Should Christians listen to secular music?

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Fred Moritz's picture

I voted yes - but we must understand the Philippians 4:8 caveat, and the authors cite that verse.

Ron Bean's picture

I voted yes and I'm looking forward to being told what kind of secular music I can listen to to. I'll reserve further comment until then. All I'll say that in my home my wife and I have considerably different definitions of what is "beautiful".

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

To be truly spiritual, you must only surround yourself with "approved" Christian stuff. For more on what is "secular" and what is "holy," see the student handbook of any unaccredited, KJVO bible college. Or, ask yourself, "What would John Hamblin do?" 

On a serious note, just 'cuz I feel in the mood to generate controversy, I always thought the Led Zeppelin song "Thank You" was one of the most beautiful pieces of rock music I ever heard. The lyrics are good. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Rob Fall's picture

I got to get rid of my Pipes and Band of the Royal 43rd Highland Regiment (Now 3 SCOTS) and my three volume set of the Complete Sousa Marches?

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

John E.'s picture

"Whatever is under the whole heavens is mine."

The seemingly never-ending arguments about what kind of secular music Christians can listen to aside, the larger, umbrella discussion is an important one to have. Throughout much of conservative evangelicalism and cultural fundamentalism (although, I don't like separating the two) the sacred/secular divide that denies God's lordship over all creation still runs rampant. The fact that the question needs to be asked and answered reveals how much neo-Platonism still infects our churches. 

Ron Bean's picture

" I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. "

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

Yes, but what does that "in itself" mean? (setting aside that he was referring to ceremonial laws and rules about food)

The Story of the Bible reveals that the Fall has affected everything. Things are not functioning the way God originally created them. For me, I think that the question that needs to be asked when interacting with entertainment is how has the Fall affected this specific thing? Has this thing been so perverted by sin as to cause me to wander after ungodliness? For example, within the boundaries of marriage (between one man and one woman) nudity is good and right even though nudity is still negatively affected by sin even within the context of marriage. But nudity outside of that boundary, like in strip club, is a perversion of nudity's "goodness" to the point where it's outright rebellion against God. Extending this, nudity in front of doctors wasn't part of original Creation. We need to see doctors because of the effects of the Curse. We can recognize that nudity in a doctor's office isn't "good" while still recognizing that it's good and right within the context of our Fallen condition.

As a lover of "secular" music, I reject the notion that music is amoral. I believe that's a made-up term devoid of content. 

Larry Nelson's picture

I remember eating in a group at a restaurant, with one of the group being an IFB pastor.  A Buddy Holly song (I couldn't say now which one) began to play in the background.  The pastor became irate.  He stormed up to the host stand, and demanded that "that wild music" be turned off.  The bewildered-looking host agreed to shut it off, and it was quickly gone.....

On a different occasion, with a different pastor, the offensive music in a restaurant was Don McLean's 1971 #1 hit American Pie, which is ironically an ode to the 1959 plane crash that took Buddy Holly's life. 

Was it at one time just that expected among IFB's that public restaurants be "rock-and-roll" free zones? 

Ron Bean's picture

Thank you John for making me think on a Monday morning.........and for preventing me from the tactic of using a verse out of context as a proof text! (Smile) Love you brother. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

I wrote:

Has this thing been so perverted by sin as to cause me to wander after ungodliness?

Lest anyone is tempted to quote Matthew 15:18-20 at me (not expecting it from the SI regulars), I'm going to provide some clarification. 

It is absolutely true that I don't need "things" to wander after ungodliness. That's why I need Jesus. However, with his statement recorded in Matthew 15, Jesus wasn't saying that nothing outside of us causes us to sin. He was saying we're sinners regardless; nothing external to us is required to cause us to rebel against God. However, Jesus' statement doesn't refute the Story of the Bible (which is a nonsensical thought). While I don't need strip clubs to wander after ungodliness, I promise you that if I view Matthew 15:18-20 as literally wooden as progressive "Christians" do and use it to justify going to strip clubs, the strip clubs will cause me to wander after ungodliness. In that imagined scenario, my justification for going to strip clubs demonstrates what Jesus said in Matthew 15:18-20.

Bert Perry's picture

My personal take is that given the current status of Christian music, at least among white evangelicals, we seriously need to listen to "secular" music because they show us the way out of the morass we are in.  Things that really irritate me include the apparent thought that turning up the volume or adding more instruments (playing the same melodies and harmonies at best) somehow makes things more musical, lyrics that can only charitably described as doggerel/love song material, and even use of instrumentals that are about as satisfying as the back track to "Hooked on Phonics."  

I love black gospel, bluegrass, classical, Gregorian chant, ancient hymns, singing the Psalms (Geneva and modern versions), Jesus Freak music, and more, but when it comes to CCM and even a lot of the stuff coming out of BJU and the like, the train has just plain come off the rails.   We need to get out more and remember the characteristics of good music--melodies, harmonies, lyrical development, and finally I think we need to do it with a closer eye on Scripture.  One of the things that is highly irritating, but hard to put a finger on, is song lyrics that are technically true, but are spiritually meaningless because they are either interchangeable with love song lyrics, or they simply do not have the "mood" that Scripture uses.  

And an update: just to be clear, per John's comment, there are certain places where I say "no more."  Generally it is an "ick" factor to do with the lyrics, and sometimes it's also an irritating mood to the instrumentation/melodies/harmonies.  Or lack thereof.  But all in all, Christian musicians need to pay attention to, and learn from, secular counterparts.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

CAWatson's picture

John,

Would you separate music that is appropriate for worship from music that is appropriate for leisure? Or are all musical forms and styles appropriate for worship? I realize this is a different question from simply, "should Christians listen to secular music?" (Note: I listen to secular music...to an extent)

When I visited your church last year, I found myself more at home with the worship than I have in most fundamentalist churches. 

 

 

John E.'s picture

CAWatson wrote:

John,

Would you separate music that is appropriate for worship from music that is appropriate for leisure? Or are all musical forms and styles appropriate for worship? I realize this is a different question from simply, "should Christians listen to secular music?" (Note: I listen to secular music...to an extent)

Yes, I see a difference between musical styles that are appropriate for worship and for leisure. The purpose of corporate worship is that, to worship corporately. Some music styles do not lend themselves to worshipping corporately. Not long ago, I was visiting a church that had a praise band. The band was excellent. Except I couldn't hear myself singing, much less hear my brothers and sisters in Christ around me singing. That experience only reconfirmed for me why I'm opposed to certain styles of music and instruments in corporate worship.

I've said this before, but my senior pastor is greatly amused that those who want to advocate for a praise band or even drums come to me first. They look at me and assume, "Here's a pastor who will agree with me." Nope. 

mmartin's picture

John E. said he rejects the notion that music is amoral.  Couldn't agree more!

I recall many years ago the only people I heard promoting that idea was from lovers of CCM that were trying to justify their music.  I always thought that if they wanted to listen to CCM, OK fine.  But at least don't look at us with a straight face and tell us that music is amoral.

I even heard some folks effectively say that music is amoral, because who is to say that the black dots on white paper were good or bad.

In my opinion, to say that music amoral is to be willfully ignorant.

Bert Perry's picture

My take:

1.  Instrumentation has its own melodies and harmonies.  Not bad.

2.  Lyrics: not all I/you/we/you.  Some portions of lyrics directly from Scripture, in particular Psalm 103.  Pretty good, it is Psalm-singing to a degree.

3.  Mood; some intensity, but (IMO) not melodramatic.  Far better than average, and it passes my "Could Air Supply sing this?" test.  (if the answer is "yes", it fails)

Regarding drums, Psalms 149 and 150, in my view.  But per John's perspective, once you start putting the drummer in a clear plastic cage and turning the volume up to 11, then you're going to have some trouble fulfilling a Biblical role for congregational singing--to impart God's Word to God's people in lyric form.

All in all, I highly endorse more Psalm-singing, by the way.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

I was in an IFB church (known to everyone reading this on SI, with virtually no doubt) three years ago for a funeral in which these were 2 of the 4 songs used:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWaYxLnQLWI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCpP0mFD9F0 

This past June, I was at a wedding in another IFB church at which this song was used as the recessional:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhhcHMkmyF8

(This last one really caught me off guard!)

dgszweda's picture

CAWatson wrote:

John,

Would you separate music that is appropriate for worship from music that is appropriate for leisure? Or are all musical forms and styles appropriate for worship?

Yes.  A simple example that is with all of us who have kids is nursery rhymes.  If we were to translate that into Christian music you would have songs like "Father Abraham" or "Only a boy named David", which often get criticized for poor theology.  You can't have it both ways.  God gave the gift to man of music.  While much of that was to focus this gift on worship, I don't believe Scripture outlines it exclusively.  The same holds truth for all of our gifts, such as art and other elements.  The question is can we have art that is not associated with worship?  Some would argue that having art associated with worship would actually go against the commandment of having idols.  I believe there are moral aspects of music that should be followed, but I don't think music is exclusive for worship.  I believe that God made us more creative than that, and that we operate, live and exist in a secular physical world.

Ron Bean's picture

My wife loves opera. I like 50's Doo Wop. Listening to this music gives us joy. At one time or another each of us has been rebuked by Christian friends for our affection for these secular genres. In response I said that I thank God for the things in life that give me pleasure. Things like creation, sleep, the love of my wife, and good food. I was eating dinner with a Christian who is a confirmed vegetarian and he smiled after I said grace and said, "I don't think I could have thanked God for that ham steak you're eating." We both laughed when I said, "You don't have to."

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Barry L.'s picture

double post

Barry L.'s picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXDGE_lRI0E&list=RDhbBZZObVl3g&index=2

Is this song suitable for worshipping God with?  Or, being CCM, is it secular (or "secular-like") in the view of anyone here?

I know some IFB's who say they love this song (and have sung it in their churches), and conversely others who (at least officially) loathe it

 

 

 

Like the chorus, not a big fan of the verses. Why? because the chorus has the right rythm where it's easy for a congregation to sing together. The verses are more difficult. At first, I thought, well, I'm just an old fuddy duddy used to singing old hymns growing up, but listening to the young people sing the verses it sounds jumbled. I think they find it difficult as well. Corporate worship is about us lifting our voices together joyfully.

Barry L.'s picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

I was in an IFB church (known to everyone reading this on SI, with virtually no doubt) three years ago for a funeral in which these were 2 of the 4 songs used:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWaYxLnQLWI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCpP0mFD9F0 

This past June, I was at a wedding in another IFB church at which this song was used as the recessional:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhhcHMkmyF8

(This last one really caught me off guard!)

Alot of IFB churches will acquiesce to family wishes in a moment like this.

Ron Bean's picture

I think history teaches us that if we wait that Turtles song "Happy Together" will be acceptable wedding music in IFB churches. After all we're currently using the pop music of 200 years ago in our weddings now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFTnFErJEu4

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Take a look at Barry's comment on "10000 Reasons".   Now I don't know how he'd specifically describe the differences between the chorus and the verses, but it's worth noting that the chorus is more clearly wed to a melody and uses a more recognizable rhyme scheme--ABAB.  Depending on how things are done, the meter is 9/6/9/6 as well, very regular.  The verses, on the flip side, are more or less chanted with a very subtle melody, no particular rhyme scheme, and the meter is irregular--although most lines are close to pentameter.  

It's not quite free verse, and I think it works for the most part, but the long and short of it is that it matters what kind of poetic devices are used.  Hymns and the metric psalms tend to use a very consistent meter and a fairly consistent rhyme scheme--that's what those numbers are in the header of a lot of hymnals, and that's why you can swap tunes and lyrics with "Amazing Grace", "Gilligan's Island Theme", "Yellow Rose of Texas", and "House of the Rising Sun."  Very different tunes and lyrics, but same poetic tools. 

One doesn't need to limit one's self to a certain kind of poetry--there is room for Shakespeare, Goethe, Frost, and ee cummings--but again, as Dr. Bauder mentioned in his comments about genre way back, those poetic devices (his example was a limerick I believe) matter.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I refer all my deeper questions about Christian music to Dr. Frank Garlock ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

I think history teaches us that if we wait that Turtles song "Happy Together" will be acceptable wedding music in IFB churches. After all we're currently using the pop music of 200 years ago in our weddings now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFTnFErJEu4

You don't understand the term if you think there was pop music 200 yrs ago

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

John E.'s picture

How we define it may depend on whether or not we're beholding to music ecology or not. I, for one, am not a big fan of sociological disciplines that are rooted in post-structuralism. In other words, I reject music ecology as being able to provide a legitimate definition of, well, anything. Because of that, and recognizing that the term would be anachronistic, I believe that it is possible to say that pop music existed 200 years ago. Most likely, what some would call the pop music of 200 years ago would be labeled "folk music" by many today, especially those adhering to music ecology's definitions.

All that being said, I'm curious as to how you define pop music, Don.  

Ron Bean's picture

I was thinking "pop" as an abbreviated form of "popular". Grin

And Wagner's associations with anti-Semitism may also be problematic. Bigger grin

It may be better if, like Tyler, I defer to music experts like Frank Garlock and David Cloud (and Scott Aniol) and quit trying to make people smile a little.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

I will probably want to edit this later, but I define pop music, in its broadest definition, as the music that appeals to a community's lowest common denominator. 

Because of radio, then TV, and now streaming sites, the music listening community has broadened to the point where the lowest common denominator is even lower.

Now, if we want to discuss the term in relation to specific sub-genres, then pop music can be more clearly defined. However, in discussions like on this thread, I'm pretty sure that we're using the term in an bigger umbrella sense than how it's used to differentiate between music styles under the rock/blues/jazz/country umbrella.   

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