(Photo: First Baptist Church Merritt Island / Patrick McGuire)
While some have sought to make Christian music more relevant by adding an electric guitar or a hip-hop beat to it, others prefer to listen and worship through more traditional forms of music, such as hymns. But should Christian music be limited to a designated genre, or can faith-based themes be effectively portrayed through any number of styles?
Though people may disagree on which style they like best, there's no denying that Christian or Gospel music is widely sought after.
A 2009 report from the Gospel Music Association indicates that Christian music sales total about half a billion dollars per year. In 2008, the Christian music industry sold over 56 million units in the form of CDs, cassettes, digital tracks and digital albums.
But a recent article by Will Edwards, which appeared in University of Alabama's student newspaper, The Crimson White, describes Christian music as being “unoriginal” and “genreless.”
Edwards' article, titled “Guitars killed Christian music, no resurrection in sight,” argues that Christian music, in the form of hymns and classical music composed by the likes of Mozart and Bach, made an impact because it once led the musical culture. With the rise of rock-and-roll and the increased use of broadcasting technology, however, Christian music was left behind and has been playing catch-up to secular culture ever since.
He accuses Christian music of lacking in originality, saying, “Many Christian songs have a near-identical equal in the secular music industry. It’s a knock-off of the original ... For the past 50 years, Christian music has been playing copycat to whatever is popular on secular radio. They haven’t changed the message, but the music that delivers it has become stale and unoriginal.”
Musician and minister Jimi Calhoun agrees with Edwards in many ways.
"There's a considerable amount of people who think that music hasn't been original since the '70s,” Calhoun told The Christian Post in an interview.
A resident of Austin, Texas, Calhoun previously worked as a professional bass guitar player, playing with a number of famous musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Etta James, Lou Rawls and more.
He said that, from his experience, Christian music is not well-respected in the broader music industry.
"It sells a lot of records ... if I were an executive I would want to try to get market share in this,” he said, but “from the player's standpoint ... it's not looked up to."
Calhoun's journey to Christ began on a trip to England, where he started his search for God and for inner peace. He studied both Buddhism and Metaphysics, but eventually ended up at Christianity and later became an ordained minister.
Though he has worked in several other ministries before, he is currently planning on starting his own church with the goal of bridging the gap between art and spirituality.
Calhoun pointed out that Christian music as an evangelism tool is “noneffective” and that “it's never utilized in an arena where people are going to hear it and make a decision for Christ.”
"It's an art form that goes directly to the choir. It's an edification thing, even though we tell ourselves that we're witnessing,” he explained.
Edwards doesn't just criticize Christian music for its lack of creativity, however. He also suggests that Christian music should be confined to a specific style of music.
“Christian music is genreless,” he writes. “Turn on the Christian radio station and listen for 30 minutes. You will hear two piano ballads, three pop/rock songs and one pseudo heavy metal thrasher. It doesn’t sound like anything specific. When I put on the pop station, I know what I’m getting. There’s a genre there, but Christian music lacks that.”
But Patrick McGuire, associate of Music and Worship at the Florida-based First Baptist Church Merritt Island, argued that Christian music doesn't have to fit into a particular style. To create a Christian-specific genre would be to limit the impact that Christian music has on the world.
"We're really called to be in the world and to serve the way that Christ did, and for us to have music that is explicitly religious and therefore not accessible to outsiders ... I don't really think that's the call of Christ," he stated.
McGuire has been working at the church for about a year and serves as its leader of the rhythm section. The church has a choir and orchestra, but they also play more contemporary music as well. First Baptist's worship team spent last summer writing and recording original music, which he says lends authenticity to corporate worship experiences.
"The most important thing that I relate to ... is just how powerful it is to see a twenty-something standing next to a 70-year-old in the choir and to hear them in one voice proclaim the Gospel,” he said.