At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

Is Switchfoot a Christian Band?

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The Grammy-award winning rock band Switchfoot released its latest album, Fading West, two days ago. But since every member of the band is a professing Christian, why doesn’t Fading West mention Christianity in any of the songs? Are the band members missing an opportunity to obey Jesus’ command to be the “light of the world?” (Matthew 5:14).

This leads to a much more basic question: is Switchfoot a Christian band?

In response to this question, lead singer Jon Forman says,

Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s [sic] Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds.

Foreman goes on to say that to label some professions or callings as more “Christian” than others is “flawed and heretical” because it denies everyone’s unique purpose in God’s kingdom.

After all, how does one define “Christian?” Foreman maintains that while he can define himself as a Christian, the term simply can’t apply to any of his work. Here’s why:

Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from [S]cripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.

According to Foreman, any song can glorify God—whether or not it explicitly mentions religion or the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, this applies to any work that we do. The important thing for Christians is to do their utmost to live in obedience to God’s call on their lives.

God gave man his first job description in Genesis 1:28, a passage known as the “cultural mandate.” In it, God called us to “fill the earth and subdue it,” taking dominion over every living thing. This is a call to stewardship, to take what God has made and to improve it, to finish it so that he might say “well done, good and faithful servant,” when he returns.

It’s important to remember that the cultural mandate applies to all of creation. Because of man’s sin, creation is marred, but God hasn’t given up on it. In addition to redeeming the souls of individuals, God is actively working to restore the entire creation—his coming kingdom. Best of all, he is giving us a part to play in all of this through the everyday work that we do.

This is why it is so important for us to have a kingdom-oriented mindset in everything we do. It’s not necessarily about slapping a Christian label on everything we touch; it’s about our faithfulness and obedience in our vocations and in the workplace.

Going back to Switchfoot, Foreman sums this up when he says,

So there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling.

In the end, we as Christians are all members of the same body, each playing a different, but important role in furthering God’s kingdom. And since God has created us in this way, he has given us institutions such as families, churches, societies, and markets where we can all come together and exchange the unique gifts, talents, goods, and services that we have to offer. This sort of community helps us to celebrate our individuality by allowing us to specialize, leverage our differences, and serve others.

So how does all of this apply to Switchfoot? Some bands are called to create music that explicitly mentions Jesus Christ. Others, like the members of Switchfoot, find that this confines them to a box. Their calling is to serve a different audience by playing “secular” music that celebrates the beauty of life, humanity, creation, and redemption.

Both strategies glorify God and build his coming kingdom.

What makes something “Christian?” How do you incorporate a kingdom-oriented mindset into your work? Leave your comments here.

Fading West album cover – screen capture from www.switchfoot.com.

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  • Boaz

    Don’t know them, but I will say most Christian music is man centered (He makes me feel this way) Last I read the Story & Glory is His. But I have not heard of this band so I should have refrained comment. To The Author nicely written! Peace.

    • keshelman

      Boaz, Thanks for reading. I have found that while there is some music leans man-centered, there is also alot of great stuff that really glorifies God and speaks of our place in God’s creation. As I said in my post, some bands are great at doing that directly, and others find it more effective to do that indirectly; one method is not necessarily better than the other, if executed well.

      • Boaz

        Very true. Well spoken & well written.

  • Matt Cline

    Switchfoot is one of my favorite bands they may not mention god by name but songs like “on fire” an from their Album Vice Verses leaves me no doubt that they were singing about God

  • ScottRyser

    Great article, and great quotes from the band. His advice to “be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling” is wise indeed. Thanks.

    • Katie Hellman Gibbs

      I know this is very late, and I am a huge switchfoot fan, but I take issue with him saying be slow to judge brothers with a different calling. First of all, the term “brothers” referring to all humans is patriarchal and misogynistic. Language is so profound that while the speaker may not be sexist (and I do not believe Jon Foreman is), this type of langue reinforces gender inequalities if even in a small and insideous way. We need to be careful the terminology we are using and what this represents in our culture. Second, Jesus says not to judge. It isn’t ever our job to do this, slowly or not. It’s our job to help and love and that’s it.

      • Unknown

        I wouldnt worry to much about that one little word. I know that gender equality is important, but when people get down to the single words or phrases, it’s kinda just foolishness. Don’t get me wrong, but changing the Canadian anthem over one word, or writing a paragraph over how someone used the word ‘brothers’ I think it’s time to chill a little.

        • Katie Hellman Gibbs

          But that’s the exact argument right there, is that this argument I’ve made gets responded to with “chill a little.” Give me a good reasoned argument for the alternative and I will truly seek to understand it. Give me a response that holds no true value and is slightly condescending and you haven’t made an argument at all. These little words reinforce a our patriarchal values and that’s the bottom line. Saying “he” to mean someone who’s gender is undefined, “brothers” to mean all mankind, these semantics are terribly important. They don’t reflect how most people in our country consciously feel, but reinforce certain inequalities all the same. Leaving a few words here and there left behind from a vernacular intertwined with mysogynistic historical practice isn’t good enough. Women are still not equal now, so why should I chill? I will accept that I am being uptight on this argument when there is no longer such a drastic power differential between men and women. Before that, you basically have no argument here. Words hold such great power, more than almost anything, as I’m sure anyone here will agree as we all hold the bible close to our hearts.

      • Anonymous one

        God does call us to judge. But not in a harsh way but in a way to bring people back to Christ. Everyone quote the passage of how we need to take the plank out of our own eye and we shouldn’t judge others. This is all fine but the passage actually say we should take the plank out of our own eye so that we can THEN take the speck out of their eye. We all need to call our brothers and sisters back to Christ when we see them going astray. I think biblically his explanation is very sound and is the way we should live towards one another. We don’t need to slap Christian in bold print on all we do but we do need to live in the way God is calling us to and when we see others living in sin we need to try and call them back in love.

  • Bruce Ross

    Kristie. Years ago as a worship leader I was privileged to attend a very large men’s conference where the Maranatha Men’s Band lead the worship segments of the conference. As worship leaders and Pastors, we attended the band’s pre-conference discussion. The leader of the band explained how difficult it was for many believers to accept the change from pipe organ to piano, piano to electronic keyboards and keyboards to synthesizer, etc. The same analogy was used for the guitar.

    We can become crusty as we grow older in the Lord and critical of new ways, completely forgetting how others were planted in our lives to instruct and guide us when WE were younger. This mind-set can isolate us from the very people we are NOW called to help. It can pull us away from trust in the God, who transformed US, to help us lead OTHERS to Christ.

    Jon Forman’s response is spot on. Great article!

  • 0MusicGirl)

    Not all music is worship music — but marketing and managers really want all audiences to listen –that’s why they are careful to mention Jesus once in a while. It’s a strategy, whether a good one or not. I don’t consider Switchfoot to be “worship” style music at all. But it’s pretty good music. I put it on the same scale as any other moderately above average rock band. Oh, btw…I don’t think it necessarily “glorifies God or builds His coming kingdom. ” It is what it is — a talented band’s creation.

    • CJ

      I think I agree with you. They create beautiful music, but don’t ascribe glory to Christ in their songs. Their lifestyle and utterances may, but not their songs. I like their songs.

      • Katie Hellman Gibbs

        I’m truly not being sarcastic when I ask for and interpretation of the following lyrics that doesn’t involve Christ:
        In the economy of mercy
        I am a poor and begging man
        In the currency of Grace
        Is where my song begins
        In the colors of Your goodness
        In the scars that mark your skin
        In the currency of Grace
        Is where my song begins

        Even tho there’s no “Jesus” in there, I can’t think what they could possibly be talking about other than love of Christ. Even the Your being capitalized implies this is a devotion to God. Would love to hear your interpretation of this.

        • Emily

          the part about ‘the scars that mark your skin’ is quite obviously talking about Jesus’ scars on his hands

        • Anonymous two

          I think their earlier albums used more Christian words but I believe almost all their songs have some Christian theme in there. I feel like too many people want a Christian group to be a church worship group and won’t accept a Christian group as a Christian group if they don’t have Jesus loves us in every song

          • Katie Hellman Gibbs

            I really agree with that. I’m all for Christian worship music and love to sing it during service and often outside as well. Subtlety and metaphors are what make song writing a beautiful and poetic art form however.

    • Victor Valenzuela

      have you ever heard of their music? their music is based on their christian walk with Jesus…. I still can see Jesus in their music without them mentioning Jesus.

      • 0MusicGirl)

        I can feel Jesus in classical music. But it’s not marketed half as well.

  • Derick

    I just want to say I love switchoot they are probably my most favorite band and I am a christian and I beveive that they are a Christian band and that fading west is a Christian album because of their song “love alone is worth the fight” is clearly a Christian song and it just hurts me to that people think that they are not Christians. You just have to think of the Christian side of their songs. look up Jon Foreman songs not just switchfoot it might change your mind.

  • Seth

    There are some musicians/bands that try to reach a different audience, that’s a good way to bring outsiders to christ!

  • Soloved

    To be a Christian band one must exalt Christ without having to interpret, to much. Ephesians 1:13 “In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation…”: Notice, it is after one hears the truth that one believes or trust. Again, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes…” Romans 1:16.; Bottom line, without the pure gospel, there will be little or no salvation afforded to the listener. But, that’s up to them, as to how many souls they want to reached. “He that wins souls is wise”, Proverbs 11:30.

  • ASHA JAMES

    Being “Christ like” (wherever we are placed with whatever responsibility and talent we are gifted with ) should be our goal than only adding a “christian” tag to us or to anything we do … whats the point of having a “christian tag” and our personal lives reflect something else …which is what we see in most so called chrisitans around sadly – Since judging is not ours- Let God decide to who is “christian” and who is “Christ like” . Just the very question is not very “christian” ! . Lets appreciate the talents!

  • Cherry Andrada Mangaring

    I just happen to read this article today…i don’t know if I can answer your question directly because i don’t want to preach here…but there are a lot or articles to read on being a “True Christian”:
    “True Christian faith is based on reason and understanding of God’s history of work on earth. When a person truly understands and believes in Christ (the definition of a Christian), then his or her faith stands strong through any emotional episode.”
    source: http://cbnasia.org/home/2012/05/isnt-christianity-just-an-emotional-experience/
    https://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/what-is-a-true-christian
    —>I really love Switchfoot’s “I dare you to move” & “love is worth the fight” song!…and a lot more…i’m not really a huge fan but i really listen to their songs…so what if they don’t mention Jesus or any religion to their songs…Do all Christians mention Jesus or God at work or in their business? (i don’t think so). For me it doesn’t make them less Christians…all their songs are unique and very touching…speaks from the heart…very emotional, spiritual and also religious in a way (i consider their songs Godly in a way)…and all people from all religions, sect, or community (or even satanic group) can relate to their songs. God is for everyone…Jesus Christ is for everyone too. One of my church mate, Bob Guzman (lead guitarist in our church), is a member of Boyfriends (Filipino band-year ’70’s to present) and they are still playing secular music until now but most of their songs are related to love songs or relationships. People should understand that there’s a big difference between a secular music and a praise/worship/gospel music. As mentioned above, Switchfoot band preferred “secular” music that celebrates the beauty of life, humanity, creation, and redemption. Praise & Worship songs are songs that is really address or directed to our Creator “GOD”…most of your lyrics are all about praising God.

  • litbitwiser

    Amen well said…..Christ is in you and that is what matters!

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