Yes, I know radio stations cater to the image, with their “positive, encouraging” taglines and “safe for the whole family” slogan. But Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) gets a bad rap these days, and the critique that there is little to no theological substance is unjustified.
Last week, I picked a random time during the middle of the day and listened to K-Love for two hours straight, noting every song and looking up all the lyrics. Did the songs cover as much doctrinal terrain as the classic hymns of the faith? No. But in a two-hour span, I still found more theological truths and declarations than you might expect.
A Theological Review of Two Hours of K-Love
Take a look at what a typical two-hour block of CCM teaches. Everything I’ve arranged here is taken from the lyrics of the songs I heard.
God is an uncreated being not dependent on us or anything else. He is the eternal, unchanging, omnipotent, sovereign King who sits upon the throne. He is greater than all other gods. He is majestic and incomparable. He is the Creator who gives life and breath. His words are as thunder and fire. He is praised by all the angels and the saints.
Yet this God also has a devoted covenant love for the people He has made. He is the Father to the fatherless, the good and gracious God who takes upon Himself our weaknesses and gives us His strength.
Jesus is the Son of God who performed miracles like turning water to wine and healing the blind. Jesus is the one true God. He died on the cross as the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins. He rose again in power and reigns forever. He is the only way to be saved.
The day is coming when we will see Jesus face to face. One day, every knee will bow and every tongue will praise the Triune God.
The purpose of humanity is to sing of God’s glory and praise the Father, Son, and Spirit—three in One.
Apart from God, people are restless wanderers who chase futile schemes. People are self-deceived and do not realize they are slaves to their sin and to the lies of the world that offers things that fail to fully satisfy. Apart from God, people have a sense of entitlement, believing they deserve God’s blessings.
Humans have a sense of guilt and shame because of their sin. They are like dead people in the grave, covered in sin and shame.
God shows grace to sinful people—as seen in the stories of the prodigal son, the woman at the well, the blind man and the beggar, and the thief on the cross. When Jesus died, the veil was torn in the temple, hope was born, and guilt was pardoned once for all. Through the blood of the Son, we overcome death. Our guilt falls away in light of God’s grace, and we rise up with Jesus in victory.
God casts our sin as far as the east is from the west. We stand before Him justified, as though we’ve never sinned. He has transferred us from darkness into the light, washed us white, and now sustains us in our salvation. Instead of being captive to our sin, we are captivated by God’s beauty. Through the cross, the sinner is reconciled to God. In response, all creation is to sing and fill up the heavens with the sound of God’s glory.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
God is making us more like His Son. He has clothed us in white and freed us from guilt and shame. We are the Bride of Christ. In the scars of His Son, we are assured of God’s love even when we feel dirty and unworthy and undeserving. He loves us enough to change us and rip out our pride by the roots.
We are to have God’s praise on our lips because we are witnesses and have seen the glory of the One and Only Son of God.
Those who belong to Jesus have crucified the flesh. Therefore, we are not to base our confidence on our successes, esteem or pursuits, but lose our lives to Jesus. To live is Christ and to die is gain.
When difficult circumstances come, we believe in God as the One who gives and takes away. We are to praise him in good times and bad. He promises to be with us, even if He does not deliver us from every trial. Our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. We also trust that through the difficulties of life, God is making diamonds out of us. We must surrender to His sovereign power as He refines us. God receives glory even in our suffering, and He is the healer.
THE CHRISTIAN MISSION
We may desire to go be with Jesus right now, but He has chosen this time and place for us to live. God is on the move, and we are on a mission. Christians are empowered by God to withstand temptation, to serve and not be served, to share the gospel, and stand upon God’s Word. God is actively seeking and saving the lost, and Christians must join Him on this mission to the nations.
In boldness we must speak the truth about life and death and salvation in Jesus’ name. If serving God is against the law, we should obey God and not man. We must live out our faith and welcome the opportunity to honor God and testify to His goodness, grace, and mercy. There will be a price to pay if we are the light of the world, but we are called to lay down our lives and take up our crosses.
Life is a race. We run to the win the prize. The Christian should be aware of others, considering what they need to hear, noting people who may feel forgotten. We show people there’s a God who satisfies our longings. We want our life to reflect Christ living in us, the source of life, so that the world can see.
Whatever you may say about CCM, the idea that it’s just a playlist of sappy, sentimental, superficial songs is simply untrue. In case you don’t believe me, go back and re-read the previous sections. Everything I just wrote comes from the affirmations in these lyrics.
Now, it’s true that the dominant theme in this two-hour bloc of music was a positive, motivational message: “You can make it, just hold on to the Lord, and you’ll get through this!” And there were a couple songs that were indeed empty of anything theological I could add to my summary.
But underneath the overall motivational message of Christian radio are strong pillars of Christian conviction. The declarations about God in these songs come across like someone pumping their fist in the air and saying, “I BELIEVE!” in the midst of difficult circumstances.
There’s a place for critiquing CCM.
- Why is it that in a two-hour bloc there was only one (one!) female vocalist?
- Why do so many of the songs sound alike?
- Where are the brilliant songwriters like Andrew Peterson?
- Why do certain aspects of Christian theology get overlooked?
- What do we do when aberrant theological affirmations make their way into a song?
- Why does so much Christian art mimic other forms instead of innovating?
All of these questions are good and have their place. CCM could be better, much better.
But on the whole, we misrepresent this genre of music when we say there is no theological truth or substance. A wide sampling of songs across the spectrum of CCM proves otherwise. So, as a supplement to daily Bible study, prayer, and weekly worship with God’s people under the Word, I recommend Christian radio as a source of encouragement for the Christian.