He's against Contemporary Christian Music, worship leaders and worship bands in churches. But before labeling him a fundamentalist, Dan Lucarini hopes people will hear his complete testimony first.
Once a rock musician and worship leader, Lucarini says God has opened his eyes to "the deceptions and dangers" within the CCM movement. He tells his story in Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement, which is in its 20th printing. He does not intend to offend any Christian who promotes CCM but acknowledges that his story may be "a thorn" in the side of some Christians.
CP: This is the 20th printing of the book. The book was first published seven years ago. How is this debate on Contemporary Christian Music still relevant today?
Lucarini: It continues to I guess touch a nerve for some folks in the church today that I believe, actually I know, because I put my email address in the book. I have received over 3,000 emails from 3,000 readers. It’s given me some insight to what’s happening. I get them from all over the world. For example, if I would have had a chance to talk to Rebecca St. James, I would have told her they sold over 10,000 copies in Australia, Rebecca. It’s not a big country. So a lot of folks down there are asking questions about what's happening to our churches?
CP: So they’re all supportive of your arguments?
Lucarini: No. Many are supportive. Some are critical. But for the most part there’s a lot of folks in between that maybe were like me that were asking questions about ‘what is it that we’re doing with worship? What are we doing with music?’ So I think there’s a larger group of people that are just asking questions about some of the trends in worship music.
CP: This was a controversy from a decade or so ago. So this isn’t an old and tired debate or argument now?
Lucarini: Quite frankly I thought that maybe my book was just going to be part of the transitional period around 2002-2003. To give you a little context, I came out of a church that was heavily into purpose-driven church teaching and methodology. So I was a purpose-driven worship leader. And I left that because so many things about it started to bother me about not being biblically based but more based on the world around us and what people wanted. The reasons I brought up purpose-driven church is because Rick Warren was one of the biggest proponents of Christian rock in churches.
This book was probably a reaction to that movement. But today we still, we’re hearing from people that have the same questions. And I've come to think as I've studied the history of the church now that the tension between the culture we live in and the things that are used for entertainment in the culture we live in and the Christian sitting there saying ‘I'm reading the Scriptures, I'm learning about live a life of godliness, well what does that mean? And how do I apply that to every choice that I make, including music?’
So I think this is always going to be an issue in Christianity. As long as we have churches and Christians and we're in the world, we're going to be struggling with how much of the world should we bring in and how fast and at what point do we offend and scandalize other Christians. I personally think that rock music is a music style that’s scandalous and offensive because of where it came from and what it means around us in the world today and I don't believe that Christians can just take it and sanctify it and call it holy. I think it's a mistake. That's at the heart of it.
CP: Originally, how did you start out as a worship leader?
Lucarini: I was a rock musician and I was saved around age 24. After I was saved, I started attending a church that … this would’ve been around 1979, so I’ve actually seen quite a bit of this over the years). Most churches in America in 1979 and 1980 were not rocking out. A very small percentage were. Most of them were singing either what we call traditional hymns today or they were using music styles that weren't pop music. That’s the best way to describe it. It wasn’t top 40s or the latest stuff. The music had been set apart for special purpose for God I guess.
So I was in a church and got discipled because I became a new Christian. And then as time went by and when people found out about my 'talents' as a rock musician, a keyboardist, a singer and a composer and I knew how to put a band together. Towards the late 80s some of the churches that we were either attending or involved in with friends they all wanted to put together a service to reach out that use Contemporary Christian Music which musically was rock music. There were a few other styles, but mostly and still today, it’s mostly rock music of some form.
That’s how I got involved in becoming a worship leader because people wanted a rock musician to lead them in singing and then they started to call us worship leaders.
CP: Were there a lot of young people in those churches that wanted this?
Lucarini: Actually, in the book I talk about how it was really the baby boomer generation that were the leaders of which I’m part of that generation. So we would’ve been in our mid-30’s back them and some of them were becoming pastors. And they got caught up in Willow Creek teachings from Bill Hybels – that was very influential about how you needed to change your church to reach the unchurched, user friendly church; George Barna's marketing books influenced those pastors and me as well; and then when Rick Warren came along in 1995 with purpose-driven, that was sort of like the cherry on top of the sundae, so to speak. And so this is the generation I’m talking about – leaders. This would’ve been that generation of leadership that thought we had to change the way we did church.
Now we used the excuse that we wanted to reach out to the young people. You know what, they (young people) didn’t like the music. It was our music. It was classic rock. We just did it for ourselves – that was the conclusion I came to. Let’s be honest about it. It wasn’t to save souls. It was just because we like that kind of music and we’re the rebellious generation so we just basically thought we could do whatever we wanted.
CP: So what would your definition of Christian music be? Would it be purely hymnals and would you say every other genre of music is secular?
Lucarini: At some point you have to get specific right? What I learned was, first of all, I was involved in a style of music that’s still very popular today that was invented around 1950, called rock music. I can sit and talk to anybody about why I think rock music is the wrong musical language to tie with praise the holy God. They’re incompatible. You see the results of it everywhere with the tension and church splits and even the younger generation. I have kids in their 20s, they’re rejecting some of that now because they’re seeing through it. They want what they call authenticity right? And part of it is they just don’t like this pop music trying to create an experience atmosphere thing that my generation brought into the church.
What I’ve learned is to study the scriptures and come up with a way to live my life and learn how to please God and apply that to every choice that I make. You can name any music style and we can sit down and have a conversation and say ‘what does that music style do for us? What does it mean in the society that we’re in? Will it carry conflicting messages that are ungodly with it? And what sort of troubles might we have taking that music away from that? And should we also look at other music styles that have been around so long that nobody thinks they’re controversial any longer.’ And so we avoid that kind of stumbling block that has split so many churches and it’s still doing it today. It’s not just rock music, it’s not just country music. It’s about learning how to discern what pleases God and let’s apply it to all the music choices we make. That’s what I ask people to do now.
CP: So why can’t rock music be used in a way of glorifying God?
Lucarini: Because the music itself was invented by wicked people, it’s still used today by wicked people. It’s the language. I would liken it to I’m going to serve you a nice juicy steak but I’m going to serve it to you on a garbage can lid. I can scrub that thing, use Clorox all over it, but you know what I’m talking about. Rock music is an idiom, it’s a style that carries with it all kinds of messages in the culture we live in and I believe it’s just difficult if not impossible for Christians to really separate from that.
CP: Can you give me some examples using today’s CCM music/artists?
Lucarini: So first of all, I stopped listening to them a long time ago.
CP: Last night, Sonicflood played a couple of songs here at this event. Is that the kind of music you’re against?
Lucarini: I don’t endorse it and I would tell people to stop listening to it.
Here’s the dilemma. In my second book we pointed this out by using quotes from people like Sonicflood and Third Day and Delirious who started a lot of this. They have spent years trying to become so good at what they do musically in their craft, to the point where secular people don’t say they’re Christians. But they’re good enough that they don’t just say they’re Christian music. This is a big issue in CCM. So how can you say that it’s special? They’re just imitating the same sound. That’s all they’re doing. And as the world around them changes, they listen, they’re influenced by secular musicians. In fact, they have influences and they talk about it on their website. Take a close look at who their musical influences are – and you’re not going to see a list of godly men or women. And this is one of the other issues I think we need to address. Where are these people getting their influences from? Some of them would shock you. And they’re so open about it today. ‘I want to learn how to play like Jimi Hendrix’ – most wicked man, but these people think that they can learn how to play like him and there’s no connection even though the man himself said there was when he wrote his music. This is the problem I have with the Sonicflood’s of the world. They just continue to become an imitation and they package God’s message in something that I believe is incompatible with it.
CP: Can’t it be that they’re trying to redeem that music for God?
Lucarini: Right, in my second book that I worked on with John Blanchard, he’s an international best-selling author and an apologist from England, he addressed the question about redemption and what are Christians called to redeem. And we took a biblical standpoint on that just to say what does God’s word teach about redeeming culture. It’s a rhetorical question. It doesn’t. There are some religious groups that have taken a sort of a theology that we’re supposed to go out and redeem the culture around us for God. I don’t come from that viewpoint. So I acknowledge there are Christians who believe that but I think also that if you take a hard look at that and ask the question ‘who is changing who?’ and all you got to do is look at attitudes, lifestyles, where we put our money and I would just submit that ask who is redeeming what and who is changing what. So John and I took the stand that others do theologically that Christians aren’t called to redeem the culture. That’s not a mandate that we were given by Christ. There are some preachers who came up with that over the years but that’s not what we believe. And so many attempts to do that can change the Christian.
Let me put it another way. My children went to a Christian university that changed its philosophy towards culture while they were attending there. And they started to talk about building a bridge to the culture. And when my kids came back and told me what they were learning from the people that were teaching that in college, what occurred to me immediately was a bridge is two ways. I think it’s pretty obvious what’s happening when we try to do that. We have to be extremely careful because it’s a two-way street and you end up with traffic crossing both ways so building a bridge to the culture is probably something we don’t have to do because we’re in the world already and we live in the world as Christians, we should just pay attention to that rather than create these.
CP: So you’d say that the harm and bad would outweigh the good of what these CCM artists are trying to do?
Lucarini: I was just on a radio program and somebody called in and said ‘well, I don’t agree with you because I went to the mission field because of a Keith Green song.’ I’m like, ‘what was it about the song that caused you to change?’ He said, ‘It was the message.’
‘Well, what did he say?’
'Well he said these words.'
And I said ‘well, that sounds like Scripture. So what was it that changed you and inspired you to go to the mission field?’
It was the message. If you would’ve heard that message from somebody else without Keith’s rock band playing it, would that have had the same effect on you? Tough question isn’t it?
CP: But he wouldn’t have even opened his ears to that message if it weren’t for that music.
Lucarini: That’s a good argument I submit to. But then we have to ask the question ‘Is God bound to work through that? Or are there other means that we have by taking and glorifying an entertainment style like that and saying that’s how we have to reach people, have we missed the very power of speaking to each other, which I believe that’s how God changes us through the message not through the music. I know that music is very powerful and it helps to communicate so in that case, that young fellow was being communicated to through that medium. But it wasn’t the music that did that. Whenever I face the question that you ask, which is a great question, ‘what about all the good they’re doing?’ Then I got to step back and say ‘could that good be done without having signed up for the rest of what they’re doing?’ I don’t know.
CP: But if you think about all the churches who are reaching the unchurched, a generation or a group of people who otherwise wouldn’t even step foot into a church …
Lucarini: I think we need to examine that and find out what’s really going on. Most of the unchurched that I’ve met and I’ve met a lot of them (by the way I’m a business man, I have software business. I’m not in the church saying we have to reach the culture; I live in it) they’re not unchurched they’re overchurched because they live in America they’ve been over-religiositied, they hate and they’ve been encouraged to dislike the way church was done when they were growing up by very clever preachers who wanted to get a crowd and build something for God. If you want to find people who are unchurched, meaning they have no idea what the Gospel is, never heard of Jesus Christ, you got to go to different places for that. Not here in America. That’s why I encourage people to stop talking about these platitudes and clichés about the unchurched and ask the question where you live and where you hang out and what’s the most effective thing you can do to reach people for Christ. And if you think it’s having a concern by Sonicflood to do that, then ok fine, let’s watch and see the evidence of that.
CP: But you can’t deny some of the evidence, right? Or do you still question it?
Lucarini: Any act of God to convert a person I believe has to be through the word, through the Gospel. There’s no other way we’ve been given to do that. And so anything else that attempts to set itself up and say it was part of that, I just learned to step back and say ‘I question that.’ In some cases, it gets in the way. We can have dueling evidence. I can produce people who will say ‘no, it wasn’t the music.’ In fact, when I was an unbeliever I couldn’t believe what they were doing with music. I expected something different from Christians. I can come up with a long list of people and you could probably come up with a long list and we have to step back and say ‘what saves? And what part does music play?’ I don’t have the answers.
CP: Should this particular issue about worship music be divisive? Some argue that this debate about is a second-tier issue rather than a first and it shouldn’t be what’s dividing churches. So is it wise to have so much of our focus on this?
Lucarini: First of all, it’s very arrogant for people to declare issues that split and divide Christians as secondary. It’s just an attempt to suppress what’s going on. The fact that we’re here on the 20th printing of this book is there’s a group of Christians that can’t be suppressed by people saying ‘it’s a secondary issue, just get over it.’ Any issue that scandalizes and offends brothers and sisters in Christ cannot be called secondary. At that point in time it’s primary and must be dealt with. I think there’s a great injustice being done by the Christian media by saying things like what you just said and printing that saying it’s just a secondary or tertiary issue. It’s not that the people are stuck in the middle of it, it’s hurtful. It was the people who started it, not the ones who are sitting there going ‘who changed my church,’ it’s people like me who brought it in in the first place, we’re the ones who should be held accountable for that. And I think this book is evidence that folks will not be silenced so easy by all the clever media, the preachers, the Internet, the blogs out there, they just won’t stop saying … I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to talk about it.
CP: So what kind of church do you attend now?
Lucarini: I attend a Baptist church here in Denver. Last Sunday we sang a couple hymns and two songs that were written in the last 20 years, and that makes it contemporary – meaning in our life and time (there’s nothing pop about it, or tied with the latest trend). It’s not about contemporary … it’s about choosing what music styles that you’re going to use for the praise and worship of a holy God.
CP: What about Chris Tomlin’s style?
Lucarini: Some of Chris’ music is rocky, basically that’s rock music that he plays. So I disagree with that. If Chris was sitting across the table, I’d say ‘hey Chris, stop doing what you’re doing. Step back. You are a musician who’s acting like a worship leader and Christians don’t need worship leaders. We don’t need anybody to help us worship God. Each one of us is part of the priesthood of believers. Just be a music guy and stop trying to use your music and mix it up and call it worship.’ That’s fundamental in the message of this first book and why I left that in the first place.
CP: So you don’t believe in worship bands at all?
Lucarini: No, and I think we should get rid of worship leaders in the church today.
CP: Even if they’re playing hymnals?
Lucarini: No, I don’t see the need for worship bands at all because all that is is basically a music combo that represents something in the musical culture we live in today and I wrote about this in the first book, what happens is you start off trying to play some soft, easy stuff and maybe the hymns. But then you’re rocking out all the time because that’s the nature of the music. So that’s where I would differ with Chris Tomlin. I would also ask Chris like we did in the second book ‘What percentage of the praise does he believe God is willing to share with the worship leader?’ Because he has accepted and people have honored him with tons of praise and glory. And I know he’s trying to be a humble man but at some point, he should stand up and say ‘stop it.’ But he’s accepting it through his quiet way. I really believe that’s part of problem we have is we make these people into rock stars.
CP: Are you often labeled a fundamentalist? Because someone who’s against worship music or bands would usually be thought of as a conservative, fundamental believer.
Lucarini: I figured there’s not going to be a whole lot of folks like me. Then I got introduced to this group of people that are associated with something called Bob Jones University – which would be fundamental Baptists in America. And I thought, ok, well maybe they’re the only ones who care. But what happened over the last six years is this book has sold all around the world in several languages and I’ve heard through e-mails from people from every Christian group you can possibly imagine. They’re not fundamentalists, as some people like to call them. I think they all share the same concern that we are mixing incredibly worldly entertainment style with these words that we have to be careful of to offer in praise and glory to God and Jesus Christ. And they are seeing the tension between those two things as I did. So it’s not a fundamentalist thing. No, not at all. I spoke at a Lutheran conference. They’re hardly fundamentalist. What happens is people try to put their label on people like me, because it’s convenient just like this whole CCM thing. It’s spread across people who would never allow themselves to be called fundamentalists.
CP: You feel a lot of young people agree with you?
Lucarini: No, not a lot. I think it’s more of a discovery and they start to become more mature in Christ, get to know God, study their Bibles. My son is an example of that. He’s gone through it himself. He’s 27. He made a statement recently, ‘dad, the older I get the more I start to understand what it was you tried to warn us about and the music was part of it but you were really trying to tell us be careful how you worship God and let the Bible be the guide, not what everybody like Chris Tomlin tells you it should be.’ Just sit back and try to discern those things. I think it’s a huge problem when churches take twentysomething-year-old guys and girls and make them worship leaders. They’re immature in Christ. Life experiences teach you this. But they become leaders. They don’t have a foundation. Their foundation is they read Louie Giglio’s books or they went to his conference. That’s the only foundation they have. That was my foundation until I actually discovered what the Bible says about worship and what it means. I separated it from all the myth and music stuff that I had been taught.
CP: At what age were you able to discern?
Lucarini: 37-38 years old. [I led worship] for 10 years. It took about five years for me to stop though.
I started getting this sort of wake-up call ‘we’re saying these things, but do we really understand what we’re doing here?’ And then I started to see the values of rock music. And I believe you can’t just drop them in the society we live in. They’re all around us. And for Christians to attempt to then say I’m just going to take the music itself, the styles are neutral. That’s the argument, right?
I meet a lot of people today that are questioning because they’ve gotten burned out on the worldliness, the entertainment, the no-holds-barred ‘we can do anything we want with music’ and God loves us. And they just come to the point where they go ‘that ain’t right.’ And I believe it’s the Holy Spirit that’s saying ‘yeah, you’re learning now. You’re growing up. These are childish things.’ So there’s a lot more behind it than just the music.
CP: Can you then describe the ideal worship experience at church?
Lucarini: I’ve learned over the past several years that worship first and foremost is a personal response to the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. And it does not involve me having a self-fulfilling experience. It’s very much a one-sided act as the scriptures teach. It’s acknowledging that God and Jesus are lord, master, king. I bring nothing to that equation at all. When you stop and think about that and then you look at what we call worship, all the things we say we do, especially the music side, and that’s what sort of got me, it was like ‘wait a second, this is what worship is but this is what we do.’ Something needs to change here for me. I can’t do it.
The perfect ideal church service? There is none. And I think Christians who go attempt to find one like that are going to become disillusioned at the end. First I encourage them to learn and study the scriptures on worship, not on music because they’re different and this is what I learned. Other people would come to the same conclusion, it just takes a little bit of time but as long as you’re in the whole worship music thing, you’re not even thinking about that. You’re just being fed by well-meaning people but they don’t know either. I just believe they’re folks who haven’t asked the question about it. I can worship God ideally, personally anytime, anyplace. And usually it’s in response now to His word. That’s what’s really changed. It’s not in response to somebody striking up the opening licks of a song. That’s what used to start me and many people feel that way. But God’s freed me from that and showed me that it’s not about that. It’s in response to His revelation and the mighty things He does and who He is. That’s the heart of worship that I’ve learned.