I’m a Belieber (you know, a Justin Bieber fan). There, I said it. I would have been ashamed to say that when we were introduced to Justin Bieber over 10 years ago, but not today.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen Justin Bieber videos in moments of worship at church events, at Hillsong Church, at Kanye West’s Sunday Service, and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. On his social media, Justin is very vocal about his faith.
This past Easter, Justin released a surprise EP titled Freedom., notably featuring artists Chandler Moore, Tori Kelly, Beam, and Pastor Judah Smith. This EP is just as Jesus-focused as any Christian contemporary album, although with an asterisk that we’ll look at in just a minute.
Mainstream artists crossing into the Christian music space has always been an interesting opportunity to witness for me. We get excited when artists like Tori Kelly, Gary DeVox of Rascal Flatts, Dolly Parton, Harry Connick Jr., and Carrie Underwood crossover into Christian music because their faith has long been a part of their image. I remember on Carrie’s 2010 Play On Tour, Thousand Foot Krutch’s “Fire It Up” was booming as her walkout song to let everyone know intermission was over.
Celebrate These Artists
We could probably have a whole piece on Christians in mainstream music, and maybe we should be more intentional about celebrating these artists, but there’s no doubt that many of us wonder what would happen if artists like these went all-in to Christian music since it seems like it’s a small step.
The other side to this coin is that we get suspicious when artists whose images have been far from Christian start to invade our Christian music territory. I would venture to say there’s a fair number of us who are turned off by artists who produce vulgar music in one moment but turn around to produce God-praising music in the next.
Genuine Or Marketing Stunt?
We feel that we have to decipher what’s genuine and what’s a marketing stunt. Controversial mainstream artist Kanye West is a great example of this when he dropped his Jesus Is King and Jesus is Born releases. Was Kanye doing something crazy again or is this genuine? We wanted to hope but were very cautious because his history is so well documented. We can reference every appearance, every vulgar lyric, sexually explicit album covers and videos, and so many comments he made.
The Bible talks about knowing we are Christians by our fruit. I do think that we need to be cautious about labeling music as Christian (thank you, Avril Lavigne, for reminding me why). But, I’m encouraged when we see someone like Kanye or Bieber release unashamedly Christian music.
Profanity In Christian Music
We cheer at church when someone comes to Jesus, and that’s what I feel when I’m listening to Freedom. The asterisk I was talking about earlier: there is some swearing on the album as Bieber talks about his story. It’s less vulgarity and more someone working through memories and feelings.
It reminds me of a story from a guy named Grady from my church, someone whose fire for Jesus and serving is inspiring to me. Early on when he started coming to our church, he went out on a limb and went to a men’s life/small group. He knew he was rough around the edges and felt like an outsider. But, after they shared prayer requests, he looked at the group and said, “Wow, y’all are as f––ed up as I am.” The f-bomb caused the room to pause for a minute before busting out in laughter. The language wasn't an issue because the group didn't care where he was at in his faith. The important thing was that they rallied around him. That was about the time when he realized he really wasn’t an outsider.
While I’m not necessarily thrilled that the language is there, it does reminds me that everyone has a different journey. I don’t know what the future looks like for Bieber’s faith and how he expresses it. But, I really feel this EP is legit. It talks about God’s goodness and how he’s always working. It talks about how only God can fill the emptiness in your life. It talks about who Jesus is and Bieber even prays for you.
Anytime a popular mainstream artist releases faith-based music, it gets plenty of attention and has an impact on Christian music. I can’t wait to see more mainstream artists “come home.” Who knows, hopefully, one day we might get a worship album from Selena Gomez?
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