On “Christian” Music

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” – Eph. 5:18-19
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” – Col. 3:19

The story of History is, as Augustine says, the story of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. The struggles of God’s Word and humanism are the only players in the universal scene, from now until Judgement Day.

The challenges facing Christians flow directly from this conflict. Where does the City of God end and the City of Man begin? What defines carnality? We always seek to push the line, but we never know where the line is.

One of the most important battlefronts we must present is in regard to music. This is even more true in the age of the internet: we can have unlimited access to any music we want, instantly.

And as always, we as Christians must ask ourselves: what is Godly, and what is not?

Music is built into the fabric of the world. C. S. Lewis’ Narnian creation account recalls the world being sung into existence. God is the Word: music is glorified speaking, ergo, God is music as well. Humans are instruments: our vocal chords were built not only to allow mere speech, but to elevate speech into song.

Music is wild, mysterious, deep, insiduous. It can change the world in the blink of an eye; it can bring tears to a joyful heart, and it can mend a broken soul. Music is God’s language, something we are priveleged every day to experience.

I refer y’all to Peter Leithart and James B. Jordan’s work on the subject.

And so, we must be extra careful regarding what we consider good music.

You may ask, why does it matter?

It matters because what we hear will inexorably change us. We cannot deny it; we cannot fight it. You are what you listen to. If you listen to angry music, you’ll be angry. If you listen to fruity music, you’ll get soft and turn brown and mushy if left out too long.

First of all, what does Scripture tell us regarding what we should listen to?

The verses quoted previously are the two times in Scripture that Paul mentions Psalms/hymns/songs. This is, by the way, a proof text for allowing music other than Psalms in worship: we are explicitly commanded to use hymns and “other songs full of grace” to edify and teach one another in Christ.

But while this is helpful for liturgical purposes, it does not really address our question: what music (outside the Lord’s Service) should we immerse ourselves in?

Many main-stream Christians have taken the approach of creating music that they think is God-honoring. This music is, for the most part, bad for the individual and bad for the Church as a whole. For the rest of this post, I will attempt to explain this without attracting too much hate.

To begin, what is this music that they call “Christian?” It comes in many forms…spirituals, pop, rock, bluegrass/gospel. The main problems, however, lie in the “Christian” pop/rock genre.

Despite the claims that the musicians are attempting to reform these areas of music, a quick listen quickly confirms that is the exact opposite that is taking place: the music has affected the musicians.

Inevitably, one of two things has happened:

  1. Good music, horrible (theologically) lyrics
  2. Horrible (artistically) music, merely terrible lyrics

The problem, I think, lies in the fact that Christians will be guilty about listening to music that is not branded “Christian.” The music gurus see this and write songs that target this demographic.

The result is “Jesus is my girlfriend” music: vague songs that compare Jesus to hookers, girlfriends, drugs, and suicide (and yes I have heard examples of all of these).

On the other hand, the artist could be genuinely moved to bring Christ into his music. You often see this in artists that are converted mid-career and feel like they have to switch genres entirely to make up for their sins.

Sadly, the result is the same.

Music with good theology, even though it may be even good artistically, does not sell well. People want music that makes them feel special, better-than-thou, for listening to it. “I’m a faithful Christian. I ONLY listen to Christian music.”

The Pharisees are alive and well in America.

The Christian bands see the appeal of heavy metal and rock, see the teens flooding to those concerts, so they try to duplicate the sound. How is it Christian music when Skillet, Disciple, etc., is indistinguishable from death metal?

They want to toe the line. They want the fame, the notoriety, the feel of what they consider “real” rock-and-roll. But all the wickedness, of course they don’t want that. But if you want to look exactly like the world, sooner or later you’ll act like them too.

An example James B. Jordan uses is the South Park Gospel Band. Having no idea how to go about writing Christian songs, the boys decide to take pop songs and modify them: wherever the song says “baby”, they replace it with “Jesus.”

“I love you, baby” becomes “I love you, Jesus.” Poof. Instant Christian band.

None of this is to disparage any specific Christian band. Skillet is very talented musically, and most of their songs are indistintuishable from any other metal band, lyrically. I also enjoy Third Day (due to the name, obviously Christian *wink*), but my favorite song by them (“When the Rain Comes”) is no more, and no less, than any other love song on the radio.

We can certainly appreciate the work of obviously non-Christian bands. AC/DC has some incredibly morally corrupt songs, but many are just fine: they are get-up-and-go songs as opposed to get-up-and-sin songs. With wisdom, you can discern which songs you should work out to, and which you should avoid.

At the other end of the musical spectrum, the Beatles. With a track record of drug abuse and womanizing, not exactly role models. But their love songs are timeless, works of art. You could even make the case that they glorify God.

Because even those pagans who try their hardest to tear God down often end up glorifying Him inadvertently. Wagner’s epic opera, the Ring Cycle, is a direct musical attack on order and creation. Yet it continues to be one of the great musical works of art.

There ARE bands that we can see are clearly dishonoring to God and therefore to be avoided. Bands with names like Godsmack, God Dethroned, Cannibal Corpse, and the like (both are real examples), are obvious attacks on God’s glory.

But the grey areas require wisdom. Always have. If you honor God in all that you do, in all that you sing, sometimes the words that a heathen spat in hate will flow from you in love. God loves to twist the wicked man’s plans back on him.

But why is this Christian music bad for the Church?

Several reasons:

  1. It stalemates the development of true Christian music. If all we do is mimic the world, we won’t get anywhere until they do.
  2. It encourages weak Christianity and retards the spiritual growth of the listener. Even with a song that is clearly awry, we can see its errors and learn from them. But a generation of Christians raised on nothing but watered-down liberal Jesus-is-my-girlfriend pseudo-Christianity will never contribute in a meaningful way to the growth of the Kingdom.
  3. It blinds us to the beauty of what the world does in fact produce. As mentioned above, the world DOES have something to offer, by mere virtue of also being in Christ’s image. Yes, they must be redeemed. Yes, they are wrong in many, many ways. But the simple brushstrokes of the pagan cave-dwellers are in their own way as beautiful as the Pieta or Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in d minor. Beauty inhabits God’s world, because it is His Word and His Song.

Music shapes us in ways we do not even know. Therefore, as Scripture tells us, we should start with the Psalms, those songs given directly to us, and hymns: human compositions to God. And then to spiritual songs, songs of our own invention, full of love, sometimes of godly anger, sometimes of neither.

And with wisdom, we CAN listen to the radio that the world tunes in on. We can see what is good for us, and what we should avoid. We can see what kind of people we should never be, and learn from those who make mistakes. We should plunder the City of Man; bring back what is beautiful, and leave what is ugly to rot.

We should be active in the music industry; feeding our songs with Godly love: a song does not have to mention Christ in the lyrics to be full of Christ.

But we should never, ever, take what is already beautiful, and unintentionally ruin it because of our own wishy-washy feelings about what rock, or pop, or anything, SHOULD be. THAT is, if not bordering on sin, a darn stupid thing to do.

–The Mad Dawg Scientist

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5 comments

  1. Nick House

    Well spoken. Just had a talk with someone about Christian metal/rock yesterday. The main problem I see in its fans (not necessarily the artists.) is that the only manifestation of Christianity I see in many of them is the Christian bands they listen to. I would prefer obviously Christian people who listen to satanic music like Slipknot, (and I know some of them), to “Christian” teenagers whose Christianity seems to consist of mainly listening to Skillet and dating youth group girls.
    It would not be good to do a blanket condemnation of all Christian hard rock/metal/whatever just on the grounds that it’s a gloss on secular music. While some bands mainly appear as secular bands without cursing (Destroy the Runner, Anberlin, some UnderOath), there are others whose music and lyrics clearly speaks of a Christian worldview, especially in the emo/hardcore/heavier indie genres. I suggest you look at the songs “Hearts and Minds” by Ivoryline and “Abracadavers” by The Classic Crime as examples of bands with mainstream success whose lyrics are clearly not secular, even if they do not mention God explicitly.

    • MadDawg Scientist

      You’re exactly right: these fans use so-called Christian music as an excuse for their non-Christian lifestyle: it’s the same mentality behind going to church once a month, then living like hell the other 6 days. “Look at me, I frown on those horrible bands with their screamo metal and trashy talk.”

      I didn’t intend a blanket condemnation: more of a blanket critique. My focus is not meant to be so much on the music as the subculture it creates. There are “Christian” bands that I enjoy. I’ll definitely look up those you mentioned.

      Thanks for your input!

  2. Nick House

    I didn’t think you had a blanket condemnation of Christian Rock-I was speaking more of harder/louder subgenres, which some people blanketly condemn (Christian or Otherwise). How come you get this cool Confederate flag/Cross logo, and I just get this blue kaleidescope thing? It’s not fair.

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