While a non-believer could sing "Jesus Loves Me" without their throat seizing up, chances are good that someone who doesn't believe isn't going to make music about Jesus. So what about the believers? Does the music that a believer makes have to mention Jesus or God a certain number of times in any given song or album in order for it to be classified as "Christian?" What about songs done by believers about life and the problems that we all face? Since becoming a Christian doesn't mean that you're no longer going to have to ever face any type of hardship, difficulty or temptation, it's a given that Christians are going to have problems in life like everyone else on the planet. If a Christian person or band writes a song about a life issue, but they don't mention Christ, does that mean that the song isn't Christian? Does having a "Christian world view" mean that every Christian artist is going to be so perfectly mature in their faith that the first answer to every problem is going to be Jesus?
And what about the artists that feel like they're being called to take the music to the masses outside of the church? Where do they fall in the grand scheme of things? On the one hand, singing "Jesus this and Jesus that and Jesus said" to a group of people who don't know or accept Jesus might not go over well, so more ambiguous lyrics may be the way to get your foot in the door. On the other hand, if you're calling what you're doing music ministry, defined by most as ...
- Using music as a tool to reach the lost for Christ and to help fellow Christians go further in their own walks.
or you're calling what you're doing evangelism, defined in the dictionary as ...
- Zealous preaching and dissemination of the gospel
then how can you be ministering or evangelizing if you're not mentioning Christ?
Do bands like those have an obligation to go to step two once they've gotten their foot in the door, or are they simply being used to plant seeds that God will direct someone else to water?
Since going to work for About, I have seen both types of bands.
- The band who uses their music/lyrics to do ministry -- teaching and edifying -- and they are quite open about who/what they're talking about in their lyrics. Examples -- Casting Crowns, MercyMe, Jonah33, Todd Agnew. These bands/artists are sometimes considered to be "too preachy" and "unable to reach the unsaved" because "if someone doesn't know Christ, they won't listen to someone singing about Him."
- The band who crosses more into the mainstream/secular world, "taking the medicine to the sick." They don't hide their faith, but they don't spell it out in their lyrics and end up with veiled references to Jesus. Examples -- Flyleaf, Admiral Twin, Switchfoot. These are the kinds of bands that people frequently ask about because they can't tell by listening to the music. For the record -- I've spent some time with Flyleaf, and Lacey Mosley and the guys talk about their faith in a more outspoken way than just about anyone else I've ever met!
One song that makes a good example of this has the following lines:
- the different stars tonight
will somehow fade the same
and all the tears we cry
tell us we're made the same
and when we fall aside
let's hope we fall in place
we built our different lives
but they all break the same
- From Mute Math's self-titled, 2006 release
As a Christian, I can see a Christian perspective there, but would someone who wasn't saved see it? I was called in to referee an argument about this very song. The Christian said it was about all of us being God's children, and even after we're saved, and things are different, we're still no better and no more loved by God than the unsaved. The non-believer said it was about racism -- doesn't matter the color of your skin, we all bleed red! I believe that people hear and see based on where they're at during a particular time in life. So will someone who is seeing things with a world view see even so much as a Christian flicker? Shouldn't that be a factor?
There is now a third type of band: the band who has both type 1 lyrics and type 2 lyrics, yet they are adamant that they are not a "Christian band." In the summer of 2005, Mute Math sued their parent label, Warner Brothers, in order to get themselves off of the Word label, since they didn't want to be considered a "Christian band." The suit was settled in August 2006.
So what does make a song or a band Christian?