Have you ever talked with someone who’s not a Christian about music? Would you ever use the word “secular” to talk about what that person listens to? Let me know how that conversation goes, because I’m sure the person won’t feel particularly loved by the way you describe his music. The terminology is only something a religious person would use to distinguish that type of music from religious music. It’s not in other people’s musical vocabulary. But since it’s a type of music that many Christians warn against, let’s talk about “secular” music.
I absolutely think that Christians should be well-versed in “secular” music. There are so many people who are not Christians but who produce amazing music. In fact, some artists better convey aspects of the world than Christian artists do. Contemporary Christian music radio stations only play “positive, uplifting” music, but life is not always positive or uplifting. We live in a world plagued by corruption and brokenness, so Christians should not be antagonistic to musical artists who convey this reality in their music. In light of the biblical story’s explanation of sin and death being ingrained within the world, accurately displaying these realities in music is something that Christians can (and should) affirm. “Secular” music can also convey positive and uplifting realities in the world, and we as Christians shouldn’t feel threatened by this. And honestly, there are a lot of artists out there who are better musical artists than Christian artists. If you like good music, then you probably listen to “secular” music.
In addition to enjoying the quality of music, Christians have the opportunity to identify realities addressed in music that are affirmed by the biblical story. Being able to do this opens the door to having amazing conversations with friends, talking about hopes, fears, desires, frustrations, etc. In light of our call to love people well, we should become familiar with the kind of music that speaks deeply to people. Knowing more about their story through music can allow you to speak good news into their lives from the biblical story.
Despite the exciting opportunities and the creative beauties of “secular” music (I really dislike having to use that terminology), Christians should proceed with caution. While this type of music can speak truthfully about the world, we need to be careful that we don’t start believing lies about the world that is communicating through the music. Sex, money, and power are frequently mentioned in songs as goals of ultimate value, but we as Christians do not share those values. Becoming engrossed in music that does not speak truthfully about the world and is not affirmed by the biblical story can be detrimental to the spiritual health of a Christian. Notice that I didn’t specify “secular” music; that warning is true even for contemporary Christian music. Believe it or not, some contemporary Christian music is actually full of bad theology that can be misleading. But the lies can be more blatant coming from artists who aren’t Christian. While I would argue that Christians need to have familiarity with “secular” music, we need to be careful that we don’t start taking certain parts of their story to heart. This goes back to Romans 12:1-2; are we being conformed to the world, or is our mind being renewed by the truths of the biblical story? Listening to “secular” music doesn’t automatically mean being comforted to the world, but there is a risk that it can lead to that.
“Secular” music is the majority of the music in the world, and Christians shouldn’t abstain from listening to it. In light of our call to people and affirm truth, Christians should listen to excellent music, regardless of who makes it. But in addition to loving people well through their musical preferences, we also need to love God well by being able to speak biblical truth to music listeners. So as you put in your earbuds, remember to love your music well, but don’t separate your music from your mission. Appreciate the beauty and truth, and speak into the lies with the biblical story.