Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Challenge of Christian Music Videos

As we've considered which song from The Attributes of God to push as a radio single, the idea of doing a music video has come up. Those who are familiar with my music know that I've never done a music video up to this point. It hasn't been for lack of opportunity, but because of an internal wrestle I've had about the idea. Now, some people might think, "What are you talking about? How could there possibly be anything wrong with doing a music video"? Well, I know it's often assumed that music videos are something we should do because they're popular in our culture and it's standard protocol for the (secular) music industry. However, I don't want to take my cues for the rightness or wrongness of something from our culture or the music industry, but from God's Word. So let me share two challenges I see with music videos done by artists with explicit Christian content. One challenge is artistic, the other is biblical.

1. The Artistic Challenge

Simply put, I never want to do a music video if I can't do it skillfully and creatively. I go into some reasons for this in a recent post that you can find here. I have a background in professional acting and theater production, which has given me a sense of how some things work behind the scenes. Video can be a very challenging medium. It takes a lot of time, skill and resources to do it well. This is why the music videos of popular secular artists can cost tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. It makes sense if you think about it. If you're going to do a video that doesn't look like it was shot on a camera phone by your cousin in your backyard, you're going to need at least the following things:

1. An excellent camera (Ideally a number of excellent cameras to do multiple angles)
2. A skilled director
3. A skilled writer to storyboard the shoot
3. Quality lighting
4 A skilled editor(s)
5. Skilled actors
6. Extras
7. Skilled make-up artists
8. Skilled wardrobe artists
9. Skilled set designers
10. A skilled crew to do all the necessary handiwork the day of the shoot

These are just the first ten things that come to mind. There are many more things that I could have mentioned. It can get really expensive when you start putting dollar figures on each of those things. One high quality camera alone can cost thousands of dollars! Even if you can get a bunch of volunteers to do as many things as possible, it can still be costly and you run the risk of producing a video that looks like it was shot and edited by a bunch of volunteers, rather than paid professionals. Over the years, it has become a lot easier to produce quality music videos for cheaper than what they used to cost, but it's still a challenge.

Also, from a creative standpoint, I was never interested in doing a video with me simply looking into the camera and rapping one of my songs. In my opinion, 1) That's not very creative and 2) Most of my songs are about infinitely big ideas (God, the gospel, eternal destinies, etc.) that I'm afraid will immediately become diminished if dwindled down to a guy rapping into a camera. I always wanted the medium to do justice to whatever is being communicated in the song, and if that wasn't happening, I didn't want to do it at all.

With all that said, the artistic challenge hasn't been my main concern with music videos. My main concern is a biblical one.

2. The Biblical Challenge

The biblical challenge with music videos is that it is a visual medium; that is, a medium of images. The Scriptures have a lot to say about the dangers of images. The second commandment says:

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God..." Exodus 20:4-5

I know that this verse was written during a time when pagan idolatry was prevalent and people actually worshiped statues. However, I don't think that bowing down to a statue is the only way to break this commandment. What this commandment is forbidding is elevating any created thing to the place that should only be reserved for God. For some reason, images make it easier for us to do this. I suppose that it's because images enter our hearts through our eyes. As it says in Proverbs 27:20,

"Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man."

There is a very real biblical category called "the desires of the eyes" (1 John 2:16). The very first sin committed in the Garden of Eden was connected to the "delight of the eyes" (Gen. 3:6) and the millions of clicks onto pornographic sites each day is just one proof that the connection between the eyes, images and idolatry is alive and well today. Check out the following verses, which make this connection explicit.

Numbers 15:39, Ezekiel 6:9 and 20:24

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that music videos are inherently sinful. Not at all. I believe that like every medium (and everything else in the world), video exists to bring glory to God and show off His creative genius at work in His creation. What I am saying is that music videos are an image-based medium and that any image-based medium should at least make Christians cautious in light of the many warnings in the Bible about images. While images themselves aren't necessarily sinful, images can (and often do) tempt the human heart to idolatry in a way that other things don't.

The secular music industry is very much aware of this and is very intentional in using music videos to make idols out of the artists they promote. What we see in music videos is not real. It's actors playing a role. It's 4 minutes of scenes slickly edited and crafted to make us see what they want us to see (and only what they want us to see). It is an idealized (usually either hyper-sexualized or hyper-dramatized), airbrushed, strategically postured, surgically enhanced image designed to capture our hearts through our eyes. Stadiums filled with thousands of people screaming, hyper-ventilating and fainting during secular concerts that are nothing less than worship events demonstrate powerfully that the idol-crafting, superstar-making formula employed by secular record companies is working.

When record labels do this, they are simply capitalizing off of a truth that was communicated in Scripture thousands of years ago: Within each fallen human heart, there is an idolatrous tendency to make idols out of images. We're being naive at best and negligent at worst if we don't acknowledge this tendency. When we fail to see this, what we'll inevitably see (and are seeing now) is the rise of the "Christian Superstar", which should be an oxymoron. There shouldn't be any room for a "superstar" in a universe that also has Jesus in it. However, we shouldn't be surprised if we use an image-based medium in the same way that "superstar-makers" use it and we end up with a Christianized version of the same thing, no matter how pure our intentions.

In addition to the idolatry factor, we have to consider that both words and images speak. An argument can be made that images speak more loudly. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Music videos for Christian artists become challenging when what we see on the screen is at odds with whatever the song is about. So, for example, I may be saying in my song "Glory to God alone!" while the image on the video has me jumping out of a limousine, flashing money at the camera and looking like a rock star. It's an extreme example, but the problem here is that there is a disconnect between the words and the image. This is an easy error to make and I see it happen a lot (to varying degrees) with music videos by Christian artists. I don't want to make that error.

Well, this post is longer than I intended, so I should end it here. I haven't ruled out doing a music video, but if I do, those are some of the things that I would want to address with the director to make sure we're on the same page. And if I never do a music video, I'm OK with that as well. I'm still working through some of these things, so if you have any wisdom or resources to point me to, I'm open to that. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

grace and peace,


Jakob said...

I feel this way when im asked to do a music video or anythin.. and i only do Christian centered Media work..

Anonymous said...

Great Post!

Anonymous said...

Hey fam. It seems as if you're giving this a great deal of thought, awesome bro. My question would be how could you making a video supporting a song that pointed to God end in idolatry considering it flowed with the songs theme? I may be lost on what you're conveying. But from what I understand you saying, all Christian painters who may wanna display Christ in there work might need to find a new gig! Help me understand... Forgive me if this sidetracks the purpose of your blog. Pay no mind to this if so... Grace and Peace from the A! -Donald-

Somnium said...

I love your heart, shai. I love being able to see you wrestle with this because all too often it appears the christian artist doesn't consider the weight of a decision, like this.

You brought up an interesting point when focusing on the content of your music. How does an artist make a video about the gloriousness of God that doesn't focus on the artist? An image that accurately portrays his majesty without diminishing His glory?

How do you redeem a cultural medium for God's glory without falling into it's many pitfalls?

I don't have any resources to offer, only a little wisdom. I don't know you personally so I don't know how you process something like this but I had to overcome a few questions when starting a podcast. Here's what I'm learning:

- Whatever you do, do it out of love for God. This is just as much a reminder to me as an encouragement to you.

- Fear of sin, or the medium, shouldn't be what keeps you away. The difference between this, and fearing God, appears similar but are thousands of miles apart.

- Sit down and ask yourself what you would want to accomplish with a music video.

I find it appropriate to close with this:

"In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." - Proverbs 3:6

"For His own glory and at different stages
He raises up servants to make His name famous." - shai linne

Jason said...

Thanks bro for your thoughts on this. I respect your convictions and pray you do as the Lord has pleased you to do. You have my support.

Jason in Dallas
I'm saved

BFrei46 said...

Good insight shai. Your keen awareness to "tempt yourself beyond what you are able" is the safeguard that keeps other sheep from stumbling and I appreciate that. However, when it comes to Reach, CM, and others their videos have always ministered to me, some more than others.

Jeyjey34 said...

Good topic, Shai. I've heard the argument of bringing up Exodus 20:4-5 when discussing Christian movies that portray Jesus like in the Passion of the Christ.

My understanding of those verses, in context, is that God is saying not to make things that have a likeness of anything in heaven for THE PURPOSE of worshipping them.

The Passion of the Christ wasn't made so that people could worship Jim Caviesel as Jesus and I highly doubt that anyone actually worshipped him as an idol. We saw him as just an actor who played a role. So I don't think that should factor in for your view regarding videos.

Jeff said...

have you ever studied the Iconoclastic Controversy? that study would speak to the issues you raise. and it is worth noting that the entirety(or at least a large portion) of Christendom was engaged in the same question many years ago. Also, Shane Hipps has a coupple of great books on the use of electronic media and spiritual formation. The entire entire argument comes down to the punctuation of the Exodus passage you mentioned. In one case the verse is telling us not to make ANY image( i.e. chapter 4 of Packers "Knowing God"). In the other case the passage speaks to not worshiping this images. There are some important Hebrew and Greek translation issues as well. Good to see than an artist is thinking it thru!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Shai,

I love your songs. you are truly blessed. God will keep blessing you more and more. God bless my brother.

Anonymous said...

What was the thought behind the "perfection of beauty" promotional video? Not trying to criticize, I liked it a lot.

Wayne "Debiewayne" Owens said...

Well said Shai! Love how Christ is using you and will pray for his guidance for you on this matter.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your saying. It makes a lot of sense now.

shai said...

Thanks for all your comments.

To Anonymous, who said:

"What was the thought behind the "perfection of beauty" promotional video?"

Good question. I tried to qualify everything that I said in the post when I said,

"Just to be clear, I'm not saying that music videos are inherently sinful. Not at all. I believe that like every medium (and everything else in the world), video exists to bring glory to God and show off His creative genius at work in His creation."

That's what we were trying to do with "Perfection of Beauty". We tried to shoot it with a simplicity that would keep the focus on what Blair was saying, while also trying to edit it in a way that would keep it visually interesting. We thought that particular song is a good introduction to many of the themes that are presented on the album.

My post isn't an all out rejection of video, but a call to discernment and not simply accepting things because it's popular in our culture. Thanks for your question.

grace and peace,

Marc said...

Hello Shai Linne,

My thought on this matter is you have to ask yourself why am I making this video? Is it to bring God Glory? (if the answer is no, don't make the video) If the answer is yes then ask yourself another question: how can I bring God Glory through this video? Get creative and make it happen. It can be a form of worship, just like creating a song that brings Him honor and Glory. In making the decision remember one unfortunate truth: people can take any form of worship and corrupt it, as did the church in Corinth (1Corinthians 11:17-34)which shows that our desire to honor and glorify God should not be hindered by the fear of how it will be received.

Charlene said...

Very thought-provoking. I've never thought about the Biblical aspects you address here while at the same time I've often been grated by Contemporary Christian Music videos that have God-glorifying lyrics and vibrant, close-up shots of the artists from every conceivable angle. I'm always left with thoughts about how the artist looked and what they were doing in the video--not the song. To exercise caution is wise and it's encouraging to see an artist wrangling with these important issues.

Anonymous said...

Hey Shai, nice article you brought up some good points I never thought about. Maybe you should try something along the lines of typography.

Unknown said...

Great post brother Shai! Its always good to seek godly advise (Behold, you people of Israel, all of you, give your advice and counsel here. Judges 20:7). Because we know that for those who love God all things work for good (Romans 8:28), it is appropriate to include the making of music videos. I love your passion for doing things well or with skill, I assume you get called a perfectionist at times :). As stated by the letter of the law, carving things out or setting an object up for the purposes of worshiping it is rebellious and offensive to God. As Jesus tried to explain to the pharisees, its a heart issue. What comes out of the heart is what defiles a man. Concerning the eye, Jesus said "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness" Luke 11:34. The point here is we cannot control what people think, but we can provide the opportunity to see Jesus, even in a music video. Speaking of visual things God used for his glory....he used handkerchiefs and aprons to heal and cast demons (Acts 19:12). I suppose today some have applied this selfishly to make money. I will end with this, at a time when God longed to be the king of Israel, and the people longed for a human king (because every pagan nation was doing it), though God was not pleased by the request, with warning he annointed Saul. Since you take account of God's warnings, in time I know you will put together a music video for the glory of God! Be blessed!

BerlinerinPoet said...

I was never very comfortable with music videos...and now I know why.

I love that you think through each decision instead of just saying "Oh we have freedom in Christ, let's do whatever." You take all of your steps in your career seriously and consider everything in light of the scriptures. I really respect that.

Particular People said...

As I was reading your blog, I found myself in agreement with pretty much all of what you said. I also think that anytime a Christian engages culture, he/she should do so tentatively so as not to reinforce the idols that are inherit in that culture. And then to do it well... I would rather stare at a wall for three hours than go see a "Christian" movie because the acting is always atrocious.

What about doing a music video that is animated? That could kind of remove you from the equation entirely and you would only have a representation (i.e. mini-shai walking around and marveling at what God has made [Glory to God]; watching the crucifixion [through my eyes]).

The other side of that coin is how else could money spent on music videos be stewarded...

I_Am_Not_He_Is_Everything said...

Shai, if you were to make a video i have one for you. But it might require a new rap. Consider, the day of crucifixion while Jesus is going through the trials, and especially the walk to Golgotha then hanging on the tree, where God made all present even the guards of who Jesus was. I think if you could make a rap about this, obviously with most aspects of the gospel in it, and be able to portray it in a beautiful way it could give God all the glory. That is just a thought, hope it sparks your imagination.

Joel said...

Great reflection, man. Thanks for thinking about these things and getting us to think about them as well. Theology is important. Thanks for your dedication to it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Shai,

Greetings from Germany. Yep, we listen to you over here!

From strictly an artistic perspective, I think that making a music video for a Shai Linne track is like taking that one last ill-fated hammer stroke on the statue that knocks off the nose. Your material is the Mona Lisa and making a video would be like drawing a moustache on it. Sometimes, you just can't improve on the original media, you know?

Hey man, if you're ever planning to be in Europe and want to do some English-speaking shows, look me up!

momlvsChrist said...

As a mother to 4 children ages 22 yrs old to 6 yrs old.....i am so thrilled to read in your blog what I have been "lecturing" to my kids for years...that images are branded into our hearts adn mind.....As Christian parents...we are intentional about "protecting the eyes" of our children....especially my boy (6yrs). Thanks for reiterating truth in your blog!

momlvsChrist said...

As I read through these comments...i wanted to address the annonymous writer that posed the question about the Beautiful One video.....i honestly think that using a video for this particular song was fitting in more ways than you can a mother to 2 girls...age 21 and 22....people have NO idea how "image" is idolized in the mind of a young use the image of a woman full formal dress and makeup was such a GREAT artistic expression in light of the words she is saying.....i sent the link to both my girls on facebook and my youngest daughter...age 11....i will dissect the words for her so she can understand the meaning......GREAT GREAT WORK! thanks so much Shai and Blair!

Anonymous said...

Amen! I really appreciate the heart God has given you on this. When I saw that there would be a release party for your Attributes of God album at a planetarium, I thought that sounded awesome! Unfortunately, I live out in Oregon, so that pretty much wasn't an option. Anyways, listening to your album, I could imagine how awesome that would be. Especially on the Glory of God, that talks about awesome things in the universe that God created. Maybe a video along those lines would be appropriate? Keep it all in prayer!

preston said...

I'm sorry, shai ... Did I read the beginning of your post correctly? Did you type "radio single?" Without digressing too much, can you (or someone else) enlighten me as to which stations/markets have supported, are supporting, or might support Lamp Mode? God bless Radio U, but here in Columbus, Ohio, I've never received the blessing of hearing you on the radio.

By the way, as a rule, I agree with Eric. The music can and does stand on its own - as a witness to the glory of God. The beauty of these songs is that they are hip hop hymns. Can you imagine creating a three-minute video treatment for "Amazing Grace" or "Great is Thy Faithfulness?" I can't.

One more idea: I was really excited when I learned about the "Man Up" project from Reach because it was (so far as I know) the first actual film from the holy hip hop community - also very well done, in my opinion. (Also, note that the film worked in tandem with the music to magnify the themes in a narrative form.) With your background in drama, you might want to focus your resources on larger projects. (Did someone say 'storiez?' ;-) )

In any case, be encouraged! Your ministry is a blessing.

Anonymous said...

My ears perked up, so to speak, when I first read this. A music video is grounds for great potential for a truly God glorifying artist.

However, after the initial excitement subsided, I thought over your reasoning, and it seems sound. I don't think it would be a good idea to make a music video of any song off your AOG album, at least for one major reason: any video you made would have to faithfully and specifically represent the very portion of God discussed in that song, which could not be matched visually as it could lyrically, because we do not have the priveledge to see God as we do to read about Him in His scriptures.
It seems to me that any production in this category would only detract from the glory of God, because of the true greatness it contrasts, at least as far as a representation goes.

The only potential exception I could imagine would be a psalm 19 approach for the song "The Omnis" because it is specifically stated in scripture. On the other hand, I would not rule out some of your other songs that are depictable such as "School Daze, Alone, Penelope Judd (phenominal potential for illustration), High Priest, or Martyrs."

Now, if you made a new song that incorporated a spectacular event in scripture such as the appearance of the Lord before Elijah in 1 Kings 19, you could have some room to display God's glory from imagery straight out of the text, without having to try to depict any faculty of God whatsoever. It would also be a great opportunity to rap about the remnant of Romans 11.

Nevertheless, though it's obvious this this prospect excites me, I urge you to faithfully continue serving our Father in the ministry He's given you, wherever He leads. I pray that you will receive wise counsel in order to come to a conclusion in this matter. May the Lord bless you and your decisions.

In Christ,

Aragond said...

If you'll permit me to say, I was already impressed that I was listening to a wise rapper when I first heard the song "Biblical Theology". Anyone that can rap coherently and sagely on what many would find "unrappable" has clearly been blessed of God. This post, a thoughtful, considered expose on your wringing of hands, has only enhanced that. In light of your thoughts, I think you would be hard pressed to go ahead with as video and I would back you fully (lol, for what that's worth) for taking such a stand. But, either way, please keep doing what you do musically. Music, generally, needs courageous, blessed lyrics, and the Lord appears set to use you in this way. May the Lord of All bless you, your burgeoning family and your work.

Josh Golackson said...

"When we fail to see this, what we'll inevitably see (and are seeing now) is the rise of the "Christian Superstar", which should be an oxymoron. There shouldn't be any room for a "superstar" in a universe that also has Jesus in it.'