Is Mumford & Sons a Christian Band?

Mark Beuving —  October 4, 2012 — 6 Comments

Mumford & Sons 3Mumford & Sons is attracting huge crowds and selling a lot of records. They are thoroughly compelling, and I think this stems from their passionate exploration of life, love, loss, disappointment, and a number of other concepts fundamental to the human experience.

And here’s the thing. They are framing these explorations with tons of biblical imagery and Christian insight. Many concert-goers describe Mumford’s shows as religious experiences. Comparisons have even been made to church services, only a lot more exciting. Naturally, there is a lot of speculation about whether or not the members of Mumford & Sons are Christians.

Could the band really be engaging with Christian truths so passionately and profoundly if they weren’t, in fact, Christians? The short answer is yes.

Lead singer and songwriter Marcus Mumford has explained that the band has differing views on religion, and he prefers not to call himself a Christian.[1] So that settles it, right? Not exactly.

Marcus Mumford’s parents are church leaders in the UK. He and banjoist Winston Marshall reportedly spent some of their younger years playing in a church worship band.[2] At the very least, we would have to say that Mumford’s fascination with Christian concepts is deeply rooted in his upbringing. Biblical truths may be rejected or set aside, but they are not easily forgotten, and they often resurface with or without an invitation.

I’m not convinced that Marcus Mumford’s reticence to self-identify as a Christian means that he is not in some sense—in the only important sense, really—Christian. Here’s the quote:

“I don’t even call myself a Christian. Spirituality is the word we engage with more. We’re fans of faith, not religion.”[3]

Now, I’m not excited about the recent trend toward disassociating with the Christian name in favor of simply being a follower of Jesus, much less simply being spiritual. But I understand where this tendency is coming from. You see people using the name “Christian” without any authenticity whatsoever, so you want to distance yourself from that crowd and identify yourself more directly with something more sincere.

It’s entirely possible that that’s what Mumford is getting at here.

“I think faith is something beautiful, and something real, and something universal, or it can be…I think faith is something to be celebrated. I have my own personal views, they’re still real to me, and I want to write about them.”[4]

What he is referring to vaguely as “spirituality” and “faith” has a lot of overlap with Christian spirituality and Christian faith. So don’t rule him out.

Mumford & Sons 4But it also seems clear that the band is not uniform in matters of faith. So let’s imagine for a moment that Mumford & Sons is really and truly non-Christian in every sense of the term. Would we still be right to get excited about their music?

Absolutely! They are sincerely wrestling with some important questions. Marcus Mumford explains their approach:

“We’re just writing songs that ask questions. Sometimes the best way to go about exploring a question, things we wouldn’t necessarily talk about in conversation, is by writing a song. That’s why it’s quite hard…unpacking your songs. You write them in moments of privacy and…inadequacy. Inarticulation. When you can’t really express how you’re feeling, so you write it down with poetic license and vent as much as you want.”[5]

Band member Ben Lovett explains why it is difficult to dissect a song and pinpoint the one and only one thing it means:

“There’s a reason why people write songs sometimes, because they can’t talk about something. So talking about the song you wrote, it f***s the point of the song that was written to avoid talking about it.”[6]

Songs are indeed very meaningful, but much of that meaningfulness comes through the exploration itself, even when answers are not fully in view, much less neatly packaged.

I love Mumford & Sons for the issues they explore and the way in which they explore them. I get excited about the questions Mumford poses, and I affirm many of the answers, half-answers, and ambiguities that they arrive at long the way. Christian truth is fully in play here, even if it doesn’t come in the form of a pastoral Q&A or a systematic theology textbook.

 

 


[1] Kevin P. Emmert, “Mumford & the Son: Exploring the Christ-haunted lyrics of Marcus Mumford and his popular band,” Christianity Today, September 25, 2012: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/september-web-only/mumford-and-the-son.html, accessed 10/02/12.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Marcus Mumford, quoted in Sylvia Patterson, “Mumford & Sons: ‘We’re Fans of Faith, Not Religion,’” The Big Issue, September 25, 2012: http://www.bigissue.com/features/1488/mumford-sons-we-re-fans-faith-not-religion, accessed 10/02/12.

[4] Marcus Mumford, quoted by Kevin P. Emmert.

[5] Macus Mumford, quoted by Sylvia Patterson.

[6] Ben Lovett, quoted by Sylvia Patterson.

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Mark Beuving

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Mark has worked in youth, college, and worship ministry since 1999, and now serves at Eternity Bible College as the Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of "Resonate: Enjoying God's Gift of Music" and the co-author with Francis Chan of "Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples." Mark lives in Simi Valley with his wife and two daughters.
  • Mike Loker
    • MarkBeuving

      Nice, Mike. I wish my blog could have included a story about playing basketball with them…

  • Carylene

    M and Sons is speaking to the heart of my mid-20s son, who excitedly shared the link to your excellent article just now. We are expats in China and listen to M and Sons music a lot. Jake tried to express last night why he felt so drawn to the band. This morning I told him it may be because they are honest in their wrestlings with truth. When he discovered your post, he said it described exactly what he was trying to say last night. Thank you. The photo was interesting to me because I see Marcus functioning as sort of a closet Christian, which is understandable in hostile cultures… like China… and the West.

    • MarkBeuving

      Thanks for sharing how the band (and the post) resonate with you and your son, Carylene. Honesty is rare enough these days, so it stands out to us when we see someone expressing themselves with genuine emotion, rather than mere showmanship. And when a band like Mumford honestly wrestles with the most important aspects of the human experience, all set to engaging and creative music…well, I’d say they’ve earned the attention they’ve gotten. I’m glad they have a thoughtful fan base in China as well!

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  • Dale Cordes

    From Philippians 1, “15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.[c] 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

    The band members’ individual salvation does matter, of course, for their eternity. God will decipher that issue. For us as believers, our reaction should be as Paul’s, to rejoice anytime the message of Christ is proclaimed accurately.