Bono Called Out Christian Musicians For a Lack of Honesty. He Didn’t Go Far Enough.


In a newly-released documentary, U2 singer Bono commented on the lack of honesty in the Christian music industry, saying:

“I would love if this conversation would inspire people who are writing these beautiful… gospel songs, write a song about their bad marriage. Write a song about how they’re pissed off at the government. Because that’s what God wants from you, the truth.”

He’s hit the nail squarely on the head in a way that is both refreshing and revelatory, saying what so many both inside and outside the Church have either realized for years but couldn’t say or struggled to find words for.

He just didn’t go far enough.

It isn’t just the musicians in organized Christian that are guilty of this voluntary editing. No, it’s a far wider virus than that.

The Church itself has an authenticity problem.

The Worship Music Industry (and that’s what it is) much like the modern megachurch worship experience itself, is designed for mass appeal. Despite its very noble core, practically speaking it is fast food, big box store, franchisable product—carefully crafted and marketed pop music for Jesus. It has to be in order to do what it is created to do: engage and move big numbers of people in faith as easily as possible.

The problem is, as smaller churches have continued to die and as that market share been absorbed by massive suburban campuses and gleaming multi-site churches, the pressure to create a weekly, entertaining, crossover spiritual “event” has pushed all complexity out, leaving space for only the very narrowest diversity of faith expressions.

As a result our modern Christian music has devolved into either gushy, effusive love songs to God, or guilt-laden thank you notes to God for rescuing us from our utter depravity.

Those are the hits. That’s the basic playlist. There’s your Top 40. This is the Sunday morning soundtrack.

Complex songwriting containing sincere expressions of doubt, of anger toward God, of any nuanced emotions or thoughts are all but squeezed out, in favor of three-chord, earworm nursery rhymes that can be introduced to congregations and digested in three minutes. The primary question we ask of our Christian musicians isn’t, “Is it true?” or “Is it honest?” or “Is it helpful?”—but “Is it catchy?”

This is not the fault of the artists. Many of them have a great deal to say and the Church would be well blessed if they could say it. They are merely playing the game as one has to play it in order to survive and have success. For nearly two decades I’ve been a worship leader and songwriter in the Church and part of planning Sunday services for large gatherings, and the reality was that ultimately you understood (whether you verbalized it or not) that you were putting on a Sunday production, and entertainment value as much as religious conviction drives it.

There are writers and performers of faith giving voice to the full spiritual experience (Gungor, Jennifer Knapp, Derek Webb, John Mark McMillan among others), but they are either relegated to the periphery of the Progressive Church, selectively harvested for their more palatable compositions, or tolerated in the mainstream, only until their authenticity exceeds what the Church will bear—which isn’t all that much. 

Again, this isn’t a Christian music industry issue. This is true of The Church itself. This is an organized Christianity problem. This is the Church we’ve created, nurtured, and supported; one where pastors and priests and people in the pews all conspire together to maintain a thin veneer of religion concealing a closet full of bones.

We’ve invested all our resources into great curb appeal, all the while the inside of the house is falling apart:

Pastors and speakers, propped up by an expectation of infallibility and a culture of celebrity worship, become more and more reticent about sharing their theological questions, their real-time faith crises, and their general messiness.

Worship Leaders, no longer asked to delve into the deep waters of racism, lust, doubt, or anger, simply wade in the kiddie pool of easy Sunday School psalms, where God is good and we are horrible; second verse, same as the first.

Church attendees, immersed weekly in this conspiracy of inauthenticity, grow to believe that the most they can share with their small group, church friends, and pastors is a sanitized, heavily doctored version of themselves; a closely guarded image that avoids the most jagged of edges.

And it’s a shame all around.

The Church is capable of being a beautifully redemptive community; one where people are invited to bring the full weight of their inconsistency and hypocrisy and vacillation, and to be lovingly received as they are.

It can be a place of limitless restoration and healing and growth, but only when we allow those on the stage and behind the pulpit and in the congregation to be exactly who they are, to ask the truest questions of their hearts, to confront the deepest recesses of their personal darkness.

It should be the very last place that pretending should be required or encouraged.

And the wonderful truth is, a God worthy of worship can totally handle such naked honesty.

It’s sad when we who call ourselves the Church, can’t.



146 thoughts on “Bono Called Out Christian Musicians For a Lack of Honesty. He Didn’t Go Far Enough.

  1. if he identifies himself as a Christian, would it be proper for him to stand on the honesty of the bible and speak against the gay lifestyle and manifesto successes as well as the catholic church dishonesties outright? if the industry doesn’t go far enough, how bout he come over and spend some time in it and do something with it , cause he likely speaks of a great fincancial market untapped . that should make his record label very happy

  2. where does the bible discuss the problems someone is having and not discuss the love of God, the goodness of God. The bible is set on man keeping his eyes fixed on the Lord, and not on the woe is me. But the areas where man needs to get corrected. So should a Christian songwriter be on a different course of attention than the bible. When did Jesus ever say fix your eyes on your loss and misery. Never. No Jesus said follow Him and cast all your cares on Him. Jesus cares about our problems of every day life. Jesus wants us to be free of worry. That’s why we the Christians sing of His great love.

  3. Wow lots of comments! Gonna add mine to the mix.
    As a former worship minister, I used to enjoy the
    corporate anointing that came with the music we played.
    But … as time moved on, I saw how some churches wanted
    to focus on our “depravity” in comparison to God’s holiness.
    Such a gross imbalance!
    As a musician/artist, I produce music that God gives me …
    not necessarily accepted by the “mainstream”. But I think
    Bono is right. We need to produce music that not only inspires,
    but challenges, redeems and presents TRUTH without fear; even if that means “telling the truth” about ourselves. If done tastefully & masterfully, with skillful music, it could actually impact the masses! LET IT BE.

  4. I have been a Christian since childhood and a worship leader for decades but lately I have found myself tired of the constant bombardment of shallow and meaningless praise music. I find myself getting annoyed at the Christian radio. At some point we must stop groveling, stand up, and become warriors for Christ and clam victory.

  5. Wow. Reading the comments I see a lot of great insights. I also see that there are some things people are never going to agree on. Bono got half of it right: Yes, music should be truthful and honest about who we are and what we’re feeling. But it’s also true that a lot of great worship songs are about God and how great he is, and that those lyrics transcend how the writer might be feeling. Those two aspects aren’t always going to be found together in a single song. Who says they have to be? I don’t think Bono is the authority on that. Who says he is? That is a valid question when you consider that Bono does not accept Christian teaching on some very important things, like marriage, having favored Ireland’s gay marriage referendum by saying, “Marriage is now an idea that transcends religion. It is owned by the people. They can decide. It is not a religious institution.” If he can say that about marriage, why should I as a Christian accept his opinion on Christian music?

  6. though I agree that real testimony is important in song, so is real worship. I always get concerned when a Christian musician musician wraps up big box church, appealing to the masses with worship music into one big convent ball of wax. Authenticity, transparency is an essential base from which to lead into worship. Having been a participant and sometimes leader in traditional and current worship times, there has always been some that are looking at their watch wondering when the musicians would leave and the real church would start. Some don’t get it. Some can’t seem to engage with Jesus outside their narrow comfort zone, wherever it is current worship or traditional hym/classical music. Engagement with God is the aim of all parts of a gathering. I’ll keep on with my part of our collective engagement, getting ready for when we all do it full time

  7. People as a whole is predictable individually they are not.. any worship intended or hypocritical is the “sole” responsibility of the performer. Who are we to judge. God uses people and leaders of all kind since inception to full fill His eternal purpose.. remember King Herod?

  8. I understand where Bono is coming from, but I’m not sure if he is completely right.
    We do have what some would consider quasi Christian songs with realism, which is called Country music. Maybe Bono is looking for a fusion between the two genres of music.
    BTW, I’ve been a fan of U2 since 1980. Since that time, Bono has tried to project himself as the real deal. A Christian that calls out other Christians, and one who likes to tell the truth no matter what the consequences might be.
    After watching and listening him for many years, I now see him as a man who is mostly a hypocrite. Bono, as a liberal Christian, is unwilling to make the ultimate sacrifice and give up his riches and follow Jesus, as that young man in the Bible was unwilling to do. Bono knows the liberal view of the Bible very well, that Jesus despised the rich. Like that wealthy young man, Bono is still clinging to his fortune and is afraid to give it up. I think that tells Jesus something about the level of commitment that Bono has for him…

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  10. Man, it’s not my intention to rustle anyone’s feathers and I don’t wish to offend anyone by this, but I think you’re completely missing that fact that worship is NOT for us – it is for God and only God.

    “Complex songwriting containing sincere expressions of doubt, of anger toward God, of any nuanced emotions or thoughts are all but squeezed out”… You’re completely bypassing the entire point of worship in order to satisfy your craving for music that touches you or moves you personally. If that’s what you’re looking for, turn on the radio. You’ll hear plenty of people expressing their struggles, battles, feelings, thoughts, etc, via secular music.

    “Worship Leaders, no longer asked to delve into the deep waters of racism, lust, doubt, or anger, simply wade in the kiddie pool of easy Sunday School psalms.” I can only speak for myself, but most of the “Sunday School psalms” I sung as a kid were derived from THE Psalms, which is also where a great deal of our contemporary worship music is derived from. The Psalms are brilliant, and they’re IN THE BIBLE, a.k.a. God’s word – they’re not my ideas, or your ideas, thank God… They are the model for what our worship needs to be… and again, these psalms often revolve around the things that supposedly sicken you: “where God is good and we are horrible; second verse, same as the first.” Quite simply, this IS the gospel. God IS good, and we ARE horrible, but that’s what’s so incredible about grace. If one doesn’t think that this is the gospel or thinks that we somehow need to add to that or conjure up various ways to make this feel more “real” or “raw” (as it seems is being proposed in this article) then I would question whether he/she has genuinely experienced this grace.

    Angels in heaven were/are/and will forever be singing, “holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come”.
    If that “falls short” of what you think worship needs to be, then I think you just have a different idea of what worship is and there’s not really anything one could say to deter you from that opinion.

    Ultimately, God’s not impressed by our efforts at relevant, complex, word-y songwriting. How do your greatest, most intelligent, radical, and ground-breaking ideas and thoughts look to an omniscient God? Well, about the same as your simplest of ideas – pretty underwhelming!

    You can’t impress Him with words; if you think you can then you’re essentially employing a doctrine of works, not of grace. God just wants your heart and that’s what we should be bringing in worship, with a desire to magnify Him and no one/nothing else.

    • I replied (above) in response to this article, thinking that it was slightly off-base and my only intention was to shed light on what the Bible actually says worship is. What I didn’t know, and soon came to find out after “turning” through the virtual pages of this blog, is that it is comprised of opinionated and controversial articles that do not support any of Jesus’ teachings. In fact, everything I’ve read is seemingly at war with what is really found in God’s word.

      In hindsight, I’m somewhat embarrassed that I took this article seriously and posted without doing any research on John and what he preaches beforehand… but on the other hand, maybe it’s a good opportunity to warn people of the dangers presented in this blog.

      Christian, please, run as far as you possibly can from what is presented by John. He is a false teacher who is twisting the gospel in order to build his own personal name/fame. If you have any form of genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, please take a minute to read this article by Pastor Gabe Hughes, which addresses a number of heresies John believes and presents on his blog:

      These are cardinal truths that are being denied and refuted by John, who, by the way, is not an actual pastor. From what I’ve read, he “serves” part time with youth as he is unable to obtain/retain a full-time pastoral position (hmm… I wonder why).

      This man will lead you astray. Follow JESUS. Follow his Word, pray, develop an authentic relationship with Him. Attend a local, Bible-believing church. Put God first, chase after Him, and you’ll know what is from God and what is not.

  11. Nobody wants to hear lousy music about some fairy tale that isn’t even real. Why isn’t catholic music about sexy altar boys and covering up rape? Let the priests be honest for a change about what turns them on.

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