I’ve noticed a pattern in Christian music over the past several years. Others have commented on it, too, so much of what I’m going to say is probably not entirely original. But it does seem as though a lot of contemporary Christian music – including worship music – is actually all about us.
Count up the use of “I/me” and “we/us” some time, and compare it to “You” and “He/Him”. There are whole repertoires of songs devoted to our identity in Christ – who we are, what we, the Church, will do, and so on. Even when it’s not all expressly focused on us, a lot of the time our music seems to be all about what Jesus does for us.
Exhibit One: Hillsongs United’s Oceans. It’s difficult to actually tell what this song is saying with all the trancy harmonics and breathy, bedroom-voiced vocals, but it appears to be all about trust in God. “I am Yours” is about the only clearly-sung line in it. Me-centred. “I”. Yes, “I am Yours” is a truth, but it’s all from the human perspective. Sung in romantically breathless tones, it becomes all about our feelings, the whole “falling in love/Jesus is my boyfriend” nonsense. Like following Jesus is actually all about how He makes us feel.
Exhibit Two: Jamie Grace’s horribly chipper I Love The Way You Hold Me. This has other problems than just being me-centred. The fact that decapitalising “You” and deleting “Lord” is all it takes to transform this into a boyfriend song ought to give us pause. But on top of that, it’s putatively all about what Jesus does for me. “You hold me”, “You make each day special”, and so on. Sentimental fluff at best, it’s entirely driven by romantic feelings and an irrepressibly bouncy melody.
Exhibit Three: Matthew West’s Hello My Name Is. I hesitate to include this one, because I actually really like the song, but it’s a case in point. Yes, there’s a place for songs about our identity in Christ, but it seems like we are becoming terribly human-centred. There are just too many songs about Me And My Bit and not enough about God And His.
Exhibit Four: Ironically, King and Country’s Fix My Eyes On You. Yes, the title and main chorus line is about fixing our attention on the Lord, but the rest of the chorus is all about us and what we are going to do. “Live like I’m not scared/give when it’s not fair/take time for my brother/live life for another/fight for the weak ones/speak out for freedom/stand tall, and above it all, fix my eyes on You”. The weight of the lyrics are all about Me And My Part. In terms of emphasis, it couldn’t be clearer, especially since the rhythmic and actually sing-alongable part is the me-focused bit. The “Fix my eyes on You” part just trails off into a long “ooh-ooh-ooh” which is just noise, basically.
Exhibit Five: Chris Tomlin’s The God of Angel Armies. In one sense, fairly focused on Who God is: “the God of Angel Armies”, to use the modern update of “LORD of Hosts”. But on the other hand, it’s all about how He is “a Friend of mine”, He “goes before me”, He is “always by my side”. Me-centred, even in its focus on God. God is viewed through the lens of “what can You do for me?”
Christian radio is just as bad at perpetuating this idea, if not worse. “I listen because it makes me feel good”, say many listeners on their self-promoting station identification slots. “Encouraging”, “comforting”, “positive” and “uplifting” are the words they use to describe their station. Forget “challenging” or “stretching faith” and especially forget “making you think”.
Maybe I’m expecting too much. They are, after all, a business (even if a non-profit one) and if they offend their listener base, they can’t afford to operate.
All that does, really, though, is pass the blame onto us. They are playing what people want to hear, and the problem is that though Jesus’ death and resurrection are Good News, following Jesus has never really been about what we want so much as what we need. Christian music a lot of the time seems to make Jesus into a self-help aid. He’s there to forgive us and empower us. He’s there to sort out our messes and make us right with God. He’s there to make us feel special and loved. He’s there to bless us.
Yes, He does all those things. But stating it that way is to miss the point that He is not here for us, we are here for Him.
It’s no wonder so much of the Church is so spiritually flabby and anæmic, if this is our musical diet.
There are some exceptions. Even some of the artists listed above, you generally get the idea that they are more truly God-centred than I’ve made out, but it seems to be our modern disease. Humanism, in the sense that everything is viewed through a human lens. I don’t know what our music should look like if it’s truly Theocentric, but I do know that a lot of what I’m seeing isn’t it.