By Pst. John Musyimi
‘I have not found your works perfect before God’ -Jesus Christ (Revelation 3.2b)
Much digital ‘ink’ has been spilled in recent days in writings about the state of gospel music in our country. I want to spill some more. There had been low rumblings and mumblings about it for years but it seems like a mini earthquake has now rocked the scene. It happened after the release of the now infamous song ‘Tiga Wana’ – (loosely translated to mean ‘stop your childishness’). This song is an address to the Devil chiding him to ‘Tiga Wana.’ Many Kenyans took to social media to either complain or defend the song. It seems like the majority opinion though, came from those who were angered by the song. There is an obviously serious decline in the quality of gospel music in Kenya. There are individual exceptions, but the main picture is a bleak one. This requires us (Christians) to ask ourselves, ‘what ails the Kenyan gospel music world?’ What follows is my attempt at an answer to that question.
I claim no inside knowledge of the gospel music world. I am neither a musician, nor the son of one. I intend only to comment as a Christian listener and observer. My comments will have only little to do with style. I am concerned to deal mainly with substance. I will proceed by posing 6 questions for all our consideration. Since I am not speaking as an authority, perhaps this is the best way to do it. So, what ails the gospel music world? Here we go:
1.Could it be that there is, among many gospel artists, a lack of a clear understanding of what the gospel is?
Do our gospel artists know what the gospel is? Can they clearly articulate it? (as required in 1 Pet 3.15, Col 4.6) It seems to me that many of them don’t and can’t. At least that is what the bulk of their music indicates.
The gospel is the good news about God. It announces what He has done to rescue damned sinners and to reconcile them with Himself forever.(Romans 1.16) The gospel first shows the sinner his danger(Roman 1.18, Eph 2.1-3) and offers him the way of salvation(Rom 3.21-26). It calls him to turn from sin and turn in complete trust to Jesus Christ (Acts 2.37-38). It calls him to a self-denying, cross-carrying life of faithfulness to Christ (Luke 14. 25-33). When last did you hear any of that in the music that our artists are churning out? Most of it is strikes me as a mix of ‘feel-good’, theologically vague music, with a positive ring to it. Though a song be all that, it is not gospel. Could this be one of the reasons we are in the situation we find ourselves in?
2.Could it be that there is, in many gospel songs, a trivialization of weighty and eternal matters?
The 18th century evangelist, George Whitfield once said this to his hearers ‘you blame me for weeping but how can I help it when you will not weep for yourselves, though your immortal souls are on the verge of destruction’– Whitfield had what many of our gospel artists lack, a sense of the seriousness of eternal matters. Thus it was said of him that he barely ever preached a sermon without tears in his eyes. It seems to me that our artists too often trivialize weighty matters and present them in a lighthearted, easy going and joking way. There doesn’t seem to be much gravity especially in light of the fact that the souls of men are at stake.
For example, ‘Thitima’ is a song about God’s wrath as displayed in Bible history (Sodom and Gomorrah, The Egyptians, Uzzah and the Ark etc)- It seems to me that the song trivializes the subject of God’s wrath. A subject meant to cause us to tremble is treated in such a way as to produce chuckles. Where there should be reverence, awe and weeping, there is silliness and playful dancing. ‘Tiga Wana’ also displays a lack of a seriousness concerning a weighty matter. The Bible treats the devil as a formidable foe with great power. The Devil’s activity is never to be trifled with, it is not kid’s play. Rather, the picture given is that of a roaring lion (1 Pet 5.8), a furious dragon (Rev 12.9-12), a dangerous enemy with whom we are at war (Eph 6.12). We defeat him, not by childish ridicule but with great struggle (for that is what wrestling entails) by the mighty power of God. (Eph 6.10-18)
3.Could it be that the demand to entertain has overshadowed the need to edify?
The Bible points at two main purposes for Christian music: The worship of God and the building up of the saints. (Colossians 3.16) It seems that many gospel songs coming out today aim at a different goal- Entertainment. They aim to put out tunes that have a ‘feel good’ effect and empty of any clear doctrine. Indeed it almost seems as if some of it is produced to be played in nightclubs not Churches. The Bible envisions music that is Bible saturated and is capable of teaching and admonishing. Christian Music should help us worship God and also nourish our souls. This unfortunately does not seem to be the case with much that is called Christian music in Kenya. Entertainment is the key thing and the rest is negotiated away. Should it not be the opposite?
4.Could it be that many gospel artists have been influenced by the prosperity gospel?
The prosperity gospel is the popular message that teaches that health and wealth is guaranteed to the Christian by means of their faith, seed sowing, positive confession etc. It is a false message not taught in the Bible. It stands on the back of misinterpreted verses always ripped out of their respective historical and grammatical context. It is a theological cancer in our country. Many churches proclaim it and it appears that a lot of our gospel artists have been swept up in it. Correspondingly then, many of their songs seem to be nothing more than melodious renditions of prosperity gospel errors. Such songs are man centered, materialistic in impulse and boastful about worldly success.
5.Could it be that many gospel artists write music more as businessmen and less as Christ ambassadors?
The business philosophy of making products for maximum profit seems to be a driving force in the gospel music scene. In the market place, customer is king. Money takes the driver’s seat and directs everything else. (1 Tim 6.9-10) So, in the interest of profits, the artist is forced to view himself first as a businessman. He must survey the market and customize his product to suit it. Could this be the reason that our artists seem more inclined to give customers what their itching ears want to hear?(As predicted in 2 Tim 4.3) If they don’t do it, they will not make money. Before long, the artist forgets his primary identity. He, as a Christ ambassador (2 Cor 5.20), is called to sing the truth in season (when it is well received) and out of season (when it is not well received.)(2Tim 4.2) Offensive truths are taken out in favor of a feel good positivity that has no theological backbone. In the abusive marriage of ministry and money, it is ministry that usually suffers the abuse.
6.Could it be that we get from our gospel artists what we reward?
At this juncture, let us direct our gaze at ourselves who consume what our artist give us. Could it be that they are producing what they have seen us reward? With our various award ceremonies, our You-tube views, Facebook likes and Twitter Retweets, have we unwittingly played a role in the mess we find ourselves in? Why should we be surprised at shallow content when we have been rewarding it all these years? Is there an award for ‘artist whose song was most Bible saturated’ (Col 3.6a)? Or ‘artist who most displayed godliness (1 Tim 4.7), humility and brokenness before God (1 Pet 5.5)’? What about an award for ‘artist who was deeply committed in the life of a local church and doing life deeply with fellow believers to whom they are accountable’ (Hebrews 10.24-25, Acts 2.42)? Is there one for ‘song that most produced Disciples of Christ’ ‘(Col 1.28-29)? Or ‘song that most helped God’s people worship’ (Eph 5.19)? The answer to these questions is obviously no. We mostly reward and celebrate what is popular, hip and trendy. We reward what does not ultimately matter in light of eternity. As someone once said ‘what is rewarded is repeated’, Is it time that we re-evaluated this?
The Lord Jesus’ judgement of the church at Sardis can be rightly applied to many of our gospel musicians –Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God..’ (Rev 3.2) What I have outlined are some of the factors I believe have contributed to the decline of much our gospel music in Kenya. Don’t get me wrong, we have much to celebrate about what has been achieved thus far in this area. Also, there is a remnant of faithful musicians who are committed to writing and producing solid music that serves the church well. For them, I am thankful. For the other artists, if my analysis is correct, there is but one solution- Deep and true Repentance.