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Volume 51. Number I
Contemporary Christian Music:
Parables of Atonement and Assurance:
Jeffrey A. Gibbs 19
The Scriptural Principles of
Indices to Volume 50 (1986)
Contemporary Christian Music:
An Evaluation Klemet Preus Johnny, a sixteen-year old high schooler, has just brought home the latest record by Iron Maiden. On the cover is a ghastly, hellish figure leering and drooling, apparently over the prospects of bringing Johnny home for a visit.
The song titles leave little to be imagined. They speak of violence, sadistic perversion, satanism, and irrepressible sex. The names of Johnny's other musical artists are also alarming: Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick, AC-DC, and KISS, which you have been told stands for Kids in Satan's Service. Their songs offer screaming, driving music which advocates just about everything Johnny ought to avoid, from homosexual perversion to satanic sacrifice, from suicide to dabbling in drugs.
Then, providentially it seems, one stumbles upon a flier promoting a dance for high school students at the church. Contemporary Christian musicians will be featured with cuts from Amy Grant, RezBand, Stryper, Keith Green, and more. Subsequently one discovers that an entire genre of music is available to Johnny at the local Christian bookstore. Johnny can have a heavy metal sound, a break-dance beat, a mellow folk sound, CountryWestern, Rhythm and Blues, an Elvis 'fifties sound, or basically anything he wants without the ungodly lyrics. Church, district, and congregational newsletters offer critiques of the latest releases. In most metropolitan areas Johnny can find an FM station which plays contemporary Christian music all day long. This music claims to offer a viable and valuable substitute for those young people of America who want to encounter "God, the Rock that makes me roll."' I. The Theology of Contemporary Christian Music As an apparent alternative, contemporary Christian music seems a godsend. It speaks of commitment to God and others, of love, of faith, and many other Christian virtues. And despite its varied artists it has a fairly consistent theological theme and a coherence which contrasts markedly with the inchoate machinations of other contemporary rock music. Because of its increasing appeal, its use in our church, and its claims to Gospel truth, contemporary Christian music is worthy of our understanding and evaluation. Like many notable expressions of Protestantism, the predominant message of contemporary Christian music can be expressed under five points.
CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLYA. The Pradicament of Humanity Contemporary Christian music in most of its forms either explicitly states or presupposes a troubled world. People are lost, confused, uncertain, and unhappy. The world is quickly closing in, suicide is becoming an attractive alternative, apathy reigns. Relationships are fractured, marriages broken, and no hope for love is immediately apparent. The Resurrection Band, for example, in is album, M m y t Don't Love Daddy Anymore, besides the title cut has songs entitled, "Alienated," "Stark-Spare," "The Chair," "First Degree Apathy," and "Can't Do It on My Own." Degarmo and Key, a
very talented Grarnmy-nominated duo, complain:
I hear a voice inside shouting to my heart, Apathy alert.
It's time to do what's right, It's time for me to do my partBroken dreams and breaking hearts Every place you look, but who can change it?
What can I do all by myself?
I'm not a King and I'm no Prophet.* So also Silverwind, a trio of one man and two women, who sound
remarkably similar to ABBA, describes the human predicament:
Do the days seem to drag on, has love become an old song, Cries and sorrows fill your night?
Al alone, no one caring, l Tied of living and scared of sharing?
Fear rules inside of your soul?
And you feel like dying, but someone is crying, Give him your heart child, He'll lead you home.
Give him your heart child, He'll lead you home.
Family's divided, yours is just surviving, Mealtime conversation seems a chore.
There's been cheating, there's been lying, Living ain't worth trying, You're telling me there's nowhere you be10ng.~ AD, another popular group, which features Kenny Livgren and Dave Hope, both formerly of the popular group "Kansas," can charac€& the world's progress as moving backward and downward until "we defie and we desecrate, we destroy and we annihilate, we entangle and complicate," all because "separation from our Creator brought d e ~ a y. "Sin is pictured as a force which prevents ~ Contemporary Christian Music 3 full happiness and causes the grief of this world. Sin is the inability to "make it on my own," or it is the slavery to harmful habits such as sex5 or drugs.6 B. Jesus Jesus offers the solution to the world's problem. According to contemporary Christian music, He offers help to overcome the troubles and afflictions of humanity. He is the promised Messiah, true God Himself, who came to the world to save us. He does this by coming into our lives with His power. He enables us to do what sin made us unable to do. Jesus "will lead you home."' He is the "love" who fmds a way out of sin and enables us to change and squelch any sinful and spiteful habits we might have.' Because of Jesus "we don't need no drugs to help push on; we've got His power in our souls."9 Jesus loved us so much that, to prove His love, He was crucified. His sacrifice, while not necessarily an event with inherent blessings, is a proof of God's strength and providential care in our lives. For example, Amy Grant, the queen of contemporary
Christian music, sings:
If our God, His Son not sparing, Came to rescue you, Is there any crc i-e That He can't see you through?'' Deganno and Key employ the cross in the same way, When I think back to the cross...
And the man who gave his life, I want to live for more than things that rust or die.
I don't want to struggle for those things that pass away.
I want to live my life for the things that never fade."
Thus, the primary purpose of Christ and His cross is to provide either the assurance of God's care or a powerful motive for our own saa%cial c3lrktian living.
C. Coming to Faith The help and encouragement of Jesus, according to contemporary Christian music, is futile if we fail to do our part by inviting Him into our lives or making a decision for Him. The decision doctrine is the central theological theme of contemporary Christian music and the article of faith which gives the whole system meaning.
Consequently, contemporary Christian music has developed many ways in which to encourage troubled people to get Jesus into their lives.
4 CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLYOften an artist will encourage the sinners to perform their part in salvation, since Jesus can be trusted to perform His part. David Meese, with an Elton John sound, croons, Time, time is runnin' out And your life, yes, your life is still in doubt.
WelI, it's all up to you, Everything you say and do.
Will you face the truth Or be lost in certain doom?" One of contemporary Christian music's wildest groups, RezBand,
echoes the same idea:
The news is spreading all over town;
You tore all of my roadblocks down.
I can hardly eat, I can hardly sleep.
I'm over my head in a love so deep.
I heard what you said, you told me what could be, And then you left it up to me.
But once I realized it was true, Jesus, I belong to you.I3 More common is the practice of mentioning the cross with a hastily added condition that the hearer has to choose before the promised power of the cross can be effective. For example, Petra, perhaps
the most prolific of contemporary Christian musical artists, sings:
They nailed his hands and his feet to the wood.
At the foot of his cross all his enemies stood.
He said "Father forgive them"He gave them al he could give.
l Then he gave up his life and they watched him die.
They laid his body in a rich man's tomb, But he rose from the dead and he's corning back soon.
You can choose to believe it, You can choose to receive it, You can choose to believe that he died over you."
Amy Grant maintains the same theme:
Listen, there's no need to waiver;
Long ago a Savior died for you so...
Tell me, does the fear of losing Keep your heart from choosing who has hold of you?" Others refer to the altar call as the place in which the decision for Jesus was made. Carmen, an Elvis Presley sound-alike,
Contemporary Christian Music 5 A preacher man in a three-piece suit, Twetone shoes and a tie to boot, He said, "God sent His only Son To save us from the evil one."
If you're not born again don't stall, Come down when I give the altar call.
Well, I felt my feet shuffle down the aisle While sinners marched down single fde.
Then someone drove me to my knees Like a divine electricity.
I said with my hands held high, I began to cry and I said these words out loud, I'm saved. Born all over again.I6 Keith Green, the leading contemporary Christian music male vocalist until his untimely death in 1980, explains the conditional nature of forgiveness in his recorded "Altar call": "The Gospel is simply this, Jesus will forgive all your sins if you'll come to Him humbly, lay down at His feet and say, 'You're the Lord and I'll follow You the rest of my life on earth so that I can have the rest of eternity with You and the glory of Your Father.' " I 7 Most artists are content to require a decision, a giving, a yielding, a surrender, a reaching, or some other action in which God and the sinner cooperate in the conversion. The Dame11 Mansfield Band,
a riproaring rock and roll group reminiscent of Credence Clearwater Revival, shouts:
Everybody's a Prophet, they tell you they know the way, But once they've picked your pocket, they got nothing to say.
They say I'm narrow minded when it comes to being lost, The path is wide to destruction, so I count the cost.
You gotta make a decision some day;
Don't let nobody stand in your way.
I see you pointing your fmger at the faith I possess.
Well, my God's alive, you know, He passed the test."
Stryper, the celebrated heavy metal group equipped in skin-tight
clothes, make-up, studs, spikes, and sundry other weapons, wails:
I was looking for the answer all the time, Always looking, never fmding.
I was empty inside, Falling into darkness, Needing the light to see, Reaching out for shelter.
He set me free.
CONCORDIA THEOUXiICAL QUARTERLY
sins. In his Songsfrom the Shepherd Keith Green sings a song called "The Promise Song." On the album jacket the lyrics are printed.
He introduces them with the assertion that God never gives promises unconditionally but always attaches a condition to His promise. The song demonstrates his point:
And if you'll do my will, I'll make you living stones To build up in my Father's house, if you'll serve me alone.
And if you'll love all men, especially the least, I'll raise you up the lowest one, and make you kings and priests.
And if you'll seek my face, and set your life apart, I'll let myself be found by you, when you look with all your heart.
And if you never turn aside, to the left or to the right, I'll be a lamp unto your feet and keep you on the paths of light."
Since, in contemporary Christian music, the Gospel's effectiveness depends on the hearer's response, the inherent power of the Gospel is rarely, if ever, mentioned. The sacraments are mentioned either not at all or disparagingly as things on which we cannot relya2'Instead we must "do," "serve," "love," "seek," "look," and "never turn aside" before the promise of God can be ours.
D. The Nature of Faith Faith, according to contemporary Christian music, is valued for its emotional aspects or by the emotions it induces. These emotions, in turn, are viewed as the true sign of Christian commitment or faith.
Carmen sings a song entitled "SomQDat," which tells of a man who has "some+dat." In the song various other people want "somebut are unwilling to humble themselves or pray or flil other ufl
prerequisites. Carmen concludes:
Well you can't find it in a bottle Or even when you pop a pill or two.
You can't find it smoking dope that's free, 'Cause one fine day you're gonna see That the dope that's being smoked, my friend, is you.
Well, if you're depressed, then get used to it, Because without Jesus you have blew it.
He's the only one who can give you s o m d a t.
Why not try the Lord for goodness sake?
You'll be happy as a dog with a T-bone steak.
Then you can say, "Hey, I got som-o-~lat."~~
CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLYThe impression is given that Jesus will do for you what the bottle,
pills, or dope once did. Keith Green is more explicit:
You know I can't explain to you how He really does it. But He proved Himself to me in such a holy way, such a complete way that I'd die for that faith, that I'd die for t a belief because ht it's more than a belief. He lives in my heart and that's the only proof, it's the only proof that I can give you 'cause He lives in my heart. Those people that knew me before didn't know that I could believe something so strong.26
AD also makes faith a heart-felt feeling:
From the clamor and confusion we live in There lies a refuge from the threatening time, A cool oasis in the heat of the desert, A resurrection from t+tb graveyard of pride.
If you tell me it's just imagination, I won't believe it, 'Cause my heart tells me this is for real, The reveille and fascination.