Should Christians Listen To Secular Music?

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Should Christians listen to secular music? This is probably one of the most controversial questions that exists among Christians. But it shouldn’t be. The right way to approach this question is Biblically, not culturally or even personally. The question is not about if you can listen to secular music but rather what should guide and direct your consumption of any type of music. So, can a follower of Jesus listen to music that is distinctly secular?

What is the purpose of music? Was music designed exclusively for worship, or can it be consumed for entertainment? Is it ok to listen to certain music to alter your mood?

King David:

The most famous musician in the entire Bible, King David, primarily used music for the purpose of worshipping God (Psalm 4:1; 6:1; 54; 55; 61:1; 67:1; 76:1). But David also used music to alter the mood of King Saul when he was tormented by evil spirits (1 Sam. 16:14-23).

The Israelites:

This people group used music to warn others of danger (Neh. 4:20), and to surprise their enemies (Judges 7:16-22).

The New Testament:

The greatest man that ever lived after Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, encourages Christians to inspire one another to love and good works through music (Eph. 5:19).

So even though the Bible uses music primarily for worship, this is not all that music is used for in the Bible.

When it comes to consuming music, there are three types of people and the way in which they approach this subject:

Fundamentalists. This group rejects all music that is distinctly non-Christian. They neither attempt to find the value in music that is non-Christian, nor do they remain amicable in hearing other peoples viewpoints about music.

Missionaries. This group listens to both distinctly Christian and overtly non-Christian music. They receive music which has a good message or substance. They reject that music which brings absolutely no value to a follower of Jesus (profanity, references to sex, drugs and alcohol use, just to name a few items that fall under the “reject,” category).

Secularists. This group, although they claim that Jesus is their Lord, often deny this fact with their poor choice of music consumption. If you were to look at a playlist on their iPod or iPhone, you would be hard pressed to find something that is worthy of redemption. For this group, listening to distinctly Christian music is the rare exception, not the norm.

I want to break down the contemporary music industry into four major streams:

1. Theologically Robust. This stream is theologically sound and provides rich, gospel-centered lyrics. It includes old hymns that are freshly rearranged. Here are examples of bands and musical collectives that fall under this stream:

  • Sovereign Grace Music (SGM)
  • Citizens (Mars Hill Music)
  • Reach Records (Lecrae, Tedashii, Trip Lee)
  • Shai Linne
  • Red Letter (Mars Hill Music)
  • Enfield (Grace Community Church)

2. Culturally Popular. You can hear artists from this stream played on most major Christian Radio Stations. The lyrics are not as theologically robust as stream one. This stream is much more recognized than the first, and is usually heard at most large churches in the United States. Here are examples of bands and musical collectives that fall under this stream:

  • Hillsong United
  • Chris Tomlin
  • Matt Redman
  • Newsboys
  • tobyMac
  • MercyMe
  • Hawk Nelson
  • Sanctus Real
  • Seventh Day Slumber
  • Audio Adrenaline
  • Casting Crowns
  • Matthew West

3. Quasi Spiritual. This stream includes bands and artists that have subtle religious undertones. Although they don’t distinctly market themselves as Christian, they are very popular among Christians. One band in particular I am going to include in this stream is Mumford & Sons. Just about every other person I talk to who is a Christian, is raving about this group.

It is interesting to note that in a recent interview, frontman Marcus Mumford told Rolling Stones magazine that he wouldn’t call himself a Christian. He says: “I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was,” he told the magazine. “I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.”

Mumford has also denied that his band’s latest release, “Babel,” was a statement about Christianity. In October 2012, he told Big Issue that the band is more about ‘faith‘ than about ‘religion.’

Here are examples of bands and musical collectives that fall under this stream:

  • Mumford & Sons
  • U2 (Bono)

4. Distinctly Secular. This stream is distinctly secular. Here are some bands and artists which are popular right now. Even though many of these artists have lyrics with significant religious themes (Kanye West’s No Church In The Wild and Lana Del Rey’s Body Electric, just to name a couple, they are not spiritual, but distinctly secular). Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but just to give you an idea of the type of music that makes up this stream.

  • Kanye West
  • Lana Del Rey
  • Ellie Goulding
  • Macklemore
  • The Xx
  • Coldplay
  • Bruno Mars
  • ADELE
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Rihanna
  • Daft Punk

Can a Christian listen to music from stream three or four and become weak in their faith? Maybe. But the same risk is present with stream one or two if the heart is not in the right place.

Ultimately, it is not the music that saves a person but Jesus.

It is not what comes in through a persons ears that defiles a person, but rather what comes out of the mouth. But very often, what comes in through the ears, exits out of the mouth in daily conversation and decisions.

Can a person remain distinctly Christ-like while feeding on a steady diet of Kanye and Rihanna? Maybe. But I doubt it. The steady current of themes which stand in stark contrast to the gospel from these artists will inevitably make their mark upon the individual.

When choosing to listen to any type of music, we do well to read Philippians 4:8 and use it as our guide when we are browsing iTunes.

Paul tells the Philippians to pursue certain things:

Whatever is:

  • True
  • Honorable
  • Just
  • Pure
  • Lovely
  • Commendable
  • Excellent
  • Praiseworthy

Seek out these things and consume them voraciously.

Are there secular songs that include the above items mentioned by Paul? Absolutely!

There are many secular songs that promote honesty, integrity, purity and fidelity without mentioning God. This is where we become missiologists by redeeming the music we listen to.

Is it a sin to listen to secular music?

I think the better question to ask is:

What does the music you listen to motivate you to do?

Does the music you consume do the following:

  1. Does it make you love Jesus more?
  2. Does it motivate you to love others more?
  3. Does it press gospel-centered realities into you?
  4. Do you become more lovable after listening to this type of music?
  5. Do you pursue holiness and purity after listening to a type of music?
  6. Do you see any negative effects from the music you listen to (corrupt or unwholesome talk, a loose attitude towards profanity, promiscuity, a low view of God, a low view of males and/or females)
  7. Does it affect the speed at which you drive your car?
  8. Does it affect the attitude with which you approach life issues such as relationships, spouse, friends, family, church, community?
  9. Does it impact your emotions – making you more angry/sad/depressed?
  10. Does it create within you a soft heart towards people and a hard stance on non-negotiable issues

Here is the bottom line:

Whatever a person allows to fill his mind – this will ultimately fuel his life.

This will spill over to the choices you make, the words you use, the actions you demonstrate and the passions that you are gripped by.

As Christians, we are called to establish wholesome thought patterns by the renewing of our mind. Every thought we have must be captivated by Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

Can secular music perpetuate this principle in your life? Maybe. But the Bible does say that bad company corrupts good morals. This includes the corrupting nature of certain music that will bear negatively upon our morals and virtues. Music can actually be quite dangerous. Check out this post written by my friend Yuriy on the dangers of music.

Here is a simple principle to live by:

Not all music that you can listen to, you should listen to. All music is permissible for the Christian to listen to, but not all music is beneficial for a Christian to listen to.

It is not so much about the music that you consume but rather if the music you listen to, begins to consume you – for the better or worse.

If we are constantly pursuing Jesus, we will be constantly pursued by Jesus. This means that our choices in music will be guided and directed by the Holy Spirit Himself.

When the pursuit of holiness becomes a daily practice, you will no longer be faced with tough decisions of whether to listen to this artist or that artist. The choice will be simple. The music that adversely affects me will be eliminated from my playlist. The music that helps and heals will be the choice for me.

Question: What other music streams would you add? What principle do you personally use to filter the music that you listen to? How much does music affect your state of being? 

 

 

 


Comments

44 responses to “Should Christians Listen To Secular Music?”

  1. Music is not Christian… Secular… Or some mix there of… Lyrics on the other hand… Can be either… If there were was such a thing as “Christian” music… We would be obligated to use it for worship… Since music can’t be delineated… Let’s have a conversation about what secular lyrics do for your Christian walk.

    1. Hi — good addition — the substance of the lyrics was the thrust of the post, including the differing streams 🙂

    2. Anzhelika Avatar
      Anzhelika

      what do you think about music like heavy metal which doesn’t have much lyrics either but brings out anger or rage?

      1. Anzhelika hi – any choice in music, regardless of genre – should be approached with the principles outlined in the post – then you will for sure be doing the right thing because you are governed by Scripture 🙂

    3. When one listens to amazing grace as a claim hymnal, he usually get touched deeply understanding that he was that blind sinner, when he listens to it in a rock concert, he can dance, and jump up and down to it, not even beening touched or anything. Music therefore, cannot be neutral. If the phase “you are what you eat” applies, then what kind of Christian eould you be feeding off “junk”?

  2. seeker Avatar
    seeker

    Why would music that references sex be sinful? Is sex sinful?

    1. Often references to sex in music are either vulgar or promoting an improper attitude or view of sex. Sex within the Biblical bounds of marriage is not sinful.

      1. Spot on. Thanks Caleb!

    2. It isn’t that sex is sinful but making explicit references to it are crude to say the least. Music that speaks of sex usually promotes sex outside of marriage as well as promiscuity. Rather love should be the focus and not the type of love usually portayed in secular music. Sex is created by God and its correct context is wonderful but as soon as you take it out of the original context it becomes something else. any song that sings about explicit sexual acts is designed to gratify self and that should not be our aim as christians. Yes enjoy sex as part of a health marital relationship but even then sex should not be the focus of that relationship

  3. Bogdan, great post! I like how you categorize the different music types. I’ve never thought in those categories before. The music I most often listen to is instrumental. I like to listen to music when I’m studying for a sermon and more often than not I’ll listen to something with a pretty good beat because it keeps me energetic and on task.

    1. Caleb hi – yes categorization sometimes helps, just to systematize things — I listen to music as well when preparing for sermons — the beat of the music definitely helps as well!

  4. Deana Avatar
    Deana

    I’m glad I got to read this! And it nice to see that you included Reach Records in the first category. I’ve had a few people tell me that lecrae is not Christian because its rap and rap came out of this world and how we aren’t supposed to love anything of this world and so on… My usual answer to those people is that we praise God with what we can and in different ways. Do you have any additional thoughts on this?

    Thank you in advance 🙂

    1. I think if you look at the history of rap you’ll find that it has some deep roots in the spirituals that the slaves sang in the South.

      1. For all you russians

        Rap = Stih + fonagrama

        1. LOL Mark, great and accurate analogy!

    2. Deana hi – what you answered “we praise God with what we can and in different ways,” is spot-on – and this is exactly what I would say. Send them a link to this post and I would like to dialogue with them 🙂

    3. I think their view is more of how can something secular and Godly be mixed, and santified for God? And to be honest with you I dont have answer either.

  5. It’s all about the lyrics

  6. I do not buy or listen to secular music; I used to but found that I was becoming distracted by it and it was affecting my personal walk with God. I will listen to some classical music but not all some christian music but not all for me I need to know what the message is about and often even seemingly innocent secular songs promote messages where God is nowhere to be seen speaking of peace without God or love without God and if we are not careful we will accept these humanistic messages so it isn’t always the overtly sexual or angry lyrics but the subtle move away from the creator. With anything that we consume we need to be discerning, there are many things that I choose not to partake of because there is nothing beneficial.

  7. George Avatar
    George

    You are fear mongering and assuming people are complete idiots. Most people don’t even know the lyrics to the music they listen to (or just don’t care) and just because you listen to someone give an alternative worldview does not mean that you have to accept it.

    Nobody sane would believe that simply listening to good sermons or bible mp3s because you liked the background music or the tone of the speaker’s voice would turn you into a Christian or make you a better one, but people like yourself always attribute that kind of power to ideas that are contrary to a Christian world view.

    If the music someone listens to seems to be causing them a problem, it is likely for the same reason pretty girls (or boys) cause someone to have problems: their hearts.

    1. George hi, let me know if you want to discuss further – email me: bogdan@bogdankipko.com

  8. Bianca Perera Avatar
    Bianca Perera

    Music that glorifies God is what makes me happy. It really disappoints me that people give so many excuses. Why should I pollute my mind with rubbish….no thanks. I love Jeaus and will not stand or sing anything less. 🙂

  9. What about music as artistic representation where that means an expression of the desire and contradiction between what is and what ought to be (eg Berlin’s Einstuerzende Neubauten in the 80s with their ear-splitting destructive/creative “noise” when the Berlin Wall was still high)? Music as a motif in political transformation (eg long tradition but Kanye West’s Yeezus is a very recent example)? What about music as emotional catharsis that gives a broken mind a hold on sanity (eg Nine Inch Nails) or keeps at bay total isolation (eg The Cure)? My point is that in Genesis it says that God created people in his own image and that when people create and express they always articulate something of that reflection. Even when it’s ugly, dark, violent or angry; it’s still human beings crying out to God. My problem with almost all “Christian” music is that, as far as artistic merit goes, it seems more concerned with sounding as banal and venal (ie as mainstream) as possible rather than really calling out to God in any way whatsoever. Remember Psalm 88? Would that one seriously ever remotely get on to a “contemporary Christian worship” album?

  10. I love your thoughts in this post. I am writing a post on the same topic for my blog and I have quoted you in it. The words you share are life-giving. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Awesome, link the post for me so that I can learn from it as well!

  11. […] Ultimately, it is not the music that saves a person but Jesus. […]

  12. Your blogs are pretty terrible. All you do is tell people what they should and shouldn’t do. Who do you think you are? God? You sure as hell aren’t. Get a real job.

    1. i actually think this blog is excellent,

    2. He actually isn’t telling people what to do at all. He’s calling for us all to question ourselves and our motives. He gives scripture to back it up. But at the end of the day he is clear – he doesn’t tell us what to do but He says that if we are seeking God and his presence the the Holy Spirit will direct us accordingly. Great article 🙂

      1. I agree with you Nadia that’s very true. and its not everyone who will understand what has been shared because we are different in the way we see the things of God.

        1. Amen Louis, thank you!

    3. Well he’s actually not telling us what to do. He’s restating what God tells us to do like a prophet/ man of God should.

    4. I thought he stayed very politically correct. At no point did he say what we should or shouldn’t do. But the truth hurts and some take offense to things that were not meant to be taken offensively. If you actually took the time to read this article in its entirety then maybe you are looking for approval for something you know will hinder you on your spiritual walk. If that’s not the case then disregard that part lol but anyhow God Bless you and I hope you find the answers you are looking for.

  13. I loved the article. I personally choose to stay away from secular music because there is a lot of great christian music out there that serve not only for my personal enjoyment but are also Christ centered or oriented. I have noticed that whatever you listen to plays back in your head and you have to work to get it out of your head. We are exposed to all kind of music and there isn’t much we can do about it. I can however, decide what I listen to and at the end of the day every follower of Christ needs to make that decision for themselves. We can choose to support Christians artists or mundane ones. What will you choose?

    1. Great points and I agree!

  14. Ruth Mrabure Avatar
    Ruth Mrabure

    I am so amazed at what GOD has inspired you to write. We live in a generation that is rebellious, carnal and ungodly. Where are the Daniels that will stand for holiness and truth? I was covered in so much “filth” i would listen to secular songs on love and sex and go to bed and have the worst dreams ever! My elder sister who was always the godly one (she got married at 31 a virgin her husband told me “i am happy with my wife”) would scold me and tell me not to listen to these songs that i would have devilish dreams. She kept praying for me and three years ago, in a Northern country in Europe GOD saved me TOTALLY. Mind you, I was born in the church. Today i see many Christians playing around this same thing and saying there is nothing wrong with it- 2 Cor 4:4 playing out birthing carnal Christians.

    Secularism has crept into the church and many people feel its okay to listen to these songs. But i know they do no good to your spirit, soul and body. Like you said “It is not what comes in through a persons ears that defiles a person, but rather what comes out of the mouth. But very often, what comes in through the ears, exits out of the mouth in daily conversation and decisions.”

    Today, i find so much JOY, PEACE, LOVE and UPLIFTMENT when i flood my room with songs that worship GOD. The bible say “HE inhabits the praises of HIS people” when you sing secular songs does GOD come down into your room and heart? I believe NOT.

    God bless you mightily for been bold and standing by your convictions and putting this up for the WORLD to see.

    1. Amen, great to hear your story and thank you for your encouragement!

  15. I really like this article. I remember there was a time when the vast majority of songs I had on my iPod were religious, but I also had “Roxanne” by The Police and “Let It Be” by the Beatles, the former because it’s sort of a “hate the sin, love the sinner” song concerning prostitution and the latter because it’s a promotion of world peace (aside from the fact it references the Virgin Mary.) Those are things that seem to fit Paul’s standards.

    I have to admit though, I don’t listen to much Christian pop music nowadays. There was a more recent time when I had a thing against it because I felt the quality of mainstream Christian music was lacking musically, a lot of it wasn’t very good (I was also picky about the secular music I listened to for this same reason.) But most of what I listened to was secular. I wanted to listen to good music.

    Nowadays I listen to classical music — much of which is religious. JS Bach, Handel, Mozart, Schubert, Tallis and Palestrina all have a lot of religious works, while the instrumental music out from these, though not specific religious, has a natural, inoffensive beauty to it and some of it is good for the mind. It feeds me spiritually very often but when it doesn’t, it at least has a natural beauty that edifies me in ways that I don’t think are offense to the Lord.

    “Music serves but two purposes: the Glory of God and the refreshment of the sould.” – Johann Sebastian Bach

    1. * soul, not “sould”

  16. I have only one question. Is it wrong if you listen to music that can just mention something sinful but you still listen to it and do not get affected? I personally have heard songs that can have a sinful sentence somewhere but it doesn’t affect me at all. Is it still wrong?

  17. Josephine T Avatar
    Josephine T

    Hey everybody, I love this article Bogdan, it’s brilliant – I would like to know your view on the singer/actress -Taral Hicks – This Time
    Her songs are available on YouTube and iTunes, also on MP3 sites
    Thank you so much, hope to hear a reply soon 🙂 I really would like some guidance on the content especially the songs ‘a lil something’ and ‘whoopty woop’ – anyone can input , thank you all

  18. Josephine T Avatar
    Josephine T

    Hey everybody, I love this article Bogdan, it’s brilliant – I would like to know your view on the singer/actress -Taral Hicks – This Time
    Her songs are available on YouTube and iTunes, also on MP3 sites
    Thank you so much, hope to hear a reply soon 🙂 I really would like some guidance on the content especially the songs ‘a lil something’ and ‘whoopty woop’ – anyone can input , thank you all

  19. I enjoyed your article alot thanks for taking the time to discuss this issue. I personally look a little further than the music to decide if I listen. I look at the artist stand on biblical issues and how the conduct there self in day to day life( such as facebook and interviews and other social media). I helps me decide if i want this person speaking into my life. The songs I listen to must have a christian message and come from a credible source that displays god’s power, grace and mercy in him or hers life.

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