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Friday, June 17, 2005

"Secular" music in church!

Recently, I had another conversation with someone about the validity and redeeming value of using “secular” music in church. I thought we were done with this conversation years ago—wishful thinking.

This conversation was on the heels of another conversation about the “Christian” band Salvador and how they covered the song “Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys. Christian radio stations will play the Salvador song, but not the original by Los Lonely Boys (which, I might add, is much better). Same song. Same words. Not done as well. Somehow, it gets the stamp of approval. I don’t get it.

Southpark did a spoof on Christian music. I must admit, they nailed it. Those guys know just how to point out the pharisaical stupidity, contradictions, and embarrassing realities of the church. The episode is called “Christian Rock Hard” and I recommend you watch it. In this episode, Cartman starts a Christian band because he wants a platinum album and figures it will be easier to make it to the top as a Christian artist—after all, Christians will buy anything that is labeled “Christian” even if it is bad. He takes all his love songs, complete with sexual innuendos, and changes all the spots where the lyrics read “baby” to read “Jesus” instead. People love it! His album goes to the top, but he is disappointed when he finds out that Christians don’t go platinum—they go “Myrrh.” Great episode. Each time I see it (yes, I bought the DVD), I am hit with the same feeling in my gut—It is sad to me that the creators of Southpark see some of the glaring contradictions and circular reasoning in the “Christian vs. Secular” argument, and the church still wastes hours on this battlefield.

Below is a fictional conversation that is a potpourri of the kinds of things that are typically talked about when this surfaces. Let’s name our two characters Mr. Deadhorse and Mr. Me—just for fun. (any similarities to real life persons—living or dead—is purely coincidental).

Mr. Deadhorse: I don’t understand how you guys can use secular music in your church. I really have a problem with that.

Mr. Me: Maybe you could explain to me what it is that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Mr. Deadhorse: I decided long ago I would only listen to Christian music.

Mr. Me: How do you define Christian music?

Mr. Deadhorse: Music that glorifies God!

Mr. Me: So, if a person that is not a Christian writes a song about, let’s say, how we should love our spouse, it is a Christian song?

Mr. Deadhorse: No.

Mr. Me: Why not?

Mr. Deadhorse: He’s not giving the glory to God when he writes it. It is more about his own marketing and self promotion.

Mr. Me: Ah, so it’s not really about the content. It’s about where the lyrics are coming from.

Mr. Deadhorse: Well, it’s about content as well.

Mr. Me: Does it have to say Jesus or God to be Christian?

Mr. Deadhorse: No, not really. It just has to be God glorifying.

Mr. Me: So, if a Christian does a cover rendition of a secular song—maybe the same one we just talked about—it might be okay to listen to? Like, let’s say Michael W. Smith covers it.

Mr. Deadhorse: Sure. Michael W. Smith is a Christian artist.

Mr. Me: It seems odd to me that we would use the word “Christian” as an adjective. Isn’t it a noun?

Mr. Deadhorse: What do you mean?

Mr. Me: Well, isn’t music . . . music? We don’t call cars Christian cars if they are designed by Christians. Why would we label music as Christian?

Mr. Deadhorse: Because we are defining the genre.

Mr. Me: Don’t we do that already with labels like rock, jazz, hip-hop, reggae, blues, country, etc?

Mr. Deadhorse: Yes, but we have no way of knowing what the lyrics are about with a simple label like that.

Mr. Me: So, if I go to the “Christian” section at a store, can I be sure the lyrics are good in every album on the shelf?

Mr. Deadhorse: Not necessarily. But, there is a better chance that the lyrics will be good because the guys are stepping up and saying “hey, we are making a stand for Jesus! We are not going to play all the secular venues and get caught in the trappings of the world! We are doing this for God’s glory!”

Mr. Me: Wow. You put an incredible amount of trust in those people. What would you say if I told you I know quite a few Christian musicians that struggle with pornography, alcohol abuse, and I even know one who wears women’s clothing under his stage outfit? (ummm, true by the way)

Mr. Deadhorse: We all have our struggles. I hope you are praying for them.

Mr. Me: Oh, I am! I do! One of the guys I know just does instrumental music.

Mr. Deadhorse: Christian instrumental?

Mr. Me: I don’t understand what you mean.

Mr. Deadhorse: Is it Christian music? Like, you know, Christian songs.

Mr. Me: Ummm, it’s not instrumental covers of Christian songs if that’s what you mean. They are original compositions.

Mr. Deadhorse: But, the guy is a Christian?

Mr. Me: Uhhh. Yeah. Does that make the music better?

Mr. Deadhorse: No. No. I’m just asking what his motivation is.

Mr. Me: Now wait a minute. Are you telling me that we are to judge the quality of music by subjectively determining someone’s motivation? Are you saying you wouldn’t buy an instrumental album by a person who is not a Christian?

Mr. Deadhorse: Oh, sure I would. If the music is good.

Mr. Me: That’s weird to me. If you would buy a “secular” instrumental album and listen to it, why would you not buy a “secular” album with lyrics?

Mr. Deadhorse: Because, on an instrumental album, I can be sure I am not going to hear something that is not God honoring.

Mr. Me: If the album had 10 songs—9 instrumental and 1 with lyrics—GOOD lyrics—God honoring—would you buy the album?

Mr. Deadhorse: Maybe.

Mr. Me: Even from a “secular” artist?

Mr. Deadhorse: I don’t know. I don’t like to pour my money into bands that are secular artists—not promoting the gospel—or promoting things that are not of God.

Mr. Me: What about artists that are Christians and also get secular airplay?

Mr. Deadhorse: Yeah. That’s cool. They are promoting the gospel and taking it into dark places.

Mr. Me: Amy Grant was one of the first artists to make that kind of crossover. Remember that “Baby, Baby” song?

Mr. Deadhorse: Yeah, I didn’t like that song. It wasn’t God honoring. I was disappointed in her. She sold out.

Mr. Me: Well, I didn’t really like the song either, but it surely wasn’t something that didn’t honor God. She was talking about being thankful for being in love! Isn’t that honoring to God.

Mr. Deadhorse: Yeah, then she went and divorced her husband! Some Christian. I am glad they pulled her music off the shelves in the Christian bookstore in my town.

Mr. Me: What? How can you say that? Her music was good enough for you before her divorce. Did it all of a sudden become “non-Christian” music?

Mr. Deadhorse: Well, no. But, we don’t need someone with that kind of testimony in Christian music. It drags the name of Christ through the mud. I won’t buy her stuff anymore.

Mr. Me: So, we should boycott music if the writer or performer has some difficulty or “sin” issues? Wow. This isn’t really about music anymore. This is about deciding who is worthy of the name Christian and who is not. Isn’t it?

Mr. Deadhorse: Don’t put words in my mouth.

Mr. Me: Let me ask you something. I am not a big Amy Grant fan, but if I were, could I do one of her songs like “El Shaddai” in church?

Mr. Deadhorse: Of course. I used to love that song.

Mr. Me: You know, she didn’t write it. Her ex-husband did. He is a recovered Cocaine addict.

Mr. Deadhorse: I didn’t know that.

Mr. Me: Which brings up a good question. If a Christian writes the song, but a “secular” artist performs it, is it okay to listen to? Would you buy it?

Mr. Deadhorse: Which artist?

Mr. Me: Does it matter?

Mr. Deadhorse: Well, if Marilyn Manson covers it, I certainly wouldn’t buy it!

Mr. Me: Okay. Fair enough. I will respect that. What if I write a song—as a Christian—and Third Day performs it. Is that okay?

Mr. Deadhorse: Sure.

Mr. Me: What if Kelly Clarkson covers it?

Mr. Deadhorse: I heard she’s a Christian. That would be cool!

Mr. Me: What if Ozzy Osbourne wants to do my song?

Mr. Deadhorse: That would be ridiculous!

Mr. Me: What if I hear him do my song and it sounds better than anything I can produce? Can he do my song?

Mr. Deadhorse: He can do whatever he wants, but I highly doubt he would want to do your song.

Mr. Me: Well, let’s just say he does. And it goes platinum (not Myrrh, of course). Can I then play my own song after he has done it?

Mr. Deadhorse: Of course you can! It’s your song.

Mr. Me: Can I do it in church? After a secular artist covered it?

Mr. Deadhorse: It’s your song; your motivation was clear when you wrote it. You wanted to glorify God. It doesn’t matter if he covered it, your motivation was pure—although I have a hard time with you making profit from Ozzy Osbourne.

Mr. Me: Really? I can do it in church? Isn’t that effectively doing secular music in church? I mean, it is getting secular airplay, Ozzy sings it and profits from it, and fans scream it out at “secular” concerts.

Mr. Deadhorse: It’s your song.

Mr. Me: Okay, let’s say we take the very same song. God honoring and everything. Let’s say that Ozzy wrote it. Not me. Could I do the song in church?

Mr. Deadhorse: No. It’s confusing to people. It makes it look like you are supporting him! He calls himself the Prince of Darkness for crying out loud!

Mr. Me: Hey, what do you think of these new lyrics I wrote? They are about the Holy Spirit. “Fall on me. Tell me everything you want me to be. Forever with you. Forever in me. Ever the same.”

Mr. Deadhorse: Beautiful!

Mr. Me: I lied. Those are Rob Thomas’ lyrics off his new solo album. Can I do it in church (we did by the way)?

Mr. Deadhorse: No. You know, I can see this is not going anywhere. We should agree to disagree.

Mr. Me: Absolutely. I’m with you.

Mr. Deadhorse: I gotta get going. I promised the kids I would take them to see the new Star Wars movie.

Mr. Me: Hey, is George Lucas a Christian?


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. There are many secular songs that when I hear I think only about God. It is about me being in love with God and when I hear certain songs about love...that is who I think of first. Celine Dion comes to mind. I always think of God when I hear, " Because you love me." I am soooo curious. Who the heck is the artist that wears the women's underwear? You can't just throw that out there and then leave me Oh and Amy Grant's song, albeit not my favorite, was to her baby. : ) Can't believe people are so narrow minded and beating that same horse. Hang in there dude. We love you. :)

Anonymous said...

Rock on!

Anonymous said...

I can agree with almost everything you've said here, except the presumption on the part of the South Park folks (and probably others) that Christian music is somehow not as good as 'mainstream' music. That doesn't resonate with me at all. I don't accept lame music just because someone slapped a label on it.

I really enjoy music by Building 429, Mercy Me and Third Day. I would probably listen to them even if I didn't know they were 'Christian' groups. The plus is that I can put their music on and pretty much expect that it will be more uplifting than a lot of the stuff on the radio.

A Fellow Westie

Steve said...

Great conversation report. I've had the same conversation many times, although less and less lately. What usually gets Mr. Deadhorse to at least start thinking is when Mr. Me brings up the example of Paul preaching to the Athenians in Acts 17. Paul uses someone's naive statue to an "unknown god", (probably erected by someone who sensed there was something more to the cosmos than the fickle inbred Greek pantheon), as a window through which to preach the good news of Jesus. What we literally have in the music of Dave Matthews, Joan Osbourne, Evanescence, Coldplay, Avril Lavigne, John Mayer, and yes even Ozzy (Momma, I'm Comin' Home) are simply contemporary statues to unknown gods... just dangling there for the church to use to help move people, especially church newbies, from familiar cultural waters to unfamiliar spiritual truth. I honestly usually get, "Oh, I get it now," from the horse beater.

Audio Collective said...

I totally agree keep on rockin!

Anonymous said...

I hear what is being said..
but I also know that a lot of people struggle with different things, and when I'm in a time of worship, it can be really depressing to hear songs that reek of hopelessness. My son was really struggling for awhile and I could sense his mood darken and deepen with the music that was played..and it made me feel like I wanted to cover his ears and apologize for the downer.

Anonymous said...

Amy Grant's "ex-husband, the recovering cocaine addict" did not write "El Shaddai". John Thompson and Michael Card did. But one of them got a divorce along the way, so I suppose that might underscore your original point. (?)

Nevertheless, you're right on the substance of your article. If we're truly past the point of having to convince people of the falsehood of the sacred-secular dichotomy, though, you'd be better served to focus on the music you hear that inspires you, regardless of the pre-existing label it holds, and tell your readers about that, instead of revisiting the whole "man, Christians sure are dumb and don't get it" thing again.

The truth will set you free, and does a pretty good job of speaking for itself.

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