Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Music That Engages Culture: Switchfoot

The science of Christian cultural engagement is a delicate one. This is true particularly in the realm of music, that art form so dominant in American culture. Traditionally, engagement with the secular sphere tends to center in one of two approaches. First, we have the preaching mindset, in which artists see their responsibility to preach the gospel and susequently make music that expounds the gospel. This type of music can be extremely useful, but typically reaches a certain type of person, and that type is usually not a mass audience but a particularly sensitive non-Christian. For someone who wants to think through the deep spiritual truth of the gospel, preaching music can be great. For your average non-Christian, however, interest in doctrinal music will quickly wane. Thus, though the product is God-honoring and full of doctrinal goodness, the results (cultural engagement) may fall short of the intent.

The second mindset could be called relating. Artists who make this type of music focus not on mere proclamation of truth but on speaking about topics and experiences that will connect with a non-Christian. Armed with a desire to reach those outside the church, the artist typically moves away from clear gospel sharing and towards recounting of events and perspectives that the non-Christian would share. This type of music can obviously do much to bridge gaps, but it also sacrifices the distinctive testimony that marks a Christian and his product. It’s great to connect with those outside the faith, but there needs to be something to which you are connecting them. Thus, though the product has a God-honoring focus (to reach the lost), the results may fall short of the intent.

One group of Christians that avoids both extremes and makes quality, God-testifying music is Switchfoot. Even if you rarely take the pulse of the culture, you might have heard of the California rock band who sold two million copies of their most recent album, The Beautiful Letdown. They are unabashedly Christian in their music, and yet they do so without a “preachy” tone. With poetic lyrics, the band explores spiritual truths through language accessible to all. For example, on their latest cd, Nothing is Sound, Switchfoot sings of the way the creation witness to the existence of God on the song “Stars.” “When I look at the stars, when I look at the stars…I feel more like myself.” In other words, in contemplating God’s character, the group discovers their own. On their previous album, the group sang “We were meant to live for so much more,” a statement that clearly points to the inadequacy of this world. Of course, these statements are also open enough to connect with a non-Christian. Add to all this totally rocking music, and you have a strong recipe for cultural engagement, and beyond that, transformation. Check out Switchfoot here and listen to their awesome new song, “Stars.” They are well worth supporting.


Blogger Jovan said...

Hey Owen! Tis true nothing satisfies our souls more than the gospel. Indeed Switchfoot does reach out to people and the Lord can use them to bring himself glory.

May you be thirst to be thirsty still


9:59 PM  

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