Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.

I previously wrote a bit of a rant here on Music at Mars Hill on why Coldplay was moving closer and closer to populist ambiguity when they released their EP leading up to Mylo Xyloto. And now that we’ve got the full album, there’s been a lot of talk about the thing (as is to be expected in a Coldplay release). A recent article over at ThinkChristian talks about how the album is a love-story of sorts and should inspire Christians to be vulnerable and willingly offer ourselves to others.

I recently tried out a new church close to where I recently moved. Each week I’ve gone, Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto has consistently been the music playing in the background before the service started. While it’s important to remember that the meeting is a twentysomethings-oriented group, I’ll admit that there is something fitting about the sounds of Chris Martin and company blasting through the church speakers. To many, particularly young Christians, albums like Viva La Vida and Mylo Xyloto have become the new go-to for those who have moved on past the shrinking pool that is CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). Despite the fact that Chris Martin is a self-proclaimed “Alltheist” (a made-up term meaning that he believes everything), when he sings about paradise, heaven, and being an inheritor of a kingdom, Christians have been singing along. But what is it about Coldplay, especially in their past two albums, that rings so true with Christians?

The more I listened to Mylo Xyloto, the more I began to see that Coldplay was picking up on many of the same things CCM had been emphasizing for so long. Pitchfork recently published a fascinating feature on why “Big Music,” or epic stadium-sized rock, has taken the rhetoric of Christianity and spirituality to make something accessible to our secularized culture:

“When I see religious art, I tend to admire it but not connect with it on any gut emotional level. As an atheist, I see a stained-glass apocalypse, and I can coolly reconstruct the awe, excitement, and fear that might have bubbled up in the medieval mind. But I can’t feel it. And the same—for all its beauty—goes for gospel. But the Big Music—deploying the emotion of religion within an aesthetic I do relate to—can sometimes push buttons I don’t necessarily want pushed. At its frequent worst, it triggers the same disgusted flight-impulse a TV preacher might. At its rare best, though, it makes me want to believe.”

In other words, when you hear artists like Florence + The Machine or Coldplay reference Christian themes or act as “Big Music,” they definitely are not doing it to pander to Christians. Instead, in the same way they use references to other genres, they are using that same rhetoric to achieve a parallel spiritual/musical experience for people that would otherwise rejects such notions. There is a reason Coldplay chose the nonsensical word “Mylo Xyloto” for the name of their new album; its literal meaning is left empty to emphasize the grandness of its scope that all people can relate to. For us as Christians, it’s okay for us to let Coldplay and other “Big Music” point us to the grand, epic, and massive thing it is imitating.


  1. A more pointed observation would be that whether Cold Play or other “Big Music” realizes it, they are being drawn to God by His, Holy Spirit. When that comes through their music, its salt and light for the hungry and hidden. Its OK for Christians to listen to Cold Play because it is in fact not imitation but an omniscient God using all that He has created to draw people to Him. Even Christians are hungry and hidden, and can hear the voice of their heavenly father calling to them… even through Cold Play.

  2. Together, I think Angels and Airwaves’ albums have touched on the power of beauty and the mystery of life, wrapped up in the “Big Music” Larsen talks about, complete with the majestic crescendo of synths, soaring guitar riffs and pounding drums.

    But while this type of music has enticed many teenagers seeking a spiritual experience without entering a church, like a true prophets, their message is often rejected or dismissed, by both the church and non-christians.

    It’s not churchy enough for Christians, and too preachy for the secular crowd.

    So who is being impacted by the message?

    Is the message clear enough for Christians to stand on?

    Is it deep enough to direct non-christians to Christ?

    Or is it something in between?

  3. Luke, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the article from Pitchfork. It was very helpful in my meeting yesterday with Spread Truth. I read portions of your article and the bit from Tom Ewing’s, and we had great discussion that led us to something Pascal said: “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.” We can speak of Jesus and the Gospel in such a way that people wish Him to be true and real. Your article speaks of this in the musical sense—good stuff!

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