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Artist envisions Christian music that delivers true-to-life gospel

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Imagine a world in which Christian artists have the freedom to follow their hearts and produce music that moves them, be it jazz, blues, rock, country, folk or alternative.
Imagine lyrics that don’t scream Christianity, but softly suggest God’s message by examining troublesome life situations.
Imagine an audience that goes beyond predictable and into the astonishing, addressing pre-teens and retirees; non-believers and Christians; working class and wealthy elite.
Imagine a God who allows musicians to serve as missionaries, telling “redemptive stories that are complex, and sometimes messy because they involve human failure and God’s intervention.”
Christian singer, composer, performer and record producer Charlie Peacock imagines all this in his new Broadman & Holman book, “At the CrossRoads: An Insider’s Look at the Past, Present and Future of Contemporary Christian Music.”
A key part of the book “is about being faithful to your music and being faithful to God,” said Peacock, who is on mission to shake up the contemporary Christian music (CCM) industry and get those involved in it to think about its direction.
Broadman & Holman President Ken Stephens said the publisher had been looking for an author who would examine the contemporary Christian music business, but not on a confrontational level.
“Charlie not only gently confronts the issues, but he gives constructive spiritual counsel to those involved in the [CCM] business and to those looking to reconcile expressions of faith in the arts.”
Peacock’s two main beefs with the contemporary Christian music industry deal with lyrics and crossover, or moving Christian music into the secular community.
He wonders why CCM requires Christian lyrics to be so “positive and nice and helpful and friendly.”
“That sounds like a description of the Ace hardware man,” he quipped.
Lyrics that recount “messy” life situations or “romance, human sexuality and raising kids” rarely get CCM backing, Peacock said. And he can’t understand why.
“Christians have good stories to tell. A good story is sometimes a complex story; it’s not always easy, and sometimes it’s messy because it involves human failure.
“So much of the [contemporary Christian] music we’ve made is too small to hold something as grand as the gospel. It’s too easily categorized and too easily understood. It doesn’t represent God’s kingdom.”
Peacock believes CCM — a $500 million-a-year industry — falls prey to modern marketing ideology. It offers the audience what it is most comfortable with, not necessarily what it needs. Moreover, he said, it’s marketed to Christians, not non-believers.
Peacock said he doesn’t believe Christian music should be labeled Christian at all. Taking the label off the music would force Christians to decide “on their own” whether the music carried a godly message. Likewise, non-Christians could no longer ignore it — especially if it was played in mainstream secular markets.
The type of Christian music Peacock writes, produces and advocates involves thought-provoking lyrics not usually found in popular contemporary Christian music, he said.
“Some of this language rolls off the average Christian listener like water off a duck. It just doesn’t stick because they are waiting for certain words to tell them they are listening to Christian music. We put our music out there in this whole big world of people who don’t want to be challenged.”
One of the tensions in CCM, Peacock said, is “that there is a group of artists who want to sing about all of life and there is another group who really want to keep it limited to religious lingo.”
One of Peacock’s favorite lines — in the book and in interviews — is “God’s people, everywhere, in everything.”
“Let’s move off language for a minute, and resolve one issue,” he said. “The great commandment tells us to go into all the world. We are to be God’s people everywhere in everything. Not God’s musical people only in the church.
“Christians have to go out into the culture and be salt and light in the world. We have to write background music for CNN, conduct the Boston Symphony, play at the Blue Note in New York City, do a gig at Borders bookstore.”
In fact, Peacock said, if it wasn’t for a Christian saxophonist who had done just that, he might not be a Christian today.
Peacock described himself as a “big screw up” who, in his early 20s, had “pretty much crashed and burned. I wasn’t a Christian, but I was praying to the God of the Bible because I had pretty much already tasted all around the spiritual map.”
At that time, Peacock was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who was asking God, “… if you really do exist, please help me not to drink or take drugs today and help me to take care of my family.”
That’s when Peacock got the call from a saxophonist asking him to play piano at the top of the Holiday Inn in Sacramento, Calif.
“This is something musicians refer to as a casual — you don’t want to do it, but you have to do it for the money.”
In the weeks Peacock held the job, the saxophonist “shared the gospel with me and gently led me to Christ. You see, God’s people in God’s place in God’s world.”
“God’s musicians need to be out there going head-to-head with some of the top musicians in the world. Right now, Christian music is incredibly disposable. It is Christianized pop music that changes with the pop music of the surrounding culture.”
When music is required to conform to the rigid standards of the CCM ministry, both music and the gospel are compromised and trivialized, he said.
A musician’s calling “does not have to be tethered to ministry in order to be ordained of God.”
Broadman & Holman is the trade book division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Peacock’s book can be purchased at LifeWay Christian Stores and other Christian bookstores. It may also be ordered on-line www.lifewaystores.com.

    About the Author

  • Terri Lackey