Contemporary Christian Music

I had some recent discussions with some fellow authors, and the subject of “Contemporary Christian Music” (CCM) came up.

It’s a kind of music that I am intimately familiar with, having grown up in a protestant church that, like most evangelical churches of middle America in the 1990s, foisted upon both young and old the idea of “modern” worship music as an alternative to “secular” music. This took different forms depending on the target demographic – for the general congregation, it was bland rock music driven by acoustic guitars that featured “Jesus is my Boyfriend” lyrics repeated dozens of times.

For the young, it was comparatively hip music that operated within or in imitation of the popular music of the times. I even remember a chart in the “youth room” that had a list of popular bands along with their “Christian” alternatives.

The thing is, both of these forms of music always repulsed me. Instinctively, they felt “wrong” – almost devilish in the case of some bands. There was a deceptive layer over everything, and even as a child, I picked up on this incongruity. Worship services were focused purely on “positive” emotion, thus the focus on “loving” Jesus absent his divine judgment.

People raised their hands in the air. I always wondered – Is this what worship is actually supposed to be?

It was only as a young adult, when I began listening on my own to the masters of the past and took it upon myself to study the musical liturgy of the Catholic Church, that I actually experienced real sacred music.

SACRED – that is a word that the evangelical churches never used to describe their music. Why?

Because it was not sacred. It was an imitation of the popular styles of the day, repainted and re-branded specifically for consumption by the new American Protestant Evangelical. It was a product, made for a specific market.

It should be no surprise that many of the CCM artists have since shown themselves to be something other than the whitewashed image presented to youth – both cool and pure. Many were serial philanderers and drug users – no different than their “secular” counterparts.

They were still human, after all, and all have sinned, but it is the incongruity that becomes biting. Big-time protestant preachers routinely get caught cheating on their wives. Yes, they are human, but being clergy – being part of the eldership of the community – people look for examples of forthright behavior, not a continuance of sin.

That was part of the promotion of CCM. If they are truly born again, Christ’s transformative power should be capable of reforming their behavior and leading them toward a more righteous existence. Continuing sin, especially mortal sin, for years, goes against that. And strangely, I meet “secular” rock musicians who live a clean life, tour constantly, and yet don’t cheat on their wives.

The words ring hollow because the heart does not believe them fully.

The roots of this approach are in Protestantism from the beginning. The abandonment of the liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church in favor of simple melodies easily performed by the laity may have converted many to the Lutheran heresy, but it sowed the seeds of a loss of reverence in the mass that we reap now.

Compare this to real sacred music. Listen to the old masters, like Jacobus Obrecht, who composed music for the glory of God and the reverence of his saints:

This is directed toward God and for the benefit of the people. CCM is directed toward the people for their own amusement.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with music directed toward the audience for their own pleasure. The problem comes with the packaging. It’s pretending to be sacred. It lets people think they are exercising in the sacred space when they are not.

So the conclusion is thus – I felt the music was “off” long before I had the experience to know why. There is nothing wrong with proclaiming Christ in the secular space, but we should recognize such spaces as just that. CCM is just a form of popular music, and that is the context of how it should be enjoyed, in my humble opinion.

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7 Comments

  1. I came to Jesus later in life so I never had much exposure to the ’90s CCM scene. Neal Morse and Theocracy are the only explicitly Christian acts I listen. Neal is prog rock, while Theocracy is power metal. I would never consider their music suitable for worship service. That’s what hymns are for.

  2. Thanks for this. I have friends who are completely devastated when some of these “hip” CCM band members come out and announce their disbelief in God or his son. I myself am normally of the opinion that “Dead heroes can’t let you down.” (No dying yet David. Your books are great) and I have been a big fan of Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffins since I was given a cassette at eight.

    • Dead heroes can’t let you down – at the same time, people are sinners. They will let us down in many ways. What gets me about many of these “ex-believers” is that it takes the mask off – the process of Christ was clearly never engaged in meaningfully.

      Off-topic, I remember that the author of “I kissed dating goodbye” disavowed his work (which is fine, as the book wasn’t particularly honest, IMO) and said he could “no longer call himself a Christian.” Same sort of reactions from Christians – shock and disbelief. Perhaps we should look to heroes who have already lived the trials of their lives for eldership, rather than young people, eh?

  3. I would contest that the ugliness in modern worship music is a fault that lies at the Reformers. Bach was a Lutheran.

  4. spirit of light

    Hey David,

    You’re right on the money. CCM is definitely just worldly music repackaged. As an evangelical christian, I’ve seen this too often with these just appealing to our emotions and lacking any theological content. That’s why prefer hymns now.

    On another note, are you Roman Catholic now? I saw that you wrote “Lutheran Heresy”, so was just wondering?

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