Christians and Secular Music

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:55 AM

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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8 comments posted so far.

RE: Christians and Secular Music

I think the whole idea of labeling a band as “christian” or “secular” is just plain silly. It is a false dichotomy that a group or one’s work must be one to the exclusion of the other.

Posted by kevin - Jul 02, 2003 | 2:28 AM- Location:

RE: Christians and Secular Music

I agree very much, Kevin. I guess to an extent there are bands that fit the Christian Music label in that all of their music is praise & worship, but other than that…

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Jul 02, 2003 | 1:53 PM- Location: MO

RE: Christians and Secular Music

No brainer — you are right Tim. Only in the world of marketing and merely cultural Christianity does it matter whether a song is “inspirational” versus simply adhering to Christian values in whatever it addresses. Not every song has to be suitable for a church worship service to be a blessing, or to be blessed of God.

Posted by Ed Hurst - Jul 02, 2003 | 5:03 PM- Location: Rural Southeast Texas

RE: Christians and Secular Music

No brainer — you are right Tim. Only in the world of marketing and merely cultural Christianity does it matter whether a song is “inspirational” versus simply adhering to Christian values in whatever it addresses. Not every song has to be suitable for a church worship service to be a blessing, or to be blessed of God.

Posted by Ed Hurst - Jul 02, 2003 | 5:07 PM- Location: Rural Southeast Texas

RE: Christians and Secular Music,Youth Group debate

In my youth group, our pastor has decided toi have us debate the importance of listening only to “Christian” music versus why we should be allowed to listen to “Secular” music. I am on the “importance” side if you could post this and allow others to send me their views I’d be very thankful Sincerely, Julia White .. My e-mail is :

Posted by Julia White - Jul 13, 2003 | 7:13 PM- Location: CA

RE: Christians and Secular Music

Thanks for the trackback

Posted by Jake - Sep 12, 2003 | 1:44 PM- Location:

RE: Christians and Secular Music

I am a musician. I started out in the “secular” world. I turned my life over to the Lord and became a music minister. I am now looking into the prospect of not only singing and writing the Lord’s music in my ministry to my Church and the homeless and prisons, but I am considering teaming up with another musician and playing in some of the lounges and casinos in town. Am I becoming a backslider? No. I’m actually looking forward to being able to become part of another ministry field that I never have considered before. What better place to be than right in the middle of all the “garbage” and finding opportunities to profess my roots in the Lord and the Lord’s music. I believe that God will use this opportunity to further my ministry of his Word. And I’ll be able to recognize an additional income (more tithes) and hopefully more money to support our ministries. People will come to listen to the “old music” — but during breaks or other times, I will be able to let them know just who I am and Who I live for.

I still love the old songs I used to play. What’s wrong with most of them? I’ll confess that I have dropped several that use profanity or consider a life style unbecoming my faith now —- but that still leaves thousands and thousands of good songs out there that still have meaning to me — even though the words of our Lord are not in each line.

The Lord knows my heart. I live in a secular world. I have to be prepared to take in all that that world has to offer, but what I do with it is up to me. Music to me is relaxing. I don’t use every secular song as a statement of faith.

If anyone is afraid that they will turn “secular” by listening to secular music, then their faith in our Lord is very shaky and they need to get closer to Him to understand and know that He will protect us from all evil. Don’t worry, the Lord will put conviction on our hearts if He feels we are straying too far.

This is my own personal opinion and I appreciate being able to share it with others.

God Bless everyone who reads this.

Posted by Suzi - Nov 25, 2003 | 7:01 PM- Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

RE: Christians and Secular Music

In Philippians 2: 14 Paul tell us, “In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing”.
In comparison one of the most notable secular bands of my generation says in one their number one hit songs, “We can work it out… life is too short for fussing and fighting my friends”.
I could find nothing in the words of that song that is anything but a pearl of wisdom regardless of who or when it was written.
I regard my musical abilities as a gift and the songs I write as gifts. Sometimes the Lord wishes to speak to us in different ways and about different topics. Some songs serve as warnings, while others open our eyes to things we didn’t see before (beauty, love, ect.) and of course there are joyous triumphant songs praising our Lord!
All music belongs to the Lord who created everything!
Keep Christ in your heart and He will keep you strong, helping you know what is good and what is not.

May the Good Lord Bless you always!

Posted by Gary Lopez - Aug 10, 2004 | 10:15 PM- Location: Whittier

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