Patty Griffin, Waiting for My Child Part I
December 18, 2010

What makes a song “Christian”?

The easiest answer would be the lyrics.  What do they say, are they about Christian things?  Let’s assume they are.  But what if a popular singer songwriter whose convictions about Christianity are obscure is covering the song?  Is the song still Christian?  Does it matter?  Could it be delivered with the same conviction as an outspoken Christian singer might?

I think this dilemma keeps Patty Griffin’s cover of “Waiting for my Child” so engaging for me.  It appears on her seventh full-length release, Downtown Church.  There is plenty to be read on the blogoshpere about the album, how it was recorded, the song choices, etc.  I want to focus on this one song and deal a little with a tough question, “What makes a song Christian?”

“Waiting for My Child,” is soft, sensitive, and heart breaking.  If you have a child and they’ve wandered at all I’m sure it hits even closer to home.  If you don’t have kids, or in my case they are too little to do much wandering, I think you’ll still feel the emotional pull of this song.  “A letter would mean so much to me.”  It is simple, heart felt and delivered with such a high level of artistry that it flat out choked me up the first time I heard it distraction-free.   But isn’t Patty Griffin a secular artist getting ready to go on tour with Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin?  Yes she is.

So, I guess this is a piece of the answer to my opening question: the art is God’s, even if the singer isn’t or doesn’t know.  He created the music, our ears to hear it and our soul to respond to it.  The correct use of talent honors Him regardless.  The pursuit of beauty is a godly activity.

“Finally, brothers, 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.”  Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Therefore a song doesn’t have to be a “Christian” song in order to be praiseworthy.  For example, much classical music has no lyrical content at all and still honors the Lord.  I think our response should be clear.  The Christian should not go fill their mind with ugly junk just because it has the label “Christian” on it.  Also, a Christian should not ignore beauty and excellence simply because it does not have the label “Christian” on it.  But the question I asked isn’t entirely answered there.  Surely it is more complicated than this!  Additional thoughts abound in Part II.