Consider the age-old question: Should Christians have a higher standard in their musical tastes than non-believers? Actually, it probably is not ‘age-old’ because in ancient times there was not the onslaught of different musical genres or questionable lyrics that we are faced with today. Even looking at church worship, we see in recent decades division among congregations based on contemporary songs vs. traditional hymns. Though both praise our Lord and have edifying lyrics, we still find partiality. Some argue traditional hymns are more reverent and holy than the upbeat worship songs while others argue the hymns don’t invoke a sense of praise and joy that the contemporary songs provide.
If we are divided by our choice in worship songs, imagine the crossroads we face on an individual level in the secular world. For those of us who love the Lord yet still like to rock out, it can be a challenge navigating what is acceptable to God, man and ourselves. Should we only be singing/listening to Christian music? Praise music is an overt expression of glorifying God; however, we can still edify God in secular music as well. Though the lyrics may not outwardly praise God, there is a rejoicing through the music itself. Just as many of us are not called to ministry, we can still glorify God in our own workforce. In all things we are to give glory to God. This may be appreciating the talents He has given to these artists. So then are we able to listen to a piercing guitar solo by Hendrix or sing to Sheryl Crow and not feel admonished? If it does not grieve your soul, then yes. “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men” (Romans 14: 17-18).
A stumbling block?
Will our music choices be a stumbling block to someone else? We are told as believers in Christ “not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12: 2) We are being watched by the world and are instructed “in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12b). Does this mean we should be listening to music that sets up apart from the unbelieving world? The answer may lie in 1 Corinthians 10: 24-33 where the believers of the time are told they are able to eat meat sold in the market but if someone says it is meat that is sacrificed to idols, do not eat it for their sake. Though it is permissible to you, it may be a stumbling block for them. In music this may mean all songs are permissible to listen to but if you come across someone who is offended by it, refrain from listening to it out of respect for them.
Does it edify?
What about songs that are actually anti-Christian? There is an increase in songs that degrade women, use obscenities and even blast God. Are these also permissible? “All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10: 23b). The Bible also warns, “do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” (Ephesians 4:29a) We are told “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7: 1b). Do the songs we listen to contaminate our spirits? Can we feel good about the lyrics? “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13: 5a). Are you in the faith when listening to these lyrics? The closer you align yourself with God’s will, the more conviction you feel when it goes against His Word. You will feel a burden on your heart and a grieving in your spirit. Let this be your guide.
Personally, when I recommitted my life to Christ, I did undergo a bit of music purging. As a songwriter, there is a definite dividing line of B.C. (before Christ) songs and A.C. (after Christ) songs. The former were more of a dark nature whereas the latter are songs of hope and joy and even some worship songs. I still love rock, blues and soul. But I do find myself omitting certain lyrics or words that I find disrespectful while still enjoying the rest of the song. This is my own standard. Others may be more strict in their listening choices. Each of us should examine our hearts and ask God to lead us. More important than the music we listen to is whether you live your life as a love song to Christ.
Music among youth
Recently an accomplished violinist with an extensive musical background and current orchestral teacher at a local Christian school, David Schwartz decided to do a survey of his students in order to connect better with them and perhaps change his teaching style. “One of the main purposes of this survey was to better understand the musical interests and the culture of the student body and tap into that interest for the promotion of a biblical understanding and implementation of music appreciation,” Schwartz explained. Asking the musical preferences of 5th-12th graders, David was surprised by the results.
Kids are listening to what?!
He expected the primary music listened to would be Christian music over secular. What he encountered was something quite different. Not only were the majority genres secular (no overt referencing to God or Christ), but a great deal could be considered “un-Christian” (actually going against Him and His Truth). Taylor Swift was top of the list for 5th and 6th graders. This is not too surprising as she resonates with young ladies through her songs and her style. Toby Mac, a Christian artist, being 3rd on the list for 5th graders, ranked even lower, or not at all, in the older students’ rankings. What was startling is artists like Drake and Fetty Wap became increasingly popular with each age group. These performers use explicit lyrics filled with expletives and misogony. Why would these students listen to something so perverse and obviously against Christian values?
In asking why, the response was “not much variety, both in terms of ‘sound’ and the relatability to life.” Schwartz also surveyed some of the faculty and parents on their musical preferences. Though songs were more Christian-based than the students, these adults also enjoyed a wide variety of secular music, often putting them at the top of their lists.
When asking students about the ‘un-Christian’ lyrics found in Drake and Fetty Wap’s music, they were not bothered by them. They said they listen for different reasons and aren’t looking for expletives. Is it possible to ignore such explicit lyrics just for the sake of the rhythm or the beat? Is it possible to enjoy a sound and segregate the message being conveyed? What if the lyrics were replaced with the message of the Gospel? Would it still have the same appeal? Trying to remember what it was like to be a teenager, I’d have to say ‘no’—it would not have the same appeal. There is something to ‘teenage angst’ and music is one of the best unifiers for people of the same age going through the problems and anxieties they face at this critical time in their lives. Christian kids are no different. We as parents pray they will lean on the Lord through difficult times. But often these kids are under increased pressure, sometimes due to their faith. Expectations are higher and demands of them acting contrary to what their more ‘worldly’ peers are doing, can actually create more derision in their lives.
What’s a parent to do?
Communicating through love and understanding is key. Talk with them about why they like the artist/how the song makes them feel. It may be that it hits them on a ‘gut level’ and really aren’t concerned with the lyrics. Genuinely acknowledge their feelings. Let them know in all things we should show respect for self, for others and for God. Ask them to really listen to the lyrics and see what the message is conveying. Is this something that edifies them? Navigating through these difficult years together with grace and guidance can have a far better effect than creating more dissonance and more reasons to look elsewhere for their freedom song.