I am usually considered to be a conservative Christian musician because most of the music I perform and record is traditional and conservative. I like big orchestras more than bands. I like working with established older songs more than the CCLI top 20.
That being said, I do not consider myself part of the conservative church music movement. For example, I am certainly no self-proclaimed music expert that goes around the country lecturing on why contemporary Christian music is evil. I am not interested in doing that kind of thing. I don’t like listening to other people do that kind of thing either.
It has not always been that way. I grew up heavily influenced by the conservative music movement. I listened to its experts teach and I bought into the whole enchilada. I can remember several embarrassing times where I made a big deal of pointing out what was wrong in some music I thought was too liberal. However, over the past fifteen years, I have moved gradually away from that perspective.
So why did I leave? I don’t talk about these things so much but since there some articles being passed around these days entitled things like “Why I Left the Contemporary Music Movement,” I thought I would tell you four reasons why I left the conservative music movement.
Before I give you the four reasons, let me say this. I still have good friends within the conservative music movement that are gracious, godly and intelligent. Some of them are not guilty of the things I am about to discuss; some of them would wince just as much as me so I am not trying to broad brush all of them the same. That being said, these flaws are still very real and prevalent in the movement.
Now, here are the reasons:
1) The foundation is flawed.
Many people don’t stop and think about what conservatism really is. Conservatism is about conserving the past. Depending on their stripe of conservatism, conservatives try to keep in place a slice of the past that may be good or may be bad. But even if the past they are trying to conserve is good, a focus on conservatism and traditionalism is very flawed for a simple reason:
No where does the Bible teach us that conservatism is a priority for Christians or the church.
Truth is what we should be striving for. We are to pursue truth rather than some idealized period in the past. Yes, we should remember the past. Yes we should study the past. Yes, it is good to observe the traditions of the past and learn the songs of the past but the past should not be our ultimate focus because there is no perfect past where all the leaders and musicians had it all figured out. The past is flawed. Trying to conserve the past means accepting the errors of the past. “Give Me That Old Time Religion” is not just a bad song; it is also very bad theology.
That leads me to another important concept that many conservatives don’t always seem to get:
We cannot assume that the past was better than the present.
Now, as soon as I say that, I can hear the rebuttals, mostly supported by II Tim. 3 which says in the last days, evil will get worse and worse. That is true but it is also true that while the long term trend is down, there are short term cycles of up and down. Read the book of Judges for a great example. Even here in the US, we have seen clear cycles of morality.
What that means in the area of Christian music is this: it is simply not safe to assume for example that the music of the 1800’s is better than the music of the 1900’s just because it is older. People that think that you can categorize the holiness of songs based on what decade or century they are written in are very naive.
Because I reject an idealized past and the idea that music can be judged by its copyright date, right from the start, I find myself at outs with many in the conservative movement. But as you are about to see, it gets a lot worse.
2) The arguments are illogical.
I will never stop shaking my head and the things people want to argue over. For example, I saw an article the other day arguing that a choir is morally better than a praise team. Folks, a choir is just a big praise team. A praise team is a small choir. Trying to make something more of it than that is silly. Whether a microphone is held or put in a stand is silly. Arguing about what instruments are acceptable in church is almost always silly.
Taking dogmatic positions on these kinds of issues is bad enough but the way those conclusions are arrived at is even worse. People with no understanding of how music works or the history of music make grossly inaccurate statements.
Wild, unsupportable proclamations are made about issues like backbeats, harmony and syncopation. Inaccurate generalities are introduced. For example, all music written after 1970 is lumped together as shallow and irrelevant. All praise teams are too loud and performance-oriented. All contemporary Christian musicians are just in it for the money.
The arguments are illogical and the conclusions are absurd. I wish I had a dollar for every inaccurate statement made by so-called music experts. By the way, I will concede that it used to be much worse. The things I heard growing up….
3) The arguments are often anti-Biblical.
Every Christian makes conclusions about right and wrong that are extra-Biblical, which means not specifically discussed in the Bible. There is no problem with that of course as long as we don’t judge others based on our own extra-Biblical convictions.
The problem in the conservative Christian music movement is that they go way beyond that. Let me say this bluntly: if a person has a problem with worshippers raising hands in church, they have a problem with God. Read the Psalms. They have crossed the line from being extra-Biblical to being anti-Biblical (taking positions that are explicitly against the Bible).
The same is true with other positions from conservatives. Have you heard arguments against loud, passionate music in church? That is an anti-Biblical position because Psalms clearly sanctions loud, passionate music. Have you heard that it is wrong to move a little or even dance while worshipping? Again, that activity is sanctioned by Psalms. To teach the opposite is an anti-Biblical position.
Not only do conservatives hold to those anti-Biblical positions but they are often quick to judge the motives of those who are just doing what God sanctions. I find it a bit sickening to be honest every time I hear someone discussing the motives of one that would dare to raise her hands while singing in church.
4) The rhetoric is not kind.
Over the past few years, I have challenged two leaders of the conservative Christian music movement about the slanderous and factually incorrect statements they were making on their websites about specific contemporary writers and musicians. I will give them credit in that after confronted with proof, they were gracious enough to admit to me privately that they were wrong. Yet strangely, neither of those leaders even went so far as to correct the slander on their websites much less publicly apologize.
I am not surprised. I am past being shocked at the venomous and often dishonest attacks on the contemporary movement by those in the conservative camp: the motive-judging, the spin, and the taking of quotes out of context in a way that would make any political ad-writer proud.
Here is what they don’t get. Those people in Christian music that they dishonestly and viciously attack by name are human beings with families. They know they are getting attacked and it hurts them. And on top of that, they are fellow Christians with a passion to impact the world for Christ. In other words, they are on the same team.
Trying to destroy the ministry of a fellow Christian because their music does not line up with someone’s extra-Biblical and anti-Biblical standards is unconscionable.
So those are the four major reasons why I as a conservative musician refuse to identify with the conservative Christian music movement. It would be more comfortable sometimes to identify with them because they make some good points too. I agree with them in some areas of association and appropriateness. Very honestly, I am not very comfortable with a lot of contemporary music for a lot of reasons.
But here is something important: the way you fight for your position is about as important as your position. The conservative Christian music movement fights too irresponsibly and dirty for me. Not all of those involved are that way; just too many of them.