Gungor, a Grammy Award–winning band affirming some essential Christian doctrines while expressing public doubt about others, is the latest in a decades-old parade of Christian musicians—stretching back to Larry Norman and Amy Grant—who have said or done things that disappoint the audiences who brought them their original success.
It is a parade that will continue, because the Christian music industry is a machine designed to create it. Someone discovers a young Christian or a group of believers with musical talent and puts them on a big stage. These young Christians suddenly become famous at a time when their own faith is still forming. The Christian Industrial Complex, driven in part by radio’s need for constant newness, makes musicians public speakers when they should still be private listeners. They “grow up” spiritually and emotionally in public.
Not only are many of these musicians young, but they also are or aspire to be true artists. Artists are people who push boundaries and connect dots. As their artistic vitality gets ground down by the machinery of the Christian Industrial Complex, lots of them ask the legitimate question: If Christianity is supposed to make such a positive difference, why do all the differences I see seem negative? Inevitably, they’ll become disillusioned when they encounter the truth about the industrialization of Christian music and the toxic waste the machine dumps into our spiritual communities.
Some push through that disillusionment and cynicism to achieve both artistic and spiritual excellence. In my view, musicians like Keith Getty, Michael Card, Rich Mullins, Mark Heard, and Andrew Peterson fit into this category. But should we be surprised when many either flameout or opt out of this debilitating system? I no longer am.
Specifically on Gungor: I affirm Michael Gungor’s unwillingness to be a part of what Joni Mitchell called, “The star-making machinery of the popular song.” But it was also Mitchell who sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” In other words, don’t let your anger and disillusionment cause you to throw out the good with the bad.
If I would presume to offer advice to Michael Gungor, or other young Christian artists, it would be this: to incarnate the words of Rich Mullins when he sang, “Hold me Jesus.” Note that Mullins is asking Jesus to hold him, not the other way around. We should let Jesus hold us as much or more as we grab hold of Him. Otherwise we’ll begin to believe that the small part of Jesus in our puny grasp is all the Jesus there is. It is not.
Michael Gungor and other Christian artists are right to question, to test, to connect dots, and to see things differently. That’s what artists do. They are also right to rebel against the Christian Industrial Complex. That is a noble fight. But they and all of us should take care not to become what we hate.