Christians and Secular Music

By Tim Butler | Posted at 8:55 PM

It has become accepted within much of the Christian community that Christian recording artists that “go secular” are some how traitors to the faith or something like that. While in many cases, it might seem that the move to secular music also involves the artist revealing his true colors, I wonder if this is always the case? I really don't think so.

I've considered this debate a number of times. First on ChristianSource about a month or two ago, and just today I considered it again when Jake wrote about it. In my opinion, in our consideration of this issue we ought to judge the artist not on what they don't say but what they do say.

The artist might not mention the words “Jesus” or “God” every other breath, but do they advocate a Christian lifestyle? Do they avoid advocating sinful activities? Are the things they say in harmony with the Bible? I see no reason why a Christian band can't sing secular songs so long as this is the case.

In the discussion on ChristianSource, I brought up one of my favorite groups, Sixpence None the Richer. They are a group of Christians that created a mostly secular band. Not entirely mind you, even the name is derived from Christian thought — it's from C.S. Lewis' masterpiece, Mere Christianity. But at least for the most part, their songs are secular songs, songs about various problems and events in life. In that discussion, I wrote:
At the time when they hit the top of the charts in the late 90's with “Kiss Me,” they were attacked by many Christians for betraying their Christian
fan-base with pop music. As a Focus on the Family article noted at the time,
the song wasn't really un-Christian at all, it just wasn't a religious song.
Just like talking about Linux here on ChristianSource doesn't betray our
Christianity, talking about matters other than faith doesn't necessarily
betray an artist's Christianity. Other songs on the same album did have more
“noticeable” Christian tones, I might add.

In actuality, while Sixpence has a Christian fan-base, they have actually never aspired to be labeled a Christian band. They will readily admit to being Christian, however. Part of this, I think, is because we have boxed our artists in. We say “if you're a Christian artist and you sing about any non-Christian stuff, you're a traitor that used Christianity to make you money.” Thus, bands like Sixpence avoid the label even though it applies to them very much (and is placed on them by retailers and the like).

They've attracted Christians with songs like Breathe and Dizzy, that are very Christian. For example, here is part of Dizzy:
I'm like Peter crying crowing burning my ears still you come near, you take my hand
and place in my palm an eternal chance I give you myself
it's all that I have
broken and frail
I'm clay in your hands
and I'm spinning unconcealed
dizzy on this wheel
for you my love

It's really a touching song, as are many of their other ones, but many are secular, most notably their big hits Kiss Me, There She Goes, and Breathe Your Name. Since Kiss Me became popular in 1999, I've heard many people complain about how Sixpence was going secular. Never mind that several tracks on the CD had noticeably Christian lyrics (and less obvious paraphrases of Pauline letters). However, Sixpence has always had this mix of secular and “sacred” music — all the way back to their first CD.

This isn't an isolated incident either. Michael W. Smith often suffers similar attacks, for instance. Perhaps its out of fear that he will follow in the steps of the musician he formerly played under, Amy Grant, but I remember a few years back reading about how MWS was betraying Christians and going secular. I think people were upset about the few secular songs on Live the Life that actually made it on pop radio. Again, never mind that much of the music on the CD was Christian, MWS must be evil to do secular songs!

The problem is that Christianity isn't just about singing praises to God. That's very important, but Christians still deal with the rest of life. As long as we do, why shouldn't our artists sing about it too? Put another way, I might ask if we ought to consider the parts of the Bible that deal with the rest of life “non-holy.” I'm sure everyone would yell “blasphemy” if I suggested such. Yet, here we are saying Christian music that deals with secular, but not necessarily bad, things is somehow wrong?

It's time we stop putting artists in the box and consider them Christian not by the frequency of keywords but their testimony and the overall message of their music. Hopefully if the bagger at the grocery store says he is Christian we will accept that unless we see proof otherwise. Let's do the same for Christian artists.

Tags: Music

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