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.”
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.