I have always wrestled with the old problem of secular versus Christian music. It is hard to articulate why we must avoid all secular music and this has left me confused even as I threw away all my Pearl Jam and Korn CD’s. Then at other times, I swing in the other direction and thank God as the giver of artistic gifts. He certainly would not want us to avoid a gift that He has given (as long as it does not lead to sin). When music is done with excellence and beauty I struggle to reject it, unless what is advocated is clearly sinful and offensive.
Now I don’t want to come off as some Christian culture snob, looking down my nose at Christian culture. For example, some Christian music is so cheesy that it is absolutely unpalatable. This is also true of some secular music however. And I do want to be clear before I go further, the absolute optimum in music for me is music done in excellence but that also honors the Lord in how it deals with whatever it happens to deal with.
But I wonder why have this weird relationship in the arena of music and no where else. I mean, I know Christians who would never listen to secular music who watched Sex and the City and R-rated movies. This seems kind of schizophrenic to me. So why do we put music in this special class, with its own special restrictions? I came up with three reasons.
First, I have heard some say that music has a unique ability to penetrate the heart without having to fight the barriers the mind would throw up. And I think there is some legitimacy to this. I think my love of Live (the band) contributed to my fascination with eastern religions in High School. But I don’t think that the case is quite as strong as some make out. I knew what Ed Kowalczyk believed and what he was saying. So it didn’t slip past anything, he just made it seem cool. The problem I think has to do more with our celebrity culture than to any heart espionage.
I also think that some confusion in a whole other arena has led to this problem. You see, nobody thinks of TV as worship, few go to the movies with their only intention being to worship. Yet this is what we have done with music. In many Christian circles worship has come to mean music. But in the Bible it is clear that while music is a terribly important form of worship, all of life is to be worship. It is not just those few songs we sing before the sermon. It is how we conduct ourselves at work, how we treat our families. It is also how we spend our time with the Lord, and yes, it involves music. But the problem comes when music is thought of only as worship. When this happens music that is not for the purpose of worship is seen as a perversion of worship. This is unhealthy and misleading.
Last, and probably least important, we are just flat out uncomfortable with the world. We don’t know how to relate to it. We are unsure what is acceptable and healthy, and what is seductive and unhealthy. And it is certainly better to be cautious than reckless. So I want to close by saying that if you disagree with me and think that all secular music is bad, well that’s ok. Do not sin against your conscience on my account. But do think about all the other common grace gifts we appreciate even when they come from non-Christians.