Why I Listen To Secular Music

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To say I love music would be like saying I love breathing. I’m pretty sure I would shrivel up and die without music. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Being a writer, I spend a lot of time at the computer, and Spotify is my faithful companion. According to my Last.fm account, I’ve listened to over 5,000 songs by 532 different music artists in the last 6 months on Spotify alone. As I look at the top 15 artists I’ve listened to, none of them are “Christian” music artists (though I know at least one is a Christian). One of the bands is named “Chvrches” though, so maybe that counts as Christian?
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Confession: I don’t like Christian music. Nearly all the music I listen to is secular.
Some won’t bat an eye at this confession, but I have encountered others who believe “Christian” music is the only acceptable music to listen to. I’ve walked into church youth group rooms and seen that Christian-music-substitution poster which never fails to disturb me. You like the band “Satan Is My Buddy”?  Here, listen to this Christian group, “God Is Awesome,” which sounds, looks and feels just like “Satan Is My Buddy”, but they’re Christian.

Well, if everything is practically the same…why is one wrong and the other good?  Sure, if the secular has copious amounts of foul language or perverted themes this would make some sense, but what if it doesn’t have such filth, and it’s otherwise just the same as the Christian band? How is the Christian band really any better for copying the secular band? This copycatting is major reason why I don’t like a lot of Christian music today.
Of course, there are a few exceptions. I like Mat Kearney and Relient K (though RK’s latest album can hardly be considered Christian). There are a few songs here and there by other Christian artists that I like, but by and large, I do not like Christian music.
In fact, I am in the middle of making a music album myself, but I don’t think it would be considered “Christian.” I don’t mention God by name, and you won’t find the words “grace, faith, or cross” in any of my songs (although I do say “heaven” and “creation,” if that counts).
That being said, all my songs are about God (to me at least). This might sound odd, but to me, a lot of the secular songs I listen to are about God, too.
What?
One of the things I like about music is that it can have a lot of different meanings to different people. This is one reason I generally prefer more vague lyrics to in-your-face-let-me-shove-my-worldview-on-you lyrics (which a lot of Christian music seems to be). Even if I agree with the worldview, I prefer a more poetic approach.
Now before you call me a universalist, I will be clear and state I am not a universalist. I don’t believe the truth is whatever you make it. However, music creates emotions. Sound creates emotions. That’s why music is vital to film. Music is used to create suspense, fear, dread, happiness, joy, mirth, and even tears. Music creates moods and feelings, and these moods and feelings can vary slightly (or a lot) from one person to another depending on the sound and lyrics.
That issue addressed, here are a few quick reasons why I listen to secular music:
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All truth and beauty comes from God:
All roads lead to Rome went the saying in the Roman Empire. Similarly, all truth leads to God. If you find a truth, and you stay on that road, and follow it far enough, it will lead to God. Beauty is a part of truth, and when I listen to beautiful and artistic music, regardless of who the author is, I’m reminded of God. It makes me happy and brings me joy.
Of course, there is plenty of disgusting and deplorable music out there that I definitely do not want to listen to…like the entire genre of Country (that was a joke. Kinda. Not really. Okay yes, but I also really dislike country. And by “really dislike” I mean loathe with reckless abandonment. Most rap and hip-hop takes a close second in my music loathing list).
All genres have their share of music-that-is-not-really-music, but there is still plenty of great music out there produced by non-Christians.
Even the lost are created in the image of God and therefore are capable of creating something good:
I have come into contact with some Christians who would object to my last sentence. They would say non-Christians are incapable of creating or doing anything good. As the proof-text for this, Isaiah 64:6 is usually cited. I believe that this verse is taken out of context when used to say non-Christians are incapable of creating anything good. After all, Isaiah was talking to the Jews—the children of God—and was addressing their self-righteous hypocrisy, not making a statement about whether or not non-Christians are capable of doing or creating anything good.
I think non-Christians are capable of both doing and creating good things, and the reason why is very simple: they are created in the image of God.
Though a man deny he is standing on solid ground, he is still able to walk and move around because the ground is there. Though a man deny gravity, he will still fall if he were to make a wrong turn and suddenly find himself standing with no ground beneath him. Likewise, though people deny that they are created in the image of God, they still are, and still have the creative nature of our Creator.
God made us like Him, and creativity and art are part of God’s nature. Just look around you. Look at nature, look at outer space, look at people, and you see beauty and art and creativity. God is always creating. He’s always bringing new things, animals, and people into existence. Science still can’t explain how a new life is created, and it never will be able to. All science can tell us are what conditions lead to life being created. God holds all things together.
Being made in the image God, we also have a desire to create, and we can create, and we can create beautiful things because God gave us that ability.God loves all of His children; all of us. He causes rain to fall on the just and unjust alike. Why? Because God is love.
This is why non-Christians are able to create some beautiful things. The sad thing is often times their art isn’t as beautiful as it could be because they don’t acknowledge God. Other times, they completely fail at creating art—though they are capable. You don’t have to look very hard in our society to find something ugly being called beautiful, or something utterly pathetic being considered valuable art. Don’t get me wrong, a lack of God in people and in our culture has led to a lot of ugliness.
However, the truth remains that we are all created in the image of God. We know intuitively what is beautiful and what is right, even though we often try and confuse wrong for right, and ugliness for beauty; sometimes, even the lost find beauty and truth.
Secular music is more creative than Christian music:
I’m not precisely sure why this is, since it should be the exact opposite.
Perhaps it’s because Christian musicians and their audience mistake a worthy theme for a beautiful work of art. Maybe it’s because so many Christians aren’t looking for beauty, but only the “right message.”
I’ve seen this first hand with Christian films. I won’t name any names, but I have seen some pretty terrible Christian films. The acting was laughable, camera work poor, dialog cheesy, and plot cliché and uninteresting. Yet. YET! Many Christians still claim these movies as some of their favorites. Why?
One reason may be because they ONLY watch Christian movies, and so therefore don’t know any better. Or, as I think the case is for most, they are so desperate for a film with a Christian message, free from the filth of Hollywood that they overlook the poor quality and embrace the film on it’s message alone. And you know what? I’m okay with that.
I want to see Christian films succeed, but it takes a lot of money, time, and effort. Christian filmmakers can’t get any better if there is no market and if people aren’t willing to support them. What is really encouraging to me is that Christian film IS getting better. Even more wonderful, Christian art has far greater potential for beauty than secular art because Christians can hit on the truth secular society is missing.
“Courageous” and “Mom’s Night Out” were both incredible films, and they were both Christian films. Not only did they get the technical side done correctly and skillfully, but they hit at deep and important truths that people are desperate for.
The ceiling is much higher for Christian art, and this is why I am often times so hard on Christian art. It’s because I know there is SO MUCH untapped potential. We’ve got a huge vein of gold running for miles beneath  us, but we’re only willing go down five feet.
Christian music artists need to branch out. They need to realize that God is bigger than Christian doctrine and themes. God is everywhere and in everything. God is also bigger than secular pop music, which is basically what Christian music is, only with Christian words. Christians need to stop being lazy and get more creative, because we’re children of a creative, Creator, God.
If secular music is wrong for being secular, then everything secular must be wrong:
Finally, another problem I see with the argument that a Christian should only listen to Christian music is that those who say such are often inconsistent. They watch secular movies, or buy secular products, or go to secular places. The problem with separating “secular” from “sacred” is, by the limited definitions we’re given, there isn’t enough sacred out there.
The problem with the divide between “secular” and “sacred” we often see in Christian culture is that it makes it impossible to live in and engage the culture. This secular/sacred divide assumes that God is very small, and only exists within the walls of our church buildings, or lyrics of our Christian songs.
If non-Christians are incapable of creating good music, then surely they cannot make a good film either, or food, or building. Why should we trust them to build cars correctly, or bridges, or refrigerators? If a non-Christian can’t learn about music theory or poetry to know how to make a good song, then surely they cannot learn about mathematics well enough to be an engineer.
If you are going to outlaw a song merely because it was made by a non-Christian, or doesn’t mention God’s name or some Christian doctrine…then you are going to run into a lot of problems trying to live a life consistent to that view.
Certainly, there are a lot of bad films and music made by non-Christians—like I’ve said—but just because something is labeled “Christian” doesn’t make it fine and dandy either. Discernment is needed, not blind bans or acceptance.
So, yes. I listen to a lot of secular music. Hardly my darkest secret, not like the fact I sometimes stay up to ungodly hours of the night making electronic music (or writing blog posts as is the case this night), but there you have it. As I finish this post, I am listening to a song entitled “Wait For Love” by St Lucia. Great song, with a nice 80’s feel to it. Secular band, but the song-title makes it sound like it could be a theme-song for the Christian purity culture, no?

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10 Comments

  1. I agree with most of the points you present here…esp when talking about movies. A lot of my Christian familu members will watch a new Christian film and call it “amazing,” but I'm often disappointed, esp with quality of plot and acting. (Thanks, OYAN.) Anyways. Good post. 🙂

  2. When I read the title of your post, I must confess, I cringed because, being heavily involved in the music controversy, I have read a lot of articles by Christians on the subject which, to say the least, I did not enjoy! But I breathed a sigh of relief as I got further into your article. My brother and I also have a huge problem with most Christian films and Christian music for the same reasons you mentioned above. And, personally, I think it's because Christians are trying to “copy-cat” the world with something that sounds almost like it in the hopes that it will please both Christians and non-Christians alike. As usually happens in such cases, at least for the serious minded, such compromises please neither side! Christians need to take the lead in this area and not allow the world to drag them around like a dog on a leading string. I fully agree with your paragraph on non-Christians being able to create beauty! I hate the modern style of music. But I love listening to many centuries old folk songs, most of which are completely 'secular', but they are so much more beautiful than a lot of the plain chant that was written for churches in the day! Is it any wonder that the Germans put Christian lyrics to drinking songs and Isaac Watts would complain on the way home from church about the dreary psalms that were sung at that time? So, thank you for that post. More Christians need to read it!

  3. Very well said, Reagan. I hope the recordings are coming along nicely. Where's the best place to listen to them?

  4. I love what you have done with your new album Reagan!!! Gold stars and sprinkles to you, as my Mom would put it! Keep it up!

    Oh yes, and I need to share this post with a few of my Christian-Music-listening friends, because you put into words the argument my family has always had for secular music. You are spot on in believing that everything we do is brings the Lord glory and honor, so long as we put Him in the front of our minds.

    Thank you, thank you, Thank You!

    In Christ alone,

    Jessica
    The eldest sister & singer

  5. Thanks! I'm happy you like it! Had a lot of help from Levi to get it polished.

    Exactly. I think it's a shame that we so often limit God with our art. Doesn't really seem to do our Creator God justice.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. I wish you and your sisters the best with your own music pursuits!

    Stand fast,

    Reagan

  6. You bring a very good perspective to the argument. I listen to all kinds of music and my hubby who i call a music junkie really listens to a lot of different stuff. We both love the lord and believe in God, we listen to secular and gospel music, we just find both that we like. Its personal preference and perspective. You can listen to secular music and still love the lord!

  7. That is exactly (EXACTLY) how I feel about Christian novels. Thanks for your clear and articulate expression. You said it much better than I could.

  8. I grew up being allowed to listen to my mother's 45-rpms from the 50's. She thought they were wonderful and far better than the 80's culture we were living in, plus we were first-generation homeschoolers, so she also ended up allowing a little 80's music into the house — under the delusion that we would be fine because we were homeschooled. Then as an adult, and then as a parent, I listened to it with new ears and couldn't believe what I'd been listening to.

    While we do not forbid other genres in the house, the only music we buy and listen to is classical and opera, so as to train the kids to appreciate the good and the beautiful. If they are interested in other music, I have no problem with finding a recording on YouTube (without photos or pictures to distract) so they can actually hear the words. They get disgusted. I told them they aren't forbidden to listen to music of their choice, but it would be good for us to listen to it together, and really hear what is being said in the song.

    Already they've come up with some insights I didn't think of….

    …needless to say, it's been interesting.

  9. Bravo! Thank you very much for this article. I saw Jefferson Bethke’s YouTube video on the same subject. He covered a lot of the same points as you.

    We won’t listen to secular music, yet we drive cars, eat food, wear clothes created by non-Christian people (some may even be notorious sinners; I won’t judge). We should listen to great music, as long as it doesn’t push sinful, nefarious agendas. We create and listen to beautiful music for the glory of God. We celebrate the sounds people make with instruments and their voices – all of which come from God. I’m in a band that plays secular music (though I prefer to play Christian music), but I play my instrument for the glory of God, the one who gave me the talent.

    Thank you!
    G

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