Published Sept. 29, 2009

Paul's Epistle...
"Feel-Good Songs"

Southern Gospel music is called Southern Gospel music — or, generically, Gospel music — because it includes in its lyrics the Gospel message.

Now, upon even just the slightest reflection, that seems to be pretty obvious. Hardly worth saying.

Nevertheless, I'm disturbed by something I'm seeing. There are some well-known Southern Gospel groups which have recently recorded songs on their new CDs which I really wouldn't consider Gospel songs. In some of the cases that come to mind these artists have dug back into secular music to find a feel-good song that, although it has a fine message from a human standpoint, really doesn't include, per se, the Gospel. There's no mention of Jesus or His saving power or the Good News that He came to save and redeem a sin-sick, lost and dying world, or even about our daily walk with the Lord. They're just, well, nice little ditties. Infectious ditties, at that. And, in at least two cases that spring to mind, these songs have been put out to radio as current singles.

I just don't understand it. Having just interviewed more than a dozen top songwriters at the National Quartet Convention (songwriters who are just that — gifted songwriters, not known as singers) and as a reasonably involved observer of the passing scene, there is absolutely no need to spend time and money on the promotion of such songs. I could hear such things on the local oldies station, if I chose to do so. Which I don't. There are plenty of good, meaty songs available today in Southern Gospel music, from what is arguably the strongest universe of songwriters Southern Gospel music has ever enjoyed — songs that are solid in their presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why pass over them? Why dilute our representation of the Gospel to the world?

Many in Southern Gospel music used to criticize Contemporary Christian music — especially when it first spun off into its own genre in the early 1980s — as being just so much fluff and not overtly Gospel. Well, now we're doing it. Shame on us.

Gospel music, at the risk of being redundant, should carry the Gospel message. It's why my Christmas programming each December normally doesn't include such seasonal favorites as "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire" or "Jingle Bells" or "Here Comes Santa Claus," even when sung by Southern Gospel artists. (And why do these artists feel compelled to put those on their recordings, anyway, especially to the exclusion of traditional carols and, even more urgently, new, solid Gospel-content Christmas songs?) I enjoy those secular songs — I really do — but they're not Gospel and should not masquerade as such. People, listen — Christmas time is the greatest time of the year for spreading the Gospel! Jesus came! I don't have time to waste on Santa Claus, roasting chestnuts and Frosty the Snowman.

I'm not saying a true Gospel song can't be a "feel-good" song. If we can feel good about anything, it's the Gospel message. But "feel-good" without the Gospel just shouldn't be something that we who are involved daily in Gospel music (artists, record companies, Gospel radio, etc.) should waste our time and resources promoting. There's too much of that kind of thing going on in this world today.

Too many churches have gone the "feel-good" route at the expense of good, solid Bible teaching. And, unfortunately, many of the people sitting in those pews don't know any better because it's all they've ever heard. Some of the best-known TV preachers have bought into this fallacious approach for the sake of drawing crowds and audiences and for the sake of selling books. I believe the misleaders of such churches will someday face an angry God who will inquire as to why they squandered their resources and opportunity to spread the true Gospel and instead devoted their efforts and resources simply to "feel-good" pablum that pleased people but not the Lord.

Chuck Colson recently told Time magazine that the church "has fallen into a therapeutic model. It believes its job is to make people happy and take care of their problems. It's a feel-good kind of Christianity." And he pointedly added, "I don't think the job of the church is to make people happy. I think it's to make them holy." Gospel music is, and should be, an extension of the ministry of the church, however you may choose to define the church. And the happiest person, ironically, is one who knows, believes and lives the Gospel.

Will I ever play such feel-good "Gospel lite" songs? You might hear one occasionally if it actually makes its way to the countdown or if it's part of a Featured Artist presentation or such. But you won't hear them when I have the option of not playing them.

I say to artists who might be reading this — please, please don't waste your time with feel-good songs that are not overt in their presentation of the Gospel in some recognizable form or that require extensive setup in concert to make them "seem" Gospel. We need messages of Christian encouragement, uplifting songs that are Bible-based, messages that inspire to a deeper relationship with Christ, messages that edify us in our daily walk with the Lord. The Lord provides a constant flow of such songs. We just don't have time for this other nonsense. People — focus, focus, focus!!! The time is short. Don't waste it on messages that are less than spiritually uplifting through the presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And, yes, there's a message here for all Christians, whether or not you're involved in any way whatsoever with Gospel music. As a Christian, you, too, need to redeem the time that you have available to spread the Gospel whenever and wherever possible, in a manner pleasing to the Lord.

- Paul

PS: Just for the record, I think, overall, the presentation of the Gospel message in Southern Gospel music today is stronger than it's ever been. And that's the good news.

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