What makes so-called Christian music, “Christian?” The answer that comes to mind—and one that I’m sure most readers of this blog would give—is that it sings about Christ. It praises God; it exalts Christ; it sings of his beauty, glory, salvation, and grace. Christian music is Christ centered through and through. It doesn’t focus on man, nor does it cherish the things on earth. Christian music is “heavenly” music since it focuses on all things divine.
While it would be hard to disagree with anything written above, I suggest that while Christian music includes all of this, a more holistic definition would include other things as well. Hear me out. What about the pains of life? What about injustice? What about, dare I say, our doubts? Can we write songs about these and call them Christian? What about those times when God feels distant, removed, or down right against us. It’s interesting that we have several biblical examples of songs that were written with this sort of ethos (or pathos), such as Psalm 88. This psalm quite shockingly expresses doubt, discouragement, pain, and frustration, and yet it never expresses hope that God will fix it! What was God thinking when he breathed out this hymn? Perhaps he was thinking that real people—even God’s people—sometimes feel such a way, and God has given them music as a creative form of expression to be real with the pain and frustration than a fallen world (often?) brings. I wonder what would happen if we began next Sunday’s worship with Psalm 88 set to music?
In any case, could we then include some music that is commonly considered secular to actually be Christian if we broaden our definition along the lines of Psalm 88? Take U2 for example (my favorite band!). They have a song called “Red Hill Mining Town” that alludes to the pain, frustration, and injustice that several hard working families experienced during a minors strike in Britain in the 1980s. It expresses the feelings and pain of real image bearers suffering the diverse effects of living in a falling world. If we include the fact that Bono, the lead singer, claims to be a Christian and is expressing his thoughts through a Christian worldview, then I would argue that Red Hill Mining Town is a Christian song—at least, along the lines of Ps 88 and other OT hymns. (Of course, we don’t know for sure if Bono is saved, but neither do we know for sure if many of the so-called Christian artists are saved either, and some of the power politics and quest for money, status, and fame that saturates Nashville raise serious questions about how Christ-centered Christian artists really are…but that’s for another blog.)
So bust out your latest U2 album and worship your Creator, for though we live in a broken world filled with pain and brokenness, we trust in a God of justice and compassion who will intervene to set the world to rights. May our tears in the present spur us on to cling to our hope of renewal in the future!