I have been finding lately I get a queasy feeling when I go into Christian bookstores. It is altogether strange. Here I am, in a place that sells resources intended to help me to grow in my relationship with God, and I feel weird. I feel out of place. I almost feel sick.
Why should I feel sick in a place like that while feeling nothing at all when going into “secular” book and music stores? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? At first glance, it seems like it should. But if we look a bit closer, we may discover things aren’t always what they should be. In fact, many truths of Christianity are things that shouldn’t be. The idea that God should take human form and allow His creation to kill Him is one big “shouldn’t be.” But it is the case nonetheless. That God would give us a second chance shouldn’t be. I am thankful that even though it shouldn’t be, it is.
I think the biggest reason I feel strange in a Christian bookstore is that it is where I am expected to be. It is where I “should be.” Most Christians expect me to buy all of my CDs there if I am serious about following Christ. If I buy music anywhere else, somehow that indicates that I am backsliding or compromising my faith. I am labeled as worldly. The Christian is automatically expected to buy all things “Christian,” and only that which is “Christian.”
I worry about my brothers and sisters who accept this mentality without question. For one thing, it only serves to dull the healthy intellectual ability to doubt and question. Simply because music is sold in a “Christian” store does not mean it is good for the Christian to buy. A lot of music sold in Christian stores has no real substance. Sure, it passes the criteria by mentioning Jesus or God in most songs and being free of profanity, but it feels like something is missing. Yet, we are told it is good for us to buy. Meanwhile, a lot of music I have bought at “secular” stores God has used in amazing ways to challenge me and draw me closer to Himself. But I am told I should stay away from that stuff. Philippians 4:8 is most often quoted: “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think on things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
It’s strange the music I listen to might meet all of that criteria, but it is dismissed simply because it is not “Christian.” It is also strange the assumption is made that simply because the music may have some questionable content, my thoughts will follow suit for the next umpteen days. This only serves to indicate we are being subconsciously taught to believe whatever goes in to MUST and WILL come out. Doubtless, the music we listen to, the movies we watch and the books we read will have a bearing on how we live our lives. But the discerning, healthy mind is able to evaluate—to think, “This is right, and this is wrong.” If we only allow the “right” enter our minds, the mind is not exercised. We do not cultivate critical thinking. The mind becomes too weak to throw out the wrong. And therefore we leave ourselves open to accepting a whole lot of wrong, as long as it is labeled “right.”
This may be what has happened in the world of Christian marketing. It is scary to think anyone can write a story, make a movie or record a CD, throw the name of Jesus on it, and make a pile of money. It disheartens me to think how many times I have heaped my portion on to that pile simply because it was something I “should” do. I am afraid we may very well have the modern-day equivalent to the moneychangers in the temple in Jesus’ day. Think about it. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have left themselves open to be financially exploited by people who use the guise of Christ to make themselves money. Five Iron Frenzy’s Reese Roper puts it poignantly when he sings, “Blind fans, gold mines, you are dollar signs. You are responsible, to watch what you buy, these bands that you love pull the wool over your eyes. So watch them. Watch us.”
I am afraid many Christians have become wonderfully sheep-like while making the horrible mistake of failing to look and see who they are following. All too often we have ignorantly followed the sheep in front of us. Is there any good reason that I should restrict my musical selections to those which are “Christian,” especially when in our day and age there is very little Christ left in “Christian” music? Is it possible that a musical diet of solely “Christian” music could be detrimental to my spiritual and intellectual health? I think so.
[GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION]
I recently bought Bad Religion’s CD, The Process of Belief. One day while listening to it, a thought struck me between my ears like a lightening bolt. I get more spiritual benefit from listening to Bad Religion than I do from listening to some “Christian” music. Why? Because Bad Religion has not accepted Christianity, they challenge it. Because they challenge Christianity, they challenge me, the Christian. They are in question, in doubt, and they are searching. They have questions, which they unabashedly ask. When I listen to them, I am forced to answer their questions. It’s interesting most Christians run away from their questions simply because Bad Religion is secular (secular=evil).
I really wonder how it must look to Greg Graffin, the front man and lead vocalist of the band. He throws these questions out on the table, and the Christians run away. Will he think the people who run away from the questions have the answer? I think not. He will be more ready to listen to anyone who will embrace the questions and the doubt.
Graffin’s questions challenge and sharpen me. I want to be able to answer him when he asks, “Who do you believe can put some meaning in your life? Who do you perceive can give you guidance and light? Are they waiting for you in the by and by? Do you even have to try?” I don’t want to be the one to answer him when he asks, “Why do you consent to live in ignorance and fear?” I can only guess who he is talking about.
Personally, I think that Bad Religion is so close to the truth. In the song “Sorrow,” Graffin sings, “When the only true Messiah rescues us from ourselves, it’s easy to imagine there will be sorrow no more.” Very insightful. I pray God will bring them nearer to Himself that they might come to the wonderful realization of the grace of God.
I am not saying Christian resources are unnecessary or bad. There is a place for them. What I speak out against is the unquestioned acceptance of the mentality that all things labeled “Christian” are good, and everything else is bad. This intellectual must be avoided at all costs. I am not saying all Christians should start listening to bands like Bad Religion either. For some Christians, it could be a spiritual deterrent. We must use our God-given mind and look to the Shepherd (not the sheep) for guidance on these and other issues.
Following the sheep walking two feet in front of you is an easy way to go, but it may not be the right way. We must follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. We know the voice. All we have to do is follow, in EVERY aspect of our lives, including the small things like the selection of the music we listen to. We just might find ourselves surprised at what the voice is saying.
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