A while back I had a post on “Christian” music, centering mostly on mainstream praise music/popular “Christian” bands, and how we should approach that genre.
But I’d also like to address the other end of the Christian music spectrum: gospel and bluegrass.
We discussed how many modern Christian bands fail to meet their proclaimed standards because of desires (intended or not) to conform to modern pop/rock standards of music.
How is this different from the early praise bands in the golden age of bluegrass, and the current gospel music genre that is still extremely popular in some areas of the South? Don’t they have some of the same pitfalls of bad theology and bad music?The answer lies in the origins of both kinds of music, “Christian” rock and gospel/bluegrass:
“Christian” rock stems from, on the surface, a desire to reform the current standards (regardless of their success in this area). They wish to take a currently existing genre and do it in a Christian way (see the earlier post for a larger discussion of this).
Gospel/bluegrass, on the other hand, is the original genre. The first performers and bands in the early days did not look at all the other bands and say, “I wanna do that, except I’m gonna sing about Jesus.” In fact, the only way many of them knew there even were other bands was word of mouth. They created their music straight from hymns and back-porch pickin’.
Later, of course, they branched out and began writing their own songs, creating a slight difference between gospel (which was essentially hymns), and bluegrass (which was more focused on other subjects). Despite this, bluegrass has remained extremely close to gospel in terms of Christian subjects/lyrics (hence the lump genre “gospel/bluegrass”).
Moving further on down the line, bluegrass would eventually evolve into country/western music as we know it today, which, while much more secular, retains many traces of the gospel backporch music that gave birth to it.
Because of this saturation of the Church and worship (almost every early gospel artist learned to sing in church at a young age), gospel/bluegrass had and will always have a heavy Baptist/Methodist influence: the good ole Southern denominations. The theology of the music reflects this, so while the lyrics are unapologetically Christian, of course we may have issues with some of the concepts expressed (revivalism, etc.).
As for the quality of the music, I personally enjoy it (being a banjo player myself). The musicians are almost always very talented. The nature of gospel/bluegrass is that it changes very little and very slowly over the years, so bands don’t fade in a couple of years like many modern bands tend to do. This gives the musicians involved much more time to hone their skills (“Little” Roy Lewis, of the Lewis Family, has been playing the banjo for 53 years. Straight).
To sum up:
- Gospel/bluegrass influences > mainstream music
- Mainstream music influences > “Christian” rock
We see from this that when Christians create faithful music from the heart (even if their theology is a little off), the world sees it and loves it and replicates it.
When we see what the world has and try to replicate that, we get mainstream Christian rock (again, this is not a blanket condemnation; some bands are very good).
When the City of God is faithful, the City of Man starts to become faithful as well. When the City of God tries to imitate the City of Man, both will crumble.