One thing that came back to me quickly after listening to Russ Taff is the odd lyrical game Christian artists played in the 1980’s.  They may still play it but I’ve pretty much stopped listening to “Christian” music so I’m out of the loop.  To understand the lyrical game I’m talking about you first have to understand the two competing pressures on Christian rock artists from that era.

First, a lot of conservative churches were very uncomfortable with the idea of mixing Christianity with rock music.  Rock music, after all, was the province of the devil, ranking only behind sex and drugs.  I remember as a 15 year-old in 1983 wanting to hear a song by Petra.  I called a gospel station and requested the song and was told they didn’t have that album.  “Well do you have any Christian rock then?”  And the (presumably) old man playing the vinyl gospel records said “Son.  A lot of those songs don’t even mention the name of Jesus.”  So one clear pressure was to make Christian rock “safe” by ensuring the lyrics were, in fact, Christian.

The other pressure came from within the Christian rock movement itself.  While they were happy playing to Christian teens like myself, a lot of them saw their purpose as evangelizing.  A church gym full of a couple hundred happy Christian teens was great but in a sense it amounted to “preaching to the choir.”  Most non-Christians weren’t going to listen to Christian radio and most secular stations weren’t going to play music that talked explicitly about Jesus, no matter how great the music.  What was an artist to do?

I think what a lot of Christian artists did was compromise and try to make great music and write lyrics that were somewhat ambiguous.  Christians could listen and they’d hear certain “catchphrases” that would let them know they were safely listening to Christian music.  Nonbelievers would hopefully be drawn in by the catchy tunes and would be singing along without immediately realizing that they were praising God.  Presumably, one day they would realize that when the lyric says “I love You”, the You isn’t Susie next door.  This sleeper effect would soften them up to the Gospel.  There’s even a term for this: pre-evangelism.

As a result you wind up with lyrics like this:

Somedays I get up in the morning and I wish I wasn’t there
Life seems so incredibly lonely when no one wants to care
But I found somewhere in this heart a Friend for life
To hold me close till all my fears subside

Or this:

Walk between the lines
Through this life and times
My heart is hitting hard upon the Word
Walk between the lines
Finding deeper finds
My heart is hidden deep between the lines

They aren’t bad lyrics but I’m skeptical that they had the desired effect.  Given that 99% of your audience is Christian, why not dispense with the code words and Clever Capitalization?  I really doubt that anyone ever thought: I wonder what he said just there?  I guess I’ll check out the lyrics.  Oh it was “friend” not “Fred”.  Wait, why is “friend” capitalized?  That’s weird.  Hmm…. I wonder if the friend he’s talking about could be God.  Why yes, I think it is God.  And you know, I really do need God in my life as a… as a Friend of course!  Now where was that copy of the Sinner’s Prayer?  Oh yeah, it was on that Rebecca St. James album.  Dear Jesus…

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