Christian (Fill in the Blank)


Two summers ago, I heard Rick Warren speak at a conference. Pastor Warren (God bless him) uttered a line in his speech that gave me particular pause: “There is no such thing as Christian music, only Christian lyrics.” It’s a significant line in his theology, and it also appears throughout the Purpose-Driven book empire.

It’s a line that goes to the heart of the crisis in Christian identity.

Essentially, Warren is suggesting that something is made Christian when it is clearly labeled as such. Song lyrics (words) are easy to recognize as Christian: do they contain the words God, Jesus, praise? If so, wham! They’re Christian! Instrumental music cannot be “Christian,” in Warren’s view, because how could we ever tell what it is about? If the song itself doesn’t proclaim itself verbally as such, it is not Christian (even if its composer is Christian).

This way of thinking turns the essence of Christianity into a cheap adjective. Slap it onto anything, and voila! You have redeemed the regular and made it holy! But wait—isn’t Christianity more complicated than that?

Christians are way too slaphappy with the name “Christian.” We cavalierly attach it to the most trivial of things. Let’s consider just some of the “Christian” things that populate our culture: Christian bookstores, Christian music, movies, videogames, radio, magazines, publishing houses, Christian Youtube (“Godtube”), Christian MySpace (“MyPraize”), Christian clothes, shoes, socks, paintings, mousepads, cooking utensils, crockpots, you name it….

But what makes any of this “Christian”? What makes one crockpot more suitable for Christians than another? Do we really need “Christian” alternatives in cutlery?

Long ago, Christians decided that rather than trying to influence mass culture from within, they’d take the more passive route and define themselves as a “subculture.” One more subculture among many. There are many reasons why they did this: 1) it’s easier, 2) niche markets make more money faster, and 3) modernity gave rise to the combative, defensive posture of “us vs. them”—an attitude that has defined pop-Christianity ever since.

As a result, “Christian” seemed to become a word best defined by what it wasn’t (i.e. liberal, gay, postmodern, pro-choice, etc…). Somewhere in there we lost our sense of history and tradition and identity—we lost our idea of what “Christian” really means. And if we don’t know what it means, how will anyone else?

The problem is that our society has convinced us that “Christian” is merely an adjective—a descriptive word that usually connotes a conservative, prudish, bigoted fundamentalist diametrically opposed to everything fun under the sun.

But the truth is that “Christian” is much better fit as a noun, or even better—a verb. To be a Christian it to live in pursuit of Christ—to not be satisfied with who you are, but to strive for who you might be. It’s an action-oriented life; it’s a process.

We need to stop demeaning Christianity by treating it like a just another attribute. “Christian” is not like “red” or “tall.” It’s not just a word to describe. It’s a living, breathing way of being.

11 responses to “Christian (Fill in the Blank)

  1. Agreed. One of my favorite quotes is by Ken Heffner (from Calvin College):

    “To be a Christian is not certain things you do, but the way you do all things.”

  2. Well said. It’s disheartening to see how often Christians try to make things easy by dumbing down their faith to make it more ‘palatable’ or creating a subculture to protect themselves from the very world they were told to go out into.

  3. God has shown me that music is His voice. its the way His creation speaks. music is the river of light through which he communicates to His universe. so the problem i believe is that people simply have lost touch with God in the sense that we are all made in His image, and we have tuned out the instinctual necessity of listening to God and His creation. ?Is there christian music? i believe we continue to reshape our minds to christ and relize that being a believer is the essence to which can be stamped our life’s expression through HIM!

  4. My biggest God moment of the week happened while seeing Final Fantasy live in concert (the musical genius that is Owen Pallett). But I think many would discredit what I felt seeing as how the show’s intentions were probably the furthest away from what I gained from it.

  5. I don’t think that Scripture labels anything “Christian” except for people. So, when we call something “Christian” that isn’t a person, we aren’t describing it in the best way. (Is my Christian CD going to Heaven with me?) It seems a better option would be to help people think about things in terms of being “God-honoring” or “Spirit-grieving.” This would alleviate the “Christian” confusion.

  6. I agree and disagree (but of course). Yes, “Christian” is a noun, one that should not be applied lightly because in it holds the very essence of how a person defines and lives their life as a little Christ. I would disagree only on the grounds that “Christian music” or any other example of adjective-fying “Christian” is to disinguish between the secular and the nonsecular. It’s a way of saying “Hey! We’re different from the rest of the world, and this (music, clothing, art, movie, etc.) was made to honor God. It is set apart.”

  7. It is set apart.

    I would have to respectfully disagree with this. “It”(music, clothing, art, movie, etc.) isn’t different, “we”(Christians) are.

    People need to see us by who we are not by the music, clothing, art, movie, etc. that we create. those things are just a representation of us and who we are. They need to see that, “It’s a living, breathing way of being” not a style or format or “club”.

  8. historical note, Brett: you write “Long ago, Christians decided that rather than trying to influence mass culture from within, they’d take the more passive route and define themselves as a “subculture.” One more subculture among many. ” That’s not quite true. EVANGELICAL christians created their own set of media, withdrawing from mass culture, creating their own alternatives, starting around the time of the Scopes trial. Not all Christians went with them, though. Mainliners were more accomodating and interested in engaging the mainstream. Think Neibuhr. At that point “subculture” would have been an anachronistic description–the term was not invented until the 50s.

  9. i think you make a great point but also miss a great point in warren’s teaching – he, by saying music isn’t Christian or non-Christian – it’s the lyrics, is addressing the many church-goers who will not allow drums or Gospel praise, or new music styles or instruments to enter their churches b/c of the “ungodliness” they attach to it – he is addressing a situation that needs addressing and I believe he handles it well – although, you make a good point that it can not be a blanket statement – although, in one of the comments above a man said “it (the art) isn’t different – we are” – i agree with that – i do believe the content of what we produce as believers is still “set apart” to some extent in that God has a vested interest in us b/c we bear His name, and He has said that He will bless the work of our hands – it’s set apart for His glory – not set apart in that it has to be musically different or lyrically stunted – let’s keep considering how we can spur one another on toward love and good deeds – thank you for allowing me in this discussion.

  10. Pingback: Defining Christian Music, pt. 7 - Useful Links « The Blah Blah

  11. I think you took that comment completely backwards. I think Warren was trying to take away the label of “Christian Music” as a genre. And as far as Christian lyrics go, any words that represent what Christ would have or did say could fit the definition of Christian.

    Remember. Christian means “little Christ”

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