Christian Artists vs. Christians who are Artists

This past Thursday night Lecrae performed a sold out show at the Paramount Theater in downtown Denver along with Trip Lee and Andy Mineo. A lot of my friends went to the show, and I wanted to go, but wasn’t able to make it.

All three of these guys are straightforward about their Christian faith (Trip Lee is a Reformed Baptist pastor), and their music reflects their faith, but at the same time they have wanted to avoid being labeled as “Christian artists”.

Lecrae and Andy Mineo have both won Dove awards, but yet Lecrae especially has been very successful at crossing over into the mainstream market. Lecrae recently performed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and, most notably, IMO, reached #1 on the Billboard charts with his album Anomaly.

A friend of mine gave me the Anomaly album, and I have to say that I loved it. I’ve never considered myself a fan of hip hop, but what I love about the album is how thoughtful and intelligent it is. Lecrae’s lyrics aren’t shallow and predictable. The topics he covers are deep and sometimes difficult – like in my favorite song off the album: Good, Bad, Ugly.

Today I ran across this video of Trip Lee on the BET website talking about how he doesn’t want to be known as a Christian artist, but as an artist who is a Christian.

Why don’t these guys want to be known as “Christian artists”?   There are several reasons.

One big reason is because they want their music to be heard outside of Christian circles. How can you influence – which is unquestionably one of their objectives – if your only audience is people who already think like you do?

Another reason is because Christian art simply has a terrible reputation for being subpar copycat art, with a capital SUBPAR. If this were not the case, then why do the Dove awards even exist in the first place? Is it not because Christian music is rarely good enough to win Grammys? Sure, the case might be made that “Christian artists” get written off by the pop music community – but Lecrae has done it and so have other Christian artists who are making legitimately good art.

I think it is a much more thoughtful, mission-aware approach to be an “artist who is a Christian”, whether you’re a painter or a rapper or a photographer or a baker.

There are many things about the modern evangelical subculture which are much more cultural than they are “evangelical” in the true sense of the word – and I believe that if Christians are going to be heard by people outside of our own camp, we must distance ourselves from those things.
For example, a friend of mine (who happens to be a pastor) recently recounted a trip to a local Christian bookstore:

My trip to the Christian bookstore on Friday was downright surreal. 10 different Duck Dynasty books, assorted “Christian” candies, a $50 faux pumpkin, a prescription bottle with Bible verses inside and a “legalize prayer” t-shirt…Legalize prayer? Is that a shirt for North Koreans? Wow.
I have to admit I couldn’t bring myself to purchase the embellished Thomas Kincade Painting for $7500:)

These kinds of things, IMO, lend themselves towards an inwardly focused subculture that approaches faith like a hobby rather than a mission from God to save the world. With this in mind, I appreciate the attitudes of those who want to be known as artists who are Christians rather than Christian artists.

6 thoughts on “Christian Artists vs. Christians who are Artists

  1. My son is a musician- a guitarist. He plays in 2 worship bands and a secular band. As he is young and just starting his post secondary education combining engineering and music, I started pushing him towards music in church. However, similar to what you were saying, he told me that he enjoys worshipping God through his music. However, he would prefer to be a musician who is a Christian, not a Christian musician. But then he said something that really struck me.

    He said that the reason he didn’t want to be a Christian musician is because in leading worship and playing for God the father, God the creator, Christian musicians are imitating, following (could one even say worshipping?) secular music. When my son plays music, he says he wants it to be God inspired and God honoring and not reflective of anything other than God. To him, if someone says, “wow! That sounded like Mumford and Sons!” Or “Amazing! You played that hymn sound like a Seeger song” it is an insult. Not a compliment. To him, if someone hears his music and the first thing they think about is another human, he hasn’t done what he feels called to do.

    Anyway… Didn’t mean to ramble. It’s just a topic highly discussed at our house. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment! I’m glad my thoughts resounded with those being discussed in your family.
      I think that no matter what, we will be influenced by styles that are prevalent around us. I’m sure that if your son makes original music it will differ in style from what a Christian musician in India would create as original music. I appreciate that your son wants to be authentic – I think that is what Lecrae and Trip Lee are doing as well.
      Our worship leader has a very similar attitude. He writes music, much of which isn’t designed for corporate worship, but which is always an authentic expression and not a copy of anything else.
      I think this conversation also touches on two views of what it means to be a Christian in the world: huddling up and circling the wagons vs. intentionally going out as messengers and seeking to infuse salt and light.

  2. I am a big fan of Lecrae for his talent and his insightfulness into life and bringing what God has to say about it out to everyone to hear. At my last job, there was a guy I worked with who would listen to angry rap all the time in the office; during a break between songs, I quickly turned on a Lecrae song to get him to not go to the next angry song. He not only recognized it was Lecrae, but he also said he really likes Lecrae because he has real talent and not just some religious guy trying to imitate someone else.

    Here at Orange Leaf Media our goal for the company is to make films that deal with todays issues and give hope through the realistic redemption stories of our characters. We want to make films everyone will go see because it isn’t so heavy into the cheesy Christian subculture, but still make it fairly easy to make connections to the Gospel. With that said, right now we do mostly weddings and are getting more and more business to business work. I pray we can start creating feature films soon.

  3. IAM (International Arts Movement) is a great ministry to just the sort of artists you’re talking about. Founded in NYC many years ago it’s mission is to support artist’s who happen to have a strong faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

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