You may think my 10 year-old son is moderately tone-deaf when you listen to him sing, but he only rivals his father in our household when it comes to being a music lover. His interests are not broad, but laser-focused on one genre: Christian rap.
What white boy in a Christian home in middle Tennessee isn’t a Christian rap fan? I once asked Lecrae on Twitter if he knew many of his fans were 35 year-old white men, and he promptly (and publicly) replied, “I know.” It’s a true story that reveals just where my son gets his current passion for pop Christian music. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
But his two current favorites are not Lecrae’s. Instead, he loves to “crank it like a chainsaw” with Family Force Five, and “keep his eye on it” with Toby Mac.
Few songs are as mindless as “Chainsaw.” It’s lyrically and visually absurd, even to this previous summer camp staffer in charge of playing this genre every morning at camp and former youth pastor who relied on these things to generate enthusiasm at special events. But honestly, I really like this song! It’s just pure FUN, and it brings my son and I together in ways that no one else in the house appreciates (well, maybe my toddler daughter, but she loves everything loud).
In some ways, “Eye On It” is even more disappointing. Lyrically, it is one trite platitude after another (I set my eyes to the west; Walkin’ away from it all; Reachin’ for what lies ahead; I got my eye on it; I see my sweat hit the ground; I put my foot in the block; This is the race of my life; And I can’t wait for this shot). Yet it does manage to make a vague reference to Philippians 3:14, but only those familiar with Paul’s pen would pick up on it. But again, my son has all but memorized the song and jumps around the house like a fiend if given the freedom, so I’m grateful for this enthusiasm and give a nod to Toby Mac for creating beats, rhythms, and rhymes that resonate with the souls of many. Hey—it gave me a chance tell my boy about Philippians 3, so it’s not all bad.
But what if all that ever came of my son’s spirituality was what Toby Mac and Family Force Five gave him? What if his faith was at the mercy of mainstream Christian media? What if my son lived perpetually in the world of pop Christianity? What if his understanding of perseverance in the faith was nothing more than “gotta keep my eye on what matters“? What if, in need of hope and inspiration to work through a difficult situation, he could only tell himself, “Now hear me roar; I’m an apex predator; From the sycamores; Let’s get skeletor“?
I think the answer to that question is obvious. A faith as thin as the lyrics of these songs is easily shattered. Pop Christianity is not Christianity. It’s not that these types of music don’t have their place. I think my appreciation for them has been adequately stated. But to live in them and depend upon them, even in middle school and high school, is a treacherous way to live the faith. But let’s let the Bible speak for itself on this issue.
Jesus warns us against putting stock in trite Christian behavior. Matthew 7:21-23—“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast outdemons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Jesus is not impressed if we have “beats so sharp they call us Jaws.” He cares that He knows us.
Jesus beckons us to something deeper. John 15:1-4—“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” I’m not suggesting no fruit comes of listening to pop Christian music, but just how far can it go in even helping us produce the fruit Jesus can produce in us?
Heaven’s music is far richer. Revelation 7:9-12—“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” Apparently, eternity in the presence of God is a little deeper than “Fresh flannel shirt, country bumpkin; Lumberjack your moves, a.k.a. Paul Bunyan.”
I hope I’m not coming across as prude. I listened to Family Force Five and Lecrae with the boys recently as I drove them to an event at church (and I’m fairly confident they wouldn’t hear this music where we go to church). But when I consider Jesus’ warnings, Jesus’ call, and what awaits us in heaven, I’m encouraged to push my boys toward lyrics that are more substantive … more gospel-centered … more God-centered … more explicit and challenging so that they can heed Jesus’ warnings and answer His call.
Rob Tims has been married to Holly for nearly 15 years. They have four children: Trey (10), Jonathan (9), Abby (1), and Luke (born April 10). He has served in the local church for 20 years as a children’s pastor, student pastor, and senior pastor. He currently serves on a team at Lifeway Christian Resources that develops customized Bible studies for groups and teaches two classes for Liberty University School of Divinity Online. He is the author of the book Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt.