Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"More and more I believe that the CCM world is absolutely based on a lie."

Andy Whitman discusses his view on contemporary Christian music (CCM). The first paragraph:
The CCM industry, like every other industry, exists to make money. We can put a noble face on it and talk about the Christian witness provided in the music, but historically those Christian musicians whose witness hasn't led to increased album sales don't get the chance to keep on witnessing via recorded music. The bottom line is and always has been this: witness all you like, and be as artistic as you like, as long as you make money.


  1. I'm going to assume two things about the Whitman quote: (1) it represents the rest of the article, and (2) he's serious.

    As a guy who works in the Christian retail industry at both ends of the table (supplier and retailer), I get mostly worked up when people inside the industry start to complain that it turns our we're an industry and not a missionary outpost. Listen: if you want to be a music minister, go get a position at a church and minister. There's no harm in that, and there's no stigma in that -- unless ...

    ... see: there's the rub -- unless you think of ministry at the local church as lower on the spiritual food chain than being Darlene Zschech or Third Day. One of the underlying assumptions of Whitman's complaint is that you have a smaller stage if you minister to the local church only and that must be bad.

    There's also the problem of "industry": at the end of the day, Provident can't hold a business meeting with the North American church and pass the hat to keep the doors open. It has to sell music to keep the doors open.

    Now: does that mean that Provident (as an example, not as the head rule-breaker) should distribute all kinds of music all over the spectrum which ranges from hymn-like doctrinal concordance to Chris Rice (who is a nice guy, but most of his songs could be written by James Taylor or even Sonny & Cher)?

    For CCM to exist at all, they have to make money. Twenty years aago, Christian music was artistically a joke even if it was more doctrinally pure; today it is much more conventionally artistic, but it's doctrine? pheh! Which is better?

    Neither is better -- let's be honest. But in saying neither is better, we as consumers have to be the ones who vote with our money. If we reject doctrinally-vacant music (and I'm not Steve Camp, so I'm not naming any more names) for doctrinally-vibrant music, that's what's going to get produced.

    But the lynch pin in this is the local church: is doctrine is dead in the local church, we can't expect EMI or Word to stand on the hill and say, "This way to the promised land!" They are going to sell what the local church buys. Period.

  2. Yeah--in an effort to be profound, this guy hasn't thought things through all the way. Is Zondervan publishing based on a malicious platform because they publish "christian" material _and_ make money? What about Christian travel agencies that book tours of the holy land?

    The problems start with this statement--and I'll comment as we go:

    Certain concepts are intrinsic to the operation of the CCM industry, namely that Christian music is a ministry,

    Yeah--let's make sure that's dispelled. Companies do exist to make money. Christian radio stations sell advertising, for example. Slapping a "christian" label on something does not preclude it's ability to compete with a business model that allows it to survive.

    and Christian musicians are ministers (in the church leadership sense)

    No. Some, maybe, but the real smart ones--I mean the ones who desire to minister in the church-- avoid being signed all together. Once signed, the label can take much more control about where the artist goes and "ministers" and this is usually at the expense of the many smaller congregations scattered around the country who could go NUTS to have an artist come to their church. Problem is, their venue is too small, so the label sees a loss. This isn't anybody's fault, it's just a reality of the business. If an artist commits to a label, they know what the consequences (good and bad) will be.

    who are accorded the same privileges and responsibilities as pastors.

    And we cannot blame the artists for this. This is brought to bare by others who bring these kinds of presumptions to the table.

    In a broader stroke, let's assume that a Christian artist (CCM artist) is a Christian. What does THAT mean? It means that they can sing about anything they want. Just like I can play jazz piano in a club. Just like a (Christian) doctor can practice in a hospital. He doesn't have to go to a "Christian" hospital to work, he just needs to be a Christian doctor where ever he is. He isn't less of a Christian because he doesn't use his gifts on a mission field. The one place that could use Christian artists/musicians is the music industry. The reason Christian artists can sing about or write about anything they want is because that is the reality of life. We don't go through life without some interaction with the "secular." So why should it be ignored in the music?

    The point is that CCM artists can sing about God, about biblical things, or they can sing about how they felt when they broke up with their love, or how their car broke down--the difference is their world view--their perspective on life, their view of broader heavenly context.

    So--what am I saying--I don't know it's late and I need to go to bed. In a nutshell:

    CCM labels are in it for the money: duh.
    CCM artist=ministers: no--not in the same way a called pastor is--not all the time.
    CCM can be about anything and fall under the umbrella of "kingdom perspective" and not be inappropriate.

    For more on this read Charlie Peacock's At the Crossroads: Inside the Past, Present, and Future of Contemporary Christian Music.