Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Charlie Peacock - Portly Kings and Love More Delightful Than Wine

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Charlie Peacock - Portly Kings and Love More Delightful Than Wine
By {{Charlie Peacock}}, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}}

There is a new model of Christian music emerging out of thirty-plus years of contemporary Christian music and crossover experiments. Above all, the new model is about the promotion of thinking "Christianly" about life, and the belief that all of life can and should become the content of lyrics created by Christians. This new model is especially exemplified in the diverse lyrics of popular groups like {{Sixpence None The Richer}}, {{Switchfoot}}, and {{Jars of Clay}}.

To think Christianly about all of life-from romantic love to new physics, from ambition to Jesus, and to write lyrics based on such topics is to dramatically increase the depth and breadth of Christian music. Which is, I think, a good thing.

The narrative of Scripture is the example from which this emerging model takes its cues. The Bible is comprised of stories, sermons, genealogies, prayers, letters, songs, poems and proverbs of every conceivable style, incorporating every imaginable literary device from hyperbole to alliteration, to acrostic, to stream of consciousness.

The subject matter is all of life, both the hellish and the heavenly. The same Scripture that tells us of the good news of Jesus Christ, also tells us the story of a fat king named Eglon who was murdered by a left-handed man named Ehud. When Ehud stabbed the fat king the Scripture says, "Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it." (Judges 3:22) The Bible is full of this kind of truthful, descriptive narrative. The same Scripture that describes to us the ministry of the Holy Spirit also includes these words: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth-for your love is more delightful than wine." (Song of Songs 1:2)

These and other examples like them were included in God's Word for a reason. Yet if stories or phrases like these were shaped into songs and recorded by Christian artists, many well meaning people would remark that there's no place in Christian music for songs about the murder of portly kings and lovemaking "more delightful than wine."

It's because of this tension that so many among the new model of artistry often find themselves at odds with church gatekeepers and the Christian music community. Not only do their lyric choices come under fire, but their critics often misunderstand or misinterpret their unique ways of discussing Christianity and music. In fact, many among the new model of artists are unwilling to speak or write lyrics in such a way as to align themselves with the Christian sub-culture status quo, or to respond to questions about their faith in the predictable ways that many Christians have come to expect from their contemporary Christian artists.

According to singer-songwriter David Wilcox, "A beautiful part of retelling the story is to start with something people haven't heard and to say it fresh so that it's striking. Yet whenever you do that, it's going to anger all those people who are clinging to their own metaphors." And it does. It often angers and confuses Christian music listeners. The avoidance of tried and true metaphors is one of the key reasons why some within the Christian music audience still have such a difficult time relating to this emerging model of artistry.

The street runs both ways though. This type of artist has an equally difficult time relating to the narrow lyrical expectations of the Christian music industry and audience. Especially since the new model is usually more interested in portraying the hugeness of the kingdom story in its diversity and complexity, than the smallness of the American contemporary Christian music story in its oversimplification and conformity. For example, when David Wilcox says "it's amazing to have a faith that always resists being captured," he opens himself up to the criticism of Christians who most certainly believe that it can be captured by the human mind. The artist who proclaims the mystery of God and the strangeness of the kingdom at hand will generally experience considerable tension trying to communicate with an industry and audience that clamors for easy or pat answers.

It's probable that the iconoclastic Bono of U2 understands this tension more than any musically talented Christian of the last two decades. "People expect you, as a believer, to have all the answers," says Bono, "when really all you get is a whole new set of questions." Bono's quote exemplifies the type of statement which is simultaneously thought provoking to some while deeply disturbing to others, particularly those Christians who know Jesus is the answer, but are not really sure what the questions are. To be sure, the new model of artistry is just as interested in the questions as it is the answers.