Is It Okay To Listen To Secular Music?

“Good music is good music.” My Spotify library literally goes from Carly Rae Jepsen to Impending Doom to Andy Mineo and beyond, so I use that phrase a lot to justify my music choices when people remark on how eclectic it is.
I began taking an interest in music in high school when my mom got cable for the first time since I was little and I discovered FUSE. I remember the first day I came home from school, turned on the cable, saw the music video for “Wake Up” by Lost Prophets, and immediately knew that I wanted to be into rock music and I wanted to be part of that subculture. But it came with it’s clashes.
My mom hated Slipknot. “That is death,” I explicitly remember her saying. “We don’t welcome death into this house.” To her defense, my mom was a very open-minded and liberal woman, but I was a teenager and she didn’t trust my judgment at the time. And now that I’m 26, I thank her for her efforts. I still listen to Slipknot, but only in small doses.
slipknot

To be fair, can you blame my mom when this is Slipknot’s image?

You see, my mom was unknowingly part of a larger movement in churches across the nation – especially in youth groups – that preached you should only listen to Christian music. It’s a well-meaning movement. Whether you want to admit it or not, the influences you bring into your life impact you profoundly. Stores have been using music for years to manipulate consumer behavior. Some businesses use classical music to deter loitering. Personally, when I write an album I first pick the musical direction I want it to go in, and then I only listen to bands and songs with the same direction so it starts to come out in my writing.
So is that it? Is that the end of the discussion? Should we just throw on the latest Chris Tomlin release and dump out all our old Bruno Mars albums? What about bands like Memphis May Fire, who are Christian but don’t make it the focal point of their songs? Or like The Fray, who have Christian overtones but don’t really claim a stance? What about artists like Angel Vivaldi, who plays instrumental music and therefore his personal beliefs don’t even get addressed?
Let me sidetrack just for a second here: in the early church, there was a big debate going on about meat sacrificed to idols. Some Christians thought it was okay to eat. After all, they’re just blocks of wood and stone, right? Who cares? Why go hungry just because someone prayed to the wrong god over it? Other Christians felt that eating said meat would be a tacit endorsement of the gods it was sacrificed to, or that it might be sacrilegious to eat meat that was sacrificed to anyone except the one true God. So they asked the legendary apostle Paul what he thought. Paul’s reply in 1 Corinthians 8 was, in a nutshell, “it doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re not hurting someone else’s walk with God.”
One of the most mature things you can learn to do in life is learn how to judge yourself fairly. This isn’t just talking about religion but about all things. I’m an okay cook, for example, but my brother is way better than I am. It’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses in any area of life. Some people have a very strong conviction. They can listen to Slayer and Slipknot and watch horror movies and balance it out with plenty of time with God and stay strong in their walk. Other people, not so much.
So what does that have to do with our original question: “is it okay to listen to secular music?” Well first off, let’s answer it. The answer, unfortunately, is not a hard “yes” or “no.” The answer is “it really depends.” Some of us can listen to Eminem and Drake all day everyday without any issues. Some of us should probably stick to Lecrae and KB.
Lecrae Rehab HS

Lecrae is a GRAMMY-winning Christian rapper

This is where my previous statement about “judging yourself fairly” comes in. If you listen to lots of secular music and find yourself cursing more or being more frustrated all the time, you may want to consider cutting some of that negativity out. When I got saved I spent a good year or so only listening to Christian music to get my mind back on track to where it needed to be.
Part two of this answer is that it’s also important to be considerate of others. When I give my friends rides, I take their musical tastes into account. I won’t play metal if they’re not into it, and if they’re Christian I certainly won’t be playing any bands that are particularly aggressive or angry or questionable. Not because I want to pretend to be someone I’m not – I’ll gladly share my music library with anyone – but because I want to be considerate of them. Oh, Sleeper used the “d” word in one of their songs and immediately the Christian metalcore scene began to wonder if vocalist/lyricist Micah Kinard was still Christian. Something that may not be a big deal for you could be a huge deal for someone else, and the last thing you want to do is trip someone up by accident.
Life is beautifully messy. It’s very complex and constantly evolving and changing. I believe that our walks in Christ are the same way. No two people are in the same place. What works for me doesn’t work for you and vice versa. The real question here isn’t “is secular music okay?” or even “what does [spiritual figure I admire] say?” The real question here is “what does God say?” Examine all your intake – not just music but movies and friends and video games – and ask yourself “is this interfering with my walk with God?” Jesus said that if your arm is causing you to stumble, cut it off. He was referring to the fact that we should get rid of anything that gets in our way of God. For some of us, that’s a certain band or a certain person.
Music – like most things in life – is not good or bad at its core, but rather how we use it is. We can use a four-chord song to worship God, or we can use it to get drunk in the club. Choose wisely, because eventually the song stops and you’ll have to face the way those few minutes impacted you.

Geek Under Grace

6 Comments

  1. Samuru on August 29, 2016 at 3:01 am

    Good article, and glad it was written. I was a little shocked to see a Christian writing about bands like Slipknot, Eminem, and other highly vulgar and negative artists. I want to start by saying I do not agree that Christians should be listening to those types of highly toxic secular music artists.

    I think there’s tons of great non-Christian music. The argument is, what exactly is the music talking about or who is the person creating the music (instrumental, EDM, non-vocal music). I do not believe music can be “Christian”, but the one making it can be. Just like if a muslim makes music, it’s not “muslim rap” or “muslim music”, though it may use cultural instruments that give it that tone (Japanese cultural music uses certain instruments for example). Music can be uplifting, or destructive.

    As Christians we are called to set ourselves apart from the world (1 Peter 2:9) and Paul was VERY strict on sin. The example your using was about meat and drinking, so as not to cause others who wouldn’t eat/drink that to be tempted to do the same. It’s not like that with what influences us (music, TV, etc). The same Paul in Romans told us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), so I don’t see how I can listen to “Rap god” by Eminem or hot line bling by Drake (which is a song about getting a booty call from a girl) then go back and listen to Chris Tomlin and worship God….that’s being a hypocrite, who doesn’t want to give up their worldly passions for God. Sure, the music may sound amazing, I agree with that, but it doesn’t glorify God in the slightest nor edify us so there’s no point in listening to it as a believer.

    Jesus Christ didn’t go around doing secular/worldly/unholy practices (call it the adjective that you will) and then going to pray. We are either part of the world, or not of it. We can enjoy great music by supporting artists that are out there making that music. Lecrae and KB are two you mentioned which are very talented Christians. They don’t say God or Christ every other verse, but I can be satisfied with knowing I won’t have to ask God to forgive me for listening to trash like Slipknot and others who are violent, and have even influenced people to suicide, hate, and other vile acts.

  2. Michael Lujan on August 24, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    Love the article and I agree completely. I used to have a huge problem with cussing to the point where I basically had a curse word in every sentence during high school and into college. I’ve found that when I listen to music or watch movies that have a lot of cursing it causes me to want to use those words again so I’ve started to avoid more and more of the media that I used to flood myself with.

    That’s not to say I won’t enjoy a Slipknot album or Jay-Z every once in a while, but I can’t do it constantly anymore. The biggest issue I’ve run in to is actually other Christians who approach it with the, “Well I can watch that movie/listen to that music, so my walk is just stronger than yours” and it can be very frustrating.

    Thanks for approaching this topic the way you did, and good job on the article overall!

    • Samuru on August 29, 2016 at 3:03 am

      I think those Christians you are referring to need to spend more time with God. Holy Spirit would never lead you to watch a horror movie, or something filthy/full of cuss words intentionally. For example, I went to see DeadPool when it was out in theaters. I knew it was rated R but I had no idea it was as bad as it was. If I knew, I would have never watched it. I almost walked out on the movie.

      Ask God if He’s ok with what you are listening to, watching, etc. and that’s how we need to respond to our culture. Just cause someone says “it’s ok” doesn’t mean God is ok with it. Seek His will in His word and in prayer.

  3. PassRusher on August 16, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    I have always balanced my faith and secular music. To be honest, I think faith music has gotten so much better in the last 20 years but it may have hit a little stagnation now. I find myself bored with a lot of it. I usually hit Jesus Freak Hideout for the latest music and then head to my subscription music service (Usually Groove or Google Music) to check them out…if the first track or two doesn’t grab me, I don’t add them to my collection.

    I also feel a lot of music is so clichéd with the same lyrics or words used way too much…like “the air I breathe” or “matchless” or “he’s all I need” and the like. I first got into CCM with Casting Crowns but to be honest, their quality has gone way, way done to the point where I find thesr releases dreadful. That first album kicked my rear with some challenging themes and lyrics. And while their music still touches people, I find their last several releases to be meandering.

    Secular side, my favorite groups are RUSH, R.E.M., Midnight Oil, XTC. Genesis, The Cure, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers and I love the 80’s in general.

    Faith Side, I love Crowder (DCB), Rend Collective, Third Day, All Sons and Daughters, Future of Forestry, and pretty much any good Indie Folk group.

    • Nicolae Wallace on August 17, 2016 at 12:43 am

      I feel you 100% on your entire comment. I love Crowder and All Sons And Daughters. You might like Gungor, too, if you haven’t already checked them out.

  4. Jeannine Milbourn-Gonzales on August 16, 2016 at 1:13 am

    As Mom, I now listen to both Christian and secular music. As Christians mature I believe they should become sensitive to the Spirit-when music is not in God’s plan for me-my spirit get’s unsettled and I change the station or turn it off-same with TV and movies. Nice job Nic!

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