The Uncertain Sound of Some Songs on Christian Radio

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile

America offers a sprawling smorgasbord of pleasures and delights. With my family’s move back to the States, we keep discovering small wonders we didn’t have abroad. For example, what a wide variety of Oreos are available in the U.S.! Living in the Cayman Islands, we had no idea. Then there are highways. Trust me: If you have highways and you move to a country without them, you will miss the blurring breeze created by speeding down a long open road. It’s one of life’s little pleasures. Then there is commercial-free radio — a perfect joy-inducing companion to driving the open road while munching on vanilla Oreos!

We discovered Sirius radio when we had to purchase a new car once back in the U.S. Sirius radio grants us an uninterrupted mood, an extended marinating in whatever music or programming we choose. Some days the Soul Town station transports me back to an era when singers actually had to sing and love songs had more of the clever, restrained, romantic poetry of the Song of Solomon. Then there are the uninterrupted days of soaking in the jazz standards of the Real Jazz station. And yes, it really is real jazz, straight-ahead —none of that Kenny G elevator stuff.

Over the months I’ve enjoyed listening to Kirk Franklin’s praise with its wide sampling of our gospel tradition. The listener gets treated to everything from the traditional to the contemporary. I heard many of the songs in my boyhood home, when secular stations still devoted Sunday mornings to playing gospel music and my mom blasted it over the morning noise of preparing breakfast and rousing eight children from snoring slumber. When I listen to Kirk Franklin’s praise, I listen as that little boy cleaning the house to blaring gospel music. (Incidentally, why should gospel music be the soundtrack to merciless work? Somebody didn’t understand grace in my home!)

But I also listen to the station as a committed Christian pastor, which means I listen with a caring concern for what the song lyrics communicate and/or teach. So I ask a host of questions: How does this artist handle the Truth? Am I made to look to Jesus or to the artist? In what way am I helped to love my Lord and Savior more deeply? Does the song make the gospel clear? Am I listening to an accurate portrayal of the Christian life? Can I detect an honest portrayal of the human condition? Does the song encourage Godly ambitions and priorities? Am I instructed or catechized in Christian truth so I am helped to live? Does it uplift and encourage in a soul-deep way? It’s along these lines—informally as I listen—that I’m deciding whether or not a song is “good.”

I love Christian radio. It’s made a huge impact on my walk with the Lord. But I have to honestly conclude that the musical trumpet of Christian radio — with all its many wonderful blessings — makes an uncertain sound. We are sometimes left wondering if we are being summoned to battle, enticed to a party, or even hearing the melodious beckoning of pied pipers. The uncertainty comes from the blending of very different theological commitments sung in succession.

Consider the theological underpinnings represented in these two songs, which I heard recently — one after the other:

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SOURCE: The Front Porch
Thabiti Anyabwile

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