Is Secular Music Off-Limits for Christians?
It’s June and that means music festival season is well underway. All across the nation, music fans are clamoring for tickets to concerts and festivals to see their favorite artists in person. This year alone fans have been filling stadiums to get in “Formation,” kicking it with Drake “all summer ‘16,” or booking flights for Made in America, and many of them are self-professed Christians. Is it wrong to love God and know the words to all of Beyonce’s “Lemonade” too?
The secular music debate isn’t a new one, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I remember missing most of the ‘90s boy band craze because I grew up listening to Gospel and Contemporary Christian music.
As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more apparent that many genres of music can be beautiful and encouraging while some songs can have a negative effect on your spirit. We live in a society where some artists are “crossing over” to win a broader fan base and bring people to Christ, including Erica Campbell’s attempt at “trap gospel” with her chart-topping single “I Luh God.” However, should all secular music be off-limits?
We know from the Bible that music is an important part of our Christian walk. It’s one of the many ways we can praise and thank God for His goodness. That’s probably why there’s basically an entire book (Psalms) dedicated to praise and worship! The first verses of Psalm 150 say it best:
“Praise the Lord!…Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with flute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”
The Bible speaks at length about praising the Lord with song and how the angels rejoice and sing of His goodness. The Bible also hints that not every song is good: “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools (Ecc 7:5)”; “He put a new song in my mouth (Psalm 40:3)”; “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda (Prov 25:20).”
Nearly every time the Bible mentions music, it also includes the word “praise.” To praise is to express warm approval, or admiration of something, to show respect or gratitude, particularly in song.
When we sing about something, we are expressing some form of praise, and we must ask ourselves if what we are singing about is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and/or praiseworthy. Keep this in mind next time you’re trying to decide what songs to add to your playlist.
Remember that everything we let into our subconscious can impact our hearts toward God and our willingness to sin. It’s crucial to build strength against temptation by arming ourselves with God’s Word.
“It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine (Song of Solomon 2:15),” so what’s in our earbuds is important, regardless of genre. Here are a few perspectives from fellow Christians:
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and listening to secular music planted a lot of bad seeds in my heart and caused me to want to sin. Every song has a spirit attached to it and it’s a must that we guard our hearts. If you think about it, every secular song is either tempting you to have sex, giving you the urge to “turn up,” makes you want to curse someone out, kill someone, miss your ex, get sad and depressed, etc. I can’t listen to that music the minute I leave the church parking lot because it doesn’t glorify God. Personally, I have not listened to “Christian” music that [has] made a negative impact on me. I have been to several Christian concerts and when I leave I’m like “YAS! Let’s go evangelize!!!!” – Taliah, Georgia
Some of my favorite artists are Ne-Yo, Usher, Wale, J Cole, and Drake. I could [literally] write a thesis on that man. I can’t say if there’s one kind of secular music to listen to. Secular music is not for everyone. Some people desperately need gospel music or their respective spiritual jams to “shield” them from the external forces amongst us. For me, I know what feeds my spirit and what doesn’t. While I listen to majority gospel music, I have certain pockets of moments during my day when a certain album, song, or artist is needed to stimulate/relax my headspace. Not all music labeled “Christian” is good to listen to. Like anything else, everything in moderation. Music has agency. It’s an individual experience. – Myles R, Alabama
I listen to secular music because I’m a dancer and a writer; I like the sound and beats that I can dance to. I enjoy listening to current things because I like to be on top of things since I work with kids. I think music can be a form of entertainment. Who says that even praise and worship can’t be entertaining? I think the “more modern” Christian is someone who enjoys listening to secular music but still has a heart for Christ (Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” is a good example). I consider things like the music and the message, so I don’t listen to everything. It is a constant battle between feeding our flesh and our Spirit, but if music isn’t something you struggle with, then I see no harm in listening to it. Everyone has different convictions. – Faith L., Chicago
Some secular music is really good, like songs about social issues, love, and politics. Even though the song may not be explicitly religious, if done in excellence and not vulgar, it can be quite enjoyable, even edifying. Secular music wasn’t allowed when I grew up, and although I hated it, it made sense. Back then, I just liked the beat. Some lyrics made me wince but were rarely enough to stop listening. There is music labeled Christian or Gospel that has nothing to do with Christ– it glorifies man and his desires, treating God as the means to acquire blessings & breakthroughs instead of worshipping. It’s not good to call it “Gospel” when the purpose is to entertain. The minute you attach Christ or The Gospel, the expectations of your music changes. Also, telling someone “Don’t smoke, don’t drink and don’t chase after wealth and fame” is great, but unless the context is turning from sin and honoring God, He gets no glory. When a gospel artist makes the switch to secular or what many call “good art” it’s not wrong, but it bothers me because I see it as a lesser choice. – Andwele W., Marketing Director for P4CM (The Passion for Christ Movement)
It’s clear there are different views on what role music plays in our lives and how it aligns with our faith. There are artists like Trip Lee who use contemporary, mainstream musical techniques to glorify God and more traditional artists that stick to the Gospel genre like the Winans. While there are others, such as Tori Kelly, who maintain their musical career while striving to live in God’s image, and, of course, the secular artists, such as the Black Eyed Peas, who make beautiful songs like “Where is the Love?”
The important thing is to constantly evaluate what we allow into our mental space, guard our hearts, and ask the Lord to keep our thoughts pure.
Let us know what you think about the topic and what artists you’re listening to this summer.