Monday, June 19, 2006

Does CCM Erode Theology?

There are bad arguments in favor of the use of CCM. There are also bad arguments against it. One of those bad arguments against it is that (all) CCM is doctrinally minimalistic.

In a rather lengthy article on the popularity of reformed theology among young people, Weaver and Finn document the theological agenda that is prevalent in some CCM circles. Here's the relevant portion:
Like most evangelical college students, Baptist collegians listen to CCM; and like evangelicalism itself, artists of numerous theological and liturgical expressions have appeared on the CCM scene in this post-denominational atmosphere. Among collegians and other young adults, many of the most popular recording artists/acts are Calvinist in their theology and worldview. Artists who are strongly Reformed or influenced by Calvinism such as Bebo Norman and groups such as Watermark and Caedmon's Call are enormously popular with college students. Bebo Norman's act was the first to be signed by Watershed Records, a Christian recording label. (33) In Norman's lyrics, the Reformed emphasis is evident in small doses. His song, "Big Blue Sky," subtly affirms total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints:
I'm coming alive
Nothing is good apart from you
I'm coming alive ... with you

I may not have a lot to give
This broken world can make it hard to live
I may have nothing left to say
But I know that you will never go away. (34)

Norman's popularity with collegians seems poised to increase. He received seven Dove Award nominations in 2003, the annual "evangelical grammys" awarded by the Gospel Music Association. (35)
Clearly, the most popular CCM group that promotes Calvinist theology is Caedmon's Call. The band, formed in 1991, made an immediate splash on the college scene. Reportedly, they developed large followings on campuses all over the country, from "Boston's Harvard University to Malibu's Pepperdine University on the California's coast." (36) CCM, the magazine of contemporary Christian music, put the group on its cover in 1999 because they "turned the Christian music industry upside down in 1997." (37) Originally from Houston, Texas, Caedmon's Call's founder and vocalist, Cliff Young, is the son of former SBC president and mega-church pastor, Ed Young, of Second Baptist Church, Houston. (38) In this computer-driven era, numerous Websites about the rock band are visited and managed by collegians.
Caedmon's Call is clearly committed to Calvinist theology. Derek Webb, one of the band's lead vocalists and principal songwriters, lists Reformed theology as "an obsession." One of his favorite books is Chosen by God, written by conservative Presbyterian theologian R. C. Sproul. (39) Keyboardist (and Belmont University student) Josh Moore also lists Sproul as his favorite theologian. (40) This strong commitment to Calvinism is clearly evident in the band's lyrics.
Their 1999 album, 40 Acres, preaches Calvinist perspectives. On the album's second track, "Thankful" (written and performed by Webb), the Reformed emphases on total depravity, unconditional election, and irresistible grace stand out:
'Cause we're all stillborn, and dead in our transgressions
We're shackled up to the sin we hold so dear
So what part can I play in the work of redemption
I can't refuse, I cannot add a thing

I am thankful that I'm incapable
Of doing any good on my own

It's by grace I have been saved
Through faith that's not my own
It is the gift of God and not by works
Lest anyone should boast. (41)

Like many CCM acts, Caedmon's Call has capitalized on the popularity of "praise and worship" choruses by producing an album of worship songs. (42) While most of the music on the album was original to the band, two of the songs, "I Boast No More" and "Laden With Guilt," were modern renditions of hymns originally written by Puritan pastor and prolific hymnist Isaac Watts. (43) Calvinism is implied in many of the album's other tracks.

Reformed theology is not only found in the lyrics of some CCM artists, but many "praise and worship" songs and modern hymns are written from a self-consciously Reformed worldview as well. Sovereign Grace Ministries (formerly PDI) is a popular music recording/distribution company among Calvinist college students. Sovereign Grace songs--like the name of the company--are heavy in theological content, and the theology is often overtly Calvinist. The lyrics of "How High and How Wide," for example, explicitly affirm total depravity and irresistible grace, and the doctrines of election and perseverance of the saints are strongly implied:
No eye has seen
And no ear has heard
And no mind has ever conceived
The glorious things that You have prepared
For every one who has believed
You brought us near
And You called us Your own
And made us joint heirs with Your Son

Objects of mercy who should have known wrath
We're filled with unspeakable joy
Riches of wisdom, unsearchable wealth
And the wonder of knowing Your voice
You are our treasure and our great reward
Our hope and our glorious King

How high and how wide
How deep and how long
How sweet and how strong is Your love
How lavish Your grace
How faithful Your ways
How great is Your love, O Lord (44)

Also popular among Calvinist collegians is the "updating" of classic hymns. Many of the great hymns are set to more upbeat music to make them accessible to markets that prefer contemporary worship music. Among the most popular recording acts to use this revised hymnology is Indelible Grace, based out of Nashville, Tennessee. Kevin Twit, who serves as both college pastor at Christ Community Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tennessee, and campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at Baptist-affiliated Belmont University, organized Indelible Grace. (45) The group has updated classic hymns by such writers as Isaac Watts, Augustus Toplady, and Charles Wesley. Ironically, Wesley was a staunch Arminian, though his lyrics are sung by some collegians as though his Calvinist friend and fellow evangelist George Whitefield could have written them.

Other modern hymns and "praise and worship songs" deal broadly with the theme of God's sovereignty and glory. Although Calvinists are not the only Christians to affirm these theological concepts, songs with these emphases are particularly popular with Reformed students because of Calvinism's emphasis on God's sovereign control over all of life and his concern that God's glory be known among all the peoples of the earth.

Contemporary Christian music is not exclusively bound to Calvinism or any theological perspective (and some students clearly listen to the music without digesting any theology). Nevertheless, Caedmon's Call and other popular Reformed CCM artists have introduced many collegians to and nurtured them in Calvinism. Baptist collegians are often attracted to emotional informal worship, and CCM fills that need. Consequently, the worship styles of post-denominational young people is clearly a gateway to the growth of Calvinism. The most influential avenue into Reformed theology for college students, however, is found in the immense popularity of several contemporary speakers/authors.
As anecdotal evidence, I recently met a pastor friend who cited Caedmon's Call's "40 Acres" album as the defining influence in his conversion to the doctrines of grace.


PinkAngel said...

Interesting...but how can that music be any good at all - the downbeat is not on 1 and 3.

Josh said...

This is so cool - I just discovered Caedmon's Call about two weeks ago. I've been spinning their album "Back Home" ever since.

Ryan Martin said...

The fact that it has theological content at all is what makes it most offensive.

Brandon said...

It's amazing to me that alot of the lyrics of those songs labeled as "Calvinistic" are faithful paraphrases of Biblical texts. How ironic...

Kathleen F. said...

This is an excellent article! I recently really listened to the words of Caedmon's Call song "Before There Was Time" and every time I hear the words my eyes fill with tears and my heart leaps for joy at what my Savior did for me. The lyrics are powerful and describe what is my testimony in song-form. I was arminian-thinking in theology (not that I consciously tried to be) for 17+ years as a christian and miserable! When God opened my eyes to the doctrines of grace -- well, it was a miracle, and this particular song of theirs is fantastic. Sovereign Grace Music is also wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for your honest heart and truthfulness, it is refreshing to hear someone be real. Its cool to read about real people who serve Jesus.

I am a musician, and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for download. Anyway, don't want to be a pest, I just thought that I'd share.

"All my music is free."

Barefoot Guy said...

I really enjoy your blog! Thanks for your honest heart and truthfulness, it is refreshing to hear someone be real. Its cool to read about real people who serve Jesus.

I am a musician, and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for download. Anyway, don't want to be a pest, I just thought that I'd share.

"All my music is free."

Stephen said...

I like what Brandon said. What they call "calvinist" is just the Bible? Well, yeah...that's kind of our point!