Gospel Soundcheck

Gospel Soundcheck

So what is “Christian music,” anyway?

All of the hoopla surrounding the news that Katy Perry, whose single “I Kissed A Girl” is topping the Billboard charts, released a Christian album back in 2001 brings up a question that always causes a lot of debate. What, exactly, makes an artist “Christian?”
You hear some artists describe themselves as Christian artists, others as “Christians in a band.” Is there a difference?
So this week, let’s talk about it:
What criteria should the music industry use when designating an artist “Christian?” What, exactly, is “Christian music”?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
RELATED POST: Guest blogger Pastor Dave Weiss answers this question.

Comments read comments(14)
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Mark Weber

posted July 1, 2008 at 10:38 pm

I was just on WBFO, Buffalo’s secular NPR News and Jazz station, talking about this topic. Here’s my take: there are two types of Christian artists– 1) the church ministers who use music to minister directly to people in the pews of churches and overtly Christian events– examples would be Casting Crowns, Rebecca St. James, and Jason Upton… 2) the “artists” who reach over to the secular world but happened to have some of their songs informed by their Christian faith– examples would be Switchfoot, P.O.D., and Pedro The Lion.
I find that Christian/Gospel music is appropriate for only certain, limited occasions when lots of other believers are gathered together. So, if I am at the beach, the gym, or the supermarket, I expect to hear Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson, or John Mayer because the general culture listens, a lot, to those artists and they don’t even know who Michael W. Smith or Chris Tomlin is, if we’re being honest.
I pay extra to get Gospel Music Channel, and I learn a lot about artists by watching this channel. Unfortunately, it’s still not at the level VH1 or MTV or BET are at where it’s part of the culture in such a way that everyone knows about it.
Christian music used to be mostly white people with bad haircuts singing inspirational pop songs with heavily synthesized beats (1980s, early 1990s); then Christian rockers and Hillsongs’ “Praise and Worship” became hot in the mid 1990s. In the 2000s, it was all about white guys with a guitar– Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Charlie Hall, etc. All along black Gospel artists did their own thing, and rarely did the white and black worlds meet, unless tobyMac and Kirk Franklin got together.
Nowadays, with bands becoming independent of record labels, everything has changed. Now there’s no more CCM magazine. Now fewer people are listening to Christian music radio since they can watch videos on or hear music on bands’ myspace pages. The world has changed. The music industry has changed. I’m thinking Christian music is both growing (Gospel Music Channel) and dying (the death of CCM the print magazine, the rise of myspace instead of labels).

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posted July 2, 2008 at 12:50 am

JULY 2nd,2008
HERE IS THE Question, that Many, Many, Saved sanctified &filled By HIS Holy Spirit//baby-boomers are Asking …of BOTH GOSPEL,”PRAISE-MUSIC”
Producers and Your ‘Jon Tesh’ Variety Musicians and contributors.
Without Being Rhetorical…. Like Paul Simon/Art Garfunkle When they
asked “…Where Have You Gone …. Joe Dimaggio “(The YANKEEs’ Clipper)”
…the Nation Turns ITS’ Lonely Eyes To YOU?”
Many of us are STILL WONDERING: Where ARE the Ian ANDERSONs’ of the Legendary Jethro Tull, on the JOHN MAYALLs’ of strong, Various Combos
akin to the group Heralded in 1970.. as in “U.S.A. – UNION?” ( ie., Harvel Mandel, Larry Taylor.Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris,and Mr. John Mayall)
Or Further on…John Mc/VIE, Peter Green : The real Heart of EARLY “Fleetwood Mac” ( 50% of the Groups’ Name was from John Mc/VIE!)
We, as Ardent Music Purists realize that there is not much Finantual Renumeration in ” Christian/Gospel Music” However, Mr. Keith Green, was a refreshing Breath of Fresh Air… even though his Music is over 20 years Dated NOW! Somewhere,Someone, Somehow, A Group,Combo,band or
even a “Trio” (Like ‘CREAM’), MAY change the way Sacred Music is Done!!
It Seems that this “Praise Music” with its Hokie, self-serving ‘Praise Singers’ Have readily appeared on Church Platforms World-Wide
in Various Denominational and Independent Churches…bringing a “New Broom” to Agressively SWEEP- 200 years of HYMNS- and Church ‘Liturgy’ into OBLIVION! (…and a Collective ‘dust-bin’).
(Only to RETURN…in a “More Acceptable Form”, THANK YOU, Mr. PHIL KEAGGEY!!) C’MON, the “Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down!” Where are the Jimmy PAGEs’, John Cippolinas’,Jack Bruces’, ERIC CLAPTONs’,BRIAN JONEs’, Do IT For the SAKE OF THE CALL! (hallelulia…Thank-You Mr. STEVEN CURTIS-CHAPMAN!!)

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posted July 2, 2008 at 9:20 am

I love Christian rock.
Switchfoot, Jeremy Camp, Casting Crown, Third Day, Rebecca St. James are some really good Christian groups that aren’t cheesey.
I will listen to things songs wherever I am & whenever I want.

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Brian Bates

posted July 3, 2008 at 7:49 pm

I’m an indie artist and a Chrisitan. As my radio and media exposure grows, I am regularly referred to as a Christian artist, and that is cool because that is the marketplace my team has presented me to.
Personally, I rarely refer to myself as a Christian artist. Why? Because I want my music and faith to be relevant to those who hear and see me. I don’t wanna turn them off out of the gates, but rather draw them in and earn the right to express the deeper parts of who I am. I want music & faith to be compelling to those who are seeking more than I aspire to entertain Christians. Therefore I work hard to not be exclusive with my lyrics, yet still express my faith. Words like kingdom for example don’t mean much to unchurched people. My approach limits Christian marketplace opportunities sometimes (such as radio), but I see that changing as well as people come to trust and appreciate me.
I guess to be relevant and compelling is the bottom-line for me. That’s just me. Or should it be all of us?
If curious about me and my approach to “Christian music”…

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Berean Wife

posted July 17, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Earlier this year I researched “Skillet” due to their song “Rebirthing”. Rebirthing is a well recognized New Age term and CCM is introducing New Age, ecumenicalism (Such as Catholics and Mormons are Christians.) and even Rastifarianism in their lyrics. The information I found about “Skillet” and the CCM industry as a whole was shocking.
The life styles are equally revealing as to what the artists really believe. Quotes from the artists and from their websites showed a lack of understanding of the gospel and never did I find a clear presentation of the gospel. How can anyone be brought to faith if they are never told the gospel?
If the world likes the music than it is probably “worldly” and Christians shouldn’t be involved.

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posted July 17, 2008 at 4:05 pm

I think it is important to categorize religious christian music as such, because from experience, people might not be aware they are listening to “christian” music and feel angry that they have been tricked and somewhat secretly brainwashed. The music needs to be clear of its purpose.
Download Worship Music, Hymns, and Karaoke Accompaniment Tracks at

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Joanne Brokaw

posted July 18, 2008 at 10:22 am

Hey all, I just wanted to let you know that my friend, Dave Weiss, who is a pastor and visual artist, did a guest blog post on this question. He raises some great questions:

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Bridgette Zycha

posted July 20, 2008 at 1:13 am

Christian music is super and the best there is on the radio especially stations such as KLOVE. I was so thrilled to find out there was Christian radio stations to begin with and I have been listening to the genre for 20 years. There is Christian rap, Christian rock, Christian hiphop etc. and its all about the words of Jesus Christ , who He is and why He died for us and is presented as worship music and is sung to glorify His name. Praise the Lord and thank God for this beautiful music.

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posted August 18, 2008 at 11:09 pm

Regarding Brian Bates comment: It’s important to be carefull in your quest to be “relevant” in your songwriting, lest you run the risk of slowly erroding your message of life and truth (“you shall hear the truth & the truth shall set you free”) and in the process of becoming more “commercial” or “marketable” as the record labels put it, you find yourself one day to be “Irrelevant” from the eternal perspective. You see the enemy of our soul is “very” subtle and patient in seeking to get us to compromise in the seemingly smallest things. The Lord said that if we are faithfull in the small things He would bless us in the great. The enemy does the same thing, only in reverse. He perverts everything that is godly. Would you ever refuse to read or share the word of god with someone unsaved because it “sounds” too churchy or because you don’t want to turn them “off’? Of course not. You would trust it to do the job it was sent to do, by the holy spirit and pierce the heart right thru “to the marrow of the bones’ We need to trust the word of God and the power it has ,even in songwriting . You say you “work hard’ to be inclusive with your lyrics. Maybe you shouldn’t have to , maybe you should relax and let it flow , see where the spirit takes you, He might be up to something new, somewhere you’ve never been.
The word of God after all these centuries is still transforming lives, therefore is still relevant. Our dear katy eventually stopped believing this and one day found herself “lost” as her song says. let us learn from her.

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roxan lin

posted September 28, 2008 at 3:59 am

christian music and a christian artist are totally different things. and they shouldn’t be categorized as the same thing. take for instance, paramore. the band professes christian faith, yet their song “misery business” finds the lead singer, hayley williams, misusing the lord’s name often (for which williams apologized for later on). christian music doesn’t necessarily mean that the artist is living a godly life, either. christian music can be simply defined as music that glorifies God and promotes good morals. but real, sincere lyrics would be honestly a little hard to fake, especially if you’re on tour and singing the songs, yet living a totally different way. it wouldn’t be worth the risk. christian music is definitely a lot better than some other stuff out there, even though the artists may not be living in exact accordance with God’s word. as role models, they need to be careful with how they live their lives. but we as christians know that everyone has sin in their lives and no one is perfect. music artists have a higher standard they are held to, but we should be careful not to judge them as well.
christians in a “secular band” is okay. God is not going to zap the members with lightning just because all their songs are not about him. if they are glorifying God with their music, im sure God is very pleased that they are using their talents for his glory and being a good example in an industry that is often so dark.

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posted October 17, 2008 at 12:42 am

Christian music… is just music with a particular religious theme to it. Most of the time at the expense of the actually quality of the music. There are some great talents out there, but so many more that wouldn’t be more than a passing joke in the secular music world. The actually quality of the songwritting and music is too often inferior, and is only produced because of it’s religous theme’s. Not many Christian artists are listened too by non-christains, but many christians listen to secular artists.
The reason? The actual music sucks, it’s just that it’s the best available from people who have the same religous views as the record company. Obviously people will gravitate towards high quality music, because even non-christians can write music that appeals to an ethical and religous person.

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posted December 17, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, strength.
If you make music that sucks, but talks about Jesus, are you following this? If you follow Jesus, seek relation with God, do you have a responsibility to lead others that way in everything you do? Does a waiter have to ask about someone’s salvation everytime they take an order? Does a tire tech have to refuse to change a tire of a car with a satanist sticker on it?
I think that a christian musician needs to do their job the best they can. That means making darn good music and refusing to put out sub-par junk just to have a new CD. Making good music that they are proud to call as their offering to God. That means putting out real lyrics that seek to express. Even the bible talks about doubting (Ecclesiastes, Job, Psalms), heroes living in sin (David, Noah), Good people falling short (the entire gospel of Mark), and even sexuality (Song of Songs).
But the one difference is in the public atmosphere. A Christian is someone who sins, just like everyone else, but they try to do better. Yeah, I was upset that Katy Hudson (perry) went the direction she did, I really liked what he music said. But I get over it because she made a clean break. She was no longer calling herself a christian artist. If she did these things, or was proud of them, while promoting herself as a christian artist I would take issue. One of the guys in RAZE (about the same time as KH) was molesting people while being a christian artist. We always find out about ministers going off the deep end. I am upset at those people because they are claiming to speak for the christian community.
Do I think we need to look to Katy as a role model? not any more. We are not her target audience. But I look forward to seeing what she could have to say once the roller coster fame gets done.

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posted February 20, 2009 at 12:30 am

the fact that chris tomlin, the most sung artist in christian music around the world, dates young girls in their 20’s while he is almost 40 bothers me. it is much like the lead men in secular bands. they need arm candy to show how much money they have and use thier money and fame to seduce naive young girls. shouldnt christian singers who call themselves worship leaders be different than the average jo on stage.
chris also allows his girlfriend to dress provocatively. what does this say about him and the girls he choses to date. is there lack of respect for her by him? i think many christian artists are getting caught up in the worldly side of their fame and fortune. i thought chris was a man of honor but apparently he is like the rest.

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Joanne Brokaw

posted February 20, 2009 at 9:58 am

Sarah, who is Chris Tomlin dating?
host of the GS blog

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