It’s a bit late for me to be sitting down and writing. It will probably be Sunday by the time most of you who regularly check in actually read this. Today was one of those days where I honestly intended to do something and before I realized it, the entire day had slipped away. It happens to all of us. I got off to a slow start because I slept in. I slept in because I got in late last night after attending the deans meeting down at Sylvan Hills Camp. It’s all good. I have posted up here even later than this in the past but I try not to make a habit of it. My title for this is post is just me being a bit goofy. Many of you may know the reference but just in case you don’t, here’s a little video for clarification.
Yes, I just shared a video from the Bay City Rollers. For those of you who don’t know who they were, they were a Scottish pop band who had a hit here in America late in 1975 with the song I just shared. They had achieved success in Great Britain and did have other hits but Saturday Night was their only #1 song here in America. They are often lambasted as being a bubblegum group so their music isn’t taken very seriously. There were many groups that fell into this category and the majority of them only had one hit, if even that. They typically were producer controlled groups that manufactured pop songs that targeted pre-teen and teen audiences. While many of them were never taken seriously as legitimate musicians, it is undeniable that the songs they churned out were catchy and fun to listen to.
The “classic” period of bubblegum pop began in the late Sixties and only lasted a few years. There was a very brief resurgence in the mid to late Seventies with guys like Leif Garrett, Shaun Cassidy, and the aforementioned Bay City Rollers. Other groups that are often lumped into this category are The Archies, The Ohio Express, The Cowsills, The Partridge Family, and the appropriately named 1910 Fruitgum Company. More “serious” acts like Tommy James & The Shondells, The Sweet, and ABBA had some songs that might even be considered bubblegum. Probably one of the most famous groups to arise during this time of Prefab Pop was The Monkees.
I confess, I love a lot of this music and for good reason. There are some legitimately good songs that are nothing more than sugary, non-filling pop music. They sound good to the ears and I enjoy listening to them. Like any genre of music, there are some clunkers too. As I have been sitting here listening to a lot of these songs, I couldn’t help but think about spiritual bubblegum. There are quite a few preachers out there who deliver some extremely catchy sermons. They sound good and our ears perk up when we hear them. They taste good going down, all sugary and delicious, but once we’ve swallowed them…well…we’re still empty and hungry.
One of the reasons there were so many of these bubble gum groups (and later…boy bands) is because the public ate them up. One group would have a hit song and producers would churn out more that sounded just like it. There wasn’t much creativity or artistic merit driving them. It was all about selling more records. I think a lot of the bubblegum preachers are doing the same sort of thing. They realize that they have an audience clamoring for an easy-to-swallow message. It sounds good to the ears. The apostle Paul told Timothy that it was going to happen. Listen to his words.
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)
Some people do not want to hear a message that will challenge them. There are those who aren’t mature enough to handle it, so they look for something more palatable. Others do not want the conviction that comes with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. They want feel good messages that affirm the choices that they have already made. Just as bubblegum pop tickled the ears, these watered down bubblegum messages tickle the soul. It is true that they sound good and the masses can easily relate, but there is nothing there.
I do think it is important to recognize that bubblegum doesn’t equal simple. There have been some extremely simple songs that spoke massive truth. Harlan Howard, who was a prolific songwriter, once defined good country music as being three chords and the truth. I agree. Things don’t have to be complex or confusing to be substantial. The same is true for the gospel. The gospel is simple but it isn’t without substance. Many of the preachers I consider bubblegum (and I’ll refrain from name-calling here) hardly mention the gospel. Much of what I have heard resorts to pop psychology and self-help mantras. Others churn out bumper sticker theology that is dressed in Christian terms but never really goes below the surface. It all sounds good and it does resonate with a lot of people but the truth is, it really doesn’t say much at all.
If I am honest and look at myself, I have probably dabbled in bubblegum myself. As a songwriter I KNOW I have. I have deliberately imitated popular songs with the hope of recreating them. As a preacher there have been times when I was tempted to water things down so that I wouldn’t offend. I have preached shallow sermons so that they would be catchy and easy to remember. I’m not proud of it and now that I am a full time pastor, I do my very best to make sure that I preach with as much substance as possible. My sermons may still be simple, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, I pray that they won’t be void of any substance and meaning.
This actually went in a much different direction that I intended when I started typing a little over thirty minutes ago. It’s funny how that works. I just planned to talk about pop music. I hope you enjoyed it anyway.
Grace and peace