Let me start by giving a disclaimer. I listen to K-Love from time to time. I love much of the music on K-Love. I love a lot of Christian music. I do have some critique towards some of Christian music (for example, see my last post!), but by-and-large, when I listen to music I listen mostly to Christian music. Also, I am using “K-Love” when really these issues deal with other Christian radio outlets I have encountered, too; but, as K-Love continues to spread its influence all across the country, I believe it best represents that to which I am speaking.
Now that that has been cleared up, let me get to the heart of the issue here. I believe that the picture of Christianity that K-Love paints for the listening world is one that is less than biblical and potentially dangerous. I take issue with it because it is not real. It is not true…at least not for most people. Painting a picture of true Christianity, for K-Love, has been sacrificed on the altar of ‘positive and encouraging’ to the point that what is left comes across as a forced false utopia that simply does not resonate with most people, both Christian and non-Christian.
Perhaps I (sort of) understand the idea behind ‘positive and encouraging.’ An attempt is being made to promote things of that nature in a world where most of media seems to dwell on both sinful and tragic subject matter. I get that. But in order to offer hope to a fallen world, we cannot just pretend that the fallen world is not there. We cannot just retreat to our own little created sub-culture where that kind of dirty and messy stuff just does not exist. To do so is to promote the very dangerous idea that sin can simply be escaped from.
Why can’t “Christian” radio instead actually deal with what is going on in the surrounding world, but with a tone that leans upon the hope we have in Jesus? That, I think, would be a way to actually promote true Christianity and appropriately contextualize the gospel through the very good and useful cultural tool of mass media! People living in the real world cannot just simply withdraw from the culture. Some might attempt to, but at the end of the day it is an impossibility to do so fully. And further, it is disobedient to do so. We are called to be missional, taking the truth of the gospel to the (real) world. K-Love might challenge people to switch to listening exclusively to its positive and encouraging message for 30 days (like they did earlier this year) or for good, but when the radio is switched off, the real world is still there with issues that must be faced. Instead of promoting and exemplifying a well-developed Christian worldview that centers upon gospel-planted hope, it only offers a short-term false utopia in which to escape. Having a Christian worldview is not about blocking out the negative and just focusing on the positive; rather, it is about looking at the real world with all of its issues, but through the lens of the gospel. Believers desperately need to practice the ability to see the (real) world through the lens of the gospel. What an incredible opportunity Christian radio would have in training all believers in this way! The hope we have in Jesus gives us the ability to be able to see the real world, but because of the redemption and hope we have in Jesus, we can be positive and encouraged because of the reality of the gospel!
Further, the personality of K-Love implies that to be “Christian” one needs to be cute, sweet, and corny. Things that are really not that funny are hilarious. The only feeling that seems to exist in that world is happiness. Nothing would ever dare be uncomfortable or ‘negative.’ For me, and for others with whom I have spoken, the discussions and talk segments on K-Love do not really jive with real life very much at all. Not all the substance is terrible, don’t get me wrong, occasionally a story discussed will ring with some degree of relevance. But, especially for non-believers, most of its substance has little in common with their real life experience. To tell you the truth, when I have students in my car that lack a church background, when the music turns to talking on K-Love, I usually turn the radio off. I simply do not want them to begin to think that that is what transformation in Christ looks like.
My most serious issue lies with the fact that K-Love Christianity is surprisingly void of Jesus. I very rarely hear that name uttered from the on-air personalities when I listen. What’s worse is that K-Love, whether intentionally or not, often promotes itself as a functional savior. I hear audio clips constantly of people calling in to praise K-Love for saving their marriage or getting them through tough life situations. Instead of clarifying for listeners that only a vibrant trust relationship with Jesus can rescue an individual, the clips are played as promotional material urging for more listeners. We must be extremely careful to appropriately distinguish between servant/tool and the Savior. In my years of listening to Christian radio outlets, including K-Love, I have yet to hear any of them take the time to clarify this very important distinction.
Important lines are further blurred by such stations each year during share-a-thon pledge events that are needed to raise the necessary support to stay on-air. This important line is found between the Church and a para-church ministry. K-Love is not the Church; yet, in their urging for people to give to their ministry, I often shudder at some of the statements made. Scripture dealing with giving and faith are often distorted to deal primarily with a believer’s charge to give to the ministry of a radio station. Yet I cringe as emotional ploys are made each year in calling listening believers to be ‘obedient.’ Also, this is a time of year when the audio clips from phone calls mentioned above are ramped up, often conveying the message that somehow ministry would not take place in the community without the presence of the radio station. Again, these radio stations are able to be a powerful influence for the gospel and a wonderful ‘tool’ for ministry, but a clear distinction must be made between its existence as a ministry and the Church. I often wonder what must go through the mind of a non-believer who stumbles upon such a station during these over-the-top events.
Ultimately, my point is that real Christian life is difficult because we live in a fallen world. We need to be real, not fake. We need to be walking in rhythm with the surrounding culture, not seeking to create our own little utopia. The difference is not that we are sweet and cute and the weather is always sunny and positive. We face the same struggles in this world that everyone else does. Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (emphasis mine). The difference in the life of the believer is not in that our circumstances all of a sudden become all positive and encouraging. The difference is found in the hope we have in Jesus, even though our circumstances do not change and may even get worse as we continue on ‘in the flesh,’ or in this fallen world.
Our personalities are unique and diverse, yet in Christ they are redeemed and transformed. Maturity is not rooted in everyone being sweet and cute and always upbeat and happy. I do believe that we are to be positive (hope-ful) and encouraging, but that can be based in reality. I wish we had more Christian mass media that did just that, instead of painting a false picture that no one can ever actually attain and maintain.
I understand those who feel the need for more positive and encouraging media, but we just need to be careful that we don’t equate that platform with the gospel and Christianity. I am not advocating for anything silly, like a boycott of K-Love! I am not attempting to push folks to an alternative. I will continue to listen to it myself, from time to time. I am, however, urging Christians to be discerning, especially when it comes to the true nature of the gospel and Christianity. I am also sharing a very real desire of mine to see believers properly and excellently contextualize the gospel within the culture.
Now, I do believe that although we should walk in the same rhythm as the culture around us, the difference in every believer’s life should be very evident to the culture. (In the world but not of it!) We need to properly contextualize the gospel while, at the same time, remaining faithful to the Scriptures. I definitely am not an advocate of blindly assimilating into the culture. That is equally as dangerous as attempted cultural withdrawal and sub-culture creation. We must remain faithful to the Scriptures, but take the culture into serious consideration as we seek to portray and proclaim the gospel message. I want to use this post as a springboard to several other posts wherein I would like to talk about what this difference actually looks like. What should a believer’s life look like in a lost, sin-sick culture? What does gospel transformation really look like?
Here is my first answer: it’s not fake or forced. God has created us with incredibly diverse personalities, and the gospel is not concerned with pressing us all into the same personality mold. We don’t all have to look like the sweet, cute, cheesy picture that K-Love paints. We remain beautifully diverse, but we are redeemed and transformed. So what are some statements about that transformation that should be true for all of us who are being transformed by God, while allowing the beautiful diversity in our (redeemed) personalities to shine? Stay tuned.