I took a break from writing my thesis Sunday night in order to watch the Grammys. Because, you know, going from exegesis of the book of Exodus to seeing Taylor Swift doing an Alice in Wonderland-themed performance with people in rabbit costumes is a smooth transition.
As I was watching the show, I realized I’m not very in touch with the popular radio hits anymore. I didn’t know who Frank Ocean was, but he is apparently quite a bit deal at the moment. Yet at the same time — confession, you guys — I don’t know much about CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) radio hits anymore, either.
I used to listen to Christian radio a lot when I was in high school. DC Talk was (and always will be) my favorite band. I enjoyed Jennifer Knapp, Audio Adrenaline and MercyMe. But even at a younger age, I noticed that a lot of the other Christian bands I enjoyed (Bleach, Supertones, Waterdeep, Five Iron Frenzy) didn’t get a lot of airtime on the Christian radio stations that advertised the idea that they were “safe for the whole family.” I
don’t know how Christian stations choose their music, but it seemed like ska,
rap or too much electric guitar didn’t fit the standard in the same way
three-chord worship songs did.
This is why I was so interested when Axis started asking people to think about what makes a product “safe.” What are the criteria for “safe” Christian content and why?
For example, Axis has pointed out that hearing that something on our radio station is safe might allow us to shut down and quit thinking. But sometimes the theology, even in the clearly-defined Christian songs, can be a bit off. I’ve heard “safe” songs that make Jesus sound more like a boyfriend than a holy God, and I’ve heard radio hits that take Bible verses completely out of their context. Christian stations play ads that promote consumerism, which is not a safe concept, especially in our debt-ridden society. And is all biblical content even acceptable according to our standards of safe? I recently read a blog post by a Christian radio host who got complaint emails when he quoted Jesus’ words that prostitutes will inherit the kingdom before the chief priests and elders. The listeners said those things weren’t appropriate for children to hear on their Christian radio station. The things that Jesus said weren’t appropriate.
I’m not bashing Christian music or Christian radio stations. But I am wondering how and why we define things. What makes one Christian song or topic more “safe for the whole family” than another? Are these definitions biblical or just what we’re comfortable with? Is it more right for me to listen to a song that says “Jesus” numerous times
than to choose a band like Mumford and Sons, whose lyrics are spiritual but a bit more
I don’t have all the answers, but I think these are good questions for us to ask as we decide what to listen to, why we listen, and what standards are actually biblical versus what is cultural.
What do you all think?