Songwriter and singer Jennifer Knapp answered questions over on Rachel Held Evans’ blog this week, and in the midst of it all she offered up a devastatingly spot-on critique of Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) and how it reflects the attitude of the evangelical church:
In this sense CCM reflects our Christian culture very well. It is our Christian culture to invite those to tell only the story of victory and spare the gruesome details of the scarring war. We can reside if we are made clean and presentable, those who are still writing their story must wait for absolute victory before they can share it with others.
I don’t know about you, but from my experience, she’s right on.
When we hear testimonies in church, or smaller gatherings like men’s groups or (I would assume) women’s groups, etc, the stories we are told are only, as Jennifer calls them, “stories of victory”. How someone battled their demons, their besetting sin, and hallelujah, with Jesus’ help they came out victorious.
And sure, it’s encouraging. Stories of victory provide hope that there is victory to be had.
But when was the last time you heard a testimony that said “I don’t want to do this sin, but I did it again this week. So I’m repenting again and I’m going to God for grace.”?
Let’s go even further. If, by some odd happenstance, someone does confess struggles with sin in a church meeting, what gets confessed is a “respectable” sin. Pride. A bad attitude. Shortness with a spouse. Failure to have a regular quiet time.
Have you ever heard a testimony where someone confessed an ongoing, painful struggle with alcohol, or pornography, or anger, or financial honesty? Not a story of victory, but a story of the pain of the “scarring war”? I never have.
Here’s what I think this means:
We don’t really believe in the gospel of grace and forgiveness.
Sure, we give it lip service. But what good is the message of grace and forgiveness when the only time we acknowledge it is for stories of victory, for people who have experienced absolute victory?
Yes, Jesus said “Go and sin no more”. We put fancy words on it and call it “progressive sanctification”. But sanctification will progress at different rates sometimes. One brother may experience a sudden change and never go back to drunkenness; another may fight the bottle his whole life. To only affirm and share the stories of the former is tacit acknowledgment that what we really value is not the grace but the works.
I can hear some objector ready to quote me Romans 6:1. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? May it never be!”
Here’s the thing: we will all continue in sin for the rest of our lives. For some of us it’ll be the same sin. Others will retire old sins only to find and wrestle with new ones. We don’t want to, but we will. See Romans 7.
But when we silence the stories of the ongoing, painful, scarring battle, we are hampering the bountiful endowment of grace.
In God there is an abundance of grace. Powerful. Rich. Saving. Free. Not designed only for those who have already cleaned up their act.
Let’s not do anything to withhold it.