What is Christian music? Is it music that is released on a “Christian” music label? Does Christian music always have to talk about Jesus? I have a friend that joked with me that one could tell whether a song was Christian by its JPM count. JPM meant Jesus per minute. Can we tell how Christian a song is by how many times it mentions Jesus? These answers are a little tongue-in-cheek, but it gets to the point of the discussion: If there is such a thing as Christian music, what is it? How do we define music as “Christian”?
Wikipedia says that “Christian music is music that has been written to express either personal or communal belief regarding Christian life and faith.” This definition, in my opinion, is one of the better ones I have seen for “Christian music”. It includes the obviously Christian music and artists: It certainly includes praise and worship music. It includes artists like Michael W Smith, DC Talk, Chris Tomlin, Third Day, Steven Curtis Chapman and others whose music is released on “Christian” labels. It includes the music you would hear if you tuned in to your local Christian radio station.
I think there might be something left out of the definition on Wikipedia, though. In my opinion, the ultimate test of whether music is “Christian” or not is whether or not the music is truthful. Yes, music that worships God is Christian. Yes, music that talks about Jesus is more often than not Christian (although this isn’t necessarily true). Yes, music that is played on Christian radio is Christian.
Let’s talk about Christian radio for a minute. There are those who seem to think that if a song is heard anywhere else besides Christian radio, it isn’t Christian. There are those who seem to think that Christians ought to only listen to Christian radio stations, because that is the only music that reflects a Christian worldview. What about truthfulness, though? There are “Christian” radio stations that market themselves and “positive” and “encouraging”. Now, ultimately, Christianity is positive and encouraging. There are times in the Christian life, though, that do not seem “positive” or “encouraging”. And the fact that these times feel negative is not necessarily a sign that we are not doing what we should.
We are in the middle of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, we celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. What a joyous occasion that was. But that joy didn’t last all week. Thursday night and Friday were not all that joyful. Jesus wept and prayed that the Father would spare him from the coming circumstances. He was betrayed by one of his disciples. He was spat upon, beaten and ultimately crucified. The joy of Palm Sunday was nowhere to be found on Good Friday. Yes, that joy was renewed and multiplied on Easter Sunday, but we have to get through Good Friday and Saturday before we come to Easter Sunday.
When we Christians label ourselves and “positive” and “encouraging”, and pretend that we have to be that way all the time, we are in danger of being untruthful. Honestly “Christian” music ought to address the seemingly negative times as well as those positive and encouraging times. What does this mean? This means a song like Taylor Swifts “Fifteen” might be as much a Christian song as any worship song ever written. “Fifteen” honestly tells the story of a girl in high school who loses her innocence with a guy and goes on to regret it. How is this a Christian song? Because it is honest enough to not glamorize pre-marital sex. It is honest enough to warn others, saying that what the person in the song did was a mistake. Is it a “positive” and “encouraging” song as we normally think of those adjectives? No. But it is a Christian song because it is truthful.
Am I saying the songs played on Christian radio stations are not Christian? Absolutely not. What I am saying is that the world of “Christian Music” might be much bigger than we realize. God is not limited to revealing himself through artists released on certain labels or through artists who use certain words. God and His Truth want to be found in many more places than we realize. I can only pray we have eyes open enough to seem Him.