I’ve been interviewing at various churches in preparation for my field-study work next year of late. In particular, one of the topics of conversation that I’ve been finding myself engaging has been youth and young adult ministry, and even more specifically, theology in contemporary music. Now, I play in a worship band pretty regularly myself, and often when I mention “theology in contemporary music” people assume that’s what I mean. Praise music has lots of value: it’s uplifting, it is easy to teach to congregations who have a strong tradition of singing and/or liturgical dance, and it’s relatively easy to assemble musicians of varying skill sets who can find a way to make these songs sound good. Yet praise music fails one significant test for me… it fails to value the full range both of human life and the powerful representations available in art. To put it more bluntly: praise music does just what it says… it explicitly praises God. What it fails to do is embrace all the ways in which God may operate in my daily life. It fails to represent my fears and doubts about myself and about God. It does put forth the expectation that the highest goal of art in the worship and praise of God, yet fails to see that the most convincing arguments both for and against faith come from the simple reflection upon moments that feel entirely HUMAN yet are still permeated by a sense of faith.
The best music I have in my life really engages my whole identity and asks theological questions of that identity. (If several of you are already thinking about Pedro the Lion / David Bazan, kudos.) These may not be intentional points of entry for the songwriter! Even though an artist may not have specifically set out with theological goals, they may lead to some intense discussions about theology. It’s going to be a goal of mine in the future to talk about some of those artists and why I think they matter to faith discussions and church.