Christian music was once limited almost solely to hymns and more traditional church music. During the 1970s and the Jesus Movement, Christian pop and rock began to emerge. By the 1990s, the new Christian music industry had eclipsed classical, jazz and new-age music. What was once limited to churches and worship services had grown into a billion dollar enterprise with Christian artists beginning to gain acceptance in the broader music industry.
In addition to growing as a genre, Christian music itself began to divide up into sub-genres. Some Christian songs feel very similar to pop music. Other songs mirror rock and roll or hard rock sounds. Still other artists use folk, gospel or country music as their inspiration.
The growth of Christian music means that Christians are no longer reliant on mainstream media for entertainment. Those that want to listen to music that glorifies God and Christ can do so without having to do a series of mental gymnastics that would impress an Olympian in order to find some religious theme in a peppy pop song. The diversification of Christian music also means that those who prefer Christian music can enjoy a variety of sounds without branching out into artists whose songs espouse a less than Christian lifestyle.
Given the diversity and breadth of the Christian music industry today, do Christians even need to listen to secular music? More to the point, is it a good idea for Christians to listen to non-Christian music when there are so many options that champion a Christian worldview?
When it comes to Christians and their consumption of entertainment, there is no one size fits all answer. Although the Bible can provide some direction about how to handle the explosion of the entertainment industry in modern times, dropping ancient advice on modern issues does not always work. The Bible, after all, was written during a time when almost all entertainment was religiously motivated. The Greek Olympics were a way of honoring Zeus. Songs both in Israel and in Rome were meant to honor God or the gods. There was not the massive, atheistic entertainment industry that exists today. People could not choose entertainment that had no real religious influence. As such, Biblical advice about how to handle Roman revelry does not always transfer neatly onto how to handle a teenager who wants to go to a Taylor Swift concert.
What little hard advice can be given when it comes to Christians consuming secular music is to use common sense. Secular songs number in the billions. Some of those songs will be perfectly acceptable for Christians to enjoy. Other songs are ones that should send Christians running for the hills.
When it comes to secular music, the most important things to consider are song lyrics and the artist’s lifestyle. Buying or listening to a person’s music supports their life. Christians who buy music from artists who live a flagrantly non-Christian lifestyle are, one could argue, enabling that lifestyle. Through their money, they are supporting artists who sleep around, change religions at the drop of a hat, marry and divorce every other year and scold others for being greedy or stingy from within their multimillion dollar mansion. It is a good idea for Christians to keep to artists who live, if not a devout lifestyle, one that is not openly offensive in God’s eyes.
The lyrics of songs are also very important when considering secular music. Some songs sound fine until a person really pays attention to the lyrics. Then, the song is promoting drugs, rebellion, sex and all sorts of other non-Christian ideas. Thankfully, most song lyrics can be found online. A simple search for the song can reveal to Christians whether or not a song is appropriate to buy. Be sure to check on the translations of foreign language songs as well. Some artists have been known to use foreign languages to sneak past censors or espouse explicit ideas in a format that can still appear on the radio. The Spanish song “Despacito” was a perfect example of this. The song became wildly popular among English speakers for the romantic sound of the Spanish lyrics and smooth, Salsa-inspired instrumental. The lyrics, however, are practically pornographic. Not something that Christian parents want their children singing.
For those who want to be able to turn on the radio without doing extensive research, choose genres that are known to be more Christian friendly. Country, Bluegrass and Folk music often have Christian references or roots. Gospel and vocal Classical music are also usually safe choices. Rap, Rock and Hip-Hop, meanwhile, often focus on rebellion and sex. Pop can go either way.
Generally speaking, there is no hard and fast rule about what a Christian should consume for entertainment. The Bible has some general pointers, but the Apostles lived in a time when entertainment was religiously motivated, not produced simply for its own sake. As such, taking some Biblical advice literally will be rather like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The best thing a Christian can do is use their common sense. Hold fast to the spirit of the advice in the Bible and use the best judgement possible to make Christ-like entertainment choices.