Christian Appreciation of "Secular" Music

I love music. I have a larger than average collection of it. The rapid growth of the internet with regard to music has opened my eyes to a wealth of thoughtful song writers who produce beautiful music. I think good music, “Christian” or “secular” is worth celebrating and consequently Jason and I recently launched Grace Notes: a weekly column exploring signs of common grace in the world of music. If we really believe that God created all things, then appreciating beauty is a Christian issue.

I would like to submit that the labels that we so often apply to music are not helpful in articulating our mission as Christians. When we do so, I fear we devolve our role in society into mere labeling rather than transforming. If we really believe that God is the creator of all things, then we do him a great injustice when we dismiss music merely on grounds that its composer is not a Christian. I suppose I am writing to the average person who feels it necessary to constantly say, “I like so-and-so but I don’t think they are Christian.” Its a curious thing to say about someone we are not likely to meet in person.

There is no such thing as Christian music. At least not according to my understanding of Christianity. A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus and whose heart has been changed by Him (Eph. 2:1-10; 1 Peter 1:3-11). Music does not have a soul and therefore cannot be born again. People who are born again can make music that seeks to honor the Lord and there is great value in doing so but music itself is not labeled rightly when it is labeled “secular” or “Christian.”

If all people are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and God is the source of all beauty, we should expect to see beauty in every human being. Of course we know that the fall has corrupted the image of God in people and consequently we struggle to express true beauty. However if we believe this image is not altogether lost (and we must or we could not believe in redemption) then every human is capable of expressing beauty.  Music regularly does this for me. I find myself constantly worshiping the Lord because of His common grace expressed so wonderfully therein.

It is very difficult to assess the value of music when it is such a subjective medium. What I find to be beautiful may or may not sound beautiful to you. I am constantly confronted with this reality when friends tell me I listen to weird music. However, I often wonder if my friends think I listen to weird music because they feel stuck listening to Christian Contemporary Music that seeks to parody secular artists. Or maybe they think my taste is weird because the “Christian” artists they listen to only expresses the victories of following Jesus and neglect to speak honestly about their failures. Whatever the reason, in this post, I would free you and anyone else who feels bound to listen only to that which is labeled “Christian.”

So here is my suggestion to you.  You no longer have to say, “this is really great but I don’t think they are Christians” or “this is a powerful song but I am pretty sure its secular.” You can just appreciate it. Seriously, just enjoy it and thank the Lord for it. Thank the Lord for gracing the artists with the ability and the creativity to craft that song.

I am in no way promoting music which celebrates sin or sinful activity. Such music should certainly be avoided by some (particularly the young and impressionable). However, even music that celebrates sin can teach Christians something about the world we live in and what people value and long for. Such music can make us to grieve in helpful ways. I recently bought Kanye West’s new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I won’t share the questionable content with you here but this album grieved me and even caused me to mourn my own sinfulness. You don’t have to listen to this album to have that experience but I do appreciate Kiel’s review of the album because he went out of his way to appreciate the composition of the album even if he could not always appreciate its content. This album crossed some moral lines for me and consequently I may never go back to it, but I can still appreciate the thought and the effort that went into making the album–there were certainly moments of beauty and refusing to recognize those would be disingenuous.

Christian reviews of the arts would do well to distinguish between content and composition. Its worth pointing out when music encourages people to sin, but I think music takes that route far less often than we like to think. Further, its worth noting that every piece of music we listen to was created by someone made in God’s image whom we are called to love and respect. We don’t express love when we merely label music and neglect to assess works as a whole.  Not all art is for all people and some content is worth avoiding. But if we would stop to consider the composition of music we might be in a better position to have profitable conversations about it.

 

About Drew Dixon

Drew is an editor at Christ and Pop Culture and editor-in-chief of Gamechurch.com. He is also a pastor, soccer coach, and writer. Drew also regularly writes for Think Christian, Bit Creature, and Paste Magazine. He has also written for Relevant Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @drewdixon82

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  • http://ichrch.com Rich Langton

    Great article Drew. I agree that we too often label something, whether music or anything else as ‘Christian’ or not. Music is music… the question is, does it reflect or give glory to God? Or, can we use this music to point people to Jesus, without compromising on the truth of the Gospel?

    The problem I see is often not the music itself, but the lifestyle of the artist that performs it. Inadvertently, when we listen to music by artists with questionable lifestyles, we endorse them to those who look to us for guidance on how to outwork their Christian faith. It’s tricky because many artists have popular, great music, but their lifestyle is not what we would want to promote to those around us.

    Agree?

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    Thanks Rich!

    I think that is true of some genres of music (rap sometimes promotes a certain culture or way of life) perhaps but I honestly don’t know the lifestyles of most of the bands I listen to. If I make a recommendation to someone who knows me, typically I trust that they know that I don’t necessarily promote everything that that band stands for (there is usually no way of knowing all that anyway, unless you took a hatchet to every single lyric). When I recommend music to younger, more impressionable people, I usually give a disclaimer saying, I don’t know what all the lyrics are about and highlight why I listen to it (whether its the melody or a particular song or two that expresses a truth about the world etc.).

    You comment is interesting because I don’t think we really do what you are warning against with other mediums. For instance rarely does anyone say, I think I am going to skip that movie because I know the lifestyle of the director or I am not going to read that novel because I know some of the things that author supports.

    The only example I can think of off the top of my head is that new movie by Mel Gibson–I could see as many Christians as non-Christians skipping out on that one due to the way Mel has been carrying himself as of late. Skipping out on Beaver (I think that is the name of the movie) for that reason probably isn’t entirely fair though. Firstly because I don’t really know where Gibson’s heart is at. And Secondly because even if Gibson is a hypocrite, that doesn’t mean his movie is going to have a message that I should reject as dangerous–his movie should be judged on its own merits and may very well exhibit beauty worth taking note (I doubt that because that movie looks pretty weird).

    Art can point people to God without explicitly expressing worship toward him (which the average unbeliever will reject anyway) in the way that I have laid out above–simply by pointing to his common grace in giving people the skill and creativity to create works of beauty. Beauty isn’t limited to the Christian or else we would see many more skilled works of Christian art than we presently do.

    I hope that makes sense–that was a long and convoluted answer your comment!

  • Ray

    Loved the article Drew! One of my dreams was to always own a radio station, but I never wanted to be limited to only christian artists. I would want to play the BEST music possible. And by limiting myself to just christian artists, I could never achieve that goal.

    I liked your answer to Rich’s question about the lifestyle of an artist. I, too, really don’t have much of an idea of what an artist does in their daily lives. Most of what I can figure out comes from song lyrics, a video, or a magazine article. This gives me a glimpse into who they may be. If I recommend an album to someone I will always tell them (if it’s the type of person who needs this information) that it may or may not be a christian artist. My recommendation is solely based on the music and lyrics alone. A classic example of this is the Mumford and Sons album, Sigh No More. There are some beautiful worship moments on this album, but also an F-bomb gets dropped (many times) in one of the songs. This may turn some people off so I recommend the album with a warning. Personally, I feel the F-word in this one particular song kind of fits with the whole mood of the song and I have no problem with it.

    I think that for christian radio to solely base their programming on whether an artist is christian or not does an injustice to themselves and to God. There are so many excellent “secular” songs that celebrate God. Just a few off the top of my head: Mumford and Sons, “Awake My Soul”; Tracy Chapman, “Change”‘; U2, “Magnificent”; Regina Spektor, “Laughing With”; and even beautiful instrumental music like Hammock and Explosions In The Sky. If we want to glorify God through music why should we limit oursleves. God has created all things, including “christian” music and “secular” music. And HE deserves to be glorified with our best!

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Ray thanks for the feedback! I am glad you enjoyed the article. I am with on the way you recommend music.

    Its interesting that you bring up Mumford & Sons’ Little Lion Man because I recently wrote about that very song with reference to how Christians should think more carefully about language in pop culture.

    http://www.christandpopculture.com/featured/the-most-popular-posts-of-2010-5-my-favorite-christian-band-says/

  • Ne’

    Interesting article…I have a question…what is your issue of holiness while listening to, promoting, or appreciating secular? thank you.

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  • michael

    i think Hammock is considered christian music by some because marc byrd wrote God of Wonders and both marc and andrew were members of City on A Hill and Common Children

  • Barry

    Drew I would like to correct you. A Christian is actually ‘a follower of the Way’. Jesus’ way. Are we not told to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily? How can we satisfy the flesh and worship God in spirit and in truth? I cannot agree less with your quest to affirm the world by approving the bands that they endorse. Trudging through the dark to find some light is very dangerous and in doing so we are following the world and not Jesus. Jesus gave His life so that sinners could be set free from the bondage of sin in this world. Not to go into the world and gratify the flesh by bending His commands.

  • Jacob Smith

    Finally! After 5 or 6 articles (some horribly written) simply condemning anything not labeled “Christian”, someone seems to get it. I find that a lot of people tend to think that anything not Christian automatically is smut filled, promoting sex, drugs and alcohol, which is not the case at all. Thanks for the great article!


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