Style and substance in Christian entertainment
Leebob claims the complaints about EHSSQ are purely subjective:
The arguments against EHSS are personal tastes for the most part. I have not seen any argument against EHSS that are substantive. For the most part they have been made by people from a distance. When the attacks on their style didn’t work then the personal attacks started. This is typical of politics and personally I feel that it is counterproductive to the ultimate goal of all that are involved with and care for SG.
That may be an accurate description of opportunistic attacks on EHSSQ, but that certainly doesn’t mean a substantive case can’t be made against the them – or for that matter, a lot of other Christian entertainment and evangelical popular culture (where I think Joel Osteen and his ilk rightfully belong).
Specifically, the centrality of what I’ve called glamour and flamboyance in Christian entertainment might make the glamorous and flamboyant rock stars of evangelicalism – whether EHSSQ or Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer – vulnerable to the criticism that by insisting or letting people believe they’re gospel ministers in one form or another, they’re essentially selling cheap grace that more or less equates fabulousness with faith (or in the Meyer and Osteen vernacular: God wants you to be rich). Which is to say, matters of style and questions of aesthetics become issues of substance.
That’s not to say Ernie Haase is indistinguishable from Joel Osteen. I personally find it difficult to take a lot of Christian entertainment – again, I’m counting Osteen and Meyer and that crowd in this category – terribly seriously. It’s just so … campy and ridiculously outsized. Watching that trailer of EHSSQ and seeing how seriously they take themselves, even in their lighthearted moments, I muttered to myself, “it’s like irony never happened.” A few seconds later: “or maybe the whole thing is one big festival of irony.” Either way: joke’s on me.
But at least EHSSQ is entertaining (Osteen and Meyer just leave me vaguely nauseated). This is not because EHSSQ or most of my favorite gospel music strikes me as deeply thought-out religious discourse or finely wrought statements about religious living, but because it’s fun and funny and … well, fabulous, in the high-camp sense of that word.
One commenter recently called it “cheesy.” And that’s probably right. But since when did cheese disqualify something from being a commercially viable form of entertainment, especially in the Christian world? Cheese only matters in a bad way if you’re making certain assumptions about what religious entertainment ought to be and do. And too many people on either side of the debate have never really explored or articulated their own assumptions about the standards they’re applying to Christian entertainment. And this leads people mounting an attack – on, say, EHSSQ – to flail and flounder and make everything personal. Or as Buick put it:
I suspect some of the negative feeling toward EH is the notion that he didn’t earn his place in SG music. Some (erroneously) believe that George hired his son-in-law to sing tenor. In fact, EH married the boss’s daughter because he was already singing for the Cats before he dated and married. Some believe that he didn’t earn the exposure that EHSSQ has enjoyed, BG gave it to them as a favor to George.
The fact is, EH may have got some breaks along the way but he also appears to have made the most of them. And that counts for something…even if I don’t care for his voice.
There’s not enough of this rightheadedness out there.
The biggest problem, on both sides of the Ernie debate, as with so many similar arguments about ministry/monestry, phoney/authentic, godly/worldly, is that so many entertainers or their fans try to deflect criticism of the entertainment by referencing the ministerial or spiritual function the music serves, when what they’re really about is entertaining Christians. Would it be so bad if ministry (whatever that means) was but one of several effects among many, and perhaps not even the primary effect at that, of Christian entertainment?
Judging by many comments here and elsewhere, yes … it would be pretty bad indeed for many people (we’ll set aside the real possibility that what most Christian entertainers define as ministry is actually entertainment and vice versa). A lot of evangelicals (maybe most?) have come to believe that entertainment – even, or especially Christian entertainment – is bad bad bad unless it’s slathered over with a layers of altar-calling and come to Jesus pietism. Evangelicalism comes by it honestly. Most Puritans didn’t sing with instruments for fear of making the psalm-singing too enjoyable. But at least they were honest about it.
These day’s, it’s a tough call as to who’s more annoying: people who insist that all Christian entertainment be full-blown soul-saving operations, or the entertainers who don’t believe this is true but pretend they do anyway.Email this Post