What We Want Is a Christian Poet

Brett McCracken at the Gospel Coalition shared a playlist of "Quality Christian Music." He writes, "Often accused of being derivative, sugarcoated, and samey-sounding, 'Christian music' as a genre has become such a liability that many musicians understandably avoid the label like the plague. Is some of Christian music’s poor reputation deserved? Certainly. But the case against Christian music can be simplistic and overstated. The truth is there is a lot of artistically interesting, quality Christian music being made today—it’s just not always easy to find."

I appreciate Brett's optimism and taking the time to highlight newer artists. I must say, I often hear the complaint he describes and am never satisfied with it. For one thing, our pond is too small. The discussion of "good Christian music" tends to stay within the pop music genre (that includes pop, most rock, folk, and country here). It's like arguing between vintages of the same wine (and let's not get snobby toward folks who like the cheaper years.) Christians are free to expand their horizons to all genres - and to all times available to us. We can learn to enjoy oratorios, choral hymns, loads of instrumental music, and so on and so forth.

Having said all that, I do think there is a valid reason we still desire quality pop Christian music. It's not just that we want good Christian music - we want a good Christian poet. 

Modern poetry is a thing apart from song, but there's always been a connection between the two. The poet is ancient. The Greeks had several. Homer opens the Odyssey, "Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story." The Hebrews had poets, most notably David. An Old English poet gives us Beowulf, in which a Scandinavian poet (scop) sings for clansmen about past victories and tragedies - to celebrate as well as warn the hearers in the hall.

We want our own poets to put our life experience in words. We want it in song so there is vent to the emotions of existence. We want it in our language so we can know it is true for us. We want the music to be familiar so it can feel relatable. 

Think of the most legendary singers and songwriters of the last forty years (Bob Dylan for one?) - they were entertainers to different degrees, but they wore a poet's mantle, too. Christians long to interface their experience of life with God's truth. Christians have sincerely experienced, in different degrees, revelation that brings warning, hope, reasons, and purposes to our lives. So there is a unique call for a Christian poet to bring all this together in song and word. 

I think this is why Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, and Rich Mullins - to name a few - are well loved. Skillful, yes. But also sincere, eloquent, and believing. Their lyrics assure you that they too see the world with open eyes, but they've seen the Lord, too, and they reach up for him. For the Christian poet - just as it was for David the psalmist - the continuum of art is able to encompass expression of mere experience as well as overt worship of the Lord. (Brett's playlist, by the way, has artists that tend toward the latter emphasis.)

There will always be a desire for new "quality Christian artists," because there will always be new people and new experiences that call for a twist on familiar styles. There will always be a demand for sincere Christian poets to strum our mortal cords.

Let's sing and tell the Story.

Thanks to my dad for sharing the TGC article.

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