In the fall of 1996 two tragic events occurred. D3: Mighty Ducks went from being an idea to an actual movie, and I sold an incredible CD collection. 200 some quality CD’s that included everything from Siamese Dream to The Chronic, all for a measly couple hundred bucks which I used to buy their depressing Christian counterparts. Bands like Plankeye, MxPx, The Supertones, and DC Talk, which if you’ve never heard of them think the Beastie Boys if they had been home schooled.
Back in those days my friends and I often made trips to a bookstore an hour away that carried this warmed-over, newish Christian sound (I like to imagine Chuck Berry saying that like in Back to the Future). Just above the CD racks was a chart comparing Christian bands to the secular bands they sounded most similar too. That’s like having a chart that compares different vegetables to your favorite donuts. In the end there’s no way around being really disappointed.
I remember telling a non-Christian friend about how I’d sold all my “secular” CD’s to follow Jesus, and him looking at me with equal parts confusion and eagerness to get over to CD Switch to gain from my loss. One man’s misguided discipleship is another man’s treasure. But he brought up a fair point. Was this something Jesus really wanted me to do?
On the one hand I think my heart was in the right place. I wanted to “put Jesus first,” however misguided the application. The sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and believe me my heart was broken when I listened to DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” for the first time. Christian rock feels like the musical equivalent of shotgunning a six pack of O’Doul’s.
On the other hand, there was a huge, faulty presupposition at work. The one that says everything neatly divides into the sacred and the secular. If people are genuinely made in God’s image, then the things those same people create have to reflect that image on some level, however poorly. Nothing is “secular.” Everything is sacred, which means there is beauty and brokenness running through every square inch. The temptation for Christians is to miss the beauty in mashup artists like Girl Talk, or rappers like Lil Wayne, and the brokenness in Christian artists like DC Talk.
I don’t want to put words in John Calvin’s mouth, but I think he might have enjoyed some Lil Wayne, or at least appreciated him. He wrote about enjoying the gifts of “secular” culture: “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. As it is, much of the evangelical world is in serious danger of ingratitude to God for his good gifts.”
Yes, there’s brokenness in Lil Wayne’s music. But there’s beauty too. Very few artists can put words together in a way that not only delights the ears, but the mind too. If good art causes the mind to quietly beam in inaudible delight, then Lil Wayne is a great artist.
And, yes, there’s beauty in DC Talk’s music. But there’s brokenness too. Not just with DC Talk but with lots of “Christian” music. Sometimes it’s musically or lyrically broken (just Google The Newsboy’s “Breakfast in Hell”). Most of the time it’s broken in that it misses the brokenness of life. Good art always captures what life in a broken world feels like. That’s often why movies like Fireproof or Facing the Giants ring hollow.
Russell Moore, a pastor with a passion for country music, was once asked how he justified listening to certain songs around his children. This is what he said: “I know there are some who would tell you the way to avoid the problem is to do away with “secular” music. But what is secular music? Does the Bible anywhere command us to limit artistic expression only to “spiritual” things? There are songs and poems in the Scripture itself that speak of things ranging from murder to marital sex to the beauty of nature, and so forth. Moreover, the “Christian” music industry is often, I think, more damaging to children than some secular forms of musical expression. Much of what plays on commercial Christian radio presents an antiseptic view of life, and often as well a trivialized vision of Jesus and the gospel. Too often, what people want is not a more Christian vision of life but a happier, sanitized vision of life. These are the people who would think the Song of Solomon to be obscene, if it weren’t safely sequestered in the pages of the canon where they can’t get to it. And they’re the people who complain to the pastor that his David and Goliath message was “too violent” for little Connor’s sensibilities.”
Saying only music made by Christians glorifies God is like saying only food made by Christians glorifies God (which would explain why we eat so much Chick-fil-A actually). It reminds me of the time my friend requested Derek Webb’s “Wedding Dress” on their local Christian radio station. The DJ said they couldn’t play that song because it had the word “whore” in it, and that wasn’t very “family friendly.” I wish with all my heart they had said, “You know who else isn’t very family friendly? Jesus. Because he said he came to divide them.” Besides, isn’t there an entire book in the Bible about a prophet marrying a prostitute? Hosea was the original Pretty Woman.
Of all the things that now me wishes I could say to then me, the biggest is to let then me in on a secret: life will never be as black and white as you want it to be. But grey is a beautiful color because it means we actually have to search our hearts, seek wise counsel, and prayerfully follow Jesus.
The reason I wanted Jesus to say, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself Dr. Dre, and take up his Jars of Clay and follow me,” is because it made my life easier. Jesus’ whole problem with the Pharisees wasn’t that they didn’t take his laws seriously. It was that they reduced them to something much more manageable than what they actually required. It made them feel like they were keeping the law, instead of knowing they hadn’t and feeling their need for a Savior.
And that’s the point. We want to sell some CD’s, but Jesus wants us to rend our hearts. We want 12 Simple Steps, but Jesus wants us to grow in wisdom. We want self-control to mean fewer margaritas, but Jesus wants it to mean a growing refusal to let anything or anyone define us but Him. We want life to be easy, but Jesus keeps trying to tell us it’s going to be hard, something Lil Wayne can perhaps teach us more about than DC Talk. Out of the mouths of babes comes strength and praise. Yes. And rappers too.