What Passes for Contemporary Christian Music These Days

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It had been about 10 to 15 years since I last listened to what's popular in Christian Music. That changed this week when I typed "Billboard Christian Top Songs" into Google, and there on the first page of the search results was a weblink from the K-LOVE Staff from a year ago.

At the top of that list were the following songs:

  1. "You Say" by Lauren Daigle
  2. "Holy Water" by We The Kingdom
  3. "The Blessing" (LIVE) by Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes & Elevation Worship
  4. "Follow God" by Kanye West
  5. "There Was Jesus" by Zach Williams & Dolly Parton

Curious, I listened to all of these top five, and some of several more on the list besides. And I watched the music videos K-LOVE Staff embedded helpfully in the page. And thus I came to some awareness of what topped the Billboard Christian Music Charts for 2020.

Besides wondering just a little bit whether a track from Barbara Eden could have landed the top spot on this list, supposing she had recorded an ostensibly Christian single and her heyday had been today rather than 1965, I found listening to and reading the lyrics to these songs to be revealing about where we're at.

There is an awful lot of self-talk to do with self-esteem and self-image in these tracks. And while that may not be all bad, the dose makes the poison. Or so the old adage goes.

And yet on that point, the dose has a lot to do with what else is in the mix. On some of these tracks, there is exactly one explicit mention of God throughout. Otherwise, you have to take their word for it that they're talking about the Deity, much less the particular God of the Bible and of the Christian faith.

Perhaps this makes me sound stodgy. I have been reading a lot of theology as of late, becoming more aware of what I didn't know I didn't know on that subject. It could also be that I've been studying the historic creeds of the faith in recent weeks, and thinking long and hard about how specific and precise our forebearers in Church History were about how and where they chose to derive their comfort and encouragement.

But really, now. Suppose we read these straight without any of the chaser of strong emotion. Set aside the light shows and fog machines, or Steven Furtick pacing around the stage like a wild lion defending his territory, or shots of pretty girls at beautiful cabins in the woods. Consider where the focus is in a lot of these tracks, and whether the ratio of doctrinal substance to therapeutic mantras amounts to so much nutrition as magical deliciousness of the Lucky Charms variety.

I like marshmallow cereal as much as the next guy. But it's hardly the breakfast of champions when you're planning to go do meaningful work - unless, that is, the meaningful work is appealing to a certain feel-good Zeitgeist, high on emotion and low on objective truth, which demands to be coddled.

Again, as I said, I may just be getting cranky as I get older. But I'm not even saying the Christian music was so much better back in my day, when I was the teen or 20-something in the audience at the concert and this would have been Pillar or Newsboys or Relient K we were listening to. Nevertheless, I reckon there must be some sense in which Pop Christianity in the U.S. could have either developed or else devolved in the last 15-years if it's possible I have.

So I read the lyrics to these songs, and watched their music videos, and I read the write-ups from the K-LOVE Staff, and I am struck by how much more focused on our feelings we at least seem to be compared with, let's say, the old hymn writers of centuries past. And I don't mean to complain, but I do harbor a growing concern that our focus leaves us very vulnerable to being led astray by sentiment and spectacle, and comforted by half-truths.

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