Can Music Be Christian?

October 8, 2010 — 3 Comments

[This post is part of the Revamping Christian Worship series]

Technically…

No, only people are capable of being Christians.

But in another sense, what is sacred music if not self-consciously Christian?

I think the issue might be one of semantics. When we talk about “Christian music” we are generally talking about music that has lyrics that are Christian, or reflect Christian attitudes and commitments. It seems allowable to have flexibility in the use of the adjective “Christian.” I mean we have Christian books and Christian coffee shops, neither of which will go to heaven when they die. We seem to assume that everyone knows what we mean in both cases.

But aside from the lyrics of a song, what is it about the music that is “Christian”?

If you made a survey of Christian contemporary worship songs you might conclude that the chord progression G-D-E minor-C was somehow Christian based on how frequently it is used. “Christian artists must use this chord progression so much because it is inherently Christian,” you might conclude.

But in reality, people use it just because it is easy. It was bands in the 90’s punk rock and alternative scene (notably Green Day and Blink 182 to name a couple) that made enough use of this progression to make it popularly accessible (and bands before them that made it possible). Because of that, melodies over that chord progression come rather easily and since those melodies usually seem catchy and familiar, much modern worship has made use of this progression.

It is certainly convenient, but not necessarily Christian.

So, still here we are with the question: can music be Christian?

I don’t think it can, but I also don’t think that is a bad thing. Making music, like other cultural activities, it not inherently Christian or non-Christian. It can be used Christian-ly, that is music can be made and put to Christian use. But that does not make the music itself Christian any more than the paper and ink of a book is Christian.

Now that’s probably not the best analogy, so let’s try another one. While lyrics can have Christian content to them, music cannot. Music in a sense is a kind of architecture that humans construct. Some times the architecture on its own is the end, but most of the time the architecture is put to some other use. Cathedrals are aesthetically beautiful and pleasing, but they are also used for people to gather for worship. The building itself it not inherently Christian, but because of how it is used, culture then tends to associate it with the sacred.

Sacred music has become so via the same route. There is nothing particularly Christian about the music of hymns, but because it is how hymns sound (at least in Western hymnody) we have come to associate it as sacred. The words certainly are, but the music does have that same quality just on its own.

Hopefully this is just the start of the discussion, I wouldn’t want a few short thoughts here to be the final word, but I think there is a sense in which all music is Christian as all art is an activity that people do in reflecting their Maker. So while certain musicians will use music to promote anti-Christian philosophy or to worship false gods, the impulse to make and create quality music only makes sense in a Christian paradigm.

That however, will have to be explored in another post. So until then…

Nate

Posts Twitter Facebook

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

3 responses to Can Music Be Christian?

  1. Nate,
    I’ve just recently started reading you blog. Loving it!
    I love this topic and as a worship pastor myself, I get asked about this all the time. And as a worship pastor in a 200 yr old baptist church, I get all kinds of thoughts and ideas concerning this topic.
    I have for a long time thought of it like this: This is no christian music or non-christian music. I believe, there is music that glorifies God and music that does not. There is music that uplifts and challenges the mind and soul and there is not. There is music that expresses God honoring emotion and there is not. If our end as humans is to glorify God, then our music must have the same end. So, that is why (in our congregation) we use all kinds of music, from old hymns of faith, to new spiritual songs, and even songs of the “secular” (for lack of a better term). My focus as a worship leader and architect is to glorify the Lord and uplift the body of Christ.

    • Jeremy,

      I think you’re right about the reality of Christian/non-Christian music. To make the point even starker, most of the time when we’re talking about “music” we really mean “lyrics.” Lyrics can bring glory to God, or they cannot. Music itself on the other hand I think brings glory to God in and of itself because the impulse to create and make music is something humans do in imaging their Creator. The irony of this to me is that the death metal band that sings about hating God nevertheless honors Him by pursuing excellence in their musicianship. That doesn’t redeem their songs per se, but it basically means music, when well done, can’t really dishonor God the way that non-Christian lyrics can.

      Sounds like you’ve got a great approach at your church, and I like where your focus is at!

      Nate

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Revamping Christian Worship « Words With Nate - September 23, 2011

    […] Can Music Be Christian? […]

Want To Add Your Thoughts?