When Christian Music Goes Bad, Really Really Bad


(painting by unknown artist)

They say that confession is good for the soul.

And laughing at yourself can do wonders too.

So, in that spirit I invite you to do a little of both with me today.

I have a confession to make. Not long ago I found myself momentarily overwhelmed by nostalgia, headed over to iTunes, and repurchased the first album I ever owned.

What was that album, you ask?

Steven Curtis Chapman’s Heaven In The Real World.

My grandmother gave it to me along with my first Discman for Christmas way back in the good old days of 1994. I couldn’t have been more elated. I thought simply having a portable CD player instantly made me one of the 20 coolest people on the planet and I couldn’t stop rocking out to Stevie Chapman.

Between my rabid excitement and blind acceptance of anything Christian, I confess I paid little attention to the lyrics beyond what it took to sing along in the shower.

I had already saddled up my horses long before and was too enraptured with The Great Adventurer to stop our trail blazing and ask any questions.

Fast forward 20 years and it’s time for another confession.

I may or may not have been rocking out in my car to Heaven In The Real World recently with the same enthusiasm I did when I was 9.

But this time is was a little different.

I discovered very quickly that my beloved old friend had not aged well. For a while, I could look beyond not so classic songs like Dancing With The Dinosaur and K-I-N-G Of The J-U-N-G-L-E and their cheesy lyrics.

Look, it was the 90s. We’ll all did things we regret.

But then I got to what used to be one of my favorite songs and, well, I was crestfallen.

And a bit embarrassed.

You see, the lyrics weren’t just cheesy. They were awful. Like, holy crap I can’t believe that’s a song especially a Christian song awful.

I’m talking about the song Burn the Ships.

It’s supposed to be an inspirational message about not turning back and going confidently into the unknown. But here’s the catch….

The story my old dear friend uses to convey this inspiring message is that of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.

As the song tells us, in the spring of 1519 Mr. Cortés did indeed set sail with his fleet and landed on the eastern shores of Mexico. Unfortunately the “great dreams” they landed with were the conquest and pillaging of native peoples. The Aztecs had gold and the Spanish were willing to do whatever it took to get it.

Like Mr. Chapman says in the song, “the hardships of the new world left [Cortés’ soldiers] restless and weak” – because they were all covered in head to toe in heavy armor meant to turn away the arrows of the Aztecs they planned to kill.

Seeing their frustration, but unwilling to allow potential riches to go left unpillaged, Cortés made the now famous decision to burn the ships. But the move was less inspiring than threatening. With the ships still floating, there was a greater potential for mutiny. With them burning on the shore, the soldiers had little choice but to stick with Cortés and hope the riches he promised would come to fruition.

But the song just gets worse from there.

Much, much worse.

The second verse is, admittedly, meant to refer to us, the listener. But it rests on the story from the verse and so must be related back to that story to really make sense.

First the lyrics, then the rest of the Cortés story.

In the spring of new beginnings a searching heart set sail
Looking for a new life and a love that would not fail
On the shores of grace and mercy we landed with great joy
But an enemy was waiting to steal, kill, and destroy
Quietly he whispers, “Go back to the life you know”
But the one who led us here is saying

In one of the worst cases of mistaken identity and poor timing in history, the Aztecs believed that Cortés was their god Quetzalcoatl who happened to have a birthday….on the same day Cortés showed up in splendor from across the sea. (At least, that’s what a Spanish priest claimed.)

With great joy, Cortés left the shores of lust for power and greed for gold, to exploit this misunderstanding, trick the Aztec king Montezuma, and bring the Aztec empire to its knees. Cortés very literally was the enemy waiting to steal, kill, and destroy. Along with hordes of other conquistadors, he effectively committed genocide in the New World, wiping out native cultures, and stripping them of anything and everything of value.

And now we have a song to remember our Christ-like, ship burning leader!!


Kinda makes it hard to sing along when you finally realize what you’re singing.

Now, look, I have no doubt that Steven Curtis Chapman is a wonderful guy. I’m not trying to attack him. We all make mistakes. I’m willing to forgive and will continue secretly rocking out in my car to The Great Adventure.

But, of course, terrible lyrics aren’t the exception in Christian music.

Unfortunately, they tend to be the norm.

So, it’s your turn to confess.

What Christian song (or songs) are you embarrassed to admit you loved back in the day, but had to stop loving when you realized how terrible the lyrics were?

Let me know in the comments.