Lecrae, Toby Mac, and the Christian Entertainment Industry

Last week, Christian music legend Toby Mac’s latest album debuted at number 1 on Billboard’s top 200 chart. This is the first time that a Christian album has debuted at such a high rank in 15 years, Time reports. Lecrae debuted his album Gravity at number 3, which a number of us were anticipating. While I haven’t listened to Toby Mac’s Eye On It just yet, I can recommend Gravity. But why the sudden chart-topping success?

Well, Toby Mac has always had some mainstream appeal; his music has shown up in movie trailers and at sporting events for a number of years. And, well, Lecrae is no stranger to the mainstream, at this point. With his free Church Clothes release earlier this year, he had paved the way for some impressive sales and charting ability. The real question, of course, is whether or not he will hold out in the long run; is Lecrae’s success capable of holding its own in the mainstream market, rather than just the comparatively smaller Christian demographic (for the record, I think the answer here is yes).

This is a big step for Christian artists everywhere. Of course this is directly beneficial for Toby Mac and Lecrae, but it will quickly extend to Reach Records, Gotee Records, or any other artists who collaborate with the either of these two (Swoope, Sho Baraka, Britt Nicole, and others). Music is the obvious place for this to spread, but I have my hopes that other forms of artistry will be enhanced similarly. Sho Baraka has directed his share of music videos for Reach Records, but also sat at the helm of their Man Up film from last year, which released with a seven-track album. The film wasn’t perfect, and some of the acting was sub-par (though some was spot on), but it was a step above many (most?) Christian films I’ve seen. The Christian film industry is one that I’m not exactly a fan of, but I’d love to see growth there.

But the Christian music scene gives me hope. I’ve always believed that we could do music, film, and other forms of art as well as or better than those who are not believers; this stems from my view that Christ actively transforms us into better people. If Christ actually makes a difference in our lives, we should be striving to better reflect his goodness, beauty, grace, truth, love, justice, mercy, and compassion. Our art should inspire, our music should enlighten, and our film should rock lives.

I’ve hesitated about using the phrase “Christian entertainment industry” for a number of reasons, however. While there is some truth in the phrase, I think the implication there is that our entertainment will be solely for our own pleasure. Here’s the thing, though: there’s nothing wrong with entertainment, but we’ve got to stop short of indulging in it too frequently and for its own sake. Art should point to God, who is the source of all goodness, truth, and beauty. We should also learn to enjoy it, whether that comes from a ‘taking in’ of paintings on a regular basis, listening to music while we drive to work, or going out to see a movie. This can come from non-Christian sources, of course–none of my favorite movies were made by Christians–but there is certainly a place for ideological homogeneity in our casual, daily entertainment inputs.

Image via Wikipedia.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • http://www.facebook.com/soujirou7 Jonathan Barker

    It is really encouraging to see a Christian gain notoriety in the world at large (for good reasons) as it gives hope that Christ will be seen in a positive light by, at the very least, a few people. It is also great to see these examples of Christian art done right. Not to say billboard charts are the standard of good art (>_<) but that the music has a recognizable quality (landing them billboard spots through popularity) while remaining un-compromised in truth.

    I am curious how well the success of Christian music artists in the mainstream will translate to other areas of art or other areas of influence. I can see some responding to this as an isolated foothold and missing the larger significance. Blogging about it is a great way to get people thinking. Having artists like LeCrae being recognized could be an open door where there previously was none. But ultimately I hope that Christians would begin to see their role as salt and light and believing it enough to do something about it. I would hate to see a few Christian music artists (and a couple of major league athletes) have their day and then forgotten like yesterday's newspaper.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nilsen David Nilsen

    James, I haven’t listened to the music of either artist. In your opinion, do they actually succeed in producing something that is genuinely Christian, as well as something that could have a redemptive effect on culture? Obviously the constant worry (sometimes misplaced) is that for a Christian artist to make it into the mainstream they have to compromise, or else water down their Christian content so much that it turns into Joel Osteen:The Album. Is that sort of compromise evident here?

  • jamesfarnold

    I haven’t listened to Toby Mac’s album, so I won’t speak on it.

    Lecrae’s album, however, is not watered down. It’s a shift from his older work (more story, more struggle, more ‘real life’ rather than doctrine), but it is an explicit gospel presentation at times, and certainly a Christian album, through-and-through.

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