The Battle With the gospel of “Me” in Southern Gospel Music
I could be wrong…
There is obviously no question that every southern gospel fan has either thought it, heard it, breathed it, whispered it, directly opposed it, or directly ignored it…is southern gospel music dying? If you have never talked about it, or heard it talked about, you have read about it on other blogs. Frankly, there is a case to be made to either side of the debate. But what we do know:
1) It’s traditional in structure and shall ultimately remain so.
2) It attracts old folks.
3) Interaction with artists is vital and different from most genres of music. Period. And we love it.
4) Insert your own argument as to why it is so special here (for there are many more):
This is clearly a horse that’s been beaten to death. Some of us we’ll never find a reason to to find middle ground between SG and CCM or any other genre of Christian music. Many of us have heard, “If it sounds like the world, it’s of the world”. To be quite honest, I’m not really sure what that means. Having grown up in a southern gospel world with family in the industry, it’s my hard roots. It was never out of my comfort zone, even when I wanted nothing to do with it. But the older I get, the more I seem to come back to my first love. In Calvinist ‘TULIP’ terms, it has progressively become my “irresistible grace”. I encounter something new in what I had thought to be old or experienced to grow stale. The music and the people have attacked me with a soft and patient love, as if they have been praying for the prodigal to return home once again. Yet being a part of the world for a short time, and coming back to my southern gospel roots with a fervor and zeal I have not possessed in years, what was fake, has become real once again. Not because of me. Not because of old acquaintances in the industry. But, because of the Gospel.
I’m leaving man’s opinion out of it this time. One reason I came to be bored with southern gospel for a season, was due to what I perceived to be a lack of authenticity as well as a lack of creativity. Comments such as “God’s favorite music is southern gospel music”, to which I always pictured Jesus being a fan of U2 and Steve Perry, and many times became my reply. (I was never liberal enough to think the King of Kings and our Messiah would be a fan of Led Zeppelin or Pearl Jam, although in my flesh, I certainly was). Crossing the border of music genres, and being involved in many aspects of ministry and seeing how they were influenced by each other, I came to the self-reflective conclusion that some artists in other genres were also lacking in authenticity, and some others were as real as it gets. That thought led me to an old reality, now revitalized. The Gospel is not about the music. The music is about the Gospel. God himself, is all about the Gospel. I’m just glad He chooses to use music.
That may seem too simple a conclusion to admittedly post for all the world to see, and for you to see the depravity of my stubborn, little mind. But for anyone who has sought after what the world has had to offer, only to later be changed and transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s something you have to go through. Especially if you are raised in a music world. And especially if you are also born into a ministry-minded family. You have to sort those things out. Church politics can kill the spirit. Don’t put it past church politics to kill the music as well. Men can split a church over styles of music. And God can essentially permit Satan to split a church over styles of music. And that just ain’t worth splitting a church over.
We’ll all have our preferences of style. But my fear of southern gospel is that we have flaunted it as the “only acceptable style, as ordained by God”. Some may not be so narrow minded. But some genuinely are. So what has lost its appeal? Our Gospel? Or our music? What once glittered as gold throughout the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s has subtracted, by adding. We’ve added formula. We’ve added materialism. Not just southern gospel fans and supporters, but Christians all across the board that love music and prefer different styles. When I say we, I truly mean “we”. We would rather collect every Gold City table project than get to the point in saying, “it’s not really about my preference in style, it’s about glorifying Christ”. The music lover in us has drawn a line in the sand, literally saying, “are you in or are you out”?
Daniel Mount is the king of “theological context”. And I applaud him for that. That is on his heart. Lyrics are a passion to him. I appreciate him and believe him to play an important role in this genre. And case by case, he’s usually right about lyrical content. That is of the utmost importance and the theological context of a song should always be THE priority. I don’t know many people who had never heard the Gospel, hear a piano player gently play, “Jesus Paid It All”, throw their hands up in surrender and accept Christ. But I know a few who felt compelled to, once the lyrics were sang or read. The music can start a soul-stirring Hallelujah spell. But the lyrical content more easily ignites the heart into repentance and ultimately, faith in Jesus Christ.
I think it’s easy to see the distinction that the Gospel is evident in both SG and CCM. However, I also think it’s easy to see the distinction that sometimes the Gospel is not evident in both SG and CCM. Southern Gospel primarily uses the story, or illustration topped off with the hook. CCM continues to use a wide range of methods. I think the entire book of Psalms has been put to music and let out in the P&W world. And to that I say amen, even if it gets boring and redundant, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not Biblical. But is God at the center of this thing, evermore? God is both black and white. He is love. And He is just, thus making Him holy. But some SG is grey. Some CCM is grey. And some P&W is grey. And not all of it is holy. It is the human element of “self” wrapped up into our human element of music. It will never be perfected and the balanced solution will never be resolved.
I could talk about progressing in the genre, thinking outside the box and it would largely fall on deaf ears. And we would eventually agree to disagree. And speaking of such, what a statement would be made to put a clash of musical styles at a halt? Jay-Z and Coldplay collaborated. Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony collaborated. I could go on and on in the secular world. Their ends meet in the same vein. In the Christian music world, Lecrae and Natalie Grant collaborated. Why wouldn’t Mark Trammell and Steven Curtis Chapman be acceptable? I’m trying my best to leave Gaither out of this and I’m also losing my point in the midst of hair-brained expectations of Gospel music being more about the Gospel and less about the music. More spirit-infused dynamics and raw expressions, and less formulaic predictability.
But then again, the ones that are paying for these artists to put out music and stay on the road are largely,the old folks. Old folks are most reluctant to change. Let them stay. We need them here. Some days I love the purity and tradition as well, making it unique. And many days, I want it to change so badly. And at times I find myself in contradiction to my other self. And that is one of my problems and will forever be a human problem. It’s more about me and my preferences, less about Him and His grace. The music lover in me becomes a “music critic”, and the God lover in me becomes a “self-lover and pleaser”. But I cannot deny, that in the vast array of musical styles, southern gospel music has welcomed me back with open arms, accepting me where I was, stroking my old innocence aside…now beaten and broken down by the realities of the world and the scars it has left, picked me up and encouraged me to pick back up where I left off, giving me back what I had so dearly missed, and in a sense, healing me…with the very essence of the Gospel that much of it has helped to sustain all these years.