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Title: Secular Music - Two Different Streams
Date: 17-Aug-2007
Description: By Bernard McDonagh


 Christians have traditionally recognized only two categories of music: Christian, and non-Christian or ‘secular’. The results are still quite obvious today: one is accepted, the other mostly rejected. These basic ‘categories’ still apply for me too in many respects, but the ‘bottom line’ for me in recent years has just been the music itself. I would like to present a case for: 1) judging music by it’s content and quality, and not by it’s label; 2) judging musicians by their integrity and motives; not by whether they are Christians or not, and 3) NOT judging our brothers and sisters who think differently to us.

As Christians we believe that the bible teaches there are only two spiritual kingdoms. Consequently, some of you may be alarmed at any apparent defense of secular music. I’m certainly not saying that all secular music is good, or worthwhile; far from it. My point is that there is good and bad in both the Christian and non-Christian musical worlds. After much consideration, it is my conviction that not all secular music deserves to be rejected by Christians. I see two fundamental kinds or ‘streams’ within secular music, irrespective of the style, and I believe that only one of them is bad. Let me explain my view of these ‘streams’, and my own selection process.

As a musician, naturally I have different musical needs and tastes from the non-musician. I enjoy songs and good lyrics, but I listen mostly to instrumental music (especially Jazz, but also ‘Classical’ and a variety of other stuff); music written for instruments to play – not for a singer to sing. This is because I need musical content beyond the simple language of most contemporary vocal music. Music is a wonderful language in it’s own right, and for me – most of the time, singers just get in the way!

That’s why a lot of ‘Contemporary Christian’ music just doesn’t move me. There’s typically little or no emphasis on either the players’ skills or the composition; instead being 99.9% concerned with the voice and the ‘message’. Yet the lyrics to me are often uninspiring. I won’t say more. It is what it is, and I have no wish to criticize or offend. Remember, I’m talking about finding musical inspiration, and this is only my opinion, based upon my own needs. Other people may be perfectly content with whatever they find in the local Christian music store. Hey, that’s OK with me!

Secular ‘pop’ music, whether Rock, Alternative, R&B, or whatever, gives me the same problem. It’s only fair to note that there are some sincere people out there making decent music. Their lyrics sometimes reveal a certain honesty, a certain humanity, or a search for truth or meaning. On the whole though, it’s hard for me to endure most popular music. Lyrically, most of it is either plain nonsense, pure lust, or the same old lie: that there is a way, truth, and life other than Jesus Christ our Lord.

So it’s mostly instrumental for me, because of: a) uninspiring lyrics, b) uninspiring music, or c) both! To my ears most ‘great’ music (meaning music rich in it’s musical language) is made by non-Christians. This could simply be due to greater numbers, or it could be far more serious, implying a lack of wisdom and understanding on our part.

In my view, the qualities of integrity and humanity must be the true standard for making a value judgement on music. Although these people may not know the Lord, in many cases their works have integrity and deserve respect. I place them in a category which I call the ‘CULTURAL STREAM’ of secular music. Their music is driven by artistic aspirations, and holds true to values which apply to us all; values like honesty, purity, and aesthetic beauty.

As a result I believe they are being true to God’s design. Music is, after all, a gift from God to all men. Theirs is (doctrinally speaking) a gift of ‘common grace’. I don’t believe God would find fault with them for their music. This is logical enough, unless of course you believe that God has given talent only to Christians! This position is indefensible, because all of us were not saved at some point. Where did our ‘pre-salvation’ talents come from? Obviously not all men use their gifts in a way God would want them to. I’m not suggesting that. However, it’s also true that many non-Christian artists do have integrity in their work.

For me then, music which I can accept and enjoy is motivated either: a) by love for God – my definition for ‘ministry’, or b) by self-expression and creativity, which we can call ‘art’. I believe art, creative self-expression, is an important part of our humanity, as created by God. Music can be in one or both of the above categories. It could be directed toward God as is the case in praise and worship, or towards others as in evangelical songs and testimonies. Either of these would be ‘ministry’. Music can of course be purely creative and artistic, or just a thing to enjoy in many ways as part of God’s rich tapestry of life-experiences. These latter aspects encompass the music of the non-Christian musician.

The qualities and characteristics opposite to those of ‘ministry’, and this ‘cultural’ stream of secular music, typify what I call the ‘WORLDLY STREAM’. Here man’s sinful nature determines the character and the very essence of a thing. Music will only be a means to an end; usually an unenlightened one. In my view truly ‘worldly’ music is that which expresses only the sinful nature of man. The good things man is capable of as an image-bearer of God will not be found at all.

There’s no space for a detailed study of the ‘worldly stream’ here, but there are many wrong motives at the heart of it. Music can be made with financial gain as the primary motivation. Greed then is one symptom of music lacking integrity. Calling that which is wrong "right" is another. Many musicians live ungodly lifestyles, and not only revel in their ungodliness but encourage others to do the same. This is a truly ‘worldly’ spirit, and is anti-Christian. Most disturbing of all is that some music is blatantly demonic and blasphemous. Don’t hesitate to completely reject this evil trash!!

In all of life and in music from both streams we must take into consideration the "spiritual wickedness in high places". (Eph. 6v10–20.) Many people fall away, and do not continue living a life that pleases God, or brings true fulfillment. The Evil One is definitely using music as one means of influencing people towards this end. How so? Well for one thing, false values are deeply rooted in most popular culture, including music, and are thus made to seem so normal and acceptable. The power of these influences upon us is not to be underestimated.

For one example, take songs about love and relationships. Being sexually involved is made to sound so natural and so right. God says this is a lie! This so-called sexual ‘freedom’ is sinful in His sight, and is extremely destructive to us – spirit, soul, and body. These false values about sexuality, and other areas, can be unconsciously absorbed by unsuspecting young people, and we must heed the Lord’s warning:

Proverbs 4v23.

"Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." –

I hope that you’ll be prayerful in making your choices. Choose according to your musical needs, but be careful what you listen to; being fully aware of the spiritual forces at work. Freedom is our inheritance in Christ, but we do need to exercise wisdom and discretion.

Lastly, there will always be those both inside and outside the Church who see things differently, and do not appreciate our music or beliefs. We must demonstrate Jesus’ love towards them as He commands us, but we must also hold true to what we believe He is leading us to do without compromise.

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground, but of course we haven’t exhausted such a big subject. Despite this article being no doubt a bit controversial, that’s not my intention. I hope they’ll be of value in helping you reach solid conclusions, and in helping you to develop strong convictions of your own; especially any musicians out there who are called into a ministry in music, or a career as a musician. You’re going to need strong convictions! Stay true to Jesus and to yourself. May God’s grace be with you, and in your music!

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