Church Music Theology

What Would Becky Do?


Michael Gungor has an interesting piece on the pitfalls of labelling music as ‘christian’ and typecasting that’s worth taking a look at. Here’s a few choice quotes

As far as I am aware, there is no Christian automobile industry, no Christian mathematics industry, and no Christian airline industry. Most people would probably find it odd if someone tried to start such an industry. Would painting a big red Jesus on the hood of a car make it a Christian car? Would a pizza with dove-shaped pepperonis or cross-shaped sausages be a Christian pizza?


No other music is categorized by the content of its lyrics. There is no Buddhist or Atheist section of a record store. There is not a “gay” section or a “money” section. The only exception is Christian music


The Sufjan Stevens’ song “O God, Where Are You Now?” was labeled as Alternative when Sufjan recorded it, but when David Crowder Band recorded it, the same song became “Christian.” What’s even weirder is that Sufjan Stevens is a Christian.


Three major labels represent over eighty percent of the market’s music: Universal, Sony, and Warner. These labels own most of the other significant labels in the world, including the Christian ones. Pretty much everybody in the music industry ultimately works for the same people. Whether you buy a Michael W. Smith album or a Marilyn Manson album, you are still paying the same small group of executives at the top of the food chain. So does being in Christian music simply mean that you are signed to one of the “Christian” marketing arms of the big three labels?
A Christian music executive at one of the big labels recently told me that the entire demographic that buys Christian music is only about two million people. Two billion people in the world consider themselves Christians. So only about 0.1% of people who consider themselves Christians buy Christian music.


Christian music is not marketed to Christians so much as it is marketed to a very narrow subculture of a certain type of Christian. For years, Christian music marketers and radio programmers have known who their target demographic is. They actually have personified this target demographic, and her name is “Becky.”

One station programmer told me that Becky is a forty-two-year-old soccer mom. She has three kids and she has been married twice. She is an evangelical Christian, but not a radical who watches Christian television or goes to church three times a week. They know the movies she watches and how she spends her money. She is the one who runs her household, the one with her finger on the radio knob, and she wants something positive to play in the minivan as she drives her kids to soccer practice.

Becky is the quintessential Christian radio listener.

Read more here

Fun Theology

The Eglon Song Breaks China

A friend who’s a long time fan of The Eglon Song told me his brother had just preached a sermon in China and played the congregation this song. He said they liked it. I can only assume his subject was either Judges chapter 3 or the terrible state of christian music in the UK.

Either way it prompted me to dig out this old video version I recorded when I just moved into Shabby Road and was learning how to use iMovie. Enjoy.

And if you’d like to download the mp3chord sheets or read the ‘behind the song’ post just click on the links


Songwriting Theology

Can I Be Honest?


David and Jesus and I make three
Singing “Oh my God, why have you forsaken me’
They got happy endings as you might expect
But I’m stuck here between the now and the not-yet

I posted my most recent new song last week, Fingernails, which is the kind of “no punches pulled” song that I’ve been trying to write since I came up with I Got Lost last Feb. A friend was kind enough to email me saying

“I respect your courage in writing emotionally complex songs about faith. A lot of the Christian music that’s found its way to my ears over the years has been really dead-simple and unquestioning, and it rings false—but I clearly hear a human voice and a mind at work in this one. I hear conflict and complexity”.

Not to toot my own horn but it made me reflect on the irony that the Psalms is full of a gut-wrenching emotional honesty that contemporary Christian music seems largely devoid of. I’ve had nearly 18 months of working through a kind of self censorship ‘you can’t say THAT in a song’ that I must have just breathed in from the Christian sub culture.

In another song that is less personal – Everything Is Broken, I wrote about all the brokenness due to the fall we see in nature, relationships, governments – everything. The final verse ends

I start to understand as he breaks the bread
Red wine burning deep into my chest
You said “This is my body”
And your body just like everything was…broken

and with the ray of hope that God does not stand outside our pain but is intimately involved and shares our suffering the song switches to the major key for the first time. But I felt at the time the pressure to tie everything up with a neat bow. To explain how God will wipe away every tear, make sense of it all, provide answers, bring redemption.

But life isn’t like that in the here and now. It takes the Bible over a thousand pages to get to ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. A good preacher can lay it all out in 30 minutes. Why do we expect every three minute pop song to cram in everything that needs to be said?

What do you think?

Theology Worship Leading

Where Should Worship Start?

As we gather people on a Sunday morning whose heads are buzzing with all kinds of different things and together begin to focus our thoughts, where should we be pointing them?
Mark Driscoll is of the opinion that repentance should preceed worship, clearing the decks, because he says, “that’s where the gospel starts.” So Mars Hill services have preaching & communion before the main time of sung worship. The view is that people need to sort out stuff before they draw near to the Holy God, and often they have a lot of stuff. This can lead to dour worship times (though if your city is as legendary as Seattle for rain and coffee you may have more excuse). Once you’ve been down in the slough of despond it’s kind of hard to “get your praise on”.
I’m not arguing that there’s anything sacred about having the singing first & I’m all for mixing things up, but I think we should start by focussing on God first rather than our sin, whether that’s through a God saturated sermon or a time of singing.
In the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ (Matt. 6:9-13) Jesus taught the disciples to pray (which is, after all, a non singing way of approaching God) starting with God – his person, his deeds, his agenda (vv.9-10) and their relationship with him (‘Our Father’). Then he taught them to go onto their needs (v.11a) and only after that to pray in repentance (v.11b). Repentance is the last thing on the list apart from prayer for protection.
One might say that even the gospel doesn’t start with repentance – it starts with God. After all, most gospel presentations mention God making man for relationship with him before moving on to the fall, lest someone should infer that God created us sinful.
Gen 3 may details man’s fall, but where that chapter starts 
“now the serpent…”

Gen 1 starts
“In the beginning God…”

Man doesn’t even exist yet, let alone his sin. Surely that should be our starting point in worship, with God in glorious close up and ourselves barely in the picture.

What do YOU think?


Bench Press This!

Hey You!

Would you like to read Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology but just don’t have the time/perseverance/upper body strength?

Have I got news for you!

You can download a complete set of lectures by the Gruster from Christian Essentials covering every chapter of his massive tome, for the one time special price of FREE!


Let joy be unrestrained and let there be frolicking in the highways and byways. Sing along now: “Why this man is thematic, he’s charismatic, he’s systematic…”
Related Posts: The old is better

Blue Fish Project saw it first
Songwriting Theology

A songwriter’s motivation

(Update: This post seems to have resonated with quite a few people.
Thanks to Dave@Blue Fish Project, Matthew @ Audience Of One & Ben Green @ ‘…’ for the quotes, links & tweets!)

A note from my diary (21/12/07)

It’s no light thing singing doctrinally accurate & ‘sharp-edged’ songs. I am singing & writing the very truths that got my brothers like Athanasius exiled or killed.

I must not cheapen their memory & the freedom they won by putting trivia in the mouths of God’s people.

Nobody was ever burnt at the stake for saying “God is nice & He likes you”

Related Posts: The five vegetables you meet in heaven
Is that not the gospel?

Theology Worship Leading

Stef Liston on Charismatic Worship

Stef Liston recently gave an excellent talk on Charismatic worship at a recent CCK worship school. Stef has been part of a charismatic church since the days when there were “more tambourines than people” and knows his stuff.
He covers things like:

  • Why having one worship leader is a bad idea
  • How worship leaders need to stop strumming
  • Don’t set the standard for contributions too high for 90% of the people. Encourage them to pick a psalm to read and work out where they’re going to stop.
  • Don’t sing too many ‘Old Covenant’ songs (i.e. songs without any reference to Christ’s Life and death – Moses could have sung them!)
  • How to avoid “the usual suspects” contributing all the time
  • Try having a set list of one song maximum!
  • And why checking all contributions through an elder is a bad idea.

By way of a recommendation, we have practiced many of things Stef is advocating at Grace Church  for the last seven years. Even now, with a morning congregation of 250, we plan 2 songs max. For many years it was 1 (or none). All prayers, prophecies, songs come from ‘the floor’ assisted by about 10 ceiling mounted mikes. When people speak, we generally stop strumming. This may interrupt the musical flow, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to mind!

Download the audio here. (Don’t miss the separate Q&A session)

Related Posts: Terry Virgo on Spirit-led worship
Sermon download: Understanding & handling spiritual gifts


The Five Vegetables You Meet In Heaven…



The Tomato has a plank in his eye.
The last few years have witnessed an unfortunate trend. ‘Praise & Worship’ has become ‘hip’ and therefore ‘profitable’. 
There’s money to be made ‘in them thar hills(ongs)’. 

So what we’ve seen is many artists hitching a ride on the worship gravy train. One of the weirdest is Veggie Tales.

Now I love the little edible sunday school teachers when they’re singing about Water Buffaloes, Pirates and Cheeseburgers but, like the guys who object to ‘christian’ puppets testifying that Jesus Christ had washed away their sins, hearing an asparagus praise his saviour in a deliberately out of key comedy way is, for me, a step too far.  But that’s not the most surreal part.
In the song ‘Here I am To Worship’ the veggies duet with Natalie Grant. But they replace the line 

“hope of a life spent with you”
with a line taken from the other verse   

“all for love’s sake became poor”
Now, admittedly, it’s a weak line and theologically vague, but who in the great corporate salad bowl that is Big Idea Ltd is so scrupulous about doctrinal orthodoxy and yet happy for the song to be covered by a bunch of comedy food?

Each VT installment has some kind of life lesson to take away. This little episode has two.
For those who value Biblical worship and doctrinal purity-
It’s possible to be faithful to the message and still belittle God in the way you deliver the message.
And for those who don’t-
Do you really want to be less orthodox than a bunch of money-grabbing vegetables?
Free Words Theology

Understanding & Handling Spiritual Gifts

Last Sunday I had the privilege of preaching from 1 Corinthians 14 at my home church on understanding and handling spiritual gifts.

My focus was on what spiritual gifts are for, how they should operate in a public meeting and clearing up some particular misconceptions around prophecy and tongues such as –

The fear of uninterpreted tongues
Is Paul forbidding the whole church singing or praying out in tongues?
How do you know your prophecy is from God?
Should we speak in tongues if unbelievers are present?

You can download the free mp3 from the Grace Church ‘Church and the City’ page

Related Posts: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Three Sermons)
Free Words Theology

The Gifts Of The Holy Spirit – Three Sermons

Well you wait all year for a sermon on Spiritual Gifts and then three come along at once. 
All three come at the subject from a different angle. I’ll try to post more about the content soon, but for now here are the links…
Adrian Warnock The Gifts Of The Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12)
Stef Liston: Charismatic Worship (1 Corinthian 14:26) 
Stef Liston: Q&A
Matt Blick: Understanding & Handling Spiritual Gifts (1 Corinthians 14)