"At the core, pop music is telling people what they want to hear. Christian Pop Music is no different. This presents a great problem when my understanding of the gospel is that it is not what we want to hear. . . . Don't be surprised by the CCM industry. . . . They have created a monster, and now they do not know how to kill it gracefully" (Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine, February 2005 post, CMCentral.com forum).
It's not my title, folks, but that of Dave Urbanski, whose essay of the same name appeared in last years Issue 25 (and, sadly, last issue) of the journal Mars Hill Review. Urbanski is not advocating killing off the artists and music but, rather, the megastructure marketing machine that is the Christian music business. If you can't discern what he's talking about, take a good look at CCM Magazine, the organ of the CCM business, or visit your local Christian book store chain and note the trinkets for sale, the impulse buy items at the register, and the pop culture glitz of the CD sales area. Something is amiss here, and we're so busy buying we can't see it.
Urbanski does a good job of documenting his concerns, but I'll comment on one here because I have personal experience, and let me say this: I hate going in most Christian bookstores. For one thing, I dislike the marketing. For another, I can never find many serious books (there's a true lack of breadth in the Schaeffer and Lewis catalog, among others). And finally, and most sadly, I don't think these places minister to nonChristians any longer. They are "safe" places to go and look for books and records with kids, and even pleasant, kind of a Christian Borders.
In the town where I live, there was one Christian bookstore 30 years ago. I remember it well. It was a small place, located near the university, and the neighborhood was a rough one. A bar was located across the street. Winos sometimes visited (and not for Christian books, either). But its distinctive was that it was a ministry -- there were stories of bar owners being saved, people off the street being saved, and so on, and every time I went into the store there was usually a discussion with the woman that worked there about a particular book, or she might recommend something. Then, that all changed. They moved to the suburbs and lost that ministry to college students, drunks, and bar owners.
The same is the case with Christian music. As Urbanski points out, all the major Christian labels are now owned by secular companies who wanted to exploit (no, there's really no better word) the Christian market. If anything, this has led to a more conservative policy -- that is, stick with the music that sells, and don't experiment. Mark Heard would never get a record deal today. Anyone a little out of the mainstream or who is overweight or homely has a hard time as well. (They better head for the folk music community which, for all they lack, can be more forgiving in this area and less market-driven.)
The Christian music industry will die when we, the consumers, stop buying what they sell, when we insist on intelligent music in a diversity of styles which deals with the full spectrum of human emotion and experience. That's why I rarely buy in Christian bookstores and listen to so little music put out by the Christian music labels. There's a lot of great music by Christians out there. You just won't find it in the Christian bookstore.
For music, go indie. Buy direct from the artist when possible. If you don't know what Christians doing music in the mainstream sound like, buy a compilation, Beat, from Silent Planet Records here. Only $5. And for books, visit a great bookstore, Hearts and Minds. And buy what's good, true, and beautiful regardless of whether it's by a Christian or not, because God's for it if it has those qualities.