Jon Foreman-Why Switchfoot Won’t Sing Christian Songs

jon foremanwhyswitchfootwontsingchristiansongs

If artists are going to help others create a beautiful life (should they accept that role, among many, as part of their life’s work), then a key element of that role is engaging others in a thoughtful conversations about the role of art in our society and its institutions, including the Church.

In case you missed it, I recently shared on The Grove Center for the Arts & Media blog some important thoughts from Jon Foreman about why Switchfoot won’t be singing any Christian songs. I want to share it with you in the hope that it stimulates your thinking by pointing out many of the myths and ill-conceived notions about art produced by Christians. Amazingly, this piece was originally posted on Tim Challies blog 10 years ago in 2004.

Jon Foreman points out “the schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds. ” His words are as relevant today as they were 10 years ago. Responding to the idea that a book, a song, or a t-shirt simply can’t be Christian, Jon said,

To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple SF tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds. The view that a pastor is more “Christian” than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty.

Many songs are worthy of being written. Switchfoot will write some, Keith Green, Bach, and perhaps yourself have written others. Some of these songs are about redemption, others about the sunrise, others about nothing in particular: written for the simple joy of music. None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me. I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that. We all have a different calling; Switchfoot is trying to be obedient to who we are called to be. We’re not trying to be Audio A or U2 or POD or Bach: we’re trying to be Switchfoot.

You see, a song that has the words: “Jesus Christ” is no more or less “Christian” than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge “brothers” who have a different calling.

How would you respond to Jon’s comments? As artists, how can we help others understand the flaws in “sacred vs. secular” thinking?

I’d love your comments and feedback.

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  • techne

    I always start here (courtesy of http://etymonline.com/index.php):

    sacred: late 14c., past participle adjective from obsolete verb sacren “to make holy” (c.1200), from Old French sacrer “consecrate, anoint, dedicate” (12c.) or directly from Latin sacrare “to make sacred, consecrate; hold sacred; immortalize; set apart, dedicate,” from sacer (genitive sacri) “sacred, dedicated, holy, accursed,” from Old Latin saceres, from PIE root *sak- “to sanctify.” Buck groups it with Oscan sakrim, Umbrian sacra and calls it “a distinctive Italic group, without any clear outside connections.”

    secular: c.1300, “living in the world, not belonging to a religious order,” also “belonging to the state,” from Old French seculer (Modern French séculier), from Late Latin saecularis “worldly, secular, pertaining to a generation or age,” from Latin saecularis “of an age, occurring once in an age,” from saeculum “age, span of time, generation.”

    According to Watkins, this is probably from PIE *sai-tlo-, with instrumental element *-tlo- + *sai- “to bind, tie” (see sinew), extended metaphorically to successive human generations as links in the chain of life. Another theory connects it with words for “seed,” from PIE root *se- “to sow” (see sow (v.), and cf. Gothic mana-seþs “mankind, world,” literally “seed of men”).

    Used in ecclesiastical writing like Greek aion “of this world” (see cosmos). It is source of French siècle. Ancient Roman ludi saeculares was a three-day, day-and-night celebration coming once in an “age” (120 years). In English, in reference to humanism and the exclusion of belief in God from matters of ethics and morality, from 1850s.

    i always sum them up as 1. sacred indicating something set apart [for G-d] and 2. secular meaning “of this moment (or time)”. which I don’t see as mutually incompatible. the distinction i prefer to look at is the difference between the sacred and the profane, where profane is either
    1. profane (v.) late 14c., from Old French profaner, prophaner (13c.) and directly from Latin profanare “to desecrate, render unholy, violate,” from profanus “unholy, not consecrated”, or
    2. profane (adj.) mid-15c., “un-ecclesiastical, secular,” from Old French profane (12c.) and directly from Latin profanus “unholy, not consecrated,” according to Barnhart from pro fano “not admitted into the temple (with the initiates),” literally “out in front of the temple,” from pro- “before” (see pro-) + fano, ablative of fanum “temple” (see feast (n.)). Sense of “unholy, polluted” is recorded from c.1500.
    the notion of consecration seems more salient here (more later).

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      The sacred and profane is a key distinction, which would make for a more interesting dialogue because there is often an abhorrence (even in our church world) to point out the profane. Naming the profane versus just stating that something is “secular” leans toward the work of the OT prophets, for which many Christians today don’t want to appear judgmental or critical of those profane elements or practices in our society.

      By naming the profane, the visibility and need for consecration is elevated to the right position daily. I know I need daily consecration (aka to be set apart for the wholeness and holiness offered to me in Christ).

      I often say that, under God’s domain, all is sacred, yet not all is redeemed.

      Thanks Edward for your great points…you always offer insights to expand everyone’s thinking.

      • techne

        speaking of which, this is why brueggemann’s the prophetic imagination is such a touchstone for me.

  • Joseph John Orchulli II

    Right on!

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Thanks Joseph…yes, many provocative thoughts to consider here. Thanks!

  • Gregg Huestis

    I agree with the article for the most part. We need to be able to separate our faith from what we do for work to an extent.

    However, for me…I could not sing or play music and not bring up Christ. No, I do not believe EVERY song must mention Jesus directly or anything like that…but that JUST me…I’m NOT saying that they or anyone else are less saved because they sing good songs but don’t mention Jesus. I’ll give you a few examples: @Chris_Daughtry…he and his wife are saved but he doesn’t sing every song that even hints that he is talking about the Lord, but I see God’s influence in all of the songs he writes. Creed: the lead singer of Creed is a born-again Christian…I’m not sure how long but I can say that his lyrics of his songs have been in many ways documenting his search and finding of the Lord.

    Mega Death…Dave Mustang is a born-again believer…he has started to let his music tell the tale of a nation undersiege by a Police State…kind of like our nation is today…not just Jesus…

    These are just a few examples….

    Blessings,
    Gregg

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      All great points Gregg and very relevant examples. Thanks for your insights! Hope you’re doing great!
      Joey

      • Gregg Huestis

        Doing great! Very busy with my nursing job and working on my 5th book, also helping at my church to lead a home discussion group. It’s busy but I’m loving it. How have you been Joey? Great I hope?

        • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

          Between film, writing and The Grove work, doing well Gregg. I’m grateful for my wonderful wife (I’m way above my pay grade there!) and kids. Keep writing! Blessings my friend.

      • Gregg Huestis

        I also want to give you props, Joey, for this VERY cool site you’ve built here. Love it!

        • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

          Thanks for your kind words Gregg!

  • Scott

    Love to see discussion on this topic! Have been discussing this with a co-worker in recent weeks. He pointed me to an article by author Simon Morden that has a lot of good thoughts from the perspective of a Christian who writes fiction. (If you google “Simon Morden sex death and christian fiction” you’ll find that article easily.) It seems like a key question in this topic is, “What does Phil. 4:8 mean for an artist? What is a correct vs. incorrect understanding of that exhortation?” Would love to hear any thoughts y’all have on that!

    • http://www.joeyo.org/ Joey O’Connor

      Thanks for the lead on the Simon Morden article Scott.

      Here’s my brief thoughts on Phil. 4:8 (which we all could unpack for a long time)… “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

      I believe one of the key things an artist can do is to illuminate the Good, the True and the Beautiful of God through the power and gift of the arts. We need to remember that God is the Creator and as his creation, when we create, we are reflecting who He is, though not all of our art will necessarily reflect that.

      Phil. 4:8 challenges us to consider aligning our minds first with the characteristics of who God is. Once our minds are aligned with the mind of Christ (we do have the mind of Christ scripture says), then our hearts will follow. Good, wholesome, and holy thinking with get our fickle emotions and flesh in line with what our new heart and spirit truly desire…the true life offered by God.

      As followers of Christ, we have the freedom to portray any of the biblical story (Creation, Fall, Redemption, and new Creation hope) through our art. Ultimately, all art is worship, as we offer to God with what He has first given to us as gift. At the same time, our art (like anything else) can become another idol as we are constantly seeking to attach ourselves to anything, but God. Some people worship their car, their job, money, status or beauty…artists are no different. The true challenge is to find our identity in Christ and in Christ alone…then we can walk in the freedom of creating as God leads, whether that creation or piece of art reflects all the good, all the evil or the somehow in-between of this broken, hope-famished world.

      Many people wrongly interpret this verse to mean, therefore, that artists should only create what looks good or beautiful…I prefer an artist who may create something hideous, yet true, rather than an artist who creates something sentimental and saccharine that’s wrapped in a religious-looking lie.

      • Scott

        Thanks again, Joey! You are an encouragement and you make some good points that I’ve been thinking over.

        One thing I’ve noticed is that if we look at the stories God tells – both in the Bible and in the things happening around us – sometimes there are things that aren’t good or noble or pure in those stories. That much is undeniable.

        I wonder if… if we look at Lord of the Rings for example… If there were no Sauron, no Saruman, no orcs, no gollum, we’d never know how true and loyal Samwise was, or how brave Frodo was, or how noble and courageous Aragorn was. The things that are not Phil4:8 in the story serve the purpose of bringing out the things that are. So, can we say, then, that even though the story features vile evil, it is not a story ABOUT vile evil, but a story about what is good, and noble and pure and worth of praise?

        Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and giving a place to discuss!

        • techne

          reminds me of schaeffer’s major and minor themes…

          • Scott

            Hey techne, thanks for this pointer! I found Schaeffer’s “Art and the Bible” and am going to check it out. Sounds like it’ll be really interesting!

          • techne

            it’s pretty solid for such a small book – it was a lifeline to me when I first came back to Christ after a lost couple of decades. it feels a little dated to me now, but a great foundational book for the arts and faith conversation.

      • techne

        I’d also like to note that phil 4.8 doesn’t say :”finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true…and…noble…and…right…and… pure…and…lovely…and…admirable—think about [that one] thing [only].”