Gospel music. That is a horrible name for a musical genre. The word has come to refer to something that has almost nothing to do with the Gospel.
The Gospel is a message. It’s actually the greatest message ever. Holy God looked at sinful man and decided to rescue him by dying in his place. If we put our faith in Jesus, he takes our sin and gives us his righteousness. This is good news. This is the Gospel.
Of course, there’s plenty of music that doesn’t fit the “gospel music” category by does communicate the Gospel message. From traditional hymns to Contemporary Christian Music to Christian Hip Hop, music that declares the cross is a diverse as the people who make it.
Sadly, just as not all gospel-centered music is “gospel music” not all “gospel music” is gospel-centered. Gospel music has become a euphemism. For some, it means anything uplifting or inspirational. For others, it’s characterized by a certain sound – organs and handicapping, harmonies and vocal acrobatics. By some standards, any music that makes reference to God – even if that reference is veiled and indirect – is passable. In some circles, gospel just means the artist is black and Christian.
What’s wrong with all these standards for gospel music? They’re all gospel-deficient. None of them require the music to declare or even point in the general direction of the gospel. Unfortunately, our music has begun to sink towards these dangerously low expectations. If you don’t believe me, turn on your local gospel music station, which is probably branded as “inspirational,” not gospel.
According to Wikipedia, gospel music serves many purposes, including “aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace.” I would say that the modern popular gospel music industry exists especially as an entertainment product. We are more concerned with how good the music sounds than with what it does. We need a nice beat, dramatic vocals, and swag. In short, we want to be entertained by music that has just enough church language for us to convince ourselves we’re doing something spiritually edifying by listening to it.
Gospel music shouldn’t be just entertainment. It shouldn’t be a collection of inspirational clichés strung together to make us feel good about ourselves. When we make gospel music, we must to more than take worldly messages and slap a Jesus sticker on them. We need to raise our standard for gospel music. The standard should be the actual Gospel.
Our music should point to the holiness of God. It should celebrate his nature. It should declare who he is – awesome, holy, beautiful, creator, triune, all powerful, all knowing, omnipresent. It should remind us that he is both loving and just, both merciful and full of wrath, both gracious and righteous.
Our music should point to the sinfulness of man. It shouldn’t let us off the hook. It should make us confront how far we fall short of God’s holiness, purity, and righteousness. It should tell us that our greatest need is not a new house and car or even food and shelter, but instead the salvation of our souls. It should remind us that on our own we have no hope of salvation.
Our music should point us to Jesus. It should speak of his full humanity and full deity. It should remind us that he is God, the second person of the trinity. It should point to his cross, to his sacrifice, to his taking our place and absorbing the wrath of God. It should require us to accept him as our only hope of salvation. It should demand that we put our faith in him.
Our music should point to heaven. It should remind us not only of what God has saved us from, but what he has saved us to: freedom from bondage sin. It should echo the scriptures that conform us into the image of Christ. It should remind us that God through his Holy Spirit is doing a transforming work in our lives. It should declare that we are called out to be different. It should assure us that God will complete this work and that one day we will be totally free from the presence of sin. It should remind us that Jesus will return to judge all men.
It’s dishonest to call music that doesn’t point to, declare, or accurately communicate that Gospel “gospel.” In short, gospel music without gospel truth is just music that lies.
This is likely the first part of a series on gospel music. I look forward to your comments and discussion as I prepare to continue sharing my thoughts on this topic.