I should stop listening to Christian radio (the music, not the talk). I tune in to sing to some familiar music or maybe even find a good worship song to use in church that I haven't heard before, and instead I wind up getting mad. If I'm alone in the car, I am literally yelling at the radio. I'm fairly certain, if people have seen me as they drive by, they consider calling the authorities (or the white wagon with the bars on the windows).
Now this is a partial exaggeration (though I am embarrassed at the portion that is not). But I have, on more than one occasion, come home from work to rant to my wife about what I heard on the radio. At this point, if anyone is a diehard CCM fan, you may want to stop reading before I challenge one of your sacred cows.
It all started when, during a promo between songs, a chipper, female voice said "I like listening to K____ because I don't have to worry about what I'm going to hear". Now I try to give "Christian culture" the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the motives behind our entertainment and marketing, but I could not get this line out of my head. I try to give the benefit of the doubt, but all I hear is "When I turn this station on, I turn my brain off and just set to automatic intake". This flies in the face of the model we have in the Bereans who were commended in the book of Acts for "examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so".
I am making such a big stink for this reason (hear thesis statement): I would suggest that listening to mainstream radio with your guard up and your worldview filter on is safer than listening to Christian radio with your guard down. Subtle, bad theology is more dangerous to unsuspecting Christians than is blatant bad theology.
I don't walk into a Christian bookstore assuming that everything that I read therein will be biblically faithful and theologically true. Yet my impression is (and the radio spot would further suggest) that many people turn on the radio assuming that very thing. Let me give you just two examples of the subtle bad theology I'm talking about by citing two songs currently getting lots of play on the radio.
Brandon Heath has a song ready-made for the lighting of the unity candle at your next wedding in "Love Never Fails", borrowing heavily from 1 Corinthians 13. My gripe however, is that the song never mentions God or Jesus and contains the line "Love is the way, the truth, the life". Now I know, being generous in artistic freedom and theology, one could make an argument for that lyric. However we live in a culture where people already make the one to one assumption that "God is love" is equal to "love is God". This lyric, in my estimation, is at best a shaky artistic blending of theological ideas and at worst more fodder for the fires of "all we need is love, love is all we need". Far too many people already believe that love is the way, the truth, the life. Just watch any romantic comedy in the theaters today, love is their functional savior.
I have a similar complaint of my second example. Kutless is owning the airwaves with their song "What Faith Can Do", but the song never once answers "Faith in whom?" Indeed, at multiple points where they could have given the object of the faith, they seem to make faith itself or even the person with the faith as the key component:
"You think it's more than you can take, but you're stronger than you know"
"You will find your way, if you keep believing"
"When the world says you can't, it'll tell you that you can"
I want to give these artists and songwriters the benefit of the doubt, I really do. Kutless and other bands like them carried me through my teenage years and played a vital role in my brief musical career after college. I confess that I am probably overly critical and more than a little biased being a songwriter myself. I know that scrutinizing every line of these songs as I am doing comes across as bitter jealousy from one who failed to "make it" in a Christian rock band. One will say that, in the artists' defense, these songs should be heard in the context of the entire album. The problem is that CCM radio pulls them out of that context.
Where's the line between artistic freedom and good theology? The line between being faithful to a rhyming pattern and being faithful to the Bible? The line between writing a song that is catchy and subversive enough that it might just influence mainstream culture and writing a song that's just a spiritual sell-out? Does being artistically free excuse one from being theologically careful? And would the Bereans ever say we "don't have to worry about what I'm going to hear"? I don't have the answers to any of these questions, but they do reflect my concerns.
For those with itching fingers, gear your responses towards these two issues: the theology in Christian music and our seemingly unfiltered intake of it.
I know this is coming across as more critical than I intend. I still love Christian music, still partially make my living at it, and will definitely not stop listening to the radio any time soon. I know I am holding most CCM artists and writers to a higher theological standard than they are intending (when they write and record) or expecting (when we listen). I am not making judgments about their hearts, in fact I have the highest of respect for many in the industry. I believe Christian music stands to make a bigger impact in many lives than any book or preacher ever will. This is precisely why my concern for the theology in the music remains.