Christian vs. Secular Music

May 14, 2008

Recently on one of the ‘lists’ I subscribe to online a fellow subscriber forwarded yet another email (this one from one of her personal friends) on the evils of secular music, and the blessings of Christian music. Though I admit that the heart behind her message was good, to draw such a line in the sand is nothing short of legalism.

You see, there is really no Christian/Secular distinction – at least I have yet to see a valid way for one to make such a distinction. For one, there is no Scriptural definition by which one can define music as ‘Christian’. A song can’t be ‘saved’, just because it’s written by a Christian doesn’t mean it’s content is necessarily Biblical, just because the content of a song is Biblical doesn’t mean it was necessarily written and/or performed by a Christian – the list goes on & on & on. Honestly, over the years I have known a good number of CCM musicians – and I know people who know a lot more than I do. Some of the ones who sing the most blatantly Jesus-centered middle-of-the-road ‘dear God please don’t offend a single soul‘ bland CCM, that mention Jesus every other line, and clone melodies and styles of music that were popular no more recently than 20 years ago, are – when not on stage – the most cursing, partying, and absolutely un-Jesus-like people you could ever meet. Likewise, some who don’t sing about Jesus WHATSOEVER (I have one in mind who’s released about 15 c.d.’s yet have never mentioned Jesus once in the lyrics, and has no openly Biblical themes), and rock so loud they’d scare your older siblings, let alone you grandma, are humble, Bible-believing, family men/women who are faithful believers in Christ.
So tell me, WHAT is a ‘Christian song’? Does Bach’s classical work count, particularly the stuff with no lyrics?
The only valid dinstinction I can think of is between music written explicitly for the Glory of the Biblical God, and that written for the Glory of another. Yet, with the former, sometimes an individual intent may be to glorify the Biblical God, but their theology is so askew that the results is actually the worship of a false God (since the song sings to Jesus, but not a Jesus that is actually written about in the Bible), and when considering the latter, which may have been intended to glorify someone other than God, such songs still glorify God in some sense as all creative acts point back to the creator. In fact, even something written explicitly to glorify God may not work to uplift my spirits and draw me closer to him, so in that case, it may be best that I avoid it.
What it really comes down to is “What do I personally feel edified by?“, which is an almost entirely subjective question, about which there are few very clear rules. Yeah, you PROBABLY shouldn’t listen to music with excessive cursing (though – to be honest – I have very rarely heard very powerful songs written by Christians, and about Biblical themes that have contained language some might find offensive, in order to drive home their point), and you PROBABLY shouldn’t listen to too much music written by people who’s overt intent is to undermine your faith through music. Other than that, I think the decision is yours…
What this means for me personally, as someone who deeply loves music, is that I need to stay in touch with my thoughts and emotions.  If I’ve had a rough day at work, and am tempted to be angry with God, I will likely need to ‘conform my mind’ by listening to explicitly God-glorifying corporate worship music, even though I may not want to.  However, if it’s a wonderful summer day, and all is well, I may just as easily worship God in my heart & mind while listening to some non-believers rockin’ out in French (okay, so I’m thinking particularly of Stereolab’s excellent song “Metronomic Underground”, which has accompanied me during many a wonderful Summer day).  There may be days that I need to mourn a loss, and I put on Vigilantes of Love’s Resplendent, but I need to remember not to stay there, for there is also a time to rejoice!
So, that’s it folks – there is no ‘Christian music’. Likewise, there is no ‘Secular music’. That said, be careful of what you take in, because music is powerful, and has the power to change your mind and move your heart. I suggest you make of point of evaluating where you mind and heart go when listening to music, and choose to listen to what moves you towards Christ.

5 Responses to “Christian vs. Secular Music”

  1. I just blogged about Charlie Peacock’s predictions concerning the future of Contemporary Christian Music in CCM Magazine. While not going much into the false dichotomy of sacred v. secular, he does say the trend of Christian artists working outside of the CCM bubble will continue, among other things.

    It’s interesting how quickly we want to circle the wagons and create a subculture rather than “go into all the world.”

  2. Ryan said

    Nice post. I really think that there is no sacred/secular distincition even in life. If we’re supposed to only listen to “Christian music” (whatever that means) shouldn’t we also all only be supposed to work in “Christian jobs?” Shouldn’t we only shop at “Christian stores?”

    In a life lived as worship to God, everything (whatever is defined as sacred and whatever is defined as secular) should be sacred. Living life the way God has ordained invades every part of our life.

  3. Joseph said

    To me, the music debate is somewhat like the food and drink debate in 1 Corinthians. Some of these foods were sacrificed to idols (false gods); should we Christians consume these foods? (Translation: Should we listen the music whose author’s original intent was idolatry?)

    Paul walks a fine line by saying that an idol is nothing yet we don’t want to partake with idols and be tempted by what we consumed (1 Cor 10). The music we listen to shouldn’t tempt us. While I don’t believe listening to worldly music is a sin, I am not sure that I believe that God should be glorified by merely listening to music whose writer’s intent is to glorify an idol. Again the question is, “Does it build up?”

    With all that said, I agree with your concluding sentence. Life is about worshiping God.

  4. saintlewis said

    That is a good point, but it’s such a hard one to distinguish, as there are far more writers of so-called ‘Christian music’ are doing it merely for a buck than I would like to admit, with not a genuine care as to whether or not the song actually ‘glorifies God’, which anyone who actually knew them would be quick to say, but the public only gets the ‘CCM face’ on c.d. covers, and in magazine interviews.

    However, one also must consider that Paul himself quoted from and also reference non-Christian/pagan poetry/song on more than one occasion in the Scriptures, meaning that even he was more than familiar with it, and therefore must have subjected himself to listening to or reading it, right? Not that I’m encouraging folks to do so, but I am saying that the issue is not quite so cut & dry.

  5. Orin Vee said

    I particularly was impressed with Ryan’s and saintlewis’s response. Labels can be very deceiving. Remember, scripture says that even Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.

    The truth is that music, overtly religious or not, has the capacity to reach deep into our hearts and tug strongly at our feelings. I can think of literally hundreds of secular songs that have brought me to tears and closer to God. If they draw out empathy from within your heart, like the videos showing starving children of Ethiopia, then they serve God, intentionally or not.

    A couple songs that come immediately to mind (because I have listened to them so often) is Sade’s ‘By Your Side’ (which one could easily see as being spoken by God) and ‘Sand and Water’ by Beth Nielsen Chapman. I don’t know either of these artist’s feelings towards God but it really doesn’t matter. Their songs serve God, intentionally or not. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, put it nicely:

    (CEV) Php 1:18 But that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that people are telling about Christ, whether they are sincere or not. That is what makes me glad.

    Me too.

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