Last week I reviewed mewithoutYou’s new album, Ten Stories. As I wrote the review I thought about the idea of “Christian Music.” This is something that I’ve been wrestling with for a while. For some Christians, they only listen to “Christian Music” and deem it a sign of impiety to do otherwise. I imagine this is a minority view among evangelicals, but it’s still prevalent. I want to say much more about whether the nomenclature “Christian Music” is appropriate and to situate that within a discussion on the arts generally. But today I will do something slightly different, though I intend for it to set up a future discussion on this issue at a later date.
When I was home in Las Vegas a few weeks back I heard a couple songs on the local Christian radio station that irked me. I’ve heard them before, but this time I attended to them, and really thought about their meaning. At my home the radio is always on, no matter the time of day. We just never turn it off. In all of our family cars, the preset radio stations are all Christian. That is all well and good, but how much of the music that comes out of these radio stations is actually “Christian”?
Here’s the problem: far too many songs on Christian radio are about “going to Heaven.” Now you might think, but that’s a wonderful thing to sing about! Yet I find it problematic for three reasons.
1) It has the potential to condition Christians to disengage. This lack of engagement could be from any number of things: ethics, political involvements, green initiatives, education, etc… An example of this is from the band Far From Home (FFH) in their song, “Fly Away.” The song begins, “Okay, you win. You caught me daydreaming again, about our sudden evacuation.” Of course, this song is about the “rapture.” As the song demonstrates, the singer is preoccupied with future escapism, singing, “Curiosity has got ahold of me, tell me how its going to be,” and stating, “Don’t ask me why, I keep starring at the sky. It’s just I’m lost in anticipation.” The whole song is about that day when we “Fly Away.”
2) It is simply Unbiblical. Humans were created for this planet. God intended for us to reign over creation on his behalf (Gen 1.26-28) and this is the goal of creation, what all of history is working towards (Rev 21-22). In his new book, How God Became King, N. T. Wright speaks about ‘getting to heaven’ in ancient perspective. He states,
The ancient Jews were creational monotheists. For them, God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay (page 45).
It is true that we await a Savior from heaven (Phil 3.19-20), but he comes to us (Rev 19). It is true that Heaven is a real place where God dwells, but heaven comes to us (Rev 21.1-3). The locus of salvation history and all future history is right here. So get comfortable. God’s got a lot of business left to do with this place.
3) This notion has more in common with Gnosticism than orthodox Christianity.
The most problematic thing about much of Christian music is that it is full of Gnostic hope. This is especially articulated through the multiple ways that the idea of “going home” is expressed in “Christian Music.” This sounds far too similar to Gnosticism (and in this regard — in terms of finding where one truly came from — it is more in line with Mormonism, Scientology, etc…). Gnostics believe that the physical realm is inherently evil. Similar to Platonic thought, Gnosticism teaches that the physical body is like a prison cell of the soul. Thus, there is a strong sense that one wants to ‘get back’ to God: to find their ‘home.’ As an example, Building 429 sings in their song, Give Me Jesus, “All I know is I’m not home yet, this is not where I belong, take this World and Give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.” As I think about this line, I simply can’t believe that Christians are singing about exchanging the Earth for Jesus! Jesus is the one who is reigning over this planet and intends to rule upon it for endless ages (Rev 22.5). The problem is not with the Earth. The problem is sin, something alien to God’s good creation. Instead we should sing about how our home has been burglarized and ravished.
Interestingly, there are modern Gnostics still around today. So I stumbled upon a collection of Gnostic ‘worship songs’ and read through the lyrics and listened to the recorded mp3s to see if I’d find similar themes as the so-called “Christian” songs that are played all over the radio.
In the Gnostic worship song, Why Do Mortals Exist? (Mar Samuel/Robert Lloyd), the song begins: “Why do mortals exist? What is our destiny? From what place do we come? How did we get trapped here?” Then the song encourages the listener that “these questions come from Christ, presented to our minds, to open us to truth, the quest of all mankind.” In Our Homeland Is in Heaven (Robert Lloyd), it is declared, “Our Homeland Is in Heaven, the home we are waiting for.” In Son of Eloheim (Robert Lloyd), it says, “Where did we come from? When did we descend into darkness? As strangers we wander, we seek the Gate of our luminous home.” Similarly, the Gnostic song, Wonder (Robert Lloyd), asks:
Wonder who I am? Wonder am I of the Gods? Wonder where our home is? Wonder if I’ll return to the stars? Wonder why I came here? Wonder why my Parents sent me? Wonder when I’ll die? Wonder how I’ll find my way back home?
May we cease to long for a Gnostic hope and see the biblical vision of new creation!
“Going to Heaven when I die” has become a prominent hope in evangelicalism, especially in America. This can be seen in much of contemporary Christian worship songs. Sadly, this is the same hope of modern Gnostics. Our hope is in the God of the cosmos who desires to redeem all things. Christians are not called to escape, but to reclaim.