I’ve seen this question posed an unbelievable amount of times in recent months by good, kind, and well meaning believers, who are asking the question in most cases because something about a piece of music they heard has genuinely caused them to take issue.
The things they take issue with, however, they tend to group together under one term “Music”, when in reality, that isn’t necessarily true.
Typically, they are grouping the following 4 things together under the umbrella of the generalized term “music”:
- The musical score/genre (the sound)
- The instrumentation/effects (the instruments/effects used to make the sound)
- Lyrical content
- Subculture reflected by those who produce music under the umbrella of certain musical genres.
The issue here is that by combining these things you are grouping a couple of things that have no inherent evil nature to speak of with a couple of other things that can, at it’s root, absolutely have inherent evil nature.
In other words, it is important that we draw a distinction between what is music and what is not.
Hip-hop, Death Metal, Country, Rock’n’Roll, Jazz, Blues, Classical, Opera, Folk, Americana, Rap…the list could go on…these things are all “musical genres”…or “musical styles”…or even better…”musical sounds”. They, in and of themselves…are simply sound.
But this is the first, and primary piece that everyone wants to call “evil”. The issue is…as we just mentioned…they are describing a “sound” as evil. These sounds are made by the second piece often brought into the discussion of “evil music” called instruments…which are often coupled by instrumental effects.
The sound, and the instrument or effect that produce the sound, can no more be evil than an inanimate object such as a rock. However, the instrument and the sound, just like the rock, can absolutely be used for evil purposes. Just ask Able how his brother Cain chose to use a rock.
Which brings us to the other two pieces of their argument…lyrical content and the subculture reflected by those who produce music under the umbrella of certain musical genres.
Unlike a sound, and unlike an instrument or instrumental effect, lyrics and subcultures can absolutely be evil. Lyrics convey the message. The musical sound and the instruments are merely vehicles being employed by the message.
Again, back to the rock analogy…a rock by itself is not evil. It can, however, be used for evil purposes. Like…say…murder. But the rock didn’t commit murder. And the rock itself is not evil. It was merely the vehicle that someone chose to act with.
Now that we’ve more or less broken down what makes music…well…music…let’s get back to the original question: Can music be Christian?
The short answer is…no.
To suggest that something is “Christian” “is, in a way, to suggest that it has the ability to be saved. That it is human. That it is created in the image of God. That it is an image bearer of God. To call a musical style “Christian” (no matter the musical style) is to imply all of these things. Which, let’s be honest, is utter nonsense.
Can music be used by Christians to worship God and convey a Christian message? Absolutely! But that simply makes that a “Christian genre” of music…rather than making the actual music itself Christian. Again, the music is the vehicle for the lyrics to be delivered on. The music itself is not Christian in any way, shape, or form. So again, impossible to do with something that is neither animate, alive, or human.
When we look at the BIG picture…what we are really seeing here is a deep confusion between what is actually music (sound/instrumentation), and what the music is being used for (lyrical content/subculture). And, really, if they were honest…it boils down to a certain sound not being of their preference, and they have elevated preference to the level of scripture and now using that as the standard of “good and evil”.
Let’s simplify it though…
If the music is being used for good and lofty purposes (to bring the message of Christ to the world…or to worship him, or to put my daughter to sleep, or tell my wife how much I love her), then it is music being used for good and lofty purposes.
If it is music being used for evil and unholy purposes (to fill peoples heads with evil imagery via lyrical content, or curse God, or any number of other evil purposes), then it is is being used for evil and unholy purposes.