If you are new to Christian rock, please read this
post about the definition of Christian rock and some of the biggest questions about Christian music.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Christian Band vs. Christians in a Band – Why is This a Debate?

This debate has been going on for a long time.  Should a band be called a Christian band or is it okay for a group to simply call themselves Christians in a band?  Some bands take the debate a step farther and completely shy away from the Christian market.  Some even get offended if you call them Christian or label them as a Christian band.  When looking at this long standing debate, who’s right and who’s wrong?

I want to start this blog post by saying that neither side is completely right or completely wrong.  Both sides have their merits and both sides have their shortcomings.  I am not writing this blog to create another debate or argument.  I just feel like this is an important issue in Christian music.

Looking at the Christian world of today, I think we really have lost our focus.  We have turned our focus from God to focusing on our opinions, beliefs and labels.  Why is it so important to label a band Christian?  If today, people suddenly stopped calling the Newsboys or Thousand Foot Krutch or Hawk Nelson a Christian band, would that have any effect on their relationships with God?  It doesn't matter what name or label you put them under, the Newsboys are still going to be followers of Christ.

Bands shouldn’t be forced to call themselves Christian.  Before you call me a heretic, let me explain.  A Christian is a follower of Christ.  Can an entity such as a band follow Christ?  My answer is no.  The members of a band can definitely be Christian, but it’s impossible for an object or thing to be a Christian.  This part of the debate can stretch into all kinds of different territories.  Can a book be Christian?  Can my phone be a Christian?  Can a car be Christian?  Once again, my answer is no.  However, people who use those objects can be Christians.  It’s the same way with music.  I don’t think a band can necessarily be Christian, but members of the band can be followers of Christ.  Some bands are very open about their faith through interviews, lyrics and live shows, while others simply want to perform music on their own terms.  I would say neither type of band is right or wrong.  They are simply two types of groups expressing their art and faith to the world. 

When we label a band as being Christian, we also forget that most of the time, their music is their career.  Musicians are getting paid to write and record music.  It’s their job to be a musician.  Bands almost depend solely on their fans for support.  If fans do not support a band, the group will likely split up very fast.  In today’s music industry, the label of being a Christian band carries a stigma.  It’s very tough for an openly Christian musician to be successful in the secular market.  It’s not impossible, but it is tough.  I know success and fame should never be our goal in life, but musicians support themselves and their families through their music.  Sometimes, bands choose to play in the secular market because of money and finances.  Other times, they simply want to sing about more than just their faith.  Christians who are in secular bands are not forsaking God or turning their back on Christianity, they are simply trying to make a living with music. 

Plus, the music industry is really the only industry where we base a person’s career on their religious beliefs.  I am a Christian.  I am proud to be a follower of Christ.  Yet, when people ask me about my job, I don’t tell them I am a Christian writer or that I am a Christian broadcast technician.  I tell them that I am simply a writer and that I am a broadcast technician at a radio station.  Same thing goes for other jobs.  Do we label a Christian who is a professor, plumber, mechanic, doctor, etc. as being a Christian professor, Christian plumber, Christian mechanic or Christian doctor?  The short answer is no.  My question is, “Why is music so special in that we feel the need to label a band as Christian or secular?” 

Many times, Christians argue and debate so much that we forget one vital detail: the Bible.  We get angry and spew out our opinions and thoughts on different issues before we even stop to consider what the Bible has to say.  In scripture, God calls us to live a holy life (1 Thessolonians 4:7).  He doesn’t call us to label ourselves Christians.  In and of themselves, labels are meaningless.  A label doesn’t make me a Christian; my belief in Jesus Christ makes me a Christian.  Our goal shouldn’t be fulfilling a label of Christianity.  Instead, our focus should be living holy lives before God.  Jesus was the prime example.  When Jesus preached or when He performed miracles, He didn’t say, “Before I begin, I need to tell everyone something.  I am a Christian, and I want to be labeled as a Christian.”  Jesus didn’t say that, nor did He need that label.  Jesus reached people through His words and lifestyle, not under the pretense of a name or label.

I truly believe everyone is unique in how they choose to minister to people.  Some are very open about their faith.  Others let their actions do the talking.  Some accept the call into ministry.  Every Christian is different in how they share their faith with the world.  For me, I love bands that openly share their faith and are not afraid to call themselves a Christian or their music Christian.  I have a lot of respect for people who unashamedly preach the gospel through music.  If you want to label your band as Christian, go for it!  I will proudly stand behind you and support your music ministry.  On the other hand, if you believe in Christ and want to play secular music, that’s awesome too.  Play secular music to the best of your ability.  

As Christians, we should stay away from focusing all of our attention on putting a Christian label on everything, and instead put all of our focus into living in the truth and grace of Christ.  Jesus is not a label.  Christianity is not a label.  Christianity is not a band.  Christianity is a lifestyle.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dove Awards 2012 Part 2

Each year, the Gospel Music Association aims to honor Christian musicians for their talent and achievement.  The Dove Awards cover all the major Christian genres, including: rock, pop, gospel, country, hip hop and worship.

For this post, I want to talk about the nominees in the categories of Rock Album of the Year and Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year.  If you missed Part 1, where I cover the nominees for Rock Song of the Year, you can check it out here. For each of the nominees, I listed the album title and the name of the group.

Rock Album of the Year

Control by Abandon
Until We Have Faces by Red
Vice Verses by Switchfoot
What I've Become by Ashes Remain
With Shivering Hearts We Wait by Blindside

It was no surprise that the Dove Awards included the rock heavyweights of Red and Switchfoot in this category.  Both artists were very successful this past year with their new albums.  One of the biggest bright spots of last year was the return of Blindside.  However, I was a little shocked to see them receive a nomination.  They deserve to be recognized for their latest project, but their style of music is not usually Dove Awards material.  I was happy for their inclusion, but just a little surprised.  Two of the smaller groups, Abandon and Ashes Remain, also picked up nominations.  Both groups are fairly new in the music industry, and picked up a lot of steam last year with their latest albums. 

This category is fairly strong, but there were a couple of snubs.  As I said in Part 1 of my coverage of the Dove Awards, Icon For Hire should have received a nomination.  Not only was their debut very strong, but they set sales records for new bands on Tooth and Nail.  I know a lot of critics weren’t as fond of their new album as some of their previous work, but FM Static deserved a nomination for My Brain Says Stop, But My Heart Says Go.  By changing up their sound and adding some serious themes to the lyrics, FM Static’s new album was very impressive.

This leads me to the questions of, “Who should win, and who will win?”  I would like to see either Ashes Remain or Blindside pull out this award.  For a debut album, I thought What I’ve Become by Ashes Remain was exceptional.  Their lyrics were very strong, vocals fit perfectly, and the rock radio sound was solid.  On the other hand, 2011 was a great year because of the return of Blindside.  Even though With Shivering Hearts We Wait was not as good of an album as I had hoped for, it was still a solid addition to their music collection.  I would love to see Ashes Remain or Blindside pick up this award.

The bigger question is, “Who will win?”  I think this category is all but wrapped up.  I would be shocked to see anyone besides Red or Switchfoot win this award.  Both Red and Switchfoot have been very successful in the past at the Dove Awards.  I think it will be a very close competition, but Switchfoot will narrowly win in this category.

Here are the nominees for the Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year.

Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year

Ad Astra Per Aspera by Abandon Kansas
Come Home by Luminate
Crazy Love by Hawk Nelson
Mountains Move by Kristian Stanfill
The Reckoning by NEEDTOBREATHE

Just like the earlier nominees, two bands stick out as the frontrunners.  Hawk Nelson and NEEDTOBREATHE are the two heavy hitters in this category.  The other three artists are fairly new and to a point, relatively unknown.  Abandon Kansas has been around the independent scene for a few years, but they’ve only been a part of Gotee Records for two full length albums.  Luminate’s record, Come Home, is technically their debut full length, but they have released a couple of independent EPs.  As much as I love the music of Kristian Stanfill, I was surprised to see him make this list.  I would categorize Stanfill’s music more in the line of worship than rock. 

Once again, there were a couple of snubs.  Just like the Rock/Contemporary Song of the Year category, I wish Peter Furler received a nomination.  On Fire proved that Furler is one of the forerunners in Christian music today.  A second snub was Love Riot by Worth Dying For.  By blending together rock and worship, Love Riot was easily my favorite record of 2011.

I would love to see Hawk Nelson pull this award out.  They haven’t had much success in the past at the Dove Awards.  With the release of arguably their best album to date, I believe Hawk Nelson should win for their release of Crazy Love.  However, I think NEEDTOBREATHE has this category locked up.  Besides Hawk Nelson, I really don’t foresee any of the other bands giving this southern rock group competition.   

The 43rd annual Dove Awards will be presented on April 19, and televised nationally on GMC TV on April 24 at 8 p.m. EST.