Below is a chapter in a very thought-provoking book by Cathy Mickels and Audrey McKeever. Their book is titled “Spiritual Junk Food.” It is about “The dumbing down of Christian youth,” we are told on the cover of the book.
The chapter, which is Appendix A, “Music for the Sensual or the Sacred,” is posted here with the written permission of one of the book’s authors, Cathy Mickels. I hope you will read it with an open mind. It reveals the fact that some contemporary Christian music needs to be trashed, for it is more sensual than sacred. It is, in reality, spiritual junk food. I say, “some contemporary Christian music needs to be trashed,” because it is not all the same. But some of my fellow-fundamentalist brothers seem to think that if Christian music doesn’t sound like it came from the songbooks, Great Hymns Of The Faith, or from Inspiring Hymns, or from songbooks like those, it can’t be any good. But that is not true.
“Music for the Sensual or the Sacred?”
By Cathy Mickels and Audrey McKeever
When we initially started writing and researching about contemporary youth group material, we had no intention of addressing the issue of contemporary Christian music and its impact on Christian youth. However, in our attempt to understand more about the activities used to draw Christian youth to Christ, it became apparent to us that contemporary Christian music also plays a role in the dumbing down of America’s Christian youth. As a result, we found ourselves attending a Christian rock concert to hear one of the nation’s most popular Christian bands touring the country under the banner of “The Zombie Tour.”
It was very obvious from the onset that, though we were at a Christian concert, there was something terribly wrong. The first red flag went up when the sponsor of the event came out on stage to lay down the ground rules. He warned that teens were getting hurt every night at the concerts and that some even had to be taken to the hospital for injuries. Therefore, he said, “We will not allow stage diving and crowd surfing, and anyone caught violating the rules will be kicked out.”
Throughout the concert, bouncers were visibly seen roaming the room, keeping any potential problems under control. Yes, we have seen out-of-control secular rock concerts, but we would never had expected the very same spirit to exist at a Christian concert!
In addition, it also became apparent that a simulated secular rock concert was intentionally being created. In fact, before the first opening song, a singer enthusiastically shouted out to the kids, ‘Let’s pretend we’re at a rock concert!’ To those of us who have actually lived through the age of rebellion. drugs, and rock concerts, telling us to pretend we were at a rock concert was the last place on earth we wanted to revisit —- simulated or not!
Indeed, there were many similarities between this concert and the rock concerts of the sixties and seventies. First of all, the blaring music was so loud that it was next to impossible to identify if the lyrics of the songs were even Christian. To our surprise, we overheard one teen tell his friend, ‘I better buy some earplugs. I always get a headache after one of these concerts.’
By this point it was not surprising that teens had caught the spirit of the evening and were dancing in the aisles. After all, what would you expect after one of the singers encouraged them to do so: ‘Does everyone out there like to dance? OK, let’s see everyone moving out there.’ As we watched the dancing, jumping, and clowning around, it was obvious that this event was not about edifying our holy and righteous God, even though a band member told the crowd of 1.300 that it was.
On the contrary, Christian youth were being subjected to a worldly, party-time mindset subtly desensitizing them away from the reverent and the sacred. Instead of elevating the sacred, the sacred was being cheapened. Instead of teaching Christian youth to separate from the pleasures of the world, they were being subtly taught to copy and conform to them. In the process, Christian teens were being dumbed down to accept a commercialized, reductionist gospel pandering to their emotions and their flesh. In this atmosphere, reference to Scripture was also being cheapened by a band member who enthusiastically referred to the Book of James as the book that ‘really kicked my butt!’
Unfortunately, the spirit of the concert was intended to live long after the band’s final song. During intermission, in a special meeting for youth leaders, the band’s curriculum ‘Youth Leaders Only’ was introduced. Whether the youth leaders realized it or not, this meeting was being used as an outlet to market the band’s music directly to teens. Interestingly, the lesson plans were all based on songs from the bands CD’s and other contemporaries in the business. By this point, we were not surprised by the curriculum’s offer for a free six-foot standup for the popular band to be displayed in your church youth room.
As we looked around at this packed room of youth leaders, we also could not help notice the distinct age difference between ourselves and those working with our youth. Many were just coming out of their teen years themselves. Therefore was it any wonder that they all appeared to see nothing wrong with a Christian rock concert that looked and sounded exactly like the world’s? As mothers who have raised our own children through the teen years, we must admit we questioned what percentage of these youth leaders possessed the necessary maturity, experience, and wisdom required to instruct youth through their teen years.
Also addressing the group of young youth leaders was one of the band’s singers. We are not questioning or judging th heart of this young man, who shared how God rescued him from a life of drugs and despair, but we do question placing him in the capacity of a role model to the youth of the church. We couldn’t help but wonder how many Christian parents would approve of their sons mimicking the dress of this band member, complete with his blue sparkle fingernail polish and his long scraggly hair. We wondered how many Christian fathers would want their daughters to be courted by a young man who fashions his dress and his music after the world? We seriously doubt if many would approve. Nevertheless, Christian parents can expect their Christian sons and daughters to do so if we don’t think twice about the kind of role models we parade before our youth.
Spirit of the Age, or the Spirit of Christ?
Contemporary Christian artist Steve Camp has courageously called for a reformation in the Christian music industry, writing in his 107 Theses that they had ‘gone too far down the wide road of worldliness……..’
Camp warns, ‘…..when Christian artists of today take the old song of the world and dress it up, modify it, and say it now represents the person of Jesus Christ, a Christian message, or describes the character of God, they fortuitously assault the gospel and diminish the gift that has been entrusted to them. This inappropriate at best and sacrilegious at worst. We cannot pour new wine into old wine skins.’
What will be the future of a generation of Christian youth whose role models and youth leaders think nothing is wrong with telling them to pretend they are at a rock concert? Are we unwittingly allowing the creation of a Christian youth culture, a generation gap, in the church where adults and youth will eventually speak a different language? Are we creating a mindset in our youth that subtly implies that Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa are old-fashioned?
To be sure, we can hear those who will say, ‘But if we want to reach the kids of today, we have to make Christianity relevant to their world by giving them what they want.’ On the contrary, in their effort to reach kids for Christ, they must guard against giving them the world’s model along with all of its ‘trivial messages that devalue Deity and raise ‘felt need’ affairs above eternal ‘real need concerns.’ which is tantamount to ‘playing marbles with diamonds.’
When introducing someone to Christ, the Lord must be presented as different from the world. Scripture teaches that we are not ‘love the world, nor the things of the world’ (1 John 2:15) and that ‘whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God’ (James 4:4).
The Character of Christian Music
When we are saved by grace, we become ‘new creatures’ in Him; ‘Old things are passed away; behold all things become new’ (2 Cor. 5:17). From then on we ‘walk in newness of life’ (Rom. 6:4). We are alive in Him, alive for Him, ‘alive unto God through Christ our Lord.’ (Rom. 6:11)
Therefore, as Leonard Seidel wrote in his book God’s New Song, ‘The new life in Christ is accompanied by (new standards, including) new standards in music.’
God never takes away without giving something better. As new creatures in Christ, He gives us a new song. A song that glorifies him, that brings true peace and joy that makes molehills out of mountains – and mountains of victory out of molehills of defeat. And, since our internal is to manifest itself in the external, our music should now be in harmony with God’s Word and Christian principles.
Yes, unlike the world, Christian music is inspired by the Holy Spirit and inspires the musician, the singer, and the listener. Thus, this new song of the redeemed people of God is ‘ a different and distinct song, a more glorious song, a purer, truer, and more beautiful song than the world can ever sing.’
(in this chapter, which is Appendix A, the authors quoted from Steve Camp’s “107 Theses,” and from Russ Walton’s book, “Biblical Principles: Concerning Issues Of importance To Godly Christians.” It was from Walton’s book that the quote from Leonard Seidel was taken. My copy of this book was published by WinePress Publishing, and was copyrighted in 1999 by Audrey McKeever and Cathy Mickels.)