October 25, 2020

Let’s Not Be Simplistic About CCM

third.jpgI’m a big Andrew Sandlin fan, and I’ve never disagreed with him that I can remember, but Sandlin’s sudden enthusiasm for CCM needs a bit of tempering with reality.

Where do I begin? How about with some of Sandlin’s statements that are certainly true.

While some of this music is superficial and trite, much of it is superior both technically and theologically to the sophomoric ditties and Victorian hymns and Gospel songs of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, and even to some of the re-tooled psalms we hear nowadays in churches that practice “exclusive” or “preponderant” psalmody.

There is some great CCM out there, and I support it with my dollars and my recommendations to my students and friends. As I type, I am, listening to the current Passion Worship CD, and I would agree with Sandlin that the words and presentation are excellent and worthy of recognition. I also agree that the heritage of music found in our hymnals contains plenty of perfectly awful examples of sap and sentimentality.

In my view, a church does best when it blends in its public Lord’s Day resurrection celebrations the older hymns (“Holy, Holy, Holy” and “And Can It Be”) with CCM worship songs (“Shout to the Lord” and “He Reigns”).

I agree here as well, and would call upon churches to tell their pastors and elders to take control of the content of our worship services so that the Bible’s glad good news of the reign of God can be expressed in congregational song. All well-planned worship should be “blended” as the church’s heritage of two thousand years of culturally diverse worship music is heard throughout the Christian year.

When the great evangelistic revival comes, a revival of powerful, Spirit-filled evangelistic music will likely arrive in its wake.

Amen! I agree and pray that God will raise up truly God-centered, Spirit-filled, Biblical song writers and artists to celebrate his son, Jesus.

A lot more, however, needs to be said about CCM, and I’ve said much of it before. I’ll try to restrain the iMonkish pen to a brief survey of why we need to resist the tide of enthusiastic support for CCM that is flooding evangelicalism

1. CCM is a corporate product, and is increasingly unrelated to churches. CCM is now created, promoted and marketed by secular corporations who have bought out the Christian music industry. The bottom line is profit, and the rhetoric that accompanies these salesman is the rhetoric of the marketplace. CCM today is about creating consumers, not disciples.

2. Those artists who have resisted this trend are increasingly left out in the cold, unable to get their music into churches, on the radio or considered by major labels. I could fill this post with lists of names of musical artists who have been reduced to selling over the net and out of the garage. If the church wasn’t so completely taken in by the corporate nature of CCM, this wouldn’t be happening.

Note the names that Sandlin mentions in his post: the world’s leading CCM performers, like Third Day, Chris Tomlin, Michael W. Smith, Tree 63, Newsboys and Switchfoot. Why are these the world’s leading CCM performers? Is Third Day actually that talented? Newsboys? What do we mean by “leading?” Record sales. Corporate promotion. Corporate tour money.

Steve Camp put the truth out there several years ago when two of the artists on the above list were on a worship tour sponsored by a major automobile manufacturer. In his famous 107 theses about Contemporary Christian Music, he played the prophet to an industry he helped build, but which now refuses to have an accountability relationship with the church. Camp’s complaints have nothing to do with musical styles or prefering hymns. He is a talented CCM composer and artist. Instead, Camp sees what most of CCM’s advocates do not want to see: the corporate takeover and marketing of CCM is deadly to the Biblical integrity of CCM as art and worship.

3. The marketing of CCM artists as spiritual models and examples to young people is a blatant imitation of the youth culture’s fascination with celebrity. This is the industry that turns its head to everything except an artist’s potential to create product. It is an industry that has its artists writing books telling fans how to live the Christian life. Do we really need books by Jacqui Velazquez and the Newsboys parlaying their fame into spiritual influence? The entire celebrity culture that drives American media is accepted by the CCM culture, and millions of young people listen to these artists and their work as trustworthy spiritual influences. In some cases, that is a safe activity. In many other cases, it is vacuous, if not spiritually dangerous.

It is the CCM industry that attaches itself to every “fad driven” direction of evangelicalism and promotes it as legitimate. Jabez. Left Behind. TBN. Warren. CCM helps them all and lends its fame and influence to them all, creating younger audiences and more consumers.

4. While there are some great example of good music in contemporary CCM worship music, much CCM is lyrically and musically awful. (Check out South Park and other youth culture indicators to see how CCM is perceived in the wider culture.) In fact, this sentence caused me to almost choke to death on my Raisin Bran.

CCM seems to have restored the tone of high worship from both the Reformation and Isaac Watts eras that was gradually lost over the last 200 years, and it has equally restored the victorious tone of a world-conquering Gospel. We can be ecstatic that so many Christian youth have embraced it.

I don’t know what Mr. Sandlin is seeing and hearing, but I can tell you with the authority of 30 years in youth ministry- all spent submerged in CCM- that the “high tone” of the reformation has been replaced by the emotional swamp of charismatic worship and the “God is my girlfriend” sentimentality of the recent worship “renewal.” Yes…there are wonderful lyrics and songs out there, but they are islands in a sea of music that can be switched with the fare of many secular artists singing about their girlfriend’s navel.

There are some artists with a Biblical tone and message, but many popular CCM artists don’t seem to know their way into or out of a Bible. In fact, the replacement of the Bible and the theological content of Bible-centered music is most evident in those churches who uncritically participate in the CCM revolution. A kickin’ band singing songs with hand motions, a speaker telling cool stories, and plenty of muti-media to keep the kids from being bored: it’s the recipe for success in youth ministry today. Thank God for “Shout to the Lord,” but what do we say about that “secret place” dozens of worship songs keep inviting us to find?

Talk with those who have been in CCM and left for their own sanity and spiritual health. Talk to those who left CCM to serve the local church. There is a story the corporate machine doesn’t want you to hear, but Christians need to hear it.

5. The theology of many CCM artists and worship leaders is looney. What is said in the songs is one thing. What is said by the artists about the songs is another. We now have a whole theology of “worship music” that brings God down when we sing, that saves people who never hear the Gospel and that defeats the devil with a great big noise.

We can’t be simplistic about CCM. What Sandlin sees at those festivals is impressive. (I’ve been to more than 40 of them. I know the feeling. It’s quite triumphant.) But the CCM revolution is a very mixed blessing. God has raised up some powerfully Biblical music. There are thousands of artists who are accountable to local churches and being taught by good pastors. At the same time, CCM has allowed the culture- the consumer culture- to make huge inroads into the church, and has captivated the minds and artistic tastes of millions of young people. My career in youth ministry tells me clearly that the fruit of the current CCM “revolution” is very meager, indeed. Christian kids going from concert to concert, camp to camp, event to event, looking for a musical high and paying adoration to their favorite “stars.” This isn’t worship or discipleship. It’s corporate culture making the church just like the world, and paying for the privilege.

Andrew Sandlin is right about the good things, but we can’t afford to be simplistic about CCM. Read Steve Camp. Ask Terry Taylor why he’s on his own. Why don’t you hear Michael Card on the radio. Find any of the thousands of former CCM players who left the industry. Don’t just see the crowds. Get the big picture. The good is still there, but unfortunately, so is much that brings no honor or glory to the God of the Gospel.


  1. chris rucker says

    thank you MONK! thank you once again

  2. “Just take some has-been pop song and substitute ‘Jeesus!’ for “Oooooo Baby!’.”
    — Eric Cartman (South Park) on how to write a CCM hit song.

  3. Challenging post. A couple thoughts:

    – While I’d agree with you that CCM has to a degree been taken over by corporate America, I’d hazard a guess that it is still possible for God to use the music for his purposes. God is clever that way.

    – And, by the way, if there’s a problem with the content, doesn’t the fault really lie with the churches rather than with the CCM ‘business’? After all, the market just follows the demand, right?

    – I’d suggest caution when it comes to criticizing the youth culture. For one thing, it’s the part of the curmudgeon and won’t get any of us very far. But much more importantly, from what I’ve seen, there are some pretty wonderful things happening among the kids of the current generation. They care about the world, they are open about what they believe, and their lives are being changed by their relationship with Christ. They are a precious resource for the church that we are responsible to care for. Cutting them a little slack for their obnoxious music might, in the end, be a little more useful.

  4. I don’t think the I-Monk is playing the curmudgeon. I don’t see him criticizing the youth culture, just those who seem to be leading it. Remember, for the most part, yutes are sheeps…they will go with the flow. Especially if the flow is wrapped up in a shiny package. (Speaking from 11 years as a yute leader.) The ones who need to be criticized are the ones who play to the whizz-bang factor to attract kids to the gospel. Bottom line, the gospel IS good news but the Christian life can and won’t always be a bed of roses. To follow Christ is the most radical decision a young person (any person for that matter)can make.

    The last time I saw a Terry Taylor/Daniel Amos or 77’s CD in the Christian Book Store was in the mid 90’s…I now buy all my DA/Choir/77’s/Lost Dogs via the internet…(among others…Pastemusic.com is a greath place…)I’d rather pay a few bucks more to Terry/Mike/Derry for the CD than to line the pockets of Word!

    I-Monk…I choked on my water when I read Scanlin’s words on the “tone of high worship”. My reaction was “What was that???”

    Keep up the good work…


  5. Excellent post!

    I saw Derek Webb a few weeks ago and was blown away. His lyrics reveal some of the most solid theology I have ever heard in CCM. Naturally he has been boycotted by some “Christian” retailers and couldn’t get played on the radio to save his life.

  6. He said whore.

    And delirious once said “she looked like hell.”

    And Rich Mullins was a sinner, but he wrote “Awesome God,” so they forgave him.

    Thanks eric.

  7. I read Sandlin’s post and had to laugh…my daughter is at Spirit West Coast as well! But I’m with the Monk in that most of what makes up CCM is worthy of choking on our raisin bran. I talk to her all the time about what’s up and she seems to have her head on straight. She’s not a concert hopper or band worshipper. A concert here and there can be fun, encouraging and a break from the challenge of living for Christ in the real world, but Michael nails it in exposing much of it as a sick culture.

    Eric, I’ve followed Terry, Derri, Hindalong and crew for a long time. I don’t always agree with them, but at least they’ve had the conscience to stay true to themselves and not be overrun by the whole CCM marketing ooze.

  8. I can’t read anything about CCM without recalling Marty Lasley’s killer 2001 review of CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music, here: http://www.americanwasteland.com/ccm100.html

    He got so much feedback, he posted letters and replies here: http://www.americanwasteland.com/lettersccm.html

    Don’t know what happened to Marty; he quit posting in 2002 and I miss him.

  9. Chris Stiles says

    Yes…there are wonderful lyrics and songs out there, but they are islands in a sea of music that can be switched with the fare of many secular artists singing about their girlfriend’s navel.

    You can argue along these lines – The sentence above though is a truism. It’s a truism that’s valid across the ages and across all sacramental genres from plainsong onwards. If we view history through rose tinted spectacles then nothing will ever match up. Do a study of popular music down the ages – or even choral music churned out by the *average* church composer of the time.

    Furthermore, whilst I am on the subject, let’s deal with the that old chesnut that “hymns are full of doctrine”. That is not true – there are a minority of hymns that are full of doctrine, and a majority that say no more than “jesus died for me, on calvary, to set me free”. Worth saying, but even most polished language cannot hide that that is all they say. I’d be in a pretty parlous state if I got all my doctrine from hymns.

    — chris

  10. You know Chris, I really endeavored to be fair in this piece. I am sorry you are reading it as one sided.

    Here’s an experiment. Let’s take the lyrics from the first 100 hymns in the Baptist Hymnal, and the lyrics from the next 100 songs to play on K-Love. Think there would be any difference?

  11. I can’t add too much to this that hasn’t been said… Except this: I once heard hymns compared to bad sex. At this point I realized the P&W movement had some pretty weird supporting arguements.

  12. Chris Stiles says

    Michael — I’m not reading it as completely one-sided. In fact I agree with a some of your criticisms.

    I’m in the UK, so will assume that ‘K-Love’ is some kind of radio station. Radio play is unlikely to be wholely representative of a musical movement is it ? I’m guessing that the singles mentality pervades – most songs played built around a few musical/lyrical hooks. Besides, that hymnal represents the selection of the best over a number of centuries – there is an implicit survivor bias there.

    I grew up around both the anglican and baptist traditions. I’m also an amateur classical musican who loves both classical music and jazz. I don’t particularly like the worship music that my youngest brother likes/uses but at least part of that is to do with musical taste. There is a danger in taking all my criticisms and prefixing them with “Thus saith the Lord”. I’m *not* saying that that is what you are doing – but we always see the faults in movements we don’t agree with that bit more clearly.

    My main criticism of ‘new’ ‘Praise and Worship’ is not that in the main it churns out fairly simplistic songs, or indeed that it constantly searches for novelty, but that it assumes that there is absolutely no value in the past.

    — chris

  13. All I gotta say is: I miss Steve Taylor.

    “Tickle my ear and I’ll pay for your show
    Sing about stuff that I already know
    Whisper sweet nothings, pour a nightcap
    Gimme that old-time easy listening…”

  14. Michael, excellent article….of course I always say that when we agree 🙂

    I also agree your comments on the tone of a lot of CCM music today. Much of it comes across as indistinquishable from any modern ballad, along the lines of “Jesus is my boyfriend.” Much of today’s praise music is devoid of doctrinal truth and largely talks about how I feel about God. The emphasis is mostly on the “I”.

  15. Imonk: on your comment about Rich Mullins a few posts back

    It is so frustrating that “Awesome God” and, if you’re lucky “Sometimes By Step”, is all of Rich Mullins music that ever makes it on the radio.

    Heaven forbid that a Christian station play “Hold Me, Jesus” (a deceptively simple song, that has a tendency to sneak up on you, and smack you over the head with the fact that you don’t LIKE accepting God’s grace) or “Hard to Get”, or even “Creed.”

    I think I’ve gotten more theology and knowledge of God from 1 Rich Mullins album than from all the other Christian music I listened to when I was in youth group (the music of Michael Card excepted).

    *sigh* And you never hear Five Iron Frenzy, either, but that could be because they’re weird. Awesome, but weird. (what other Christian artists have a pronounced tendency to quote William Blake in their songs?)

    (Sorry for the rant)

  16. D.C. Chang says

    Our beloved hymns have stood the test of time. I’m sure there’s been alot of bad hymns written that are now forgotten, and so we are left with the best hymns. Maybe, in 50 years, all the lousy CCM will also disappear and people will only be singing the well-conceived CCM. When we think of English literautre written before the 20th century, we mostly remember the classics and forget all the crap written.

  17. Charlie Peacock, long-time artist and producer in CCM, has an excellent book on this subject, which has just been re-released: “At the Crossroads.” He has quite a few loving critiques of the “industry” that are compelling and well-conceived, but his main point is that artists in the Christian community have succeeded far too well in creating a ghetto, where no one comes in and no one gets out. This has impoverished both secular music (with a lack of transcendant themes) and Christian music (with a lack of earthy, real, everyday life themes), not to mention the derivative nature of the actual music in much of CCM.

    Charlie has mentored many of the bands who are “crossing over” (in scary 90s parlance) like Switchfoot and Sixpence None the Richer. A good read.

  18. ***4. While there are some great example of good music in contemporary CCM worship music, much CCM is lyrically and musically awful.***

    Couldn’t the same be said about everything produced by Christians (blogs, books, movies, etc.)? How much of anything that we as Christians produce is truly Bible-centered and theologically sound?

    And was it ever really different? True, most CCM music does not achieve the quality or inspire the reverence of hymns like “Amazing Grace.” But I suspect that there was probably plenty of junk put out in 1799 when John Newton wrote his classic. Pointing out the crap is useful. But we should also make a make an effort to praise the stuff that is worthwhile.

    And yes, Third Day actually is that talented. ; )

  19. Oops. I missed D.C. Chang’s comment that said basically the same thing I did. Only better.