CCM

Oh, those worship wars! Will evangelicals and charismatics ever learn to get along?

Oh, those worship wars! Will evangelicals and charismatics ever learn to get along?

PAUL’S QUESTION:

Can “evangelicals” and “charismatics” worship together?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Ah, those “worship wars” that have so roiled and reshaped U.S. Protestant churches this past half-century. The questioner, a music teacher, has attended “evangelical” churches with relatively “traditional” worship compared with the “contemporary” style associated especially with “charismatic” churches.

“We’ve gone through a monumental shift of style in our lifetime, which has never happened before,” says Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College (Illinois). Music is only part of the ongoing, sweeping evolution toward popular, informal, and “seeker-friendly” worship but it’s right at the center.

Paul posted this some time ago. The Guy decided to address the topic when the New Yorker profiled the late singer-songwriter Larry Norman as the leading “Christian rock” pioneer in the late 1960s. (The writer, Kelefa Sanneh is the son of Lamin Sanneh, professor of world Christianity at Yale Divinity School.)

His article began with a clergyman’s 1958 column declaring traditional church music to be “totally incompatible” with rock. He insisted that “the profound sacred and spiritual meaning of the great music of the church must never be mixed with” rock, which “so often plunges men’s minds into degrading and immoral depths.”

So believed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shortly after he led the epochal Montgomery bus boycott. Countless preachers agreed with him during that early phase of rock ‘n roll.

Years later, the onset of Norman and others in the “Christian rock” subculture coincided with the youthful “Jesus movement” and the rise of new “charismatic” congregations that emphasized youth appeal and informal worship. Two churches in southern California, Calvary Chapel and The Vineyard, fostered hundreds of daughter congregations and produced widely-used songs.

The hard rock scene was built around concerts and records as many churches upheld King-style traditionalism.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

Read it all: The New Yorker offers a stunningly good take on the 'Christian' rock wars

First, here is yet another tmatt confession: I am so old that I attended one of the original “Jesus music” rock festivals held in Texas in the early 1970s. Then I went to Baylor University during the era when various branches of Word Records in Waco were releasing early albums linked to what would become Contemporary Christian Music.

There’s more. Anyone digging into the roots of “folk” and later “rock” music inside church doors will eventually hit a 1967 landmark — the “Good News” folk musical by Bob Oldenburg. Who played the role of the “skeptic” the first performances? That would be my big brother, Don, who was playing a ukulele before it was cool.

As a journalist, I have been covering the “Christian music” wars since the late 1970s and, of course, that topic ended up in my book “Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture.” The key theme: CCM is music defined by unwritten rules about lyrics and the belief that all “Christian art” should, in reality, be evangelism in disguise.

Hold that thought. I wrote all of that to add punch to my praise for an almost unbelievably good New Yorker feature by Kelefa Sanneh that just ran with this epic headline:

The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock

The genre has been disdained by the church and mocked by secular culture. That just reassured practitioners that they were rebels on a righteous path.

It opens with a quotation that left me stunned. I have read shelves full of books about “Christian rock” and have never been clubbed over the head with these words.

Try to guess the minister who had this to say in 1957, addressing whether gospel music could be wedded to rock ‘n’ roll. This Baptist pastor from the South was blunt:

Rock and gospel were “totally incompatible,” he explained: “The profound sacred and spiritual meaning of the great music of the church must never be mixed with the transitory quality of rock and roll music.” And he made it clear which he preferred. “The former serves to lift men’s souls to higher levels of reality, and therefore to God,” he wrote. “The latter so often plunges men’s minds into degrading and immoral depths.”

Who said that? That would be the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Take it away, Aretha Franklin.

It’s hard not to quote every other passage in this must-read piece, which punches all the right buttons — from the copycat “Jesus is my boyfriend” style of worship music to battles over loud drums and heavy-metal guitars. Yes, U2 is in here. Ditto for Bob Dylan.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Guardian drags Mike Pence into Christian music festival story, blunting crucial points

Guardian drags Mike Pence into Christian music festival story, blunting crucial points

I'm beginning to see a pattern: To get attention in mass media, faith-based events and/or culture have to be tied, however tenuously, to U.S. President Donald J. Trump or his administration.

I get it: Sex sells, and few things, it seems, are more "sexy," news-wise, than the 45th President of the United States and his team.

But sometimes, this desire for a political connection dents an otherwise good and thoughtful piece on culture, faith, and people -- you know, stuff that sometimes exists apart from politics.

For an example, let's turn again to one of Britain's top progressive newspapers, The Guardian. It should be noted that this paper began life as the Manchester Guardian and was once home to Malcolm Muggeridge, a once-socialist reporter whose Christian conversion was one of the great biographical stories of the last century, if you are talking about interesting lives in journalism.

"St. Mugg," as he was known after his radical conversion at age 60, probably wouldn't find a home at The Guardian today. But there are some good writers contributing to its pages, however much they may be caught up in the frenzy of "Must-include-a-Trump-reference" that has overtaken us.

Say hello, then, to Jemayel Khawaja, a freelancer in Los Angeles who knows music and culture quite well. The Pakistani-born Khawaja authored one of the better analyses of contemporary Christian music that I've seen in the media, once you get past the obligatory, almost tortured, Trumpiana:

“Lord Jesus, thank you for dying for me,” says a bearded man in cut-off shorts standing atop a floodlit stage as hundreds of youths look on. “Lord Jesus, you can have my life.” Teenagers in Avenged Sevenfold shirts with bandannas wrapped around their faces bow their heads and pray together. And then the double-time kickdrum drops in, the guitars start chugging, and the mosh pit resumes.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Nashville's Christian hip hop music scene is now under The Tennessean's microscope

Nashville's Christian hip hop music scene is now under The Tennessean's microscope

Hip-hop and its cousin, rap, is stuff I won’t let my kid listen to on the car radio because I never know what weird thing is going to come out of the speakers. Which is why I was interested to see the Tennessean announce that Christian hip hop has arrived.

When it comes to this kind of music, I’m beyond clueless. But I do know that Nashville is as close as you can get to not only being the go-to place for country music but is also the national capital for contemporary Christian music. There’s a reason why CCM Magazine is based there.

So I appreciate it when a secular publication tries to explain the genre to us great unwashed in the peanut gallery.  Here's what ran Tuesday:

The audacious Christian hip-hop movement, which to this point has been spearheaded mostly by independent artists and record labels, has made its way to Music Row with Word Music’s launch of a hip-hop imprint called 4 Against 5.
The new imprint is headed by Joseph Prielozny, the producer and artist development executive who helped guide the career of Christian hip-hop’s flag bearer, Lecrae.
Prielozny likens the rising popularity, word-of-mouth marketing and do-it-yourself ethos of the Christian hip-hop movement to rap music’s emergence into the mainstream in the 1990s. Obviously, the message of Christian rappers like Lecrae is different than Easy E, but the ethos is the same. Something fresh, something resonating is happening with Christian hip-hop and now Word, the genre’s oldest label, is buying in.

I kept wondering what 4 Against 5 meant, but the article never said. Thank goodness for online searches and YouTube. The story continues:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A larger story behind the headlines: Why people keep fighting about Amy Grant's music

A larger story behind the headlines: Why people keep fighting about Amy Grant's music

So why do people, decade after decade, keep arguing about the music and life of Amy Grant?

To understand these news stories, it really helps to connect them to other headlines linked to religious believers whose talents allow them to work in mainstream culture. Think about all those debates about the lives of Christian football players, such as Tim Tebow and Russell Wilson. Think about what happens when religious believers, left and right, produce bestselling novels. Think about all those news stories about what is and what is not a "Christian" film. Do the Christians who work at Pixar (and they are part of the mix) make "Christian" movies?

But if you really want to understand this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), then I'd like you to take part in a little exercise that I have used for more than a decade in lectures on faith and popular culture.

Step 1: Watch the video at the top of this post, which is Faith Hill's stunning performance of "There Will Come A Day" during the "Tribute to Heroes" special a week after 9/11, a fundraising effort that was carried on just about every single television channel in existence.

Step 2: Now read the lyrics to this song, especially the triumphant final verse and chorus:

There's a better place, Where our Father waits, and every tear, He'll wipe away
The darkness will be gone, the weak shall be strong
Hold on to your faith, there will come a day ...

Song will ring out, down those golden streets
The voices of earth, the angels will sing
Every knee will bow, sin will have no trace
In the glory of His amazing grace ...
There will come a day ... I know there's coming a day

Step 3: Now ask yourself this question: Is this a "Christian" song, in terms of the marketplace of American music? That leads to another question: Is Faith Hill a "Christian" artist, in terms of the marketplace of American music?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Latest Amy Grant controversy: This tale has a new chapter that some have missed

Latest Amy Grant controversy: This tale has a new chapter that some have missed

Baby, baby, how long have I been writing about controversies involving Amy Grant and fights about what is and what is not Christian music?

Well, so long that I cannot link to the "On Religion" column I wrote about the topic a quarter of a century ago. You see, the World Wide Web didn't really exist at the time for normal people -- so that column isn't stored anywhere online, at least not where I can get to it.

But back in 1991, people started worrying about whether Grant's "Heart in Motion" album (containing "Baby, Baby," which led to that controversial music video) was "too secular" and part of the "crossover" trend that would undercut Grant's public witness, etc., etc.

Well, now Grant is back in the news and, alas, it appears that some people have not noticed that lots of water has gone under the bridge and there are new issues in play. This brings us to the top of the story in the singer's local paper, The Tennessean:

LifeWay Christian Resources will not be selling Amy Grant's new Christmas album this year, and the manager for the Nashville-based singer says it's because it's not Christian enough for the Southern Baptist retailer.
Manager Jennifer Cooke said in an opinion piece for the Washington Post that LifeWay's decision not to carry "Tennessee Christmas" reignites a debate about how Christian a product needs to be in order for Christian retailers to sell it.
"'Is it Christian enough for Christian retail to support?' LifeWay Christian Resources, the large Southern Baptist retailer, decided it was not. It’s their choice, and it’s okay," said Cooke, in the column posted Tuesday.
LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, confirmed its retail stores are not carrying the album, but would not comment on the reasons for the decision.

Of course, the Southern Baptist Vatican, as the locals call it, is in Nashville, so this is a local story on every possible level.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Is the Babylon Bee insider 'Christian' funny, or truly funny enough for prime time?

Is the Babylon Bee insider 'Christian' funny, or truly funny enough for prime time?

So what is this week's "Crossroads" podcast actually about?

Well, on one level it's about the "Christian" humor website called The Babylon Bee. But on a deeper level, it's about what happens when the word "Christian" is turned into an adjective defining a form of popular culture. At that point, all kinds of interesting and even distressing things take place. There are news stories in there, folks.

For example, when you hear someone talking about "Christian" rock 'n' roll, doesn't that (if you are of a certain age) make you think of that famous "Seinfeld" episode that included the riff about the car-radio buttons? Here's a flashback, from an "On Religion" column that I wrote long, long ago:

As she pulled into traffic, Elaine Benes turned on her boyfriend's car radio and began bouncing along to the music.
Then the lyrics sank in: "Jesus is one, Jesus is all. Jesus pick me up when I fall." In horror, she punched another button, then another. "Jesus," she muttered, discovering they all were set to Christian stations. Then the scene jumped to typical "Seinfeld" restaurant chat.
"I like Christian rock," said the ultra-cynical George Costanza. "It's very positive. It's not like those real musicians who think they're so cool and hip."

It's all about the world "real." We are not talking about "real" musicians, here. We are talking about "Christian" rock. Thus, when most people hear the phrase "Christian" rock, they probably think of this rather than this (please click these URLs).

What do you think of when you hear people talk about "Christian" movies? Do you think of this or of this?

How about the fine arts? When you think of Christian paintings, do you think of this or, well, of this?

I could go on. "Christian" humor, including satire, is not new -- in fact, it's ancient.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Christian history flashback: What’s the legacy of the Jesus Movement 45 years later?

Christian history flashback: What’s the legacy of the Jesus Movement 45 years later?

JOSH’S QUERY:

[Referring to Time magazine's 1971 cover story on the youthful "Jesus Revolution"]  A lot has happened since then -- culturally, religiously, movement-wise -- and I’d be fascinated to see you revisit your journalistic and theological mind.

THE RELIGION GUY’S RESPONSE:

This interests Josh because his parents were members of Love Inn, which typified the youth-driven “Jesus Movement” of those days. It was a combination church, commune, Christian rock venue and traveling troupe, based in a barn near the aptly named Freeville, New York (population 500).

As a “Time” correspondent, the Religion Guy figured this revival, which was hiding in plain sight, was well worth a cover story, managed to convince reluctant editors to proceed, and did much of the field reporting including a visit to Love Inn. Arguably, that article -- by the Guy’s talented predecessor as “Time” religion writer, lay Catholic Mayo Mohs -- put the “Jesus freaks” permanently on the cultural map.

The following can only sketch mere strands of a complex phenomenon and offers as much theorizing as hard fact. For some of the history, the Guy is indebted to the valuable “Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism” by Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College.

Quick summary: The Jesus Movement developed pre-existing phenomena into a youth wing that energized and reshaped U.S. evangelical Protestantism as a whole. This occurred just as evangelicalism was clearly emerging as the largest segment of American religion while beginning in the mid-1960s moderate to liberal “mainline” Protestant groups began inexorable decline.

The Jesus Movement was related to and influenced by the “Charismatic Movement,” which first reached public notice around 1960. This wave took a loosened version of Pentecostal spirituality into “mainline” Protestant and Catholic settings and, especially, newer and wholly independent congregations, along with free-floating gatherings akin to the secular Woodstock (August, 1969).

Early “street Christians” clustered around hot spots such as the Living Room in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, the Christian World Liberation Front adjacent to the University of California at Berkeley, Seattle’s Jesus People Army, and His Place on the Sunset Strip (led by Arthur Blessitt who later evangelized his way across the nation pulling an outsize wheeled cross).

Please respect our Commenting Policy