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[ why i don't hate christian music anymore ]


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I've often mused—internally, in print and in the little scrums we have in editors' meetings here at cMW—about the unexceptional quality of Christian music. Having spent most of my high school years in search of groups that have shaped our generation (and the direction Christian music itself has taken) like Nirvana (mid-90's), Our Lady Peace (ditto), and a catalogue of now "classic" rock music, I can say with conviction that dc Talk, the Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline are not the best of what the musical world has to offer.

Yet about two years ago I decided to return to the fold (I was raised on Psalty, Maranantha Praise and E.T.W. tapes), and have found the grass to be much greener than when I left it.

Yes, a lot of what Christian musicians churn out is crap. Phil Keaggy, though talented, is not Eric Clapton, Steve Vai or any of the Allman Brothers. Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W. Smith will never be mentioned in the same sentence as Elton John, Billy Joel or Phil Collins. Jennifer Knapp, in truth, is somewhere in the lower half of the Lilith movement (and not because she's a Christian, folks. The songs just aren't there).

But what's encouraging is that the music is getting better. The City on a Hill albums are evidence of what great production and songwriting talent exists within the upper middle-class, excessively perky Christian "ghetto." Third Day, regardless of what you've heard, gets better with every album. Kirk Franklin, for the most part, does the same. Even Jars of Clay, who are seen as a one-hit wonder by viewers of MTV, manage to put together something truly enthralling every three years or so.

Also inspiring is the fact that Christian groups are beginning to see their music recognized by a secular world that has in the past shunned them. Most of these groups are by no means "cool," but progress is being made. At least two Christian groups will be featured in some capacity on the OzzFest tour this summer. Another three will make appearances on the popular Warped tour. News releases reach our offices every day telling of how Group X will have their music featured on TV shows or movie soundtracks (MxPx even got to do the theme song for the upcoming Scooby Doo movie). Though perhaps only as a novelty, Christian music is being embraced by the mainstream.

The trouble is we still have to wade through groups like Point of Grace, pretentious geezers like Carman and any number of run-of-the-mill-but-keen-on-ministry groups. There is a movement to bring Christian music out of bookstores and into Sam Goody's. To have it stand alone next to what the rest of the world has to offer. While it's a bit brainless to think that the majority of the Industry is ready for such a move (it's been tried before folks. Jesus Freak flopped, and Amy Grant and Smitty have had only marginal success), it becomes increasingly obvious that that day might one day come.

Forgive me if I don't embrace unremarkable music, as it appears one is supposed to, simply because the people behind it are keen to save the lost. While that calling is the highest in this lifetime, some who heed it lose track of the fact that music is an art. While it could be rightly said that the message is more important than the medium, it's doubtful that message will be heard at all if not cloaked in a coherent package. Let Christians first learn how to play their instruments, stop adjusting their sound to whatever is popular when it comes time to record and find their identity, and then get back to me. And watch where the industry goes.
- Ben Forrest
May 2002
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