I thought that I was all alone, broken and afraid
Well I didn’t even know that I had lost my way
But You were there with me…yes…You were there with me.
I realize that there are valid criticisms of many Contemporary Christian artists and the product that they put out. I do not blindly (or mindlessly) support each and every singer, songwriter, or band that comes along and claims to fly the flag for Christianity. There are some absolutely terrible ones out there and they are terrible for various reasons. Some of them are musically trite and unimaginative. Calling them generic would be kind. Others are better when it comes to the music but their lyrics are uninspired, shallow, or outright silly. And then there are those who release good music but their lifestyles seem to betray the very things that claim to sing about. As I said, there are many so-called Christian artists who do not deserve the support they get.
I don’t want to address those particular artists. I believe that there has probably been more than enough written about them already. I do want to briefly talk about some of those groups (or solo artists) who don’t put out GREAT art or break boundaries with their imaginative and original compositions, but they don’t fall into that first group. I guess these are the ones I would call generic but not necessarily to the point of being offensive. These are artists who I believe are sincere and are doing the best with the gifts and abilities that God has given them. Let’s be honest, not everyone is a prodigy on his instrument or natural poet when it comes to crafting lyrics. However, that does not mean that these folks cannot put out music that is useful and encouraging to those who listen to it.
I must also pause to recognize the fact that we all have different tastes. The truth is that we don’t all like the same styles and what is music to one person’s ears may sound like noise to another. I tend to favor music with loud guitars and heavier riffs but I understand that it is painful for others to listen to it. I do like some rap and hip-hop but I cannot listen to it for extended periods of time. There are others who listen to it almost exclusively and that is perfectly fine. We don’t have to be carbon copies of one another. That being said, you may think that some of the artists I talk about here are absolute garbage. Once again, that is okay. I don’t expect anyone to like something just because I do. It’s all cool.
I began this with a quote from the band Third Day. It’s from their song Mountain Of God. It is on the album Wherever You Are which was released in 2005. It’s not a particularly original song, not even by Third Day’s standards. It sounds similar to several other songs that they have written, including Cry Out To Jesus from the same album. I wouldn’t call either of them great songs and I wouldn’t call Third Day a great band. They are good musicians (better than I am) and they are very entertaining in concert. All of the members (especially Mac Powell) seem like genuinely nice guys and appear to be serious about their faith.
I like Third Day. I like them a lot. For the most part they are a guitar-driven rock band that incorporate elements of Seventies’ southern rock and Eighties’ alternative rock. There is the occasional country-flavored moment but that is due mostly to Mac Powell’s voice. While they seem to have mellowed a bit since their earlier releases, if you like one Third Day album, chances are you will like the rest of them. They rock hard enough to please rock fans but they aren’t offensive and they balance it out with pop songs and ballads. There is a deliberate (some may say manufactured) sense of worship on most of their albums and they have even released two albums of nothing but worship songs.
I know some folks who love Third Day. They think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I know others who despise them and think they are a blemish on the face of the earth. Me? I like them. I have seen them several times (most recently in May of this year) and I can honestly say that they have never disappointed me. I don’t like every song that they have written but I like enough of them that I consider myself a fan. I have owned a Third Day t-shirt (I have no idea what happened to it) and I own all of their albums in digital form. I do have three actual CDs that I bought at shows.
You may be sitting there asking yourself, “Dude…what is your point?” The honest truth is…I don’t really know. I am not sure why I felt compelled to sit down and write this. I don’t know any of the guys in Third Day personally. I did see Mac Powell and his family having lunch at a Carrabbas in Marietta, Georgia once, but that hardly qualifies me to be a part of their circle of friends. I’m not even their biggest fan by any stretch of the imagination.
So…why do I think I need to defend them? I guess the biggest reason is because their music DOES speak to me. I have had moments of doubt and fear and pain when their music literally ministered to me. The simple message conveyed in their lyrics spoke peace to me. I didn’t need a deep theological lecture or a ton of Bible verses dumped on me. I just needed to hear that I wasn’t alone. He WAS there with me. The simplicity in the music and the directness of the lyrics worked much like the Psalms do when I read through them. They touched me on a personal, emotional level. Anything more complicated (musically or lyrically) would most likely have distracted me.
Does that mean you should go out and start snatching up Third Day CDs? No…not unless you really like them and you have the money to do so. But I do think it means that maybe we should cut them a little slack. I know that sounds like I am contradicting myself…especially that first paragraph…and you know what…maybe I am. Maybe I am suggesting that we stop being SO critical of things that we don’t like…especially if it is just a matter of personal taste. If an artist is writing things that contradict or distort Scripture…by all means…call him out. If he puts out dumb, uninspired music…don’t buy it. Tell others your opinion if you feel compelled to…but don’t make people feel stupid for liking something that they honestly like. Why do we sometimes think that we are the harbingers of good taste and that others do not have a right to their personal opinions?
I am somewhat torn because I consider myself a songwriter. I have written things that are deeply personal to me and that have significant meaning in my life but the honest truth is that I am NOT a great musician and I am NOT a genius wordsmith. My songs are simple and, on many levels, they are generic. They are not that far removed from what you hear on the CCM radio stations. Many folks would openly criticize them for their lack of originality and complexity but here is the kicker…I am doing the best I can with the gifts God has given me. It hurts me if someone tells me that my song is crap or that it sucks…even if he/she thinks it does. And yes…I have had that happen to me.
If there is any point to this I guess it would be the following: it is okay to be critical of others but it should be done out of genuine love. The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4:29 says: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it my benefit those who listen. I don’t think it is wrong to give honest, critical opinions as long as we don’t destroy those we are criticizing. I can remember posting a poem on another website once and (if I am honest with myself) it wasn’t a very good poem. It was forced and pretentious. I can remember a friend up there addressing me and instead of just coming out and saying, “Hey man…this sucks,” he actually went through it line by line and showed me how he thought it could be better. He also compared it to another poem I had written that he felt was pretty good. Yes…he was critical…but merciful at the same time. That has stuck with me to this day.
I am often overly critical and harsh when it comes to things that I don’t like. My wife is constantly having to remind me that we all have different tastes and that when it comes to music and movies and other forms of art…well…good and bad are subjective terms. We all hear, see, and process things differently. And that is perfectly fine.