I don’t listen to a whole lot of Christian music. I listen to lots of worship music, sure- I love a bit of Bethel or Jesus Culture or Elevation Worship as much as the next guy. But Contemporary Christian Music is something I tend to stay clear of, on the grounds that by and large, it sucks.
And there’s a specific reason for why it sucks, which is to do with the role it fills in people’s listening habits. See, the job of CCM isn’t to create new and interesting music; it’s to make Christian-friendly versions of sounds and genres that already exist. Its job isn’t to innovate, but to replicate. Do you like the music Mumfond & Sons but wish their lyrics were overtly about God? Say hello to Rend Collective! Do you like Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit (its okay, nobody’s perfect) but think their music is too “angry” to play when your Christian friends are round? Download Skillet’s latest and you’re good to go. While many of these kinds of bands aren’t necessarily bad, it’s really hard to make something truly original and interesting when “middle of the road” is exactly what you’re aiming for.
Or, as a good friend of mine once said, Christian music is “like normal music, but just a little bit more lame”.
I’m sure there are exceptions, but I’ve been looking for them for a while, including a spell as a reviewer for the biggest CCM radio station in the UK, and I’d say I’ve found less than 5 CCM acts I think can hold a candle to their secular counterparts. I’m willing to be proven wrong though- if you can name me some decent acts in the Christian scene then by all means list them in the comments and I’ll check ‘em out.
Luckily, God isn’t constrained by my listening tastes, and has proven recently that he’s perfectly capable of talking to me though secular power metal. I’ll tell you about it.
So this one specific example (which I’ll use to make a more general point at the end) happened during that little…rough patch back in November 2016. That part where I lost my job and had my first brush with crime. Yeah. I spent a lot of time listening to music in those weeks, while trying to fill my day with housework and job hunting and stuff. I started listening to a lot of power metal- big, cheesy head-bangers that I could sing along to and make even mundane housework seem epic.
Once such band was Threshold, a really cool English metal act who have been around since the late 80s but are still turning out kick-ass metal year after year. I just Wikipedia’d them and they also have the distinction of being the only metal band I can name where one of the members (the drummer) is black. How about that.
One particular day I was using a mop to remove the lining paper from our kitchen roof (which must’ve looked pretty weird to anyone watching), singing along to one of their tunes called “Lost in Your Memory” without really paying it much attention, when some part of me noticed what the words I was singing were actually about.
Give the song a listen. It’s pretty light and ballad-ish so even if you aren’t into metal you might like it.
And here are the lyrics for the chorus, which really struck me:
Hold on, keep yourself together
There are better sights to see
Hold on, this will all become a faded photograph
Lost in your memory
Pretty generic stuff, but something about it really struck me, and I definitely felt a sense that this was God speaking to me directly, through the voice of a middle-aged metal band from Surrey. If you’ve ever felt the voice of God through the words of a friend, or through a book or something, then you know what I’m talking about- that sense that something commonplace was taking on a more important or more specific meaning. It was the idea that, yes I was going through a kinda crap time, but… it was only temporary. There are better things head. Soon it would just be a memory. A story I can tell and a lesson I can learn. I just needed to hold on.
It was just what I needed to hear at that moment, and it’s proven true. I am over it, and in a much better place than I was. I have learned from it all and moved on. Liz and I both believe we are going to do and see amazing things in our life, and that soon little blip in November will barely even register in our memory. It’ll just be a thing that happened. Not even a photograph.
There’s a line towards the end that’s pretty cool too:
Every day is a testament to all the things you’ve done
And all you’ve overcome
And that’s definitely true too- each thing we overcome makes us more resilient and able to cope with future challenges. That’s not just a generic wishy-washy saying, by the way, there’s real psychology behind it. Google the psychological concept of “resilience” if you’re interested. Maybe I’ll talk about is sometime.
Then in the bridge there’s a line that was even more specific to my circumstances:
Just one more moment and all this will be gone
And what was stolen will be returned
Unfortunately that hasn’t come true. Yet. I’m still holding out hope.
God is Greater Than Context
The bigger idea I’m getting at here is that God isn’t bound by the context that things were written, and he can use absolutely anything to get a point across. In the Bible God talks to people in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways: burning bushes, fleeces and donkeys to name but a few. And we can add “the back catalogue of Threshold” to that list. It doesn’t matter that the song was written years ago by guys who may or may not be Christians (I honestly don’t know) about something totally different- he could still use the words to powerfully speak into my circumstances and get me to see that they were only temporary.
God is so far above human comprehension and his plans are so amazing that he has no trouble conveying messages through things which were originally meant for something completely different. He wants to speak encouragement to us so he’ll use anything he can as a way in. I’ve just remembered one time at youth club when I was 14 and our Church youth leader had us watch School of Rock and try to come up with Christian messages you could learn from it. I can’t remember any of the pearls of wisdom we gleaned from Jack Black’s adventures but it’s the same idea.
I believe this is true of the Bible as well. Verses may have been written in a specific context, as letters to specific churches, or as instructions to individual people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find them useful, can’t learn from them and can’t hear the voice of God through them. God is the maker of the universe, the inventor of time, the author of everything ever. He isn’t bound by the small matter that his word was written a few thousand years ago. He can still give people new revelations or words through it. Or through anything for that matter.
Now of course understanding the context of the Bible is important and can really help you appreciate the deeper meanings it is conveying. You need to understand the world of the time it was written to understand some parts of it properly. I’m a big fan of all that. But God isn’t limited by the context of the societies the Bible was written in. He can still use old stories and ideas to say things about our society today. He can take words written thousands of years ago half a world away and use them to speak directly into our lives right now. He can also use power metal for the same thing, apparently. He’s God. He can get away with stuff like that.