What is Christian Music?
Growing up, my family was in church every week. As with most churches, we sang worship songs often. I even occasionally listened to our local Christian radio station. The songs that I heard on the radio and the songs that we sang in church were the same types of songs. They were catchy and easy to remember. They were mostly worship songs, intended for the listener to sing along and to worship.
For most of us, I think these songs, such as 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman, and Cornerstone by Hillsong, are what come to mind when we think of Christian music.
When I was in middle school and started to get more interested in music, I pretty much stopped listening to Christian music outside of church. Frankly, I didn’t enjoy it that much and much of it was just not good. So I started listening to other musicians and genres of music I thought were much better and more interesting. I listened to everything from pop and rock to rap and hip hop. Little of this music had anything to do with my faith, and much of it talked about ideals that were contrary to my beliefs. But at that time, I desired more to listen to good music.
At some point during college, I started discovering some different types of Christian music. I came across artists that were different from what I had listened to before and had talent on par with many secular artists. Many played music that wasn’t worship music, but that spoke about God. They had talent that was on par with many secular artists, so I really enjoyed listening to it, and at the same time it allowed me to experience God and Gospel truth. I naturally started listening to less and less secular music, and listened to more and more Christian music, simply because I really enjoyed it.
What I began to discover is that there are many genres of Christian music. There is worship music that is played at church and often on the radio. And there’s Christian music that tends to sound more like secular music that nearly everyone listens to, but with lyrics that speak about God. And there’s music that speaks about Christian ideas, but not as explicitly. And all of this music has its purpose. For instance, the song “10,000 Reasons” may be great for singing at church. Twenty One Pilots plays great music with Christian undertones that is great to listen to at home or jam out to in the car. But Twenty One Pilots isn’t quite appropriate for a church service, and listening to worship songs such as “10,000 Reasons” outside of church sometimes leaves more to be desired.
As I began to enjoy Christian music more, I began to wonder about the moral implications of the secular music I had been listening. This led me to ask the question “Is it wrong to listen to secular music?”
Is it wrong to listen to secular music?
I’ve struggled with this question quite a bit. I really enjoy listening to secular music, and often the music secular artists produce is much better than music that Christian artists produce. I didn’t want to have to sacrifice what I wanted to listen to. Besides, the Christian life isn’t just about following a bunch of rules, right?
So is it wrong to listen to secular music?
Short answer: No. And yes.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
When I was in college I read a particularly convicting quote regarding media. Pastor Kevin DeYoung wrote: “I’ve learned over the years that the simplest way to judge gray areas in the Christian life like movies, television, and music is to ask one simple question: Can I thank God for this?”1
The above verse from 1 Corinthians says that we should do everything for the glory of God. That even means that we should listen to music for the glory of God.
I don’t think that it is inherently wrong to listen to (and even enjoy) secular music. But I do think we should be really careful what types of music we listen to. One the one hand, there are plenty of secular artists that make really good music about all kinds of topics that are simply fun to listen to and even edifying. This music can even allow us to appreciate God through the creativity that He’s given to artists.
But there’s also a lot of music out there that spreads messages that are not glorifying to God. Does it bring God glory when artists sing about and praise promiscuity, drugs, crime, and all sorts of sin?
Can we really thank God for music such as this?
“But I don’t really listen to the lyrics. I just like the music.”
This is a popular argument, one I’ve even used in the past. I find it more likely, as was true for me, that we actually all do listen to some of the lyrics of songs, even if just a few lines and the chorus. Everyone has had a song stuck in their head before. And even if we don’t pay close attention to all of the lyrics, we often know the type of message a particular song is putting forth.
We need to be careful what we let into our minds, because the things that we listen to have greater influence in our lives than we may realize or care to admit. The reality is that lyrics run through our minds all the time. This literally affects what we are thinking about. As you’ve got song lyrics running through your mind, you’re thinking about those lyrics to some degree.
You’re likely reading this and thinking “This doesn’t apply to me.” You think that don’t need to change the music you listen to – it’s just fine. And maybe you’re right. But I challenge you to look at your heart and investigate the real reason you’re reluctant to stop listening to certain songs or artists. Is it because you’ve truly investigated the lyrics and checked your heart, and you really don’t think there’s anything wrong with it? Or do you just not believe that the lyrics could really be affecting your thoughts, and you’re unwilling to give up music that you enjoy?
Remember, Jesus doesn’t call us to give up just what is easy and comfortable to let go of, but he calls us to surrender everything for the sake of knowing Him deeply. (Colossians 3)
So I challenge you to ask yourself: Can I truly thank God for the music that I listen to?
Listening to Christian music has deepened my faith
Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
I really think that the things that we listen to have a deep effect on us. As I’ve listened to more and more Christian music over the last few years, I have seen this music have a lasting effect on me and even deepen my faith.
I often have lyrics flowing through my head that speak about God, and I can often be heard singing Christian songs. When Gospel lyrics are flowing through my head, I’m actually thinking about what they mean, and I can’t help but constantly be reminded of Gospel truth. Isn’t this the Christian faith, that our lives would be constantly focused and refocused on God?
How amazing to be able to be constantly reminded about God from within, through something that you deeply enjoy?
So I’ve really grown to love Christian music, because it’s become about more than just listening to lyrics and instruments. It’s about worshipping God with my thoughts and allowing the Gospel to affect my heart and mind.
Jesus didn’t die so that we don’t have to follow a bunch of rules. He died so that we could know the God of the universe. So that we could enjoy Him through glorifying Him with our lives. And music can be a sweet way to enjoy and glorify God.
If you’re interested in listening to some music that has been impactful for me, and that I and others I know really enjoy, check out some of the artists and albums listed below, with links to Spotify!
David Thomas, University of Illinois Cru Staff