Why Christian Radio Undermines the Gospel

I have nothing against Christian radio or Christian music.*
That is my necessary disclaimer.

In Philadelphia there is one Christian radio station and its tagline is “Positive & Encouraging.” In Phoenix, there are 93 Christian radio stations (<–perhaps a slight exaggeration) and most of them have a similar tagline. It's as though the Christian radio world thinks that we could solve the world's problems if we just would think happy thoughts and listen to happy music.

But I can't blame them. They simply reflect our Christian culture: the way to overcome our problems is by the power of positive thinking. We think that by our cliches, full of rainbows and silver linings, we can overcome the death and decay we see everyday. And the world stands by in utter disbelief. What insanity is it that sprinkles phrases like "everything happens for a reason" over the death of a two year old who spent his life suffering from Leukemia?

If the real source of our unhappiness is allowing Satan to "steal our joy" and "if we just need to stay positive" then why the hell did Jesus come? It is only against the backdrop of "yes, it really is that bad” that the severity of the Cross makes any sense. We have softened the depth of brokenness in our world in order to justify the Creator, but in our attempts we have made irrelevant the work of the Redeemer.

It’s okay to admit it: there really are terrible and unspeakable things going on in our world. God’s a big boy, he can handle the criticism. In fact, if you continue to live in denial, guarding yourself with the shield of “If you would just stay positive, everything will work out in the end,” the world will (rightly) stop listening. It is not our ability to “find the good” in a situation that makes us Christian. That often just makes us annoying. Nor is it that Jesus will make our bad situations into good ones. Instead, it is that we believe God has seen all suffering and that Christ is his response. The good is not in the situation but is in the person of Jesus. It is Jesus himself that redeems situations, not those crumbs of good we find tucked away in the couch of despair.

*My wife often listens to Christian music & I have seen how this has been a spiritual benefit to her and am grateful.

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13 responses to “Why Christian Radio Undermines the Gospel

  1. Maybe if he had entitled his article “How Christian radio can potentially undermine the gospel”,but I find his blanket condemnation disappointing and, in light of his two disclaimers, incongruent. Let me offer a little defense. While I am the first to condemn the falsehood of the “power of positive thinking/health and wealth” gospels, I don’t believe that is the message the station in question is trying to promote. Rather, it seems to me they are trying to provide an option for listeners like me who are seeking input that isn’t spotlighting or down-right glorifying the decay of this broken world. We are already bombarded with the hopelessness of the world just about everywhere, all the time. I am a music junkie, so I am always listening to something. While I do listen to and enjoy secular music, it’s harder and harder to make it through more than about 15 minutes before I feel saddened by some kind of broken lifestyle that the DJ is promoting or the lyrics are glorifying. For me, Christian radio is something I need, not to bury my head in the sand to deny the existence of pain and suffering, but as a respite to refocus my mind on God the truth of His character. Many of the song lyrics focus on His love and attributes that don’t deny our circumstances, but transcend them. The message I usually hear on Christian radio is “though there is pain in this world, take heart, for this is not your home. Remember who your God is and what He has done and promises to do”. That is positive and encouraging to me. And what, I ask, is wrong with that? (Phil. 4:8) The other alternative is to fill my mind all day with songs and banter that is negative, void and discouraging. No thanks.

    • I agree with you Odio. I am afraid that two things went awry in this post:
      1. I agree with you about the title. I wrote on my facebook page that I think it was a little too hyperbolic.
      2. After talking to my wife (an avid Christian radio listener) I think I failed to nuance my intents.

      First, I agree with you about the lyrics of the songs on Christian radio. I have no problem with a lot of the songs on Christian radio and think that for many they are an asset to their spiritual life. The reason I mentioned Christian stations in the intro is not because of the DJ’s I have heard or because of the lyrics of songs but because of the promotion (like Mike says below about the marketing) of radio stations. I also agree that their intent is never malicious – but sincerity does not represent accuracy.

      Second, my point really didn’t have much to do with Christian radio at all, it was more of a segue into a trend I see in the conversations I hear among Christians. I will absolutely defend my belief that we are too quick to put on rose-colored glasses, thus turning off a world that can see nothing but brokenness, but I am more than willing to recant and repent if anything I said about radio stations was offensive.

      • Jared… I’m a (former) Assistant PD/MD and radio DJ on one of the largest Christian music stations in the world… and I agree with you. (BTW, I’m now a United Methodist Minister). We tried very hard at the station I worked for to achieve balance.

        Our programming was designed to address brokenness head on without falling into the cliches and rote answers that glossed over the reality of living in the world as we know it. Sometimes we failed, sometimes God allowed us to be overwhelmingly successful. It’s ok to talk about the bad things of our world, it’s not ok to answer them with – ‘God had a reason for your 11 year old child to be killed by a horse, and one day everything will be made clear to you’ (that’s my story). The truth and reality of God is found in Ps 23:4 – where we discover that even in the valley of death, sin and despair, God is still with us.

        On a completely different side not, I produced an album of songs after my own childs death (yep, I can write songs to). It came out very very well – I didn’t hold back into writing about difficult subjects. The album itself garnered a lot of acclaim (and still does) around the world. It even had songs that went to the top of the Christian charts in other countries – in Australia, the first released single was phenomenal and achieved across the board radio airplay on almost every Christian radio station (and some not Christian) in the country. Here in the US, one large radio network showed great interest in adding a song or 2 (to the point where we were called in for meetings etc). But sadly, at the end of our conversations, the songs were deemed ‘a bit too dark for our listeners’. Sad but true. Keep writing Jared – great post.

  2. I get the point you’re making here.

    (and NB – my husband has worked in Christian radio for years – gotta lot of respect)

    The promotion of this attitude is what destroys people when they can’t reconcile a God who ‘doesn’t give you more than you can handle’ (a line that is NOT in the bible, and in fact implies that God hands out pain like some sick gym teacher) with a reality that includes viewing the corpse of their 11 year old son (full of life in the morning, dead by lunch time).

    (>My experience.)

    I will take the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) over ‘positive and encouraging’ anyday.

  3. Good piece, bad title. (If you’re going to play the antagonist, you’d better make darn sure you mean it first.) To your point that contemporary culture continues to water down the gospel to the point that it’s palatable to the masses, and in that context Christian radio is providing the sound track, I’m with 100%. But to say that it’s effectively anti-gospel, (or even counterproductive), sorry, you loose me there. I do think that Christian radio (flaws and all) does help counter the bombardment of ungodly inputs we live with every day, and even in that I think there is value. But people should realize that there is a world of difference between the “peace that passes all understanding” and a feel-good buzz from a happy, peppy Christian tune. I will admit I have a low tolerance for Christian radio, after a while it’s just too much fluff, but there are times when I find it welcome.

    On a complete sidebar, I was listening to a Christian radio station in Jacksonville last year and the DJ was interviewing the author of a “Christian cook book.” Between the DJ’s sickly sweet tone and how much the author actually took her concept seriously, it was so twilight zone I couldn’t even bear to hang with it.

  4. Amy – you and your husband’s response is difficult to process. Thank you for sharing your story, even if just a smidge. “The promotion of this attitude is what destroys people when they can’t reconcile a God who ‘doesn’t give you more than you can handle’…with a reality that includes viewing the corpse of their 11 year old son (full of life in the morning, dead by lunch time).” This is what prompted me to write this & I have such an emotional response when I think of people who give up on God because of this inability to reconcile. Thank you.

  5. My cassette player is broken so I shuttle between a bunch of stations on my commute to and from work. The Christian radio’s tagline out here is now “Positive and Uplifting” and every time I hear their sugary-sweet ads about “Dad becoming the tickle monster” I cringe and change the station.

    I’d much prefer “challenging and prophetic” to “positive and uplifting.”

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