Question: I would like to know if it is alright for a Christian to listen to secular music. I’m not talking about that rap music or singing that degrades women or uses profanity. I’m talking about artists like Luther Vandross who sang nothing but love ballads. And other artists that are gifted who sing some really wonderful songs outside the gospel arena. My brother believes that if the music isn’t honoring God it’s wrong to listen to it. I totally disagree with that. I love the LORD and I love my brother, and I wouldn’t do anything to hurt him. But I don’t think he is looking at the big picture. The Bible said every good gift and every perfect gift cometh from the father of lights. So whether that person chooses to honor the good LORD or not it’s still a gift from GOD. Paul said everything is lawful but not everything is expedient. If it’s something that’s going to make my brother fall I’ll take it somewhere else. But to say secular music is wrong, I beg to differ.
Answer: I am in agreement with you on this. God has gifted human beings with God-likeness and part of that likeness is creativity in musical expression. I have heard some beautiful music (lyrically and in quality of music). I can celebrate God’s greatness as I see it expressed through human giftedness. Psalm 8 says we were created a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor. That does not contradict the Biblical message of man’s sinfulness, but rather complements it with a message of man’s glorious nature.
Besides, just because something isn’t explicitly Christian does not mean it is false or evil. Some music is simply a description of a particular struggle or a particular joy. Otis Redding was “sittin’ on the dock of bay” wasting time because he was lonely. He was describing a particularly low point in his life with this song. No, he didn’t give a Christian answer to the problem, but he accurately described a common problem people suffer.
So, of course, I must be careful to evaluate the message of the music. Most modern songs, for example, are about love relationships and commonly “teach” that a love relationship with another human being is the answer to life. That is an ungodly message. But I can celebrate a loving human relationship in the right way using that song. Also, listening to the world’s music shows me what people are thinking and gives me an avenue into their thoughts and beliefs and into their lives that might help me share the gospel with them.
Martin Luther created one of his greatest hymns, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, using a tune from a bar song. The apostle Paul adapted a Greek poet/philosopher’s saying into his sermon (Acts 17:28). He also wrote using a lot of athletic imagery (for example, Philippians 3:12-14), signalling his familiarity with the Greek games. Being a part of the human community includes honoring that which is positive about the human community as much as decrying what is evil. Human beings, even unsaved one, do an incredible amount of good things. We need to affirm this.
When we try to remain aloof from any and every human endeavor that is not specifically proclaiming the gospel, we will find ourselves very much divorced from the life of our community and also very much divorced from opportunities to proclaim the truth. Building relationships requires common ground. Appreciating what is good in the arts is one platform of common ground. I must watch to be careful that I am not so influenced by that common ground that I depart from the uncommon gospel. But given that warning I can and should learn to appreciate what is good in secular music.