If you have listened to Christian music lately, you may (or may not) have noticed a trend, or a movement, that has evolved throughout the Christian music industry. It isn't what it used to be. It is an ever-evolving theater of Millennials and aspiring Generation Z's reflecting a new culture of mainstream Christianity through their music. More and more, Christian music is leavened with wrong theology. It is littered with unbiblical truths and extra-biblical claims. The youthful, up-and-coming artists are far too easily absorbed into the Christian music genre, and often given an ample amount of play time.
As a result, millions of listeners everywhere are being exposed to well-meaning, compromised "Christian" artists who can be compared to unvetted guest speakers in pulpits. These musicians are being given a world stage to share their personal Jesus experiences. But instead of proclaiming the fear and holiness of God (as in the hymns of the past), they generally seem to be catering to the defeated and backsliding Christian - or even the non believer - not necessarily the overcomer. They oftentimes preach a very watered-down version of biblical faith, which may be an indication as to where they are in their own spiritual walk.
Improper doctrine has made its way into the Christian music genre and has been widely accepted as both encouraging and undoubtedly Christian, having crept in unnoticed (Jude 1:4) and unchecked.
Consider Skillet, a band that has been rising fast in the Christian music industry, as well as those completely outside of it. It is heavily endorsed, promoted, and played by Christian radio stations and online streaming channels nationwide and abroad, including radio giants K-Love and Air1 Radio. An Air1.com article featuring Skillet in a positive light suggests: "The band continues to produce songs that can appeal to people of all ages and from all walks of life. Over the years, the band has developed a cult-like following..." (link) ("Cult-like" means 'resembling a cult.')
All the while, these songs are unquestionably presented as Christian by those who claim to be Christians, and Hard Rock by unbelievers immersed in the secular world - who may very well not see them in any other light. Truly, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference.
Their acceptance and popularity in the Christian music world has helped Skillet soar to the top of the charts with their latest album, Unleashed. The release went to No. 2 on the Billboard Top Albums chart in August of 2016. Interestingly, it went all the way to No. 1 (by non-Christian standards) on Billboard's Hard Rock Albums Chart, and simultaneously went to No. 3 on Billboard's Top Albums Chart in 2016. Cooper said of the album's success on both platforms: "It is such a huge honor to keep making music that people resonate with."
Skilletalso defines themselves as a full-on rock band. In their song "Hero" lead singer John Cooper's distinguishing raspy, defiant, roaring loud voice, sings:
I'm just a breath away
I'm just a step away
From losin' my faith today
Fallin' off the edge today
I need a hero to save my life
Sadly, this band has shown us their true colors in their music by sounding a lot like worldly music and not proclaiming Christ as the "hero" they are looking for in many of their lyrics. Their increasingly darker overtones in song and appearance show them as having one foot in the world and one (questionably) in the faith. "I just tell people I'm in a hard-rock band. I leave 'Christian' out," lead singer John Cooper said in one interview. "Everywhere we play, I talk about my faith. I leave the 'Christian' off because I don't want to alienate."
Yet in stark contrast, Cooper said in a CBN interview, "Absolutely we are a Christian band, we are not embarrassed about it at all."
Cooper and his band identify well with the worldly standard of the rock industry, with all of its darkness and flashing the rock (or satanic) hand symbols freely. Claiming themselves to identify with Christianity, they also see themselves on both sides of the isle. "It was very important for us to cross over [from Christian to mainstream] because we were too heavy for Christian music to get to a success level that you could afford to do it," Cooper says in one interview. "And I never just wanted to be a Christian act. And I don't want to think that just Christian people - I don't want to turn people off about Jesus..."
The Bible tells us clearly in James 4:4:
"You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
Cooper seems to like worldly bands like Def Leopard, admitting that the album Hysteria is his all-time favorite, and says he enjoys listening to AC/DC during his workouts. He also identifies himself alongside with, and opened for bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Metallica, Korn, Slipknot, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. Each of these groups are anti-Christ. As professing believers, Skillet really should be completely avoiding these bands.
2 Corinthians 6:14 says, "Don't team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?" His definitive move toward the secular world have just resulted in a lukewarm, back-and-forth condition as communicated in "Stars", where he sings: "whenever I fall away, whenever I start to break..."
Cooper seems as though he is grappling with his faith.
Awake and Alive also leans away from the central gospel message, of living a life in following Jesus, and doing God's will by declaring, "I'll do what I want 'cuz this is my life." This is a level of secularism which sounds more like Satanist Aleister Crowley, who coined the phrase "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." Yet, apparently he believes this is what it means to be "awake and alive". This way of thinking is simply anti-Christ in nature.
In the song Monster we get a conclusive picture of what's really going on inside:
The secret side of me, I never let you see
I keep it caged but I can't control it
So stay away from me, the beast is ugly
I feel the rage and I just can't hold it
The messages communicated here seem far from walking in the light! (1 John 1:6-7).
Multiple Artists Present Wrong Theology and False Doctrine
Skillet's lyrics represent just one piece of a larger deception in Christian music. Steffany Gretzinger, in her song Pieces, proudly and prayerfully proclaims:
Your heart is proud to be seen with me...
Your love is a fire burning bright for me
These unbiblical concepts seem heartfelt. However, God has complete control of Himself and is completely able to contain Himself. Saying that God is "proud to be seen with me" shifts worship from God to herself. This theme is present in Bethel Music's Pieces: "Your love hangs on every word we say." This unbiblical statement is also not based on God's Word. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The bible states that "even our prayers" can be detestable (Proverbs 28:9), and "the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:12).
Another example of bad theology lies within the lyrics of the hit song, Your love Never Fails (performed by artists such as Jesus Culture, Newsboys, and others). The opening lyric falsely declares, "Nothing can separate, even if I run away." It is also interesting to note that the Newsboys' co-founder, George Perdikis, admits he is now an atheist. Chris Tomlin says in his latest song God's Great Dance Floor: "You'll never stop loving us no matter how far we run." But enduring Christ followers will not run. John 6:66 affirms: 'From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.'
In regards to these lyrics, while it is true that a prodigal who has "run away" (as the account goes in Luke 15:11-32) can return, there is no provision for one who never returns. The bible warns about falling away (Hebrews 6:4-6) and denying our Lord (Matthew 10:33). We make our own decision whether to believe in and walk with Christ or not. Jesus himself warned His own disciples, "And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:38).
An Unbalanced View of God's Grace
Other artists communicate false claims about the attributes of God, with the general idea that He envelopes us in an inescapable, crashing tidal wave of grace - as One who recklessly holds on to us despite wherever our current state of belief or faith may be - "Like tidal wave that I can't escape",as Jesus Culture describes in their song Fierce. Like so many others, this song reiterates false doctrine: "I can't outrun this heart I'm tethered to", declares lead singer Chris Quilala. David Crowder Band, in How He Loves, emphatically states, "If grace is an ocean we're all sinking". This is problematic in that using the term "sinking" leads us to believe that all of us - both the weak and the strong alike - are currently drowning in grace (heaven-bound no matter what). While God's sacrificial grace is overwhelmingly amazing and central to saving faith, an overemphasis of 'cheap grace' can and does distort the gospel message and how we view it.
Citizen Way, in their song Bulletproof, speaks greatly to their assumed position of eternal security: "Because of You I know You got this whole thing under control...My soul is untouchable because You've already won me." But the Bible has a warning about such confidence: "If you think you are standing strong, be careful that you do not fall" (1 Corinthians 1:12) and, "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it"(Hebrews 2:1).
Hollyn is among several popular artists alongside Matt Redman, Tenth Avenue North, Michael W. Smith, Hillsong Young and Free, Britt Nicole, Switchfoot, Laura Story, Love and the Outcome and Group1 Crew, each of whom speak directly for God by encapsulating the catch phrase "I won't let you go" in their lyrics. Contrastingly, Judas, literally being one of the chosen twelve and given power to cast out demons, chose to leave and betray Jesus (with a kiss), and of course God let him go and do that wicked thing and depart from the living God (Luke 22). Jesus himself later even referred to him as "the one doomed to destruction"in John 17:12.
Another Love and the Outcome song clarifies a common message in Christian lyrics: "No strings attached when He Saved my soul." But the Bible says God will give us over to our sinful desires if we should so choose that route. Ultimately, we can choose to be depraved and separate ourselves from God (Romans 1:24).
If we are going to be honest, there are strings attached to our faith; we must pick up our cross daily, deny ourselves and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Paul also warned: 'if we endure, we shall also reign with him: if we shall deny him, he also will deny us' (2 Timothy 2:12).
Just Barely Holding On...
Brandon Murphy, in his song Enough, seems to be communicating that he is wrestling apostasy. He sings - to a rather secular-sounding club mix: "When did You stop being enough for me?...reminiscing, missing how You captivate me...took my eyes off the ball...did I take it too far?...Enough enough enough." If repentance does not follow such acry, this is a scary place to be. Jesus Himself said to one of the seven churches in the last days:
You have abandoned your first love. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:4b-5).
In Jordan Feliz's "You Are Beloved," the message includes something dire:
Sometimes the heart can feel like a heavy weight
It pulls you under and you just fall away.
But the Bible has something to say about just "falling away". This is something we Christians are never supposed to do at all! Jesus speaks of what will take place in the last days among believers:"And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another" (Matthew 24:10).
The song "Walk On Water" by Family Force 5 (feat. Hillsong Young and Free) might be an indicator of a lack of genuine conversion. The singer admits openly, "I'm back-and-forth like a wave of the wind." The bible speaks bluntly to this condition:
"But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind", and is "double-minded" (James 1:5).
An assumption of failure is often alluded to, including Switchfoot's "When We Come": "I feel like I could get lost today...and I'm gone, gone, gone." As believers who endure, we don't just casually just "get lost". Hebrews 3:12 tells us: 'Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God."
Missing: Songs About Repentance
Many of these musicians are genuinely trying to keep it honest and positive and encouraging, which has a place in Christian music, but the theology in the Christian music genre seems to include an overwhelmingly common message of solo grace. While we are certainly saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), the music often portrays God as a relentless pursuer of anyone trying to outrun Him or potentially living in habitual sin, and rarely speaks to repentance or a cry in turning from it. Repentance is absolutely essential in becoming a believer and for sanctification.
Jesus said: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (John 4:17). Without repentance, no one can be saved, as Psalm 7:2 says: If a man does not repent, God will sharpen His sword; He has bent and readied his bow...
Believers are in danger of falling prey to a lovey-dovey, easy-to-swallow, musical experience, which can lead them to turn away from the more challenging messages. As Paul stated in 2 Timothy 4:3: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths."
Perhaps we are seeing these days come to pass within what is described as Christian music and it's popularity.
It is clear that much of the theology within Christianity is becoming watered down and is moving away from the sound doctrine that the Bible offers us. Many churches, as well as the music from bands such as Skillet, are a representative indicator of this change. Of course, many songs and artists are very biblical, and right on track with proper doctrine. Many, many songs, however - such as the ones mentioned that otherwise can be described as biblical - do contain questionable lyrics that we must be aware of. Paul says in Galatians 5:9, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump."
It is important to understand that God's love encompasses other essential truths other than what we hear - and ought to hear- in contemporary Christian music. God warned His followers: "Fear God, who has the power to kill you and throw you into hell" (Luke 12:5). He is a "Just Judge" (Psalm 7:11), an "All-consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and warns, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). Moses wrote a song that wouldn't get much air time today: "Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear as the fear that is due you" (Psalm 90:11).
If the great deceiver, Satan, can transform himself into an angel of light, he can most certainly make music that is seemingly "Christian" when it's actually not. Not every Christian artist should be assumed to be a regenerate, born-again believer communicating proper doctrine, even though their intentions may very well be honest.
We must be loving enough to pray for and exhort these musicians, being watchful always, and discerning the times in which we live. And surely we must be careful what enters into our ears, minds and hearts through music...yes, even so-called Christian music.
Greg is a born-again Christian since 2000. He and his wife Francesca have four adopted children and are in process of adopting a fifth from Haiti. Their family story has recently been shared in a recent short documentary, "Committed: An Adoption Story", which explores their family journey with the intent of encouraging the church to make an impact in children's lives through fostering and adoption. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally posted at The Harder Truths.