in reverence.

For our next few entries in this series, we'll continue to look at older groups, and perhaps there will be some sort of identifiable trend in which we find that the overfamiliarity of the most recent Christian music can be seen as a relatively recent aberration. It's hard not to wax nostalgic here -- I still recall such favorites as Petra, Stryper, and David Meece, and they now seem so reverent compared to what we have today.

That I describe Stryper as reverent in comparative terms might speak enough for itself!

The band Stryper, in my high school days, was controversial just on the basis that it seemed impossible that there should be anything as oxymoronic as a "Christian heavy metal" band. Today, as it happens, they are enjoying a revival, so our survey becomes just as relevant now as then, as we ask: How much "meat" is there, theologically, in what they present? This will be a rather objective study for me -- since even in the 80s, as now, I was badly tone deaf and hardly understood most of the words in songs like these!

We'll start with selections from the 1980s, and this one, which is apparently programmatic of Stryper's mission:

The hair is long and the screams are loud and clear.

The clothes are tight, earrings dangling from the ears.

No matter how we look, we'll always praise His name.

And, if you believe, you've got to do the same.

Loud, clear, let the people hear.

Scream, shout, show what it's all about.

Loud, clear, let the people hear.

Scream, shout, show what it's all about.

Some of us were always pushed around in schools.

That's why I wrote this song to sing to pushin' fools.

At least we can say we love doin' what we do.

And we're here to say that you can have salvation too.

There's not much meat here, to be sure; but there wouldn't need to be for such a thematic presentation. Arguably Stryper was using their very appearance and identity to good effect, using the very shock value to reach others: "Wait a minute. A Christian heavy metal band? Really?" It's much the same effect I strive for in my efforts on YouTube. ("Wait a minute. Cartoons on Christian apologetics? Really?")

The two sides of the debate which emerged, and still might:

  1. "Such appearances denigrate the Gospel! They shouldn't look like the world." That was apparently the take of Jimmy Swaggart when he condemned the band – all the more ironic given Swaggart’s eventual fall from grace. I can well imagine he’d say the same of my work.
  2. "We must be all things to all men -- and this can reach people who otherwise would never hear the Gospel."

The debate won't be settled any time soon because it can't be -- there are examples in which each can be true. The question is whether a given expression so leans towards 1 that it compromises on 2. The question here: Where does Stryper fall? Based on this song, their goal as expressed was to reach for 2:

I've changed my ways from wrong to right.

The devil never pays, no, he robs just like a thief in the night

So many bands give the devil all the glory

It's hard to understand, we want to change the story

We want to rock one way, on and on.

You'll see the light some day

All say Jesus is the way.

Satan is a fool and it's so insane.

Some people think he's cool, you play with fire,

You'll feel the pain.

Why lose when you could win? Give God a try.

The devil's not your friend, the truth is not a lie.

I've changed my ways from wrong to right

Evil never pays, no, the truth is not a lie.

Even as a preterist I can't help but commend a group that is so bold as to call Satan a "fool" -- and so directly strike the heart of a countercultural conception of Satan as a figure to be admired. Moreover, such a message could hardly have endeared them to other heavy metal bands or many typical heavy metal fans. If their goal was to be like the world for the sake of it, this was not the way to do it -- or with lyrics like this:

They say that rock and roll is strong

But God's the rock that makes us roll

Don't need no drugs to help us push on

We've got his power in our souls

On the other hand, even at this early date we could see a bit of the unfortunate overfamiliarity with God creeping in, as here...maybe?

You know I really love you

Your love is beautiful, lasting and true.

I've searched for a true love for such a long, long time

Now, my search has ended, yes, cause you are mine.

I'll always love you and I'll always tell you so

As long as I'm with you, my love I'll always show

Whenever I'm sad and feeling real blue

I begin to feel happy as I sit and think of you.

I think of your face and your personality.

You are so beautiful, you mean everything to me.

I say "maybe" because I am not clear on whether the subject of this song is God -- or some person. The concrete terms (like "face") point to the latter -- unless these fellows were covert Mormons! I found a few other songs of this type as well, but have no memory of them on Christian radio (and nor does Mrs H -- and she DID understand them!).

On the other hand, this one was clearly speaking of God:

Some people think they're happy, livin' for themselves.

But when they're sad they long for something else.

And you can find the answer in an honest way.

To get you thru the sadness, to start a whole new day.

We've found a life that keeps us happy.

Yes, we have and we'll live eternally.

We'll always have the light to see, and so can you.

Are you feeling lonely?

Are you feeling blue?

Does your life seem empty?

You know what to do.

You say you've go some troubles, yeah, oh so many downs.

You need a light to lift you off the ground.

And if your life feels senseless, just accept the Lord.

And He'll make you see things you never have seen before.

An everlasting life abounding, oh yeah.

Yes, He will and He's always giving more.

And His light will never stop shining, it's for you, yes it is.

This is an early (yet mild) expression of God as therapeutic. It has a ways to go before it reaches the almost pathological overfamiliarity of "I Can Only Imagine". Other songs by Stryper offer similarly mild expressions, but are balanced out by bold, in-your-face challenges like this one, which establish God's transcendent superiority:

We are the soldiers under God's command

We hold His two-edged sword within our hands

We're not ashamed to stand up for what's right

We win without sin, it's not by our might

And we're fighting all the sin

And the good book -- it says we'll win!

Soldiers, Soldiers, under command

Soldiers, Soldiers, fighting the Lords battle plan

Are you a soldier under God's command

Help fight the good fight, join us while you can

The battle that's waiting is fought so easily

Through Him, without sin there is victory

And were fighting all the sin

And the good book -- it says we'll win!

It is also interesting to note that Stryper did a rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic!

Since that time, apparently, Stryper has become somewhat disillusioned with Christian music, and I have to say I can’t blame them. Judgmental and ignorant leaders like Swaggart certainly did little to encourage them with their surface judgments. While I doubt Stryper was perfect in all they expressed, their critics appear to have been too distrustful of innovation to understand what was going on – and I cannot help but wonder if that fear of innovation had anything to do with the insipid contents of today’s Christian music.

The singer designated Mandisa might well be regarded as a typical American success story: Featured on (but not a major winner on) the American Idol television program (which -- sorry! -- I have yet to see an eposide of), she parlayed her success there into a recording career in Christian music. A sample of her lyrics makes it fairly easy to understand why: With this singer -- who will be the last examined in this series for the time being -- we come full circle to yet another entertainer for whom the Gospel has been transformed into therapy.

The repeated theme of many songs we sampled is essentially that God brings victory and joy in life. Sin? Not even mentioned. Doctrine? Never heard of it. Instead, what we have is what might happen if Joel Osteen put his sermons to music:

look at my life

And I still can't believe it

How did I make it

To where I stand now?

You don't understand

I was up against the whole world

And all I could feel was it breaking me down

But out of a hopeless situation

There came a song of redemption

Life may push my heart to the limit

But I won't let go

Of the joy in my soul

‘Cause everything can change in a minute

And the world may try

But they're never gonna steal my joy

So get up, stand up

And rise above it

If every plan

That you've made goes so wrong

You don't have to give in to the struggle

You may be down

But don't stay there for long

In every hopeless situation

There is a song of redemption

The world may say

You're never gonna make it

The world may say

You're not strong enough to take it

But I don't care

‘Cause the joy of the Lord is real

And they're never gonna steal my joy

In this, "the Lord" becomes a tacked on sentiment that rounds off a paean glorifying in how wonderful life is when it is fixed. Indeed, if the last two lines were lost for good (after the manner of Mark's Gospel) we might now know whether the object of affection was the Lord, a Hindu avatar, or maybe even caffieniated drinks.

The bit of theology I found in our sample isn't particularly heartening -- here we find the bankrupt epistemology of divine communication -- which we have seen in, for example, Joyce Meyer, in past articles -- put into verse:

Have you ever heard a love song

That set your spirit free

Have you ever watched a sunrise

And felt you could not breathe

What if it's Him

What if it's God speaking

Have you ever cried a tear that

You could not explain

Have you ever met a stranger

That already knew your name

What if it's Him

What if it's God speaking

Who knows how He'll get a hold of us

Get our attention to prove He is enough

He'll do and He'll use

Whatever He wants to

To tell us I love you

Have you ever lost a loved one

Who you thought should still be here

Do you know what it feels like

To be tangled up in fear

What if He's somehow involved

What if He's speaking through it all

His ways are higher

His ways are better

Though sometimes strange

What could be stranger

Than God in a manger

God is speaking

I love you

Though less tragically trivial than Meyer's profession that the Holy Spirit told her to make her husband fruit salad, or Charles Stanley's claim that God told him to eat chicken soup for a cold, the epistemology of divine communication is basically the same: God's voice can be in just about anything -- because it has been in some unusual things before (e.g, the manger reference); so why not just about anything we can think of otherwise?

And yet again here, we have the God not of the Exodus, but the god of Counseling Session:

If what you thought was the truth is a lie

And what you fought to keep on breathing has died

You face the lonely nights and wrestle with the dark

And you reach to find the love to fill the space inside your heart

It's hard to put it into words the way you feel

It's an ache and emptiness that lingers still

Are you a victim of the past without a trace of hope in sight?

And it all goes by so fast without a way to make it right

If you worry, don't worry

God will come and wrap His arms around you

It wouldn't be too much

For Him to love you as He found you

And it may seem like you're too far gone

But He loves you like His only Son

And He will come

He will come

From the bounty of a river there's a flow

And from the beauty of the Father's heart's a home

It never leaves you empty no, and never leaves you bare

So come and bring your guilt and shame

Come and leave it there

If you're willing, He is willing

Oh, you don't have to be worthy

You don't have to be anything but willing to fall into His arms

Willing to fall into His arms

The latter stanza haas a theme we have seen in modern preaching, probably too much so: That of not needing to be "worthy" for God to accept you. While that is of course quite true in one sense, the modern sense now relates to themes of self-esteem - a concept unknown in the Biblical world. Biblical peoples considered themselves unworthy in the sense of not having sufficient honor to match God's honor, and thereby warrant His patronage. This is about as far from a therapeutic faith as one can get.

As many times as the above themes are repeated, we need say little more, but will close with a look at the one song I did recognize as having been on the radio:

Some people try to listen to the bottom of a bottle

Some people try to listen to a needle in their arm

Some people try to listen to the money in their pocket

Some people try to listen to another's arms

You and I are not that different

We got a void and we're just trying to fill it up

With something that will give just a little peace

All we want is a hand to reach to

Open arms that say I love you

We'd give anything to hear

The voice of a Savior

Some people try to find it with blind ambition

Some people try to find it where no one else has gone

Some people try to find it in the crowns of victory

Some people get defeated lose the strength to carry on

Some people try to find it in the shadow of a steeple

Some people try to find it in the back row pew

Some people try to find it in the arms of Jesus

That's where I found it, how about you?

The theme of therapeutic closeness to God or Jesus is again obvious; but beyond that is revealed a core accuracy: Yes, it is all done to fill a void. But the desire for the god of Therapy is, in its own way, as bad as the bottle or the needle. In commenting on the many books by writers like Meyer, Lucado, Stanley, etc over the past several years, we have occassionally asked whether Christians might not be addicted to the self-help genre. If they are, then it is little surprise that Christian music now produces so many singers like Mandisa whose own productions reflect service to that deity.

In close: Obviously I am not saying such persons are at risk of damnation. However, they will indeed find that their rewards have already been received -- and may well be shocked to find that the reaction to their works on earth would have been more favorable had Simon Cowell been their judge rather than Jesus.

Yes....I know that much about American Idol, at least!