Should a Christian Feel Obligated to Listen to Contemporary Christian Music?

Pastor Bob O'Bannon

It was revealed recently that Dan Haseltine, lead singer for band Jars of Clay, has voiced support for same-sex marriage. Jars of Clay is generally included in the category of Contemporary Christian Music, otherwise known as CCM. The news about Haseltine has raised some questions about the man’s views, but it also raises questions about CCM in general.

CCM is a genre of music not defined so much by its style or sound, but by the content of its lyrics, which is primarily concerned with matters related to the Christian faith. CCM artists are played on Christian radio stations, like K-Love here in Muncie (88.3 FM), and sold primarily in venues like Family Life Bookstores.

A question naturally arises: since “secular” music is so often consumed with content that Christians might find objectionable, and since CCM seeks to promote “positive” and “encouraging” music (according to the K-Love Web site), should Christians feel obligated to listen to CCM?

Consider four things:

1) There are Christian musicians who do not record for a CCM label. Not all Christian musicians choose to distribute their music through CCM, and often these artists tend to attract the attention and respect of unbelievers. Check out this review of the new album by Wovenhand on the very secular website Pitchfork.

U2 is one of the most highly revered bands in rock history, and right there in one of their most popular songs is the line: “You broke the bonds, you loosed the chains/You carried the cross of my shame, you know I believe it.” Johnny Cash sang of those who “clung to the tree and were redeemed by the blood.” Sufjan Stevens has performed versions of “Holy Holy Holy” and “Come Thou Fount.” You don’t have to listen to CCM to hear music made by Christians.

2) Many non-Christians make music that is worthy of praise. Not only do non-Christians often make music that is excellent and commendable (Phil. 4:8), but frequently their lyrics capture truths about the human experience that are profound and unwittingly in line with Biblical revelation. Just as Paul found truth in the words of the pagan poets (Acts 17:27-28), so can Christians find truth in the lyrics of pagan musicians. John Calvin wrote:

All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it.”

3) Music need not be restricted to matters related to the plan of salvation. According to I Kings 4:32, Solomon wrote 1,005 songs. The very next verse indicates that Solomon spoke of trees, beasts, birds, reptiles and fish – but it says nothing about whether he sang about how a person can be saved, making me wonder if his music would even get played on CCM radio today. Solomon wrote music about everyday life in God’s world, which is perfectly appropriate and advisable for a Christian.

4) There are legitimate questions about the quality of CCM. There is no question that Christian music has improved over the last 30 years, but as a whole, CCM tends to sound overly commercial. It is bland, sterile and slick. It lacks imagination and creativity. Some might respond that this is inconsequential, since CCM is primarily about the message, but that begs new questions: do CCM artists have to subscribe to any kind of doctrinal statement?  What happens if they slip into error or heresy? Are they accountable for what their music teaches? What exactly does Dan Haseltine believe, anyway?

So, should Christians feel obligated to listen to CCM? No. Should you continue to listen to CCM if you find it enjoyable and encouraging to your faith? Absolutely. But remember Paul’s exhortation in I Thess. 5:21 to “test everything.” That includes both secular music and CCM.

Two resources I would recommend for further reading:

The Liberated Imagination, by Leland Ryken.

Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, by Steve Turner.