Berean cogitations

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Teaching is dying out on Christian radio

A few days ago, I was listening to a sermon in which the preacher complained about an unfortunate trend in Christian radio. In the past, Christian radio stations typically offered a mix of both teaching and music. Nowadays though, less and less air time is devoted to teaching, and more and more stations are adopting all-music formats. An article in Christianity Today echoed this, stating

"Several [Christian radio] stations recently—many acting on the advice of a
leading consulting firm—have dropped serious programming in favor of all-music

This coincides with an observation I've made as well. There are two prominent Christian radio stations here in the Cleveland area. One of them provides both music and teaching programs like Grace To You and Truth For Life. Another is essentially an all-music station. Over the past couple of years, I've discovered that most of my Christian friends and acquaintances—especially among the younger people—listen primarily (or even exclusively) to the latter instead of the former.

The subject of Christian music is often very touchy, so I want to approach this topic carefully. I've learned the hard way that Christians often react viscerally to issues like these, thus causing unnecessary conflict. No matter how carefully one addresses the issue, people will often respond emotionally, offering knee-jerk reactions instead of careful, measured responses. For this reason, I'd like to proceed cautiously, anticipating likely objections and misconstruals.

First, I'm not saying that listening to Christian music is wrong. Nor am I suggesting that any Christian who prefers music programming is spiritually immature or inferior. That's not my prerogative to judge; after all, there could be any number of reasons why someone would prefer music programming on the radio. Perhaps that person's work environment would allow music to be played, but not outright teaching. Or perhaps that person is enrolled in a seminary, spending hours each day studying the Word. Whatever the case, we should avoid drawing hasty conclusions based merely on the knowledge that someone prefers music stations to teaching stations.

Having said that, I do think that this trend toward music programming is lamentable. It's a sign of our times. We want to hear things that are entertaining and make us feel good. We are less eager to hear preaching that could force us to re-examine our spiritual condition. We are even less interested in hearing messages that require deep thinking or detailed, systematic study of the Word. That's why so many Christians tune in to people like Joel Osteen, who preaches lightweight messages and tells story after amusing story. People are much less likely to study the works of John Piper, J.P. Moreland, or Ben Witherington III; after all, that requires a lot more effor than chanting out refrains like "Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord!"

Radio preaching is dying out, and deep, systematic teaching is in even more danger. I hope and pray that this trend will reverse itself, but somehow, I doubt that it will.