It’s become quite common to claim your Christian music as not “typical” Christian music. (The implication sometimes being that “most Christian music out there is lame but mine isn’t”.) I’d like to dispute that. There are heaps of great Christian artists in every music style you can imagine. And I think we should be wary of defining ourselves as what we’re not, when it comes to matters of taste. It can be divisive.
The reason there are so many Christian artists out there, is because Christians more than anyone have something to sing about, and many of us have been soaked in the songs of God’s people since the womb. In any singing competition there’s a disproportionate number of Christians. From the Exodus to the Revelation, singing God’s praises in response to his work and word is a mark of the believer.
So, music is a very Christian kind of thing. But is one type of music more Christian than another? Here are a few of my thoughts.
• The words matter. Both in terms of truth, and in terms of things that are in a different category.
• One type of instrument is not more spiritual than another. Even cellos. Certainly not harps.
• The emotion of the music should suit the emotion of the words. Emotional context is one of the reasons we sing things and not just say them. (Also, the words should contain their own emotion, even independently of the music.)
• Things are not more holy because they are ascetic, dull or hard to understand. Quite the opposite. The Reformers fought with their lives to make God’s word accessible and real to the average believer. Let’s not go back to keeping people in the dark, as if this is somehow more spiritual. Paul says that in church he would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.
• Some music is angry. Anger can be ungodly. (I admit this is tricky, because some types of music that make one person feel peaceful make another feel tense. Take for example the music they play in supposed relaxation clinics. They make me want to break something.) Generally though, we don’t want to scream the gospel at people.
• Sexualised styles of singing don’t seem appropriate to me. Let’s be frank. There are certain ways of singing and presenting that are are not helpful or edifying in church. Unfortunately this is the normal way of singing in many contexts. I think we should fight it.
• For church music, we want to unite not divide, and we want people to be able to join in. Some types of music are more conducive to that than others. Simplicity is often key.
• The style that the musicians choose to play might adapt to suit the congregation, but still try and encourage the congregation and band to be respectful of the tastes of others. You’ll never please everyone, unless everyone is pleased by serving others rather than themselves. This applies to the band, the leadership, and the congregation.
• For music that you listen to at home, take your pick. God has made us all different, with different tastes, experiences and seasons of life. But the words still matter.