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Steven Curtis Chapman on using music to 'build bridges,' parenting well in a post-Christian society (exclusive)

Steven Curtis Chapman
Steven Curtis Chapman publicity photo. |

For Grammy Award-winning artist Steven Curtis Chapman, the motive behind his music has been the same throughout his decadeslong career: It’s always been a means to a greater end. 

“I've always loved all kinds of music, but Christian music, music about faith, gave me, even as a young man, something bigger that pointed me to what was deepest in my soul: That I was made for a relationship with my Creator, with God. And that transcended whatever was going on in my life. It brought hope, meaning, and purpose into the hard, good, wonderful, and painful moments. That’s why, even as a young man, I gravitated toward that kind of music.”

“That has not changed,” he added, “but the way it has fleshed itself out, I think changes, over time.”

According to Chapman, various events in his life — from fatherhood and adopting three children from China to seeing the unrest and division that has permeated society in recent years — has given greater urgency to his mission of encouraging empathy and pointing listeners to the hope of God’s promises, grace and love.

“The things that impact me, watching so much pain in our world —  I want to address that and write some songs that would encourage people to look across what have become so many enemy lines that we've drawn and realize, ‘This is not my enemy. These are people who think differently, see things differently, and have different experiences, but we’re all in this journey together. How can I find ways to build bridges instead of walls?” 

Chapman, who is on tour with Big Daddy Weave, began his music career in the 1980s and has since become the most decorated artist in Christian music. He has recorded more than 25 albums and 49 No. 1 hits, receiving 59 Dove Awards and five Grammy Awards.

As a singer with a large platform, the 58-year-old artist told CP he sees it as his God-given “responsibility” to speak out about matters of importance — but is the first to admit he doesn’t have it all figured out. 

The Bible verse 1 Peter 3:15, which reads, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” Chapman said, has been the “directive and banner” that has hung over his music, vocation and career. 

“I think we need to have a gentleness and kindness and humility that says, ‘Look, I am not pretending to know that I have all the answers. But I really believe I know the One who does.’ And I'm going to keep seeking Him, and trying to point people to Him and to His Word,” the singer said. 

“Even though there are mysteries and things I don’t understand, I try not to let that keep me from speaking into the things that I feel like I can speak into.”

On being a light in the darkness 

Though racial and political divides seem to be worsening — and society seems more fractured than ever before — Chapman stressed that “it’s all still the result of the same broken heart” and the “fall,” it just “shows up in different ways in different dispensations of time.” 

In January, as the storming of the U.S. Capitol rocked the country, Chapman released a worshipful song calling for peace and unity.

“It’s not new at all. It’s from the same sickness that's in the human heart of longing for things to be well and right and the way they were intended to be and will be again one day. We, as believers, believe in God's promises that all will be made whole and made well,” he shared. 

When it comes to living out one’s faith, Chapman stressed the importance of having a “firm center, but soft edges” — particularly in a culture that is increasingly suspicious of “some of the trappings of cultural Christianity.”

“We know what it is that we believe, and there's a firmness in that. We're not going to be swayed by what culture says because we believe what God's Word says, even if it’s unpopular,” he said. “God's Word shows us that we can have soft edges; that we can show kindness when we engage and have conversation and relationship with others, not just those who necessarily speak the exact same language.”

On the orphan crisis 

After having their own eyes and hearts opened to the needs of orphans around the world, the Chapmans founded Show Hope, a faith-based nonprofit organization that exists to care for orphans by engaging the Church and reducing barriers to adoption. The organization has helped 7,000 families through awarding adoption grants in many countries.

The orphan crisis, Chapman said, changed the music that he wrote, which in turn gave him the platform to raise awareness and encourage others to care about the plight of the “least of these.” 

“Music gives me the mechanism to draw attention to the pain in our world, to encourage people to consider those who think differently or see things differently or have different experiences. We’re all on this journey together. How can we build bridges instead of walls? All of those things are really important for me to do in my music,” he said. 

On his music 

Some of Chapman’s biggest hits, including "Dive" (1999)  and "The Great Adventure" (1992) are reimagined in the recently-released Netflix musical “A Week Away,” starring Kevin Quinn and Bailee Madison. 

The singer, who makes a brief cameo appearance as a lifeguard in the family-friendly film, told CP he was “blown away” by the dancing, choreography, and seamless way his songs were incorporated into the film. 

“I thought it was so well done. I was blown away by the way they did the music and the way they incorporated the lyrics of all the songs; they’re just written into the story. I thought, ‘This is really brilliant. This is so cool.’ I loved getting to be a part of it.”

But the best part about the film, he said with a smile, is that his grandchildren love it. 

“I wrote ‘The Great Adventure’ when my oldest, Emily, was maybe 6 or 7 years old,” he reflected. “Now, her 7-year-old daughter and her little sisters all love that movie. It’s so cool to see it going full circle.”

a week away
A scene from "A Week Away" |

Now that music venues are re-opening, and he’s getting to play in front of live audiences again, Chapman said he’s “never been more thankful just for the gift of music and the opportunity to share my songs.”

He’s also working on new music for the first time in several years — and possibly writing the soundtrack for a forthcoming, soon-to-be-announced film. 

“I’m intimidated but also really excited about it,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a really fun thing to be involved in.” 

On raising children in a post-Christian society 

Chapman, whose youngest daughter, Stevie Joy, is preparing to go to college next year, said that while child-rearing is always “scary,” parents are facing new and unique challenges thanks to the rise of social media. 

“We've got six grandchildren and watching them from 7 down to 3, growing up in this world of social media and just how that is redefining life as we know it, for all of us, but especially impressionable young people, and what's accessible there, it can be terrifying and scary,” he said. 

“But for every one look at that, look three times at what God says,” the singer advised. “God's Word is eternal, it was truth before there was ever even a television, much less social media, and long after this season of life as we know it. God is still on the throne.”

Still, in a culture where our minds are constantly “bombarded” with information, Chapman stressed the importance of “constantly renewing your mind and fixing your eyes on what is true.”

“I think that's the thing for us as parents is, first of all, just staying engaged,” he said. “Figure out what they're seeing, what they're being exposed to, and social media and all of those things.”

Growing up, Chapman acknowledged his kids “didn’t always like” the restrictions he and his wife placed on technology and social media. 

“But I told my kids, ‘It’s not because I don't trust you. It's because I don't trust the world that you're going up in. Because there is an enemy who is out to harm you and your mind and present things that are not true,’” he added. 

“We’d say, ‘This is the best way I know to fight for you. There is a battle going on for your mind, for your attention, for your heart, to tell you what's true. I want to be the one to help you know what's true because most of what you're going to hear and be presented with is not really truth.”

When it comes to impressionable minds, there is “health food, junk food, and rat poison,” the singer said. He stressed the importance of relationship-building when it comes to rules, as “restrictions without relationship breeds rebellion.”

“I've told my kids that even with the music they listened to, there's some stuff that is really going to make you healthy and grow, and then there's stuff that just won’t help you, and there's stuff that's really deadly for your heart, spirit and mind,” he said.

“We need to tell them this with humility and kindness and let them know that no matter what, they’re not going to do it alone. I think that’s huge for kids right now.”

Leah M. Klett is a reporter with The Christian Post. She can be reached at: leah.klett@christianpost.com

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