10 Artists to Stop Boycotting Christian Contemporary Music For (Just in Case You Were)

A week ago I offered my criticism of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) and as many have observed, basically critiqued the sorts of songs that get airplay on Christian radio. This week, it is my pleasure to shine a light on some of the good, the true and the beautiful  in the CCM industry. Despite what some people have thought from my post, I am not a hater. I have listened to CCM all my life and I still go back in my catalogue to revisit songs and artists that are important to me and I am not ashamed of  (and a few guilty pleasures). But before I give you my list, I need to say something about my criteria for chosing Christian artists:

  • Christian Contemporary Music is not a genre but a marketing category. There are Christians making beautiful music in every genre, but CCM involves Christians making music for Christians. Some of the Christian artists below eschew the name ‘Christian artist’ but they write Christian lyrics and appeal to a generally Christian audience.
  • Once upon a time, the Christian music scene was centered in Nashville with several record labels that were there. Nashville is still very important, but with the ubiquity of ¬†iTunes and online music, independent musicians from all over are making great music. Independent artists have revolutionized the industry. Much of the ‘Christian music’ ¬†which hits high rotation on my playlist are friends and¬†acquaintances: Andrea Tisher, Ordinary Time, Tom Wuest, Peter Lagrand, Brian Moss, Koa Siu¬†and¬†¬†Ahna Phillips. I have not included them in this list but if you want music which is honest, raw, beautiful, good, deep follow these links.
  • An important question you need to ask when you survey the CCM industry and my pasty list below is, “Where the black people at?” Remember CCM is a marketing category. ¬†Christian Artists who are African Americans are generally marketed as Gospel artists which is another genre with a storied tradition. The lines are not always distinct (artists like Mandisa, Israel Houghton, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, etc. have wide appeal)but generally CCM is a white industry marketed to white people (i.e. white people generally grace the cover of CCM magazine). This doesn’t make it all ¬†bad, but it does mean that in ¬†profile of ¬†artists below I’m only looking at a ¬†small slice of Christian artists. If there are not some Gospel artists in your playlist you are missing out on some of the best music anywhere.
  • I have chosen to not profile any Christian Hip Hop artists for one simple reason: I don’t like what I see and hear. I think there is some great hip hop being made by Christians which is conscience raising and socially engaged, but generally this isn’t the type of stuff I see in the Christian hip hop scene. ¬†I am willing to be educated on this point, but please don’t just tell me how much you like Lecrae or liked Gospel Gangstaz back in the day. Give me something current, beautiful and life altering.
  • I focused on artists currently working whom I appreciate. There are legends that I have not named here but without a doubt embody what is good in CCM. This is by no means exhaustive.

So without further ad0, let me give you my 10:

  1. Derek Webb– Founding member of Caedmon’s Call, singer, songwriter and self-described-agitator Derek Webb is one of the artists I think offering a prophetic challenge to both Christians and the wider culture. Consider his strong words about the judgmentalism which often characterizes Christian public discourse in What Matters More: ¬†
  2. GungorРMichael Gungor makes beautiful music. He and his group Gungor wed creativity, artistry and lyrical depth. Check out Ghosts Upon the Earth if you want a well constructed worship  experience (Michael shares vocals with his wife Lisa).  This song however, is a favorite in our house (the kids love it and love this video): 
  3. Sara Groves-Sara writes ¬†thoughtful and vulnerable music. ¬†I read an interview with her where she was talking about technology, Albert Borgman’s ‘focal practices,’ Eugene Peterson. The thoughtfulness she brings to her songwriting means that you get a lot of substance. She also is not afraid to be honest about her own struggles. I love that there is an artist at the center of the CCM ¬†creating songs with insight and honesty. ¬†Here is Sara performing Obsolete:¬†
  4. John Mark McMillanРMy favorite John Mark McMillan songs touch heartache, pain and anger  but also compel you to trust God more. Think of his How He Loves (also covered by the David Crowder Band). This is a song written after a painful experience (the loss of a friend) and his own personal grief and angst but it  compels you to trust the love of God.  Here is John with his poignant song, Murdered Son: 
  5. Christa Wells– In my earlier post I bemoaned the lack of lament in Christian music. Christa ¬†is the exception in that she’s written some of the most gutwrenchingly honest lyrics in Christian music (including Natalie Grant’s hit Held). ¬†I love ¬†How Emptiness Sings:¬†
  6. Phil Keaggy– For what is now decades anytime somebody criticizes the CCM industry for its lack of artistry and musicianship somebody brings up Phil Keaggy. Keaggy is recognized across the ¬†music industry as one of the world’s greatest guitarists. Releasing bothvocal and insturmental albums, Keaggy has also lent his amazing guitar work and songwriting to many artists in the industry. ¬†Here he is playing Salvation Army Band (worth watching just to see him play):
  7. Sandra McCracken– Derek Webb’s wife is fabulous folk infested artist ¬†and songwriter writing hymns and songs which are both beautiful and sensitive. Can’t say enough good things about her, Can’t Help Myself. ¬†
  8. Stuart Townend– Together With Keith and Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend stands at the forefront of the New Hymns movement. You know him as ¬†for modern hymns (with Getty) ¬†like In¬†Christ Alone, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, and Beautiful Savior . ¬†For decades the criticism sometimes leveled at contemporary worship music is that it is too subjective and not meaty enough. Townend’s response was not to join the throng of critics but ¬†to write new hymns which have deepened the worship of churches across the globe (despite a few problematic lyrics). Here is Townend singing Come People of the Risen King:¬†
  9. Switchfoot likely hates that I put them on my list of Christian artists (I hate myself for including them) with their crossover success. But they got their start at Sparrow records and write from a overt Christian perspective. I remember being impressed with them early on when I ¬†went through a stage bemoaning the vacuity of many Christian lyricists (I’ve never fully recovered). I ¬†ran head long into Sooner or Later (Soren’s Song), a song which ¬†references Soren Kierkegaard and wrestles with faith and doubt. They get my undying love for introducing their audience to the prophetic voice of John Perkins in Sound (John M. Perkins Blues):¬†
  10. Brian Houston– I discovered this artist 10 years ago because he was the opening act at a¬†Delirious¬†concert I went to. Hailing from Belfast and always hovering on the cusp of greatness, Brian writes music that can be classified variously as folk, folk rock, blues, rock, roots. His most recent album is the Gospel-ly infused Shelter (available on iTunes) and is worth purchasing. Check him out online (you ¬†won’t find him in your Christian book store). Note if you do a web search for him, you will invariably get a lot of hits for Sydney pastor Brian Houston. That Brian Houston does not get so high a recommendation from me. Here is a video of Brian (the musician not the pastor) performing Jesus Again:¬†
There are several artists I would add to the list, but I only promised 10. Feel free to share with me your favorites or offer your rebuttal!

The Good, Bad & Ugly- A Review of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Book, “Real Marriage

Real MarriageIn the Evangelical world, you would be hard-pressed to find a figure more polarizing than Mark Driscoll (except for maybe Rob Bell. Those crazy, Mars Hill Pastors!). Those of a more moderate or progressive bent, find Driscoll’s theology too narrow, judgmental and misogynistic; Many conservatives stand with Driscoll in his theological commitments, but find his bombastic style, insensitivity and general jerkiness, off-putting.

Personally, I have some fundamental disagreements with Driscoll and concerns with his approach. Chief among these is my commitment to Biblical Egalitarianism and I find some of his comments are damaging to women, based in antiquated gender stereotypes (generally post-industrial, pre-feminist stereotypes), and arrogant. And so when Thomas Nelson, was offering his book free in exchange for reviews, I opted in just to see where the man (and wife) go amiss in their discussion of marriage; however, I found that while I disagree with the Driscolls in important ways, much of what they had to say here, was thoughtful, balanced and helpful. So read on Driscoll fans, I promise not to smear his (ahem) good name, but nor will I let him off easy!

Real Marriage is divided into three parts. In Part 1, the Driscolls address what makes a good marriage, discussing the roles of both husband and wife, their mutual responsibility to one another and ways to nurture their relationship. In Part II, they turn their attention to sex/sexuality (this is the biggest section of the book). Part 3 of the book consists of a single chapter, addressing how to ‘reverse engineer your marriage’ which involves casting a vision for the type of marriage you want to end up with and making a plan to get there. Part 3, despite it’s brevity is quite good. Parts 1 and 2 are generally pretty good with some issues. As an outline for this review, I will explore the Good, the Bad & the Ugly (with apologies to Clint Eastwood). On to my fair and balanced review (Fox newsworthy):

The Good


For the most part, I liked this book and found myself liking Mark and Grace Driscoll a little more as I read. Mark and Grace shares vulnerablely about their relational and sexual past, their marital struggles and offers advice they personally found helpful in their own marriage together. I was pleasantly surprised that their section on marriage has a chapter which underscores mutuality (showing how a good marriage starts with a good friendship). They also have good things to say about the gift of sexuality and do not pull punches in addressing sinfulness (i.e. abuse, pornography, selfishness). Things are said carefully here; I doubt that Driscoll will feel the need to recant or apologize for anything written here (as he has humbly done on occasion when he’s shot his mouth off). Perhaps the addition of his wife, Grace, has made him more gracious in his presentation! The Driscolls dispense good advice about cultivating intimacy.

Also, while I hedge and differentiate my position from Driscoll, I respect his commitment to being Biblical in his approach. This is a commitment I share with the Driscolls and actually agree with them on good many things, though not without reservations and concerns.I am done talking about the good things. On to the bad!

The Bad

    Beyond my fundamental disagreement with the Driscolls the thing that is done badly in this book is exegesis. Mark Driscoll has a Master’s degree in exegetical theology and should be much better at this, but he’s not (and yes I am singling out Mark on this one). This book is arranged topically and so doesn’t explore any one text in-depth. Often Driscoll proof texts and occasionally just misuses passages. In the chapter entitled, “Can We ______?” Driscoll uses Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:12 as a taxonomy to apply to sexual questions (p.192): “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” From this, Driscoll proposes three questions: 1)Is it permissible? 2) Is it helpful? 3) Is it enslaving? (192).

    I agree that this can be a useful taxonomy in assessing particular issues, but Driscoll’s employment of it fails to account for the fact that Paul, in saying “All things are lawful for me” is quoting and rhetorically dismantling a Corinthian slogan. Someone with a master’s degree in Exegetical theology, ought to take more care here. Elsewhere he handles scripture better, such as his explication of the Song of Songs, but this book is really inconsistent in regards to the Bible.

    Take for instance how he handles ‘submission.’ Driscoll argues that it is the role of the husband to provide leadership to the household (and the church), it is the role of women to submit. They do balance this by addressing the limits of submission (women should not submit to abuse, or to commit a sin), but this is generally what they argue, for all cases regardless of personality, temperament and gifting of each spouse. The basis of their case comes from their reading of the Biblical household codes, particularly the one that we read of in Ephesians 5:21-33. Wives are told to submit (vs. 22) because the husbands are their head as Christ is the head of the church; Thus women submit, men lead.

    But this is a skewed picture of this passage. The section on women submitting (5:22-24) is bracketed by two verses which the Driscolls quote but fail to adequately expound. 5:21 says “Submit yourself to one another.” This sets this whole passage in the context of mutual submission (not just wives to husbands). In fact the word used for submit in this passage (ŠĹĎŌÄőŅŌĄőĪŌÉŌÉŌĆőľőĶőĹőŅőĻ), is said here, but not in verse 22, when Paul tells wives to submit. This reads literally “Submit yourselves one to another, wives to your husbands…” The context is mutual submission, not just wives to husbands.

    The second verse they fail to properly expound is verse 25: “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” They quote this and talk about the husband’s loving leadership, but not about what it means to love like the Jesus who laid his life down. The Driscolls and I can disagree on egalitarian/complementarian concerns, but they need to trumpet the mutuality and shared submission more than they do here.

    The Ugly

Finally, there is the ugly side of this book. The Driscoll’s spend a great deal of their section on sex, talking about sexual responsibility and what can couples do sexually. They give the green light to just about everything from anal sex, cyber-sex, mutual masturbation, roleplaying, etc. Pretty much their modus operandi is if the Bible doesn’t forbid it, and it doesn’t involve anyone else but husband and wife, go for it (yes, they also ask if it is helpful or enslaving). They did not, here say women or men had to perform certain sexual acts they feel uncomfortable with, but they do imply that within the context of marriage, you should be open to experimentation.

While I agree that sexuality is a gift to be celebrated within the context of marriage, and there is some freedom in how it can be expressed, I think the level of detail here is unnecessary and unhelpful. What you can do sexually in marriage is the wrong question if you ask me. I like the title of one of Marva Dawn’s books, Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy. I think the Driscoll’s fetish with what you can or can’t do sexually emphasizes technique, sometimes at the expense of intimacy. Healthy Christian sexuality is about mutually sharing, more than about experimentation.

Ugly-Driscoll