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


  1. Dexter wrote:

    There ain’t nothing wrong with Christian entertainment…Mahalia Jackson was a Christian entertainer…and there are lots more out there….

  2. Leebob wrote:

    Let’s start by the defnition of entertain. From the fine people at they give us this insight: 1. to hold the attention of pleasantly or agreeably; divert; amuse.

    I am hoping that your pastor has the ability to hold your attention on Sunday morning so the Word can somehow reach through your thick skull and into your heart. If he does manage to hold your attention then by’s definition he is entertaining you. My pastor is extremely entertaining but not for the sake of beng entertaining. Get the difference?

    This is the ultimate balance in entertainment and ministry. I am perplexed by the Christian community’s lack of vision when it comes to carrying the gospel forth. This does not mean you water down the Truth as some of our televangelist have but it does mean that you realize that you are dealing with adults who are now computer savvy and even more so are the children.

    There will always be an element that will be reached by the dull and mundain because thatr fits their personality. The flash is usually powerful if, and only if, it is accompanied by the heart piercing truth of the Word of God. If all you get from EHSS is that your family has been entertained for the evening then be thankful because you didn’t have to put up with a couple of ill placed scenes from a movie and hide your face in embarrassment in front of your children.

    However, if you are seeking a life changing moment at one of EHSS’ events, or any other group, while it could happen, do not necessarily count on it. The Christian walk is a long, slow burn as Frank Peretti once put it rather than a series of mountain top experiences. These concerts that we attend lean toward the mountain top experiences and we need them but not as to direct our daily life by. Getting the proper perspective will go a long way toward settling some of these disagreements.

  3. Alan wrote:

    I’ll agree with much that you wrote, Leebob. But a few words about the last part of the definition that you gave - amuse. Remember, the Greek prefix “a” means without, and “muse” means thought. Thus, some entertainment gives us time to divert, to have fun and relieve the stresses of life, which we all need. But, as Christians, we do have an enemy, right? And he has proven to be a past master of diversions that render people without conscious thought - in context, without any thought of things spiritual and eternal.

    Quite possibly, what bothers some Christians, is the blurring of the lines when it comes to concerts of Christian music. Any concert is visual, sensory, often interspersed with humor, and when it’s good, filled with music that as one said “Washes the dust of everyday living off of the soul”. I’ve left many concerts walking on clouds; thrilled to be in this family, and encouraged to go on. I’ve left others - even early - because something going on was at war with my spirit. It can even be hard to quantify, if not impossible, but I knew that right at that moment, I just needed to leave.

    Doug mentioned “…ministry (whatever that means)”. Scriptural ministry is no big mystery. The word means “service”. We can serve the Lord and His church in a myriad of ways; some very quiet and private, and others are most public. The age-old question and debate is whether or not the two can coexist peacefully - to be entertained and also ministered to. I say yes. And any reasonable, thinking Christian can decide - without judging - if a singer or a group thereof appears to have a primary purpose of entertaining or ministering. My personal favorites are those who indeed divert my attention pleasantly for a while, but have what I sense to be an overriding desire to be ministers using music as their medium. Every one of us will subconsciously use the same prism, I believe, even though the personal responses will be as varied as we are. After every concert I attend, I find myself wondering what, if anything, of lasting and eternal value there was in that experience. Was it just to feel good for a few hours, or did it make a real and substantial impact on my walk and life.

    I might be wrong, but I think that human beings are unique in our abilities to make and appreciate music. The chirping of birds, the clicking of a porpoise, etc. may seem to us that they’re making music; but that’s merely communication. As such, then, music has to be a gift from God to His unique and pinnacle creation, mankind. Despite our inevitable differences and tastes, we’ll be singing His praises alone, forever. And for the ability to engage in that even down here in dress rehearsal, I thank God for it.

  4. Trent wrote:

    Regarding the “God wants you to be rich” stuff that is being preached today….I wonder how John the Baptist would have reacted to such a sermon while he sat listening to it clothed in animal skins and eating locusts and honey?

  5. matt wrote:

    If I’m entertained, that means I’m interested, and paying attention. And all the while, I’m enjoying myself. When I used to attend Cathedrals concerts, I was thoroughly entertained, and I hung on every word said/sung. The messages the Cathedrals presented were getting through to me, because of/inspite of being entertained.

  6. BUICK wrote:

    Alan, I agree with your conclusion but not your introduction.

    Just to clarify, “amuse” comes to us from French, not the Greek language. In French, muse means to be absorbed in thought and even to loiter or waste time and literally to stand with one’s nose in the air like a dog which has lost a scent. The prefix “a” can mean “at” or “to” in the French. So amusement (from the French) may simply mean to stare at or be absorbed in something.

    The closest Greek word to “muse” is probably “mousa” which is a root referring to music, song or even eloquence.

    While the prefix “a” often means the same as our “un-” it does not always meant that. It can actually mean “of” or “like” (as in adelphos = of the same womb; hence brothers).

    Again, while I do not agree with your introduction, I agree with your conclusion. Music is our gift FROM God and then becomes our gift TO God.

  7. Leebob wrote:

    Doug, sometimes when I read these I have to process it for a bit to fully engage the brain properly. Being slow to speak has it’s advantages.

    The “God wants you to be rich” that is espoused by the televangelistas has done an immeasurable amount of damage to the mindset of Christians. I have watched normal thinking Christians get caught up in the whole “name it claim it” game and then when things don’t quite work out either blame God or feel as if they have somehow failed God.
    Please let’s not blame God on our failed bits!

    This IS NOT Christian entertainment but is an issue of substance. Doug, pretty much everything that people have complained about EHSS has been from hair to dance lines to stacks and now personal attacks on Ernie’s character. Personally, I do not know Ernie so I cannot say one way or another but I should give him the benefit of the doubt until he proves otherwise. I have not seen too much argument made over a false claim such as the televangelistas tha you have mentioned. So I am not real sure that I understand the comparison of EHSS to the two evangelists you mentioned especially. Perhaps a little clarification may be in order

  8. Jake wrote:

    I agree with Leebob (#7) and a few others here, let’s not compare EHSSQ with Joel Osteen. Many of us who have issues with Osteen base it on the substance of what he preaches (i.e. we disagree with his doctrine). The complaints we so often hear about EH and SSQ deal with their style. I have never read anyone on this site complaining that Ernie was teaching a false doctrine.
    It is important to keep the two seperate. On areas of doctrine we cannot compromise, and sometimes we cannot even “agree to disagree” if we believe the teaching is so far removed from what we believe. When it comes to style, however, we can all have our preferences, but that doesn’t make those who disagree “wrong.”

  9. Alan wrote:

    Thank you Buick, #6, for keeping me honest. Totally my mistake. I’d been in a discussion with a friend over a few Greek words and that stuck in my brain. You are correct in stating the French etymology of “amuse”. I’d meant to go back even further and say “the Latin prefix”, not Greek, which I think we’ll agree has a main meaning of “without” or “not”. I’m glad that we agree on the substance of the rest. I am surprised, though - I thought this essay by Doug would garner a lot more comment than it has….

  10. NonSGfan wrote:

    The people that are disgusted with EHSS, Joel Osteen, and others, are the people who have a full concept of what music and ministry were MEANT to do. When you speak of matters of entertainment, you have to ask yourself the question of “WHY” is this entertaining. Is it entertaining because it glorifies God, lifts up Christ, brings men to salvation, or because it temporarily appeases our incessant desire to be awe-struck by meglamania Christian superstars. I recently watched people salivate over a great southern gospel turned contempoary artist and it was sickening. I was right by the person so, I got to see it first hand. We don’t love the music, we love the feeling that we have “Christian superstars”. EHSS are not that talented, so it canNOT be the talent thats drawing. The dancing is horrible, so it can’t be the dancing. It’s that we wan’t to be entertained more than evangelize the world. “OH but people get saved at these concerts”. If people get saved, without conversion being the aim, imagine how much more would be done if salvation WAS the aim. We act like salvation should be a aftershock instead of first priority.

  11. Joe wrote:

    “If people get saved, without conversion being the aim, imagine how much more would be done if salvation WAS the aim. We act like salvation should be a aftershock instead of first priority.”

    And THAT, folks, from the inimitable NonSGfan #10, is perhaps the most pithy and cogent comment I’ve read here in a long time.

    Not only is it worthy of our deep reflection and meditation, it is spot on.

    Paul plainly states that God, through “the foolishness of preaching, saved those that believe”. We have gotten ourselves so wrapped up in music, that it is a constant battle here whether it is ministry or entertainment.

    Scripturally, it is very little of either. It is barely mentioned in the NT, and when it is, it seems as if it is mostly a private thing. That it has been made so public, with such difficulty in our finding a “box” for it, is testimony to how far we have come from the original commission.

    Please don’t get me wrong. I love music. I have played keyboards since age 5. I have recorded a number of albums in SGM. I have sung before huge crowds, and have opened for and actually sung and played along with some of the biggest names in the business, who came up on stage and backed me up.

    Instrumental music never hit the church until the 9th century AD, and if you study the history, you will be amazed at how it arrived, and how hard they fought, for centuries, to keep it out. It just didn’t fit their concept of the NT pattern.

    But…our commission is to preach the gospel. NonSGfan’s comment is so telling; actually, convicting.

    I guess there are a good many of us who can accept that SGM is a small part ministry, and a larger part entertainment…but we rebel against the entertainment part when it copies, mimics, or emulates that of a dying world.

  12. Leebob wrote:

    “If people get saved, without conversion being the aim, imagine how much more would be done if salvation WAS the aim”?

    Answer: NONE!! Because it is not me that gets them saved it is GOD!!! Your own overblown sense of importance to the kingdom of God does not allow you to enjoy anything and laugh.

    The purpose of the church is to witness and make disciples. Part of the making disciples is to encourage them to do likewise. Part of it is to lighten the load for a little while and perhaps add a little perspective to life. My gifts and talents are from the Lord for the edification of His bride. I witness to people individually. That is my responsibility as a Christian. As part of a group that carries over. But I also realize the majority of our crowd is already saved. Therefore my mandate from God at that point is “edify the church”. We still reach out to the lost, but that is not our primary function.

    And please, are you suggesting that EHSS emulates a dying world? I am not the biggest EHSS fan on here but some of you have swayed me to the opposite side of the fence with your pettiness. I still have not seen anything of substance to say that EHSS is wrong in what they do.

  13. Leebob wrote:

    Oh…and nonsgfan, I DO love the music. To say otherwise is for you to prejudge me knowing very little, if anything about me.

  14. Harry Peters wrote:


    Old Harry Peters thinks your analysis is well thought out, cogent and sound. You are correct that the infatuation with EH and SSQ cannot be the music. It took EH several years singing with the CATS before he could sing and hold a pitch. The first night I heard him with them, he was just enough flat (between 1/4 and 1/2 step) to be obnoxious to a musician with perfect pitch. He has all the effects and sound tricks in his repertoire now, so who knows what he sounds like undoctored. It’s not the dancing. I’ve been watching “So You
    Think You Can Dance” and have developed an appreciation for the beautiul art that can be expressed through dancing. For Joe, David danced before the Lord, so I guess you can be happy that dance is an art that is acceptable to God. Problem is—when it comes to dance as art—EH and SSQ are hacks and wannabes. They would never win a competition judged on art.

    Now to where this leaves us. “Appeasing incessant desires,” “being awestuck, “megalomania,” (watch the spelling nazis, buddy, they’ve already done a hatchet job on Wade) and “Christian superstars…” This takes to task the issue that was raised in another thread where all of this was called “explicitly sexier.” Whoever wrote that was right on point, too. Anyone who can stomach that Wet Dreams video that makes EH and SSQ coming to the navy pier in Chicago look like a heavy weight prize fight, is someone I don’t care to have over for dinner. That broadway routine is REDICULOUS and has no place in a Christian concert. I might be able to handle EH singing the lyrics from Westside Story…”I feel pretty
    Oh so pretty I feel pretty and witty and..” (the three letter word that means happy that rhymes with DAY). Anyway, Chicago has long been called the “Windy City” and I’ve got a feeling they are in for a good blow.

  15. Wade wrote:

    # 11 - 6th Paragraph…This is PRICELESS from ole Joe between the ” ” ’s

    “Please don’t get me wrong. I love music. I have played keyboards since age 5. I have recorded a number of albums in SGM. I have sung before huge crowds, and have opened for and actually sung and played along with some of the biggest names in the business, who came up on stage and backed me up.”

    PULEEEEEZEEESSS… Next thing we know you will be telling us your Elvis!!!

    That’s some funny Sh*t!!!

  16. Joe wrote:

    UH, Wade-

    I was raised not to lie. If you are really interested, provide me your email address, and just once, I will email you all the details. None of that is made up. But…I do not know Elvis- never met him.

  17. NonSGfan wrote:


    That was a really really dumb post.
    I wrote a whole post back to explain why it was so dumb, but then I realized how dumb it still was even after my post, and decided it wasn’t worth it.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked * Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.