Christians should lead by excellence

I used to listen to a lot of Christian music. My radio dial rarely deviated from its position at 105.3 FM, the only contemporary Christian music station in the Seattle area. While my CD collection still largely consists of Christian music, my interest and enthusiasm for Christian pop has waned considerably. Why? I started listening to secular pop music, and on average, it’s better.

It’s as if the Christian artists are trying their best to keep up with the hip music, but aren’t really doing it. Christian music is a nerd in junior high: it wants to fit in with all the cool kids, but it really never achieves its goal.

As a musician, it’s particularly disturbing to find so limited a selection of quality Christian pop music (and for you purists and skeptics, "quality Christian pop music" isn’t oxymoronic). Why do I so often have to choose between spiritual truth and good art? Are Christianity and pop culture, which includes pop music, simply incompatible?

I realize that my options in music aren’t limited to Top 40 songs. Many of my music professors would remind me that "Christian music" is a much broader category than any one genre of music. I do appreciate other styles of music — I sing one of the many in concert choir — and will heartily agree that, for example, Christians are generally on the forefront of modern hymn composition. But until hymns top the charts for the majority of American culture, my question remains: are Christianity and pop culture incompatible?

For that matter, should Christianity and pop culture be compatible? The problem with trying to keep up with the society in which we live is that it causes us, as Christians, to lose our identity, our uniqueness. If we are just playing catch up, we are striving for conformity. In essence, we are saying, "we’d really like to be living like the rest of the world." At the same time, Christians who shun the world around them — the world of which they are inextricably a part — lose their ability to communicate with that world, and so lose their relevance.

If contemporary Christian music is too imitative of pop culture, Christian TV goes to the opposite extreme. The vast majority of Christian television that I’ve had the unfortunate experience of watching has shown little understanding of real life.

So is there a different solution, if neither clinging to nor completely rejecting pop culture is the answer? Is there some middle ground, or is there a different approach altogether that maintains our identity and our relevance? Can I be both a good artist and a Christian artist?

Yes, I can; indeed, my faith should make me a better musician. Because I know our audience is not human only, my motivation should be stronger to create the best music I can.

This is how Christians must maintain both their identity and their relevance: rather than clinging to what Christians have been and what Christians have done and rather than striving for where American culture is today, Christians should be innovators, pushing the envelope of all areas of life, especially art.

Pushing the envelope doesn’t mean throwing away tradition. Much strength and identity is found in the richness of Christian tradition. But tradition without change promotes staleness, not stability. Christian tradition is only beneficial when it is made relevant to its culture.

But more than just being relevant to the culture, our call is to continually find newness and freshness in our worship and service to God. We conform to our Creator’s image best when we create ourselves. To borrow from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrased version of the New Testament, "The Message," if Christians are to be "salt and light," then we must illuminate and give flavor to and otherwise dull life. Christian art should be cutting edge expression.

To often, we rationalize mediocrity in what we do: "God accepts me just the way I am." We insist that as long as we do something with the right attitude, we’re OK because were doing it "for the glory of God. "Unfortunately, God isn’t glorified by mediocre music; instead quite the reverse is true. We profane the reputation of Jesus if we do things poorly while declaring it to be for his glory.

As Christians, we have the best motivation for pursuing, and attaining excellence.Trying to keep up with the culture is settling for less than what Christian artists can, and should be. Christian art must become the epitome of what excellent art is.

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Title: Christians should lead by excellence | Author: Nate Woodward | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 1998-12-02 | Internal ID: 362