Contemporary Christian Music (# 3): A tool for evangelism?

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In the previous two articles, attention was drawn to worldliness within the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) industry, as well as the musical style’s incompatibility with the worship of God. A final argument used in defence of CCM is an appeal to its use for spreading the gospel.

Members of Beautiful Eulogy. The members of this hip-hop band believe they should espouse the world’s culture to win people for Christ.

For example, Kanye West, an American rapper, said, “You can take music that’s going on right now and you change it, and you put the Lord Jesus [in and] make it Christian. And it kinda draws the youth to the church. You know what I mean? It makes the church cool.”1 Rock music is the language of today’s youth, or so the argument goes, and the church must communicate to the world in a language that the world understands. The church has always preached to English people in English and Dutch people in Dutch. The church should therefore also preach to the modern youth with rock. That is their language.

An underlying assumption here is that the church must adapt to the world to win them for Christ (which is not the case). That much is evident from the following quote from Moody Monthly: “For Christians to flatly dismiss musicians because they use four letter words or sexual references diminishes the likelihood that people will ever hear our message… We have to understand the world’s view before we can effectively communicate our view; we have to relate to the people before we can preach to them.”2 Now the latter part of that statement is partly true – that we have to “understand the world’s view before we can effectively communicate our view”. But the way we “relate to the people” may never involve a compromise, something that using “four letter words or sexual references” obviously does.

With that in mind – that CCM often seeks to adapt to the world – it would be worth examining one of the favourite texts they use in defence of this view, 1 Corinthians 9:19-22:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win the Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

First, Paul is not arguing here that we should compromise our holiness or the truth of the gospel. In his commentary on these verses, John Calvin states, “this doctrine holds good only as to things indifferent”.3 And musical style, as I have argued in my previous article, is not something indifferent, and therefore not something on which we may compromise.

Second, a distinction must be made between those who are weak in the faith and those who stubbornly refuse to change themselves. Paul would not violate certain Jewish customs if it offended his Jewish brothers. He even let Timothy be circumcised to avoid offence (Acts 16:3). Yet, as Calvin notes, referring to verse 22 (“to the weak I became as weak”):

Now again [Paul] employs a general statement, in which he shows to what sort of persons he accommodated himself, and with what design. He judaized in the presence of the Jews, but not before them all, for there were many headstrong persons, who, under the influence of Pharisaical pride and malice, would have wished that Christian liberty were altogether taken away. To those persons he would never have been so accommodating, for Christ would not have us care for the persons of that sort. Let them alone, (says he,) they are blind, and leaders of the blind (Matt. 15:14). Hence we must accommodate ourselves to the weak, not to the obstinate.4

Paul himself made this distinction.5 Calvin says further on:

But while it is proper that we should accommodate ourselves to the weak, according to the Apostle’s injunction, and that in things indifferent, and with a view to their edification, those act an improper part, who, with the view of consulting their own ease, avoid those things that would offend men, and the wicked, too, rather than the weak.

When the church adopts CCM, it is not as if it is avoiding offence to the weak. Instead, it does not want to offend the wicked, who obstinately refuse to hear the gospel if not through the rock style and who get offended by the holiness and sobriety of true Christianity.

If Paul were to contextualise the gospel (as CCM aims to do), he would have had to become a great orator, for that was what attracted the Greeks. But Paul says he did not come in words of man’s wisdom, for that would empty the cross of its power (1 Corinthians 1:17). Does CCM not do precisely that? Rather than drawing listeners by the preaching of the gospel, which is the “power of God” (verse 18), it instead attracts people through entertainment. That would be like the Greeks coming to hear Paul’s extraordinary rhetorical abilities and then to hear the gospel as an aside. But Paul does not want to employ this method of reaching the world. No matter how you mix the gospel with electric guitar and drums, the gospel will forever remain “foolishness to those who are perishing” (verse 18). Paul believes that nothing more is required to convict sinners to repentance than the living preaching of God’s Word. That excludes rhetoric, rock, and every other manmade method of evangelism.

Paul then says, “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:22-24). Two things are of note here. First, there are indeed stumbling blocks that Paul does not avoid – in this case, the preaching. And secondly, God will save those whom He has called. We do not have to help God achieve His purpose by being wiser than He! If the preaching is a stumbling block to contemporary pop culture, that does not give us the license to try something different.

Then there is also the question of the effectiveness of CCM in bringing about converts. Now I do not deny that people may have come to faith through CCM. Yet, in itself, that does not justify CCM. A female’s preaching may have saved people, but that does not justify women in office. It was also effective for Moses to hit the rock – water came gushing out – but God was still displeased with him (Numbers 20:2-12). Thus the effectiveness of CCM in evangelism should not form part of our opinion on the genre.

Nevertheless, I also want to make this point: CCM is generally ineffective in bringing people to faith. I came across this letter, signed by an “Unconverted Hippie” that he sent to a Baptist church that was trying to convert hippies by adapting to their culture:6

DEAR TURNED-ON BAPTIST

Recently I was invited to one of your Baptist churches by one of your young people. I was told that the youth program was really “turned on” and that the majority of the people were “hip” and not “square” at all. I won’t be back. Does that shock you? Would you like to know why? I’ll tell you what one unconverted hippie thinks of 20th Century Christianity. Although I was invited to the youth meeting, I also attended the Sunday evening worship service. Now I must admit a few things in that meeting turned me on! I noticed that the majority of the young chicks wore very revealing miniskirts. Man, that would turn on any red-blooded American hippie. One young lady sang a religious solo just before the evening message. Man, I really did dig her miniskirt. I must admit that you’ve got a lot of grit, wearing miniskirts in the building that you call “The House of God”.

Although I didn’t get too much out of what the preacher said, I do remember that he spoke on the subject, “Letting Christ Change You”. I’m really surprised that I remembered that. With all the note-writing, gum-chewing, whispering, and giggling among the young people, it was hard to really “tune in” the preacher. Your young people are just like my hippie friends: They really know how to show disrespect to a speaker.

After the church service I was invited to a turn-on youth meeting. I must admit it wasn’t square. I noticed that many of your young men had the same long hair and side burns that we hippies wear. And they even had our sample style of hip talk. And man, did I dig their music. Except for two religious songs they threw in near the end, all the music was rock ‘n’ roll. Man, that’s my kind of music. I was surprised that they didn’t dance!

Just before I left, one of your young people asked me if I would like to become a Christian. I told him that Christianity just ain’t my bag. “Why?” he asked. I told him to let me think about it and I would give him my answer later. Well, I have thought about it quite a bit lately, and here’s the reason why Christianity just wasn’t my bag…

Your preacher preached about “Letting Christ Change You”. I thought about that. And then I took stock of my hippie crowd and your Christian crowd. Frankly, I can’t see too much difference.

We practically dress the same, talk the same, show the same disrespect for our square elders. And we dig the same rock music. And you know, although your young people didn’t dance at the meeting, I’ll lay you two to one that dancing will soon be included in their programs. For you see, my style of music just naturally creates a desire to dance. You know, except for soap and water, we’re almost identical.

I did attend a revival meeting once a few years ago. But I don’t guess you could call that group of Baptists “turned on”. The music and the songs were not like mine. They sang from old-fashioned hymnals. And the preacher didn’t talk like the “now generation” at all. He actually preached from an old-fashioned King James Bible.

Man, was he square! And I noticed that the young people at that meeting were different. They dressed like a bunch of squares. After the preacher got through preaching, they had a thing called an invitation. Man, I really got nervous about then! When I thought about his message on Hell and repentance I actually considered becoming a Christian. These were different folks!

But to you turned-on Baptists, I say, “Christianity? No thanks, I really don’t see too much difference.”

Signed,

“An Unconverted Hippie”

Maybe adopting the world’s culture and music is not that effective at making true converts after all.

That letter reminds us to heed well the warning of Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable will of God.”

References

  1. https://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1213&context=honorscollege_theses p. 11
  2. Moody Monthly, July-August 1994 p. 57, quoted by Eric Moerdyk, p. 65 (The paper I refer to is hitherto unpublished. Used with permission).
  3. John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Vol. 1, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005, p. 305
  4. , p. 306
  5. See this short article by R.C Sproul: In Acts 16 Paul encourages Timothy to be circumcised, then later condemns it. Was he being hypocritical? https://www.ligonier.org/learn/qas/acts-16-paul-encourages-timothy-be-circumcised-the.
  6. Dr Hugh F. Pyle, Skimpy Skirts and Hippie Hair, Murfreesboro: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1972, pp. 38-39