At my very first summer camp, I heard DC Talk’s Jesus Freak playing from the loudspeakers before chapel. I didn’t know what it was, I’d never heard anything like it before, and as soon as I got back I asked my mom to find out. Fast forward to Christmas morning of that year: I awoke to find a few unexpected things sitting on top of the expected books and t-shirts I had received from Santa. There were, first of all, two small, thin objects, wrapped in paper; on top of them was an object of unfamiliar shape.
It was a CD player. My first CD player. And below it was DC Talk’s Intermission: The Greatest Hits and the O. C. Supertone’s Loud and Clear. I ate breakfast that day with my headphones wrapped around my ears (pretty sure there’s video testifying to that). Although that was years and years ago, I have no doubt that to this day, they remain among my most-listened-to CDs.
I grew up listening to Christian music. I grew up on DC Talk, O.C. Supertones, Relient K, Switchfoot, Toby Mac, and many, many others. I grew up listening to them. I drove to school with Jesus Freak ringing in my ears (as well as the ears of anyone unfortunate enough be within earshot of my car), and I sang along to I Am Understood while doing chores. And to this day, every time I listen to Wilderness, I remember that it was on my very first CD.
Of course, I didn’t understand many of the songs when I first listened to them. I didn’t understand that DC Talk made a decision to emphasize the action, commitment, and vitality of love in an age that glorified (and continues to glorify) lust. I didn’t fully understand the wonder of the Incarnation and it’s impact on the problem of evil when I first heard it sung about by the Supertones.
But I understood enough, and I grew in my understanding. Christian music has its detractors, especially in the more intellectual of Christian circles. But ever since that first Christmas, I’ve grown up listening to music that challenged me, that caused me to ask questions, to think, to wonder, to grow. I’ve listened to theology for my entire life, and who I am is owed, in large part, to the music I was blessed with.
I will give you just one example, although I feel as though I have dozens. I have written quite a bit on Job and Chesterton’s The Man who was Thursday, and all of that started with the very first time I read Thursday. The book had an incredible impact on me, an impact that persists to this day. Whenever I think of suffering or theodicy, I do so through the lens of Chesterton. And that is, in large part, because of my music.
I read Thursday a couple of years into my time at college. And then I read, for the first time, the Anarchist complaint against God, where the Anarchist proclaims, “I do not curse you for being cruel… I curse you for being safe! You sit in your chairs of stone, and have never come down from them… Oh, I could forgive you everything, you that rule all mankind, if I could feel for once that you had suffered for one hour a real agony such as I–“. I knew what this complaint meant. It was not new to me. It was not unexpected, or unprecedented, or unheard of. Indeed, I had been thinking about it literally for years, ever since I’d gotten my first CD, where I listened to the Supertones ask “God, do you really understand what it’s like to be a man? Have you ever felt the weight of loving all the things you hate? Have you struggled, have you worried, how can you sympathize?”
And when the greatest of the accused defends himself with a simple question, with a “commonplace text,” that too was not unprecedented: It was merely the maturation and growth of the Supertone’s realization that “the wilderness” is an actual wilderness that God himself has endured.
There are a dozen more examples, of Christology and Atonement and Theodicy and Apologetics, where my studies built upon the foundation of years of meditation-by-rock (or ska). These are only seeds… but they were planted early, and they were watered often. Every time I thought, really about what I was listening to (and often singing along to), I was meditating on some aspect of Christianity. Is it a viable substitute for actual learning, for meditation and prayer and Bible reading? Of course not. But as seeds, as reminders, as thought-provokers? Christian music is valuable indeed.