The bad about Christian radio

Still here, just writing.

In the meantime, “What’s so bad about Christian radio.” Some good excerpts:

His blog was titled Christian Music Radio Is More Theological Than You Think. I don’t have any doubt that it’s theological. If you’re opening your mouth and talking about God, you are being theological. The problem is, if it’s not grounded in biblical historical orthodoxy, it’s probably pretty bad. I agree with Wax that it’s not fair to say Christian radio has nothing theologically substantive to offer. But I disagree that it’s more than “little.”

Still, I will concede that listening to K-Love is much better for a person’s brain than listening to secular Top 40 or even a country music station. That doesn’t excuse the fact that K-Love would flunk out of any theology course higher than a flannel-board level Sunday school class and needs a major overhaul. More specifically, Christian radio needs reformation. It’s dipped in Osteen, Warren, and Meyer’s theology and savors nothing anywhere as lasting or as flavorful as Piper, MacArthur, or Sproul’s.

Basically, it’s watered down gospel.

Like most radio and television programming, Christian radio caters to a specific demographic, and that demographic is women between the ages of 20 and 50 (give or take). Whether or not Christian radio is doing it on purpose, that demographic is also mostly white.

It gets way more specific than that: this target woman lives in suburbia in a house with a mortgage, drives a mini-van, has three kids, a dog and a cat, a husband who works full-time, she also works but it’s probably part-time, has a household income between $55 and $70K, vacations in July, doesn’t have enough time to read her Bible but she has enough time to journal, loves Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, and goes to church about 3 times a month. This woman even has a name — Becky.

Some radio stations will put up a mock picture of this woman in the studio, and the DJs are told to look at it and know that’s who they’re talking to. I’ve attended seminars where this was the whole focus of each session: Becky, Becky, Becky. The entire radio station is programmed for her — not her husband and not her kids. Giving glory to God is incidental, or it’s presented like this: “By reaching Becky, you’re giving glory to God.” Becky’s name is mentioned more often at these conferences than God’s name is.

The key is to reach the wife of a family, probably since she’s more likely to turn on the radio to something ‘Christian.’

Why do so many of the songs sound alike?

Because radio is about producing the least number of negatives. Technically a radio station is not actually trying to give you something that you like. They’re trying to give you something you don’t dislike. As long as they can remain as even as possible without too much variation or fluctuation, they’re more likely to keep you on their radio station and not flipping to something else.

When the radio station maintains a continuous blend of sound, it just kind of melts into the background and you become oblivious that you’re still listening to it. You know how when you drive the same route to work every day, sometimes entire stretches of the trip will go by, and you’ll wonder where those miles went? Listening to the radio is kind of like that.

If your listening experience were to change drastically — like a loud up-tempo song were to be followed by a soft, slow song, for example — you come out of your trance, realize that something has changed, and so cognitively you’re more likely to want to change as well and will turn the radio station to something else.

The key is for you to keep it on in the background. Because they’re listener supported.

Why do certain aspects of Christian theology get overlooked?

Again, lyrics aren’t as important as how catchy the song is. Another reason deep songs get hardly any airplay is that they make a person think. Remember, we don’t want a listener to think too much or they might change the station. A thought-provoking song also runs a higher risk of making a person disagree with what the artist is saying. That means, oohh, it might offend someone, and we just can’t have that. The more widely appealing the song lyrics are, the better.

K-Love’s sugar slogan is “Positive, encouraging,” and they try as hard as they can to fulfill that mission statement. My dad started a Christian radio station in the 70s whose slogan was “Making Him Known.” That’s not K-Love’s primary objective. It’s not to preach Christ and share the gospel; it’s just to be positive and encouraging. Their version of God is always positive and encouraging — hence why their DJs avoid references to hell, and would rather talk about the Loch Ness Monster than sin and repentance and how Christ saves us from the wrath of God (John 3:36).

Contemporary Christian radio does not exist to teach. It exists to entertain with Christian-themed content. I’m sure there are people who work at K-Love or the Fish or Way-FM who care about people. But if they were truly genuine, they would know the gospel well and they would share it. They have the perfect opportunity to do it. But they don’t.

I’ve said for years Christian radio doesn’t care about teaching. The response I often heard was, “It’s not the job of Christian radio to teach people. That’s the job of the church!” You’re right, it is the job of the church. It’s also the job of Christian radio. Very plainly, Colossians 3:16 instructs, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

When it comes down to it, the problems in Christian radio are the result of the problems in the church. Why is it that Christian radio eschews sound doctrine and is driven by demographics and marketing strategies? Because many churches are that way. Until the church abandons this approach to ministry and becomes committed to sound doctrine, eating and serving the meat of God’s word, Christian radio will continue to be Little Debbie (Little Becky?) and glass-of-milk theology.

When Rick Warren started Saddleback Church, he said he went door-to-door and asked everyone what they wanted in a church. He didn’t share the gospel with them — he asked them what they wanted their church to be like. Many other churches have followed that course, eating up the strategies of the “Purpose Driven Church.”

This approach to ministry is not “gospel driven,” which focuses entirely on Christ; it’s “Purpose Driven” which focuses entirely on the consumer. Likewise, Christian radio is full of consumer-focused slogans like “Positive, Encouraging” or “Safe for the Whole Family” or “Uplifting, Upbeat, Real.”

Consumer and marketing strategies > gospel.

Anyway, the rest of it is a great analysis of why Christian radio is the way it is. Check it out.

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25 Responses to The bad about Christian radio

  1. Yes, such good points! I’ve mostly stopped listening to our local Christian radio station, as some of the theology I heard advocated is downright harmful. I still put it on occasionally, when my kids aren’t in ear-shot.

    I wrote a post last year about some of the specific songs I heard on there a lot: https://seriouslyservingthesaviour.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/bro-do-you-even-read/

  2. feeriker says:

    This approach to ministry is not “gospel driven,” which focuses entirely on Christ; it’s “Purpose Driven” which focuses entirely on the consumer. Likewise, Christian radio is full of consumer-focused slogans like “Positive, Encouraging” or “Safe for the Whole Family” or “Uplifting, Upbeat, Real.”

    Churches today serve only spiritual milk. “Christian” radio serves only spiritual pastries and candy. NOBODY today serves spiritual meat and produce, the healthy, growth-inducing spirtual nourishment that creates a strong and lasting faith. These often don’t taste good and have aromas and flavors some Christisns consider unpleasant or offensive.

    Spiritual meat and produce are groceries most nutrition-conscious Christians have to hunt, gather, prepare, and eat themselves from the source (the Scriptures). They’re not on offer at any Christian “spiritual food outlets.”

  3. SirHamster says:

    Used to support Air1, a rock substation of K-LOVE … noticed in recent years that the songs have become really, really … pop? Did not enjoy listening to the station any more.

    Also noticed one too many songs with nonsensical feel-good Churchian lyrics. Ex: “Perfectly imperfect”

  4. Vasilli says:

    My issue with ‘feel good – easy listening’ Radio Stations – Christian or otherwise – is playlists. My local regurgitates the same again and again. The same one Janis Joplin track, one KD Lang track, etc etc.
    I’ve long since given up listening to our Christian FM local for similar reasons. Spotify or YouTube for me – where one can explore more options, random or targeted, Christian or secular.
    + I’m not Becky.

  5. Music is, as an art form, about conveying emotions. From the musician to the response of the listener, the point is to evoke emotions. However, most of the emotions when dealing with God are much more serious. Not always, but a lot of the time they are. This doesn’t make for good radio.

    The next issue is that modern music has a larger focus on the beat, to the point of barely being able to hear the singer in most songs, whereas Christian music is always notable for allowing the singer to be heard clearly. (It’s a mixing choice.)

    Steve Taylor both famous in the Christian Music scene and notorious, has pointed out that “Christian” music has more to do with Barry Manelow than it does with Christ. This is why there have been a few peaks in solid output, but it’s mostly proto & warmed over Churchianity stretching back 40+ years.

    There’s very few works by Christian artists that’ll hold up with time. That’s mostly due to how shallow the emotion is, and the culture has to be in a place that allows the artists the room to actually deal with that. You had a space in the 90s (“Vacation from History” period) and the early 2000s (much darker emotional place) where some good music was produced, but it’s really hard to find something that isn’t just the “World minus Something”.

    There’s a place for enjoyable music that theme neutral, but the current Christian music scene is trapped by Churchianity as much as the World. It’s a rough place to be.

  6. elspeth says:

    Here’s my take, as I do listen to Christan radio (usually in the car):

    I know what I’m listening to, and my kids also know that what we are listening to is “feel good music, safe for kids to listen to, with a positive message.”

    Our girls know that lyrics to songs such as Priceless by “For King and Country” are not theologically sound. We have been very clear on the difference between songs which glorify God and sing of His power and holiness and songs that are all about how we feel about God, and the problems with it.

    I’m not going to pretend that I’m going to stop listening to Chrisitan radio, because I probably won’t, just like I’m not going to stop listening to 60’s and 70’s R&B, which many would call heathen music.

    It really does come down to perspective, and having one’s eyes wide open more than picking nits with people who are actually -however imperfectly- trying to honor God. I just don’t hold Christian musicians to the same standards as those who stand in pulpits. We can argue whether Christians should entertain (or “worship”) for a living in the first place, but these men and women are not teachers. Learned Christians should be educating their kids about what’s what with these things.

    The church at large is basically a product of the theology and culture we’ve all been immersed in for the past 40 years. People need to read their Bibles. To the extent that non-Christians listen to these stations (and a LOT of them do for the sake of their kids not hearing filth), I don’t believe there is a problem with that. Watered down gospel is better than none when you’re talking about unbelievers.

    TL;DR- So long as you understand that it’s not designed to teach, and you teach your children well, it’s basically harmless.

  7. SnapperTrx says:

    Six years ago when I started listening to Air1 they played a great mix of songs. You could hear stuff by MercyMe one moment, then LeCrae or KJ-52 the next, followed by Gungor. Now all their stuff has been very, very toned down and most of the artists have proven to be very weak Christians. LeCrae’s Facebook page started posting a lot of racial equality junk after he met with Jesse Jackson (or Al Sharpton, I don’t remember which one exactly), while Gungor came out as someone who discounts huge parts of the bible after spending time with Eastern guru’s during a sabbatical. The only one I still trust from the list I just gave is KJ-52, who got dumped by Air1 and his label, and has been doing things on his own. His lyrics have always been very Christ centered, but he is open about doing both worship songs and just fun to listen to songs.

    The songs Air1 plays now come from artists who are testing the waters of social justice music, but they constantly play “self-esteem” music. I stopped sending them money a long time ago, and find it easier to listen to the station if I just think of it as the not-so-secular station.

  8. SnapperTrx says:

    I’m not called to teach, but if I speak of God I should be espousing sound doctrine, not because I am a teacher, but because it reflects back onto the character of Christ. Even if I am just evangelizing, improper doctrine, like “name it and claim it” or “grace means I can sin all I want” does a great disservice not only to those who hear it, but to the church as a whole. I wonder how many of the people that listen to and “get saved” via Christian radio actually stay that way when they finally learn what the words of God actually say and what is required of them as Christians? I would think it might be difficult to hear the message of “your good enough, your smart enough, your pretty enough” only to turn around and read the part of the bible that says you aren’t good enough and that’s why you need a savior. You may making “converts for Christ”, but are you making Christians?

    To me this is the biggest issue. Almost any Christian has heard stories from friends, family or acquaintances about “giving church a try”, but in the end they have no idea what they are getting in to and they leave. Are these the kinds of people the unsound doctrine of Christian music creates? If you had a fellow Christian brother or sister that was espousing the same doctrine Christian radio was, would you tell them they were not only wrong, but doing something dangerous? This isn’t Disney making cutesy changes to faerie tales in order to sell happy endings, this affects peoples eternal souls. THAT’S why I take issue with Christian radio. I can give them a little credit in that they market themselves as “the positive alternative”, which is pretty vague as far as doctrine goes. So they play safe music, but mucking up the gospel is not safe for the listeners or those mucking it up.

  9. @ Elspeth

    TL;DR- So long as you understand that it’s not designed to teach, and you teach your children well, it’s basically harmless.

    A reasonable point. But then the question becomes how many of the parents who listen to it actually tell their kids that and know that themselves? 1% at best?

    It’s not “harmless” to the rest of the Christians and non-Christians that listen.

  10. Mark says:

    An increasing amount of Christian media is not created by, or owned by, people who believe in Christ. The only way to solve the ever-increasing dilution would be to remove the money from churchianity, but that ain’t gonna happen.

  11. SirHamster says:

    > The only one I still trust from the list I just gave is KJ-52, who got dumped by Air1 and his label, and has been doing things on his own.

    Dumped? What happened?

  12. SnapperTrx says:

    Well they stopped playing his music altogether and via his Facebook page he reports that he had a deal with a certain record label but they reneged and kept all the money, leaving him pretty much put out as far as the new album went. Fortunately he turned to crowdfunding and was able to not only get enough money for a new album but also got enough funding to film a small documentary about his life and how he found Christ. I really like him. He has a great outlook on life, though he admitted he had really struggled the past couple of years after all this went down, being angry and all. He’s a child of the 80s, like me, and an all around good egg. I met him briefly at a concert he had nearby with Disciple (another pretty good Christian band) and we chatted for a few minutes. Air1 no longer plays anything at all that resembles rap, hip-hop or rock.

    I noticed that the only Christian punk band I ever heard, Hawk Nelson, has completely changed their sound as well. The last few songs I have heard from them have had zero punk and 100% Christian pop. I suspect its just as the guy who wrote this article said, they had to change their sound or risk not getting played or participating in the beloved Air1 roadshow and other concerts that go on every year. Heck, back a few years ago Air1 was even playing songs by Red, a band that almost seemed to far fetched for me as a Christian band, and I like that kind of music. The times they are a changin’.

  13. earlthomas786 says:

    “By reaching Becky, you’re giving glory to God.” Becky’s name is mentioned more often at these conferences than God’s name is.

    Their faith is in feminism….and money.

  14. SirHamster says:

    @ Snapper

    Thanks for the writeup.

    >Air1 no longer plays anything at all that resembles rap, hip-hop or rock.

    Yeah, I turned off the radio for the 30 minute commute. Silence was better than the edge-less songs Air1 plays nowadays. Modern Air1 sounds like old KLOVE.

  15. I gave up Radio a while ago (mostly over some annoying theological problems with the direction of supposed Christians), but it’s sad to hear Air1 has gone so far. Beyond just changes in musical tastes, it also sounds like they’ve taken a move to more “mainstream” sound. So much for the youth dynamic.

    I remember them playing TFK’s “Rawkfist”. (TFK’s recent work has been good, btw.) However, the trend to “softer” music was pretty clear a while ago, even with Air1. Somehow, DCTalk would get ignored these days if they were an up & coming band.

  16. Jonadab-the-Rechabite says:

    It is hard to fear the LORD when saturated with positive and encouraging feels. Conviction of sin is not encouraging and repentance is not positive.

    Here is the everlasting gospel preached by the angel in heaven you will not hear on klove

    “And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”

  17. SnapperTrx says:

    Or how about this tasty lick? (emphasis mine)

    Romans 7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

  18. SirHamster says:

    The last few comments remind me why I prefer the “edge” songs. They are more likely to have the melancholy contemplation of broken man looking for salvation. Sugary feel good songs don’t have that. There’s a time for those, but I want salt.

    Newsboys Lost the Plot.

  19. I’m partial to DC Talk – In the Light. Still one of my favorites.

  20. SnapperTrx says:

    Oh man I love this one!

  21. @SirHamster:

    For all of the pretty great Newsboys’ songs, “Lost the Plot” is one of their best. It goes back to my point about Music being eliciting Emotion from the listener. “Lost the Plot” is an emotionally complex song, which is why it works so well.

    As to RED, some of their songs can be dwelling a bit too much on the negative, but it’s a space Christians should be going in their music.

    @DS:

    dcTalk’s “Jesus Freak” and Newsboys’ “Take Me to Your Leader” are the only albums that’ll stand the test of time from about a 20 years era of “Christian” music. Because of the artistic quality they reached, and the cultural environment, they were able to reach a depth of emotional resonance within the quality to still be good in decades to come.

    It doesn’t mean others haven’t produced good music since, it’s just a matter of the peak album from both groups hit at a time when it was acceptable to elicit those emotions. It’s hard to have a great album when no one is listening. Christian music would get really saccharin, minus some exceptions, post 9/11. You’d occasionally get some deep work from an artist after a tragedy, but that’s about as far as it’d go.

    Though it should probably be noted that even the “classic” Church hymns are the result of 10,000+ that were written in the last 300 years. We’ve just keep the few good ones, so the process isn’t surprising. Art that lasts requires both supreme talent and deep inspiration, along with needing to happen at a time where it’ll be recognized for its value.

    Maybe the biggest problem is that Christian music is written to be performed by a church band (royalties!), so it’s all maudlin sing-song type “Praise & Worship” that is questionable if it does either. I don’t fault artists for producing what people want, but at least find some emotional depth in it. But, considering the lack of theological depth inside modern Christianity, that isn’t too surprising.

  22. Something semi-related to this topic, as I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about Music & its impact, but most music that can withstand time have something in common. Complex harmonization.

    Strong musicianship can make beautiful music (see The Ventures or classical), but the skill at the craft of playing is always effected by the trends of the day. Harmonization stands outside of the trends.

    It stems from the choral tradition of Hymns, but it’s also something that stands drastically apart from music from the rest of the world. It has also let us keep music around for over 1000 years at this point. (Some Hymnals, of certain traditions, have music written in the 800s in them.)

  23. SimonCephas says:

    I listen to mostly Christian music and think that Newsboys, Planetshakers, Britt Nicole, etc. are absolutely fantastic for 11-17 year olds as these bands legitimize the fruits of a regenerate heart such as wholesome behavior, Christ-esteem (not leftist self-esteem), praise for Jesus, etc. in a bubble-gum pop format that youngsters are for whatever reason drawn to. It’s about harm-reduction, not perfection, in my opinion so I am beyond grateful that these artists are able to produce music that can *replace* the near-total degeneracy of secular music so long as it is situationally appropriate (single-gender slumber parties, athletic training, chaperoned dances, etc.) Can you really disapprove of a teenager choosing to listen to a song with a chorus of “Everybody… give it up for Jesus! Give him glory, for he has redeemed us. Praise his name!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0VBFSIK2Cs

    Eventually, the youth will have to cry out unto the Lord for mercy, come to grips with what it means for the shed blood of Christ at Calvary to be a perfect finished work, and be truly saved… but there are other artists and much scripture for that 🙂

    I encourage you to listen to this sermon for some interesting thoughts on the Saddleback/Seeker-Friendly https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/GTY90/Straight-Talk-About-the-Seeker-Church-Movement

    p.s. Avoid Hillsong at all costs.

  24. These are very interesting thoughts! This somehow brings to mind the adage “be the change you want to see.” I would love to get more information if you were to start a Christian radio channel, or even a podcast, that could reach people, and not use strategies, and follow sound doctrine, not just subjective opinions. Thanks for writing this, I’ll be sure to follow this blog to see future posts, and I would adore to have someone like you read anything I wrote! God bless!

  25. dvdivx says:

    Listing to AC/DC highway to hell is better than contemporary “christian” music. One has a clear up front message the other lies like the being behind it’s theology.

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