Does It Matter That They’re Christian?
Whether it’s singing out to the Gospel classics of Kirk Franklin and Donnie McClurkin or playing acoustic guitar to the melodies of Hillsong United and Chris Tomlin, music connects Christians to God in a profound way. Churches across the United States have sung the classic Michael W. Smith songs “Open the Eyes of My Heart” or “Here I am to Worship”: songs that allow an honest conversation between God and us. In Psalm 18:49 it is written, “Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of Your name.” In Old Testament times, praising God through song was not only a vital part in expressing one’s love for God, but also in exercising a healthy relationship with Him. This is just as true for us as Christians today. But is there merit for a Christian in listening to secular music?
When it comes to listening to secular music, today’s Christians take a number of stances. Some choose to listen to artists who publicly identify themselves as Christian but don’t necessarily produce Christian music. Some popular artists that fit into this category are Evanescence, The Fray, Creed, and One Republic. Listening to these artists feels safe; I mean, they are Christian, right? There are even artists that most people would never guess were Christian, like Sufjan Stevens, Augustana, Manchester Orchestra, Civil Twilight, Mat Kearney and Neon Horse—artists that separate their personal beliefs from the music they produce. Other artists not only identify themselves as Christians but release songs that subtly speak to their beliefs. Good examples are Lifehouse’s “Everything” and Switchfoot’s “Dare You To Move,” both of which had great success on Billboard charts.
But then there’s Mumford & Sons—the prodigious British band whose new album Babel has already broken records for album sales in 2012. To say the new album has Christian undertones would be quite an understatement. Besides the fact that leadman Marcus Mumford sings “When I was told by Jesus all was well, so all must be well.” in “Below My Feet,” and “I’d set out to serve the Lord” in “Whispers in the Dark,” there is at least one Biblical reference in every song on the record. Even the name of the album (and title track) refers to the Tower of Babel story from the book of Genesis (11:1-9). When asked about the lyrics of the album in an interview with Big Issue Mumford explains that the album “is not an official statement of their Christian faith.”1 At first that caught me off guard; listening to Babel from beginning to end, I was certain I was listening to the honest words of a Christian and his journey with God. So I did a little more research and found more quotations from other interviews. Mumford says quite a bit about how the album is “more social than religious, verging on the philosophical,” but he has also said something that really struck a chord with me. The album, he explains, was “a deliberately spiritual thing… I think faith is something beautiful, and something real, and something universal… I think faith is something to be celebrated. I have my own personal views, they’re still real to me, and I want to write about them.”2 By his “own personal views” Mumford may be referring to the fact that he is a minister’s son, and he was raised in a devout Christian household. In his lyrics, Mumford uses language that reads into his upbringing, such as his several mentions of flesh3 (as weakness), sin, and kneeling.4 So yes, the chart-topping album that is on its way to being the highest grossing album of the year not only has Christian undertones, but also is sung by a Christian. And yet Mumford & Sons, like many Christian bands on mainstream charts, don’t want their album to be taken as religious or as a “Christian statement.” This begs the question, does it even matter that they’re Christian?
It does, in my opinion, because even though these bands aren’t explicitly playing “Christian music,” their Christian beliefs still influence the music’s message. Kevin P. Emmert explains this clearly: “I believe Mumford & Sons are a sign of life. Their hopeful affirmations distinguish them from the cynicism of many indie artists, and from the often shallow, hedonistic lyrics of many mainstream pop stars. Mumford’s lyrics even display a quality rarely found in most contemporary Christian music, where the lyrics tend to speak of God’s love, grace, and redemption only abstractly; Mumford’s lyrics are tangible—brutally honest and poetically robust. This connects with listeners. Ears and hearts are engaged.”5 Though music is a great way for us to worship and praise God, it can offer even broader appeals—it’s a raw and open space for emotions, beliefs, stories, guidance, peace and faith. Mumford & Sons gives voice to a message of hope, forgiveness and love; that voice speaks to us as listeners, giving us a chance not only to connect with them, but to connect with each other and God, with creation and Creator, in a profound way.
(1) Mumford, Marcus, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, and Ted Swanna. “We’re Fans of Faith Not Religion.” Interview by Sylvia Patterson. The Big Issue, Oct. 3 2012: n. pag. Print.
(2) Mumford, Marcus, Winston Marshall, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwayne. “Mumford & Sons.” Interview by NPR Staff. National Public Radio. Washington, D.C. Sept. 23 2012. Radio.
(3) For example, “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6)
(4) For example, “But I’ll kneel down” (from “I Will Wait”); “But I’m on My Knees” (from “Holland Road”)
(5) Emmert, Kevin P. “Mumford and the Son.” Christianity Today. N.p. Sept.25 2012. Web. Nov. 29 2012.Tags: Augustana, Babel, Brown University, Chris Tomlin, Christian, church, Civil Twilight, Creed, Evanescence, faith, God, gospel, Hillsong, Lifehouse, Manchester Orchestra, Mat Kearney, Michael W. Smith, Mumford & Sons, music, Neon Horse, One Republic, secular, Sufjan Stevens, Switchfoot, The Fray