In our new populist culture, there are still burning questions lingering about whether evangelical Christians should pursue a career in secular music. I, too, have struggled with this question. There are no books that actually address this question (one is pending). Before we proceed any further, we must define and answer the following questions:
1. What defines secular music?
2. How is secular music intrinsically different from sacred or Christian music?
3. Is it a sin or wrong for an evangelical Christian to perform work as a secular music artist?
4. Is it the music or the lifestyle that is in question?
5. What about music without lyrics?
6. Is there good music and bad music?
7. Where does art, work, culture and Christian music intersect?
1. WHAT DEFINES SECULAR MUSIC?
In the mid-seventies and early eighties there were Christian artists who “crossed over.” When we say cross-over, we are referring to Christian artists who sang Christian music that were construed to contain lyrics that were hazy in meaning and could easily be sang by Christians and non-Christians. Peter, Paul and Mary in the early sixties did just that. They had big hits with songs like “Put your Hand in the Hand,” and they made the song “If I Had a Hammer,”real popular. Even Sam Cooke, who obviously was raised in the church sang “If I Had a Hammer,”too. My point is this, if we take a step back in time, there obviously was a narrower and harmless view of “Christian” music in the early centuries up to the mid eighties. In our current culture, that is not the case. How times have changed.
Secular Music can be defined not in a performing functional context alone but in a lyrical content functional one. For the purposes of this article, secular music is defined as an umbrella category of music whose sole purpose and function is strictly to entertain its listeners. While their are subsets of secular music, their purpose may be to inform or convey a social message or support a social cause irrespective of the genre.
Sacred music is defined as music whole sole purpose and function is to inspire, evangelize and motivate its listeners to reach a higher level of spiritual connection with God. Sacred music is different from “Christian Music.” Hymns were early forms of sacred music but there were alos forms of sacred music that did not contain lyrics. “Jesu Joy of man’s Desiring” and many other works written by by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn for example did not contain lyrics. The writers felt that the music since dedicated only for the Glory of God, was composed to convey symbolic sentiments and the intent of the composer.
Christian music on the the other hand is the broad term successor of sacred music. Contemporary Christian music is the encompassing genre for music that contain “Christian” lyrics but the overarching styles are exactly like those of secular music genres. Christian music is the umbrella category for music whose lyrics contain words that deal exclusively with matters of heart-conversion, worship, and evangelization. The entertainment factor looming in Christian music today is a new phenomenon. Gospel, contemporary Christian music have many subsets genres including Rock, R&B, Jazz, Country, and yes even Hip Hop.
If a secular musician performs his music in a church, that does not make the music sacred. Neither does it identify the musician as a Christian. Unless, the musician is indeed a professing Christian who is already performing both secular and Christian music. Likewise, if a Christian musician is performing Christian music in a bar, his music is still Christian if the lyrical content is meant to inspire, evangelize and motivate its listeners to reach a higher level of spiritual connection with their God.
Johann Sebastian Bach was a Lutheran church musician who always wrote music “SOLI DEI GlORIA,” meaning for the Glory of God. This was part of the Protestant Reformation period mantras. Much of Bach’s music is, we note, without lyrics as well as Brahmes, Beethoven, Chopin and many other “classical style music.” His music was skillfully played and were difficult pieces including organ and piano etudes like “The Well Tempered Clavier” and the popular “Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn. These are great pieces of music but they contain no lyrics. Which brings up a point. How do we classify instrumental music. Music that contains no lyrics is governed by the composers intent and context. If the author is a Christian and wrote with a specific intent, that is what colors the song. If a secular artist wrote music and dedicated it to God, that is what colors the song. If a secular composer wrote an instrumental for arts sake’, that is what the music is designed for. Music is a powerful expressive vehicle. It can be powerful if used in the right way and can beautify our lives.
So, we see that secular music is intrinsically different from Christian music in context and lyrical content. Secular music is music for entertainment. Christian music serves or should serve a different contextual function… to evangelize, inspire and worship. This is a good article on this subject.