Redemptive Radio? (Part 2)

I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks about the issues raised in our little blog conversation about Christian radio. It was a fun and healthy interaction and I think some good points were brought to light. So it’s time to stir the pot again with some further reflections.

Some commenters made the observation that a religious broadcaster filling a spot on the radio dial with music that is “safe for the whole family” is just good marketing. After all, there IS a market for that kind of music out there, and they’re just tapping into it. And on the surface, I agree. My kids are pretty young yet to filter through the nuances of the Fall, so I sometimes appreciate the ability to direct them uncritically to music that is “safe.”

Upon further reflection, I think what I resent is the equating of “safe” with “Christian.” Though these stations market themselves simply as “safe for the whole family” (no explicit Christian labeling), it’s clear to anyone listening that the primary music they’re playing has a distinctly Christian message. This blurring of categories confuses the gospel.

If broadcasters want to play Christian music (i.e. worship music or music with explicitly Christian themes), they should play Christian music. On the other hand, if they want to play “safe for the whole family” music, they should play all the clean pop music they can find. The problem is that they are doing neither. They are positioning themselves neither as overtly Christian nor as simply safe, but as some confusing amalgam of the two. Which leads listeners (generally Christian moms in their 30s and 40s, as wise commenters pointed out) to equate Christianity with safety.

I am reminded of the too-oft-quoted scene in The Chronicles of Narnia when Lucy inquires of Mr. Beaver as to the nature of Aslan. “Then he isn’t safe?” “Safe?” Mr. Beaver replies. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”

The subtle message given in Christian radio is that Christians can and should desire to be “safe” from the influences of the world. My contention is that this is an effeminate, idolatrous, and dangerous message. Parents certainly have a responsibility to exercise godly discretion in training their children and teaching right from wrong. But the world is not safe. And the mission of God is not safe. And picking up your cross and following Jesus is not anything close to safe.

In the previous thread, Nick asked what music I would play if I had a spot on the FM dial. I’m not sure, but my latest idea for a marketing line would be: “music that is dangerously redemptive.” As a father trying to lead my children into gospel-centered, Christ-honoring living in a fallen world, a radio station like that would motivate me toward meaningful conversations with my kids. Sure, it would take more discretion, and it wouldn’t be easy… but following Jesus is neither safe nor easy. Not even for the whole family.

Your thoughts?


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  1. What would make music “dangerously redemptive”? What types of music would fit into that category? What characteristics would that music have? Also, what would make music safe or not safe?

    As a side note, what Bob wrote made me think of this song by the rapper Nas called “Life’s a Bitch.” (it’s from the classic “Illmatic” album). The chorus has this teenage rapper, who’s lived in the ghetto his whole life, saying “Life’s a bitch and then you die/that’s why we get high, cause you never know when you’re gonna go.” And for some reason, I always feel closer to God after listening to that song…It’s like I can feel and hear the complete hopelessness and the search for some type of meaning. I can literally hear the fallen world crying out…And it reminds me again that there’s a reason that God didn’t rapture me up with Him when I became a follower of Jesus…I have a mission here…And that’s something I don’t often gain from listening to Newsboys or MercyMe or Tobymac.

  2. today i heard daughtry on the christian station twice. stupid american idol. i hate that show.

    i love it when derek webb talks about how Jesus isnt safe. how the gospel is “necessarily offensive.” i dont want to follow a safe God. i want to follow a just God. an awesome God. a God who would come into an unsafe world instead of sitting on his throne in heaven and waving his magical wand to make things right. if doing the safe thing was right and good and okay, Christ would not have come to die. Praise God that he is not safe.

  3. Mr. Beaver’s quote is EXACTLY what I was thinking of with the first blog topic. Nothing that Paul, Peter, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc. did would be considered “safe.” We can’t hope to engage culture effectively by sheltering ourselves under this umbrella of happy-go-lucky safety.

    Matt VanEpps

  4. paul e. said: “I always feel closer to God after listening to that song”

    really? Is that what it’s about for you, your feelings?

    well, if that’s legitimate, I’m sure a lot of people feel closer to God when listening to praiseful & worshipful music.

    Feeling vary vastly from person to person and even within the same person.

    The term “artful” is also very subjective. Someone may find “Life’s a bitch and then you die/that’s why we get high” artful. Someone else may find “I was made to love and adore you and be loved by you” more artful. It’s all opinion. So what’s to discuss?

    nick buras

  5. I, too, have experience a queasy feeling with the whole “safe for the whole family” muddying the clear truth of the Gospel with palatable masking. As a parent openly dealing with Truth along side of my children has always been interesting …frustrating, comforting exhilarating, frightening, humbling in varying mixes. Yesterday I read John Pipers essay called “Putting My Daughter to Bed Two Hours After the Bridge Collapsed” His unflinching explanation to his little girl sort of stunned me at first…but what he says is the truth, however stark it may seem. We must be brave enough to weep, trusting enough to believe. Cindy

  6. Bob,

    I totally agree. And, by the way, . .I think there should be “christian radio” stations. It serves a valuable purpose,. . and perhaps if they quit with the “safe” thing, we’d hear some Derek Webb, u2, Over the Rhine, etc. . ., So, the marketing is a lie and misrepresentation of the gospel, however, some of the music is worthy, some not.

    Great post,

  7. ok, . enough theory, people, we need a setlist! Here’s some scattered, genre-defying, thoughts.

    Not as strong–R. Mullins
    If I ever lose my faith–Sting
    Wedding Dress–Derek Webb
    Red Rain——-Peter Gabriel
    A Day Late—–Anberlin
    Jesus Walks—-Kanye West
    O God, where are you now-Sufjan S.
    What you want–Caedmon’s Call
    Keep me where the light is??(dont know this title)–John Mayer
    Damn cold night–Avril Lavigne
    Numb———–Linkin Park
    Fix You——–Coldplay
    Come Awake—–David Crowder
    Low————Kelly Clarkson(deal
    with it)
    Lonesome Day—Bruce Springsteen

  8. “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king”

    God is not safe, but he’s good. This doesn’t mean we need to listen to audio porn on the way to work. Maybe somedays, but not everyday.

    Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

  9. Nick, you read me like a book. My feelings really are what it’s all about to me.

    Thank you for helping me understand that.

    My only point was, well, basically the same point you are making. Music/art is an eye-of-the-beholder thing. So I can listen to a rap song that my mom would never listen to, and I can actually gain meaningful insight from it. Meanwhile, my mom can listen to Phillips, Craig, and Dean or Twila Paris, music that I would rather not listen to, and she can gain spiritual insight. I wasn’t trying to imply that everyone should listen to Nas or music with cuss words in it.

  10. I’m a Christian mom in my 30’s and 40’s (with a kid that plays soccer) and I’ve stopped listening to Christian radio altogether because 1) it would really creep out my non-Christian friends in a counter-productive way, 2) I’m afraid they’ll play “Butterfly Kisses” again and 3) I broke my antennae in the car wash for the second time. Maybe this is one of those issues that should be a non-issue (but keep the comments coming). When I listen to music, I don’t as much imagine how it would offend God to hear it, but how the response in my heart offends or glorifies God. (And I’m guessing He doesn’t like my response to Catholic radio.)

  11. Word Aaron. Let’s make the redemptive playlist. Here’s my contribution:

    Fight Test – Flaming Lips
    The Yeah, Yeah, Yeah Song – Flaming Lips
    Waitin’ for a Superman – Flaming Lips
    Everything to Everyone – Everclear (pokes me right in the heart idol)
    Grace – U2
    We never change – Coldplay
    Don’t Panic – Coldplay
    I’m not who I was – Brandon Heath
    All the trees of the field will clap their hands – Sujan Stevens
    Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell -Flaming Lips (an instrumental, but the title alone!)

  12. I would definitely play Drunkard’s prayer by Over the Rhine. a lot. also,

    “Spirit in the sky” by norman greenbaum

    switchfoot (anything off of the beautiful letdown, but especially the title track)

    “every new day” by five iron frenzy

    “So Are You to Me” by eastmountainsouth

    “Lesson Learned” by Ray Lamontagne

    “still haven’t found what i’m looking for” by U2

    “Every Grain of Sand” by dylan

    “John Wayne Gacy Jt” by Sufjan Stevens

  13. the playlist that challenges me:

    “Sunday Bloody Sunday” U2
    “Bad Moon Rising” Creedence Clearwater Revival
    “Calm Like A Bomb” Rage Against the Machine
    “I Believe” Blessid Union of Souls
    “The World I Know” Collective Soul
    “What’s Going on” Marvin Gaye
    “Big Yellow Taxi” Joni Mitchell
    “Pride(In The Name Of Love)” U2
    “Ocean Breathes Salty” Modest Mouse
    “B.Y.O.B.” – System of a Down
    “Someday We’ll Know” – New Radicals
    “Seven” – Revis

    pray for my taste in music =)

    Ivan, 23, male, responsible for the success of Creed

  14. Ivan, good call on “Ocean Breathes Salty.” I imagine it as an athiest’s angry rebuttal to a street preacher.

    Also, maybe I missed it, but you have to come clean on the “responsible for the success of Creed” tag line. Wasn’t it “partially responsible” a few weeks ago? You have certainly peaked my curiosity.

  15. This is great. . .who’s up for starting an internet station?

    Deanna. . how are you a mom in your 30’s and 40’s at the same time?? 🙂

    good points though,. . It’s funny how Klove (and the like) are supposed to be safe for the whole family but it tends to freak out anyone who doesn’t go to a suburban church.

    Another observation,. . . .about 70 percent of the songs mentioned are not/have not ever been on the radio. Even some of the tracks by popular artists like u2 are not radio cuts. Why is this? Are we so artistically depraved that we gravitate towards the more shallow material even from profound artists? hmm.


  16. Hey, just moved here from LA! wanting to come visit Corem Deo, but there are no times and dates of your gatherings on the website? is that on purpose? haha maybe i just didn’t look at it right… i called and emailed, but figured you probably checked your blog more than your email 🙂 … let me know! my email is … have a great day!

  17. a radio station, fantastic idea!

    a playlist

    dance away the city-andrew osenga
    paperback writer-the beatles
    all of seven swans-sufjan stevens
    what is not love-derek webb
    oh my God-adam weaver
    oh my God-Jars of Clay
    Cannan Bound-Andrew Peterson
    Intervention-Arcade Fire
    Jesusland-Ben Folds
    First Day of my life-Bright Eyes
    The Maker-Daniel Lanois
    Bartender-Dave Matthews Band
    The Stone-Dave Matthews Band
    Magazines-Pedro The Lion
    I will follow you into the dark-Death Cab for Cutie
    Please Come Home-Dustin Kensrue
    Power of the Gospel-Ben Harper
    California-Jason Harwell
    Wake up dead man-U2
    A lot of MuteMath
    A lot of Over The Rhine
    A lot of waterdeep
    The Normals
    no newsboys, dc talk, or barlowgirl
    i could go on, but won’t, for now

  18. Deanna said: “I’ve stopped listening to Christian radio altogether because 1) it would really creep out my non-Christian friends in a counter-productive way”

    wow… I think many in the Christian community tend to live in the light of the gospel only within their own little bubble, afraid of what our non-Christian friends and those around us might think of what we believe. Granted, we may not be doing this on purpose, but we tend to isolate ourselves from the culture as a whole. However, we are called to go and share the good news. Maybe we need to stop and re-realize that we have the best news on the planet! We don’t need to hide the gospel under the bushel of some Avril Lavigne song hoping those who need to hear it (all of us) will read something into the song that may not even be there.

    In the US, we’re free to be blatant and obvious about our faith and to publically sing our praises to God in pslams, hymns, and spiritual songs. We’re free to be out there on the public airwaves sharing the gospel from the top of the mountain (or tower in this region).

    Maybe someday legal restrictions will try to hinder the sharing of the gospel. But, if we’re mushy-mushy-ooee-gooy now while it’s easy, how will we be when there’s actually a little persecution? Life is short. Let’s share the good news now without compromise. Even catholic priests need to hear it.

    This isn’t a discussion about music. This is about what our friends think of us isn’t it?

    nick buras

  19. Buras,

    Dude – way to dive in, challenge the thinking, and create some tension!

    Now, here’s my challenge: do it in person instead of in a blog dialogue.

    This is what we need from you in our community. Stop hiding behind your keyboard and start having these conversations in person.

    With love,

    your pastor

  20. clatterbuck – thanks! i guess time caused me to forget the “partially” and now i just assume my purchase of TWO Creed cds makes me fully responsible for their success… =)

    from “Ocean Breathes Salty” the final admonition “You wasted life why won’t you waste the afterlife?” has got to be one of the most challenging spiritual questions i’ve ever heard, on so many levels.

    Jeff – THE NORMALS!!! WOAH!!! Coming to Life has been the number one cd in my xbox/laptop/radio for the last three months. One of the few cds that always seems to grow as I change.

    Ivan, 23, male, still wondering why The Normals never hit it big

  21. I know that you have started another blog topic, but i have more thoughts on this topic, i hope that is ok.
    It is our very nature to be at odds with God. This means we are at odds with love. If love is bound up in God and defined by his being, then love transcends the deepest of all travesties and sufferings. But because we don’t even understand and draw near to God, we are afraid. We want to feel safe; we subjugate KNOWING we are safe to FEELING safe. Though they cannot be separated, they are different. Why is our culture so obsessed with “safety”? I think its because we truly want to BE safe… “BE” would be both on the intellectual level and emotional.

    We are an afraid people. But this is not how the Church is to be. The idealism of fundemental evagelicalism has neglected the reality of life. We are broken, suffering, and completely “safe.” But, BEING safe only exists in the “unsafeness” of Jesus. Our security is completely bound up in the riskiness of Jesus. When we try to feel “safe” by separating ourselves from the rest of the world at the cost of feeling safe, we actually leave Jesus for a quick fix. But he has not left us, and will be with us through the end

  22. I’m kind of late on this discussion, but I’m wondering if anyone else likes listening to soundtracks and classical music to get their soul dreaming about redemption and beauty? I personally can find myself drifting away listening to movie soundtracks all day (especially those I am not familiar with). We need to add some of those to the playlist.

    Finally, I also find myself getting irritated with Klove and the like. I’m tired of peppy voices laughing about dumb jokes when I’ve had a crappy day. I’m tired of hearing the same songs 8 billion times (yet I can’t say that any station is different except for classical) ;). I find the difference between what most people would listen to on a regular basis and the christian stations striking.

    However, as much as I hate to admit it, when I’ve had a serious moment of repentance or conviction, or when I feel scared about something, I often find myself turning my radio dial to klove or kgbi, as if to comfort me. Good? Bad? Don’t know.

    It probably has more to do with listening to it as a little girl in my parents’ home on a Sunday morning than the music itself.

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