I went to the "Hits Deep Tour" featuring TobyMac at the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, Ga., earlier this month. I didn't go alone, but with my extended family -- 17 of us (one granddaughter was sick and could not join us). It was not the first time I have been to a contemporary Christian music concert. I have also been to Winter Jam at the Georgia Dome.
The "Hits Deep" concert was an extraordinary experience. I actually appreciated and enjoyed it. In fact, there were aspects about it I loved.
Now, that is saying a lot, because I am 76 years old, a traditionalist and a conservative. All this means I don't particularly like change.
I grew up in an era when churches only had pianos and organs, when choirs were robed, the preachers wore suits and ties, and we sang hymns out of books with treble and bass clefs, notes and lyrics. Sometimes we sang in four-part harmony.
I learned to play the piano at a Stamps-Baxter singing convention. A man named Filmore Deal taught me to play the piano when I was 10 years old by reading shaped notes. I haven't played the piano in a long time but there was a day when I could play "Springtime in Gloryland" with the best of them.
In addition to that 1940s-1950s milieu, I lived in the era of Emily Post, when we were taught manners and etiquette. We couldn't wear hats in the house and especially not in the church, but women could wear hats in church and many of them did, especially at Easter. We said, "You're welcome" rather than, "No problem."
In those days of antiquity we knew nothing of sexual equality. We stood up when a woman entered the room, pulled the chair out for them before we were seated for dinner, and opened the car door to show them the courtesy we thought they deserved.
I think you get the picture. Back to the concert.
It was loud. The special effects with the videos, lighting and fog machines were fine for the concert at the arena, but I don't think I am ready for that to be a part of a church worship service.
There were some things I liked about TobyMac and his fellow contemporary artists. His drummer gave a great testimony and in the course of his comments said, "Not all white people are racists. Not all black people are criminals. Not all police officers are bad cops." Then he told about how God had rescued him from a wayward lifestyle because a group of Christians "loved him to the cross." It was moving and uplifting.
The musicians seemed to be dedicated to the Lord and surrendered to Him; I thought the words in their songs were meaningful and inspiring. Mac Powell sang, "Cry Out to Jesus" and "Soul on Fire," both songs with great messages. He also sang "I Saw the Light" and "Amazing Grace."
I really enjoyed Mandisa, a former "American Idol" contestant. She is a beautiful woman who admittedly is overweight, an issue that American Idol judge Simon Cowell addressed in a rather unseemly way.
When Mandisa subsequently appeared before Cowell and the other judges for their decision on whether she would advance to the next round of competition, she said to him, "Yes, you hurt me and I cried and it was really painful. It really was, but I want you to know that I have forgiven you, and you don't need to have someone to apologize before you forgive them. And if Jesus died so that all of my wrongs could be forgiven, I can surely extend that same grace to you."
The story had a happy ending. Cowell stood and said he was humbled by what Mandisa said, gave her a hug and apologized—then told her on behalf of the judges that she was going to advance to the competition's next round.
Mandisa sang "The Heart of Worship," a modern hymn, but also "Blessed Assurance" and I don't think I have ever heard it sung better. "Overcomer" was another song she performed which was spiritually motivating.
The second half of the concert featured TobyMac all the way through as he sang "Speak Life," "Steal My Show," "Made to Love" and "City on Our Knees."
At the concert, even more important to me, I saw how moved and enraptured my grown sons, daughter and grandchildren were over the music. They are not shallow Christians, but vibrant, growing Christians. I have also observed how fervently the students in our Baptist colleges worship as they sing some of the contemporary songs of praise in their chapel services. I frequently preach in services where there is contemporary music and I see students, young adults and some older adults truly engaged in meaningful worship as they sing the songs of Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and others.
So, I am saying I like TobyMac and much of contemporary Christian music because of a personal interest in it and because I am thankful the next two generations in my family are blessed and spiritually strengthened by it.
How could I dislike music that draws this younger generation closer to the Lord? While I appreciate TobyMac and his contemporaries, I must tell you that my preference is still "At Calvary," "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and, yes, "Blessed Assurance."
Especially when Mandisa sings it.
Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.