The Inferior Art of Christian Music

by Rick Pidcock

If I had a dollar for every time a Christian told me that they do not listen to Christian music, I’d be a full-time corporate worship leader.  As somebody who is passionate about worship, it always saddens me to hear this.  If God has given us a new song, then why would we not want to listen to music that expresses our grattitude to Him?

The main reason that people tell me they do not listen to Christian music is that it is inferior to the music produced by the world.  They say that Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is inferior to today’s rock music because its lyrics are bad poetry and its music is cheesy.  On the other hand, they also say that Traditional Christian Music (TCM) is inferior to most classical music because its lyrics are bad poetry and its music is dull.

For a long time, when people would tell me these things, my initial reaction would be to judge them for not worshiping God throughout the week.  But the more I think about it, the more I find myself sympathizing with them.

The fact of the matter is that they are right.  The world worships many gods.  And they pursue worshiping those gods through the arts with a burning passion for excellence.  On the other hand, we worship the one true God.  Yet, we so often pursue worshiping Him through the arts by settling for whatever rhyme or melody comes easiest.

In reality, Christian music should be far superior to the music of the world because its God is far superior to the god of the world.  Isaiah 40:18-20 say,

“To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.” 

This passage is the essence of the art of the world.  In their music, they set up people, places, things, and ideas as having the ultimate value that God has.  And they do an excellent job of glorifying those things through music.

However, the God that we worship is far greater.  Isaiah 40:21-23 say,

“Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.”

The gods of the world pale in comparison to our God.  So why does our effort to worship our God pale in comparison to their effort to worship their gods?

They sing of a love that ends.  We sing of a love that never ends.

They sing of a treasure that fades.  We sing of an inheritance that endures forever.

They sing of a home that falls apart.  We sing of a home with the family of God.

They sing of an earthly nation.  We sing of the Kingdom of God.

“The sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters,
will be heard in you no more.” –Revelation 18:22

One day their worship will end.  But ours will continue forever.

So this is my plea to Christian artists everywhere.  Pursue worshiping our God with excellence.  This demands listening to and studying music.  It also requires studying good poetry and writing.  When people see the art that you create, they should come away saying, “The art that the world worships its inferior gods with pales in comparison to the art that the Church worships its superior God with.”  We should all come away from Christian art with a greater view of our superior God.  But that end is hindered so many times because Christian artists settle for easy art, rather than excellent art.

Here are a few symptoms of a Christian whose art is inferior.  In no way is this list complete.  But hopefully it will get you to examine the art that you create or use.

If the listener can often guess your rhymes before you get there, your art is inferior.

If you continually use the same few chord progressions, your art is inferior.

If your knowledge of music theory has not developed over the past year, your art is inferior.

If you still play the same songs today in the same exact way that you have done every single week for the past 75 years, your art is inferior.

If your lyrics are not good poetry and aesthetically pleasing, your art is inferior.

If most of your songs sound the same, your art is inferior.

If your music is not written to match the mood of the lyrics, your art is inferior.

If your lyrics present God in a way that overemphasizes a few of His charateristics, while ignoring the rest of how He has revealed Himself to us, your art is inferior.

If your song was written in five minutes, your art is inferior.

We worship a superior God.  Let’s create art that glorifies Him in a far superior way to the art that the world worships their gods with.

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12 thoughts on “The Inferior Art of Christian Music

  1. I am a Christian and a huge music fan with over 400 CDs… IN THE PAST, all of my CDs were secular, with the exception of 2 DCTalk CDs.
    I used to not care for Christian music, but I was checking all my usual secular radio stations several months ago for music and it was all junk or commercials- so I tried the Christian station. To my surprise it was really really good music (this station plays modern “pop” christian music).

    It must have been a “Casting Crowns” song that I heard first because it really got my attention. Compared to the last time I had given Christian music a chance (probably 5 years ago?) I was really surprised.

    As a long-time secular music fan, in my opinion, the days of good secular music ended years ago. All the creativity is gone… the only place to get good modern music now is on the Christian station.

    And this is the opinion of someone who likes secular hard-rock music too (as long as the lyrics are not contrary to Christianity, obviously).

    There are some amazing Christian artists- more than that actually. As a mainstream music sceptic of 35 years I’d have to say that the argument that Christian music is no good in no longer accurate/valid. Honestly. I think these Christians need to give MODERN Christian music A CHANCE.

    – the opinion of a former Christian music hater

  2. Oops, I meant ” a music skeptic of 25 years” – not 35 years.

    – Apparently I can’t read since I now see that it says ” No comments”!

  3. Matt in Seattle,

    Sorry it took a while to approve your comments and respond. I went to the rodeo last night and didn’t get home until late.

    I have to agree with your assessment in alot of ways about the development of Christian Music. I think alot of the 70’s through the 90’s was filled with your typical lazily-written praise song that is way too predictable and just sounds cheesy.

    But there has been alot of positive growth this decade. For example, Casting Crowns as you mentioned has done an excellent job of communicating the gospel in song in a beautiful way (Think “Who Am I,” “East To West,” and others). Some other artists that have helped this are Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Leeland, and others. On a musical level, bands such as Switchfoot, Stellar Kart, Toby Mac, and others have really done alot to make Christian music better musically.

    We’ve come a long way. But I still feel that there is so much more we can explore. Think about it this way. God is an infinitely excellent God. So our worship is going to be an infinite pursuit of thirsting after and glorifying Him. So as songwriters, we should never grow stagnant in our abilities. Instead, we should be on an eternal, infinite pursuit of musical and lyrical excellence in worship as we pursue our eternal, infinite, excellent God who is worthy of it.

    Even though you and I are seeing growth, the average Christian that I come across still sees Christian music as inferior to secular music. So it is our responsibility to disciple them as well as to create music that is superior in its lyric and music just as it already is superior in its affection. Does that make sense at all? I’m excited to hear how you’ve grown yourself in this situation.

    Rick

  4. The song Let It Rise was written in less than 5 minutes. It’s be translated in almost every language, has gone platinum in the number of records sold (1,000,000 copies), went to # 3 on the Christian Billboard charts, was the # 1 downloaded song on Itunes for Big Daddy Weave, is in the Top 50 on CCLI and won an award for the most played Christian song in 2007. Does that qualify as inferior quality?

  5. Hi Rick,

    Thanks for your article. Do you have any resources that you can direct aspiring or established artists to for the purpose of impoving their work, based on the things you mentioned:

    “If the listener can often guess your rhymes before you get there, your art is inferior.

    If you continually use the same few chord progressions, your art is inferior.

    If your knowledge of music theory has not developed over the past year, your art is inferior.

    If you still play the same songs today in the same exact way that you have done every single week for the past 75 years, your art is inferior.

    If your lyrics are not good poetry and aesthetically pleasing, your art is inferior.

    If most of your songs sound the same, your art is inferior.

    If your music is not written to match the mood of the lyrics, your art is inferior.

    If your lyrics present God in a way that overemphasizes a few of His charateristics, while ignoring the rest of how He has revealed Himself to us, your art is inferior.

    If your song was written in five minutes, your art is inferior.”

    Thank you much!
    God bless you.
    Tina

  6. Tina,

    Hey, thanks for the great question. Here are a few things that have really helped me in my musical artistry.

    First, study a variety of music styles and artists. Perhaps the most profitable thing I’ve ever done is subscribe to Napster. It’s only 14.99/month. And it gives you access to millions and millions of songs. Plus you get a free mp3 player that you can download songs onto for free. There are other programs out there too. But this is alot cheaper and more effective than just buying a bunch of CD’s.

    Second, have your music critiqued by people who will be honest with you. If you do some looking, you will probably find some songwriter’s clubs in your area that meet once a month in order to listen to each others songs and give each other pointers. This is a great way to grow as well as to network.

    Third, if you can afford it, attend a songwriting conference. One that I highly recommend is called “Write About Jesus” put on by Sue Smith. They have a conference coming up in October. You can see their website at writeaboutjesus.com.

    If you really want to grow into an excellent artist, then study excellent music. Try to figure out why certain lyrics, chord progressions, and nuances resonate in a way that goes beyond most other music. Then, rather than trying to become a cheap imitation of something you are not, try to figure out how to communicate what God has gifted you with by utilizing those principles of beautiful music that you begin to learn and understand.

    Hopefully some of that helps. I’m pretty tired right now. But those are just a few thoughts off the top of my head.

    Rick

  7. Is anyone reading this thread anymore? I just bumped into it. I am a Christian and I think Christian music is horrible and untalented. I think the main problem is that people try and make “Christian” music. Music cannot be Christian in the same way that business can’t be Christian or painting or construction work, etc. Either you make something good or you don’t. That’s the main qualification. Be a Christian and make good music and if you feel like having Christian lyrics, then have them, if not, then don’t. I just listened to this Casting Crowns group and they are horrible. They sound like some cheesy country group with Beatles rip-offs stuffed in between.

  8. I whole heartedly agree with this article. I actually sought it out because I’m in a class called Church Music and Worship and we have to write a paper on any aspect of sacred music and because this one is of utmost importance to me I’m researching. I’m one of the Christians that would rather listen to the secular than the Christian music. A lot of times the Christian music just falls short: lyrically, compositionally, intrumentally, etc. I’m a composer myself and I know there’s a way to compose wonderful music without mimicking the world and without being cheesy. After all, God is the creator of music and everything beautiful. Anything Satan has is only second best. We need to step up and do much better.

  9. Argh. Yes. I just typed “why does all Christian music sound the same” when I was listening to “different” Christian Pandora stations. I definately have a heart to bring some diversity to our music. It’s so frusterating to hear the same thing withing Christian Genres. Bah. This is a good article. Thank you for posting.

  10. Great article, i would have to totally agree. Music should not be labeled Christian or not Christian. Imagine if you were a “Christian” landscaper, would that limit you to only making cross shaped topiary’s. Instead we should make music that is the best that we can produce for the Lord and is not your everyday cookie cutter chords and lyrics. This should be our attitude in everything we do.

  11. I wholeheartedly agree with your post, and just hope that more christian musicians read this article. I don’t want to name and shame – well – I do. I came to this post after googling like you did ‘why does all christian music sound the same’. I had just listened to the new Hillsong Christmas song and it sounds like everything else they produce and the christmas story is told contritely and childishly, without any beauty. The singer slurs and slides between notes – which to any classically trained singer sounds horrendous.

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