Here’s an interesting account by a young woman who became secular by becoming very involved in Christian music and then jumped to secular music because it was better music.
“Who’s in the House” is a hip-hop track about the presence of the Lord. Through megaphone distortion, Carman rapped a few lines: “You take him high / you take him low / you take JC wherever you go,” then led into a call and response hook reminiscent of ’80s-era De La Soul. “Tell me who’s in the house? JC!”
If you’re wondering what teenager in her right mind would listen to a forty-year-old Vegas showman with a Jersey accent rap about Jesus, the answer is: me. In junior high, I saw Carman in concert three times. The Standard was the first CD I ever bought. I rocked out to Carman on my Walkman on the way to youth group and dished with my girlfriends about what a hottie he was. At the concerts, I bought his T-shirts and posters, and when he called out “Who’s in the House?” I made my arms into letters, YMCA-style, with the rest of the crowd and shouted “JC!”
I was homeschooled up until tenth grade, and my social life revolved around church. I grew up submersed in evangelical youth culture: reading Brio magazine, doing devotions in my Youth Walk Bible, eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Left Behind series, and developing a taste in music that ran the gamut from Christian rap to Christian pop to Christian rock.
And she ends with this:
Basically, CCM caught on to the number one rule of coolness: don’t let your marketing show. The best bands—the successful ones, at least—learned to gloss over the gospel message the same way TV producers camouflaged corporate sponsorship. Explicitly Christian lyrics prevented DC Talk from crossing over to the secular market in the ’90s; today it’s difficult to imagine their unapologetic faith making it in the Christian circuit.
This trend spreads beyond CCM into many areas of evangelical culture. The church is becoming increasingly consumer-friendly. Jacob Hill, director of “worship arts” at New Walk Church, describes the Sunday service music as “exciting, loud, powerful, and relevant,” and boasts that “a lot of people say they feel like they’ve just been at a rock concert.” Over the past ten years, I’ve visited churches that have Starbucks kiosks in the foyer and youth wings decked out with air hockey tables. I’ve witnessed a preacher stop his sermon to play a five-minute clip from Billy Madison. I’ve walked into a sanctuary that was blasting the Black Eyed Peas’s “Let’s Get it Started” to get the congregation pumped for the morning’s message, which was on joy. I have heard a pastor say, from a pulpit, “Hey, I’m not here to preach at anyone.” And yet, in spite of these efforts, churches are retaining only 4 percent of the young people raised in their congregations.
Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.
So, I’d like to look at whether listening to contemporary Christian music is a good way to build a strong faith that lasts.
Should people sing about things that they don’t know are true?
I would not be comfortable singing about a state of affairs that I did not know was true. And yet, that is exactly what happens in churches and youth groups. Young people are brought up to sing about a story without first having any evidence that the story is true. Imagine what that does to a person – what are they thinking about the purpose of the singing? They don’t know these things are true, but they sing anyway! The church services almost never link what the Bible says to anything in the real world. Naturally, as soon as children hit the university, they fall away. Their questions about the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, the problem of world of religious pluralism, the hiddenness of God, justice of Hell, etc. were never answered.
I think this anti-intellectual approach is really damaging. The impression of Christianity that young people will have is that truth doesn’t matter, that you can sing about something just to be part of a group, and for emotional pleasure. Then with the end-of-the-world fiction and other Christian fiction – all for enjoyment, and all not connected to knowledge. How does any of that connect to the real world? When young people are taught that being a Christian has no connection to reason, evidence or the real world, then their Christianity doesn’t survive leaving the safety of their home and church.
Christian music reinforces the idea that Christianity makes you feel good
The problem with Christian music is that a person listening to it can quickly develop the idea that what Christianity is about is having happy feelings, because people feel happy when listening to music. I’ve noticed that a lot of Christians leave the faith because they have this idealized notion that the world should be a happy place, where no one ever feels bad. Then they find verses in the Bible that are exclusive and judgmental, and they leave the faith because Christianity is too “mean”.
Those emotions of compassion and intuitions about happiness are not compatible with hard verses of the Bible and exclusive Christian doctrines. If we teach children that happiness and doing good things are what Christianity is about, then eventually they will dump it when the open profession of their faith causes them to have bad feelings and to lose friends. I think young Christians in particular feel pressure to jettison Christian rules when it comes to dating and marriage – because they want to be happy, and they think that the rules shouldn’t stop them from pursuing happiness. If they don’t know why the rules are there (truth) then they will just reject anything that conflicts with their intuitions, emotions and desire to be happy. If the purpose of life is to have good feelings about yourself, and to have everyone like you, then Christianity is not the answer. If the purpose of life is to know the truth and to live according to it, then Christianity is the answer.
English is not a subject that is very friendly to Christian beliefs
I note that she seems to have studied English at the undergraduate level and is currently studying it at graduate level, which I think is significant. English is well known to be a hotbed of postmodernism, deconstructionism, feminism and socialism on campuses. She would therefore be under enormous pressure there to abandon her faith, especially in order to get good grades. Nothing that she did as a young person would equip her to deal with the pressure from peers and teachers when challenged on her Christian faith. Singing, reading fiction, Bible reading and prayer do not help a young person who is confronted by peer pressure and secular left professors holding the grading pen – especially in English where marking of essays is subjective.
I think that mathematics, computer science and engineering are much safer fields for Christians to study. My background is in computer science, and I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in that area. These areas are safer because it is much harder for the professors to inject politics into the curriculum, so that students don’t have to be forced to accept things on faith, without any critical thinking or debate. Math features answers that are right or wrong regardless of politics, and programming features programs that either run or not, regardless of religion.
It’s not a good idea to stay a student all your life
Our CCM woman seems to have been a student all her life. She doesn’t have the skills or the money to make it on her own. She has to agree with them in order to get tuition, student loans, etc. – in order to live away from her parents. This would be another pressure on her to turn away from her Christian faith. She is trapped by not having any marketable skills that would allow her to earn a living without having to agree with anyone’s views. Students also have the things they read handed to them – it’s much harder for her to find the time to read things that the professors don’t want her to read – and she could never bring those things up in class safely anyway. A lot of people who thrive on being told that they are good prefer to stay in school where it is easy to just do whatever the teacher says in order to get good grades – especially in non-STEM fields like English.