Why I Don’t Listen to Christian Music

I was probably introduced to music the day my parents brought me home from the hospital a day or two after I was born. My mom, whose father was the choir director of her church as child, loved to listen and sing along to music. Being traditional and Christian as she was; naturally, she mostly sung the classic old hymns that have survived generations and transcended languages. I, however, grew up in Toronto, going to school with people of all different ethnicities, religions, and musical tastes.

At school, I was introduced to the Fugees, Tupac, Nirvana, and Green Day. At home, albums published by the label Hosanna! Music seemed to have exclusive rights to the cassette player as secular music was not permitted in our house. When my mom found a Coolio cassette under my bed she smashed it right in front of me and begged me never to bring that music into her home. Since then I have always struggled to reconcile my faith and love of God with not just my musical taste, but my taste in art in general.

I can’t remember how many sermons I have heard on the subject of secular music, and during my late teen years I was so committed to my faith that I got rid of all the secular music I owned. I have spent the years since trying to rebuild that music collection. The basic premise to most sermons on the subject of music is that music was created by God for his Glory and Satan employs every single person who sings about anything but Jesus to remove that glory from God and should thereby not be given any attention. My problem with this is that it too easily relieves me of having to think critically about what I am listening to.

Christian music, after all, is not an actual kind of music. If I picked up a Chris Tomlin CD and didn’t know anything about his faith, it would probably look for it in the “Easy Listening” or “Adult Contemporary” section at music stores. But since we have been instructed by our pastors and leaders not to think critically about the art we consume, it must be sectioned off into the “religious” sections of music stores probably collecting dust.

When I gave up all my secular music, I tried to find the Christian equivalent of Eminem and though KJ-52 was the obvious choice for being the white rapper of Christian Hip Hop, but his music lacked the lyrical quality and precision of Eminem (expletives notwithstanding). Though I enjoyed worship music and often found comfort in the worship songs of the day, there wasn’t any Christian artist that I felt could relate to the struggles I had faced, and was continuing to face in my life.

Christian art was lying to me. Everything wasn’t alright and it didn’t seem as though it was going to be. My father had left and I was forced into the role of “man of the house” at the age of 12. My mom, sister and I, had been evicted from our apartment and lived in a homeless shelter for a month before starting to rebuild our life without my dad. During this time I went to church every Sunday without fail thanks to my mother unrelenting faith. But there wasn’t any Christian artist that I knew of that was willing to admit to the painful scars life can hand out so mercilessly.

It is the lack of truth in Christian music that bothers me. There is an honesty about life that we are afraid to confront in Christian art.

The Bible is honest about life. In fact, David’s Psalms often remind me of John Mayer. I would go so far as to say that if John Mayer had met David when he wrote that Psalm, David would have been encouraged and found some strength. Take a look at the pain and honesty of David in Psalms 6.

My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long? …

I am worn out from my groaning.

All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.

My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.

Now look at how John Mayer would have replied with the following song of encouragement:

I hate to see you cry
Lying there in that position
There’s things you need to hear
So turn off your tears
And listen

Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won’t all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good

I am not implying that you don’t listen to great worship music for moments of personal and congregational worship, nor do I suggest you listen to everything that is out there. I am proposing you stop listening to Christian music, and just listen to music. Music that articulate your fears, insecurities, pain, anger, resentment, and anything else you are suppressing. Christian culture has not adequately set up platforms for these feelings to be communicated and are thereby going unnoticed, and untreated, much the way my pain and anger went unnoticed in the midst of overwhelming circumstance. As believers we have to spend more time listening. Listening to the things we don’t agree with, talking to people who dislike us, taking in things that disagree with us and challenge us.

Will Ramirez

@WillRamirez; SporttoNetwork.com

Will Ramirez is a Burrito enthusiast, and self-proclaimed Pizza connoisseur. He wears Chuck Taylor shoes, and enjoys Chuck Jones cartoons. His hobbies include procrastination and Lucky Charms cereal. He is also Co-Founder and Editor of www.sporttonetwork.com

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9 comments

  1. Well, you’re really talking about Christian Pop, and I have the same objection to it as I do to all Pop. Insufficient depth. If you say “Christian Music”, I immediately think of the vast trove of sacred classical music from Gregorian chant to Renaissance Polyphony to Bach. Even the varieties of Celtic Hymnody are worth the time to study and enjoy. But Nu-Gospel and the other stuff? It all sounds like Barney songs to me.

    • There is a lack of quality, in anything that isn’t congregational worship music. Lot’s of great Christian artists in the worship category, but it’s a general fail for me in everything else.

      I am also referring to a general trend in art marketed as “Christian.” Movies lack the character and thematic depth we see from the masters of film.

  2. My sister came home from the Acquire the Fire conference when I was 13 and threw out all her secular music and took down the posters in her room. I’m still trying to get over losing Nsync’s “No Strings Attached” album….LOL

  3. Excellent article Will. I posted something on FB about a week ago called “Secular vs. Sacred Music (The Age-old Argument).” Don’t know if you saw it but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Anyway, I’m in full agreement with you. I would go even further though.

    As you so eloquently pointed out, many of us in Christendom have not been taught to think critically about the things we become exposed to and therefore live in boxes set by our limited understanding. What we also sometimes fail to realize, is that that same lack of critical thinking spills over, if we’re not careful, to the “Christian Music” we all to readily accept. There are large amounts of music that come from christian writers/artist, that, if we’d take the time to actually examine what we’re listening to, are full of unbelief, bad doctrine, etc. Yet, we blindly accept it and sing along because of the title on the label.

    That said, I really enjoyed your point about the lack of openness and honesty in our writing. Interestingly, I have a similar testimony to Tara’s sister, in that I used to sing secular music and had a HUGE library, of which I one day threw it all out, actually, broke each cd and destroyed all cassettes, for what I thought was an action pleasing to the Lord. Yeah……can you say, “Twenty-six Stevie Wonder albums,” most of which you know you can’t find now (wiping a single tear from my right eye).

    I appreciate praise and worship music, and it’s great for worshiping God and getting into His presence, but I find it doesn’t really speak to me on a personal /soulish level. And for those out there who currently write more along a personal line, that are christian artists, I find most of what’s released to be weak. And gone are the days when I buy music just to “Support” Christian artists.

    Much of what’s released nowadays I find leaves me feeling empty. Yet, I’m encouraged as a songwriter by blogs like this to focus on what’s in my heart. This topic is dear to me and I could stay on this topic ALL DAY!!! Anyway, just wanted to say, thank you for being transparent and sharing your heart. I found it edifying and encouraging.

    Blessings,
    Y.

  4. This reminds me of when I tried replacing Destiny’s Child with Out of Eden. Both great at what they do, but at the end of the day, musically, Out of Eden couldn’t hold a candle to Beyonce.

    I wanted to be student leader at my youth group at the time, but was told I wouldn’t be able to unless I signed an agreement stating that I would commit to praying for the youth group, reading my Bible regularly, attending meetings and events, and among other things, no longer listen to secular music! Needless to say my youth Pastor (at the time) was not pleased to find that I decided not to be a student leader, because I refused to stop listening to “non-Christian” music. I just knew that I wouldn’t have been true to that agreement, and would rather not live a double life.

  5. Will you bring up some really, really good points here. Like you and everyone else I had my time of throwing out all my “secular” music as a teenager. But as I grew up I realize we can’t continue to generalize everything we come across. You were correct in saying we have to think citically when it comes to our choices of music in life (and pretty much everything else). Truth be told there are some secular artists I just will not listen to. And then there are others (especailly throwbacks) I will put on to set a romantic mood. Just as there are Christian Pop and Gospel artist I will not listen to because they’re not saying anything special. Overall we need to get rid of the word ‘secular’ in our Christian circles. We are not to be ‘of’ this world but we live ‘in’ it. So everything we do, and everywhere we go will be within this ‘secular’ society. Issues like this one won’t always be as black and white as we were previously taught.

  6. I was recently at a meeting in a restaurant with some people from church. “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi came on, which is an excellent ‘secular’ song, so I preceded to sing along while everyone chatted and waited for their food to arrive. This sparked a conversation, where on of the people at the table said I shouldn’t listen to that kind of music. I respectfully asked “why not?”, and the answer I received was, “does it edify the church?”, “uh…no”, “well then you shouldn’t be listening to it”.

    …I left it at that, and continued silently jamming along to Bon Jovi.

    What do you guys think about that?

    • This goes back to when the Romans first adopted Christianity as the official religion of the empire. They commissioned the greatest artists and architects of the day to build statues, monuments, cathedrals, and some of the most beautiful paintings in human history, not to edify the church but to continue to spread the imperial interests of the Roman Empire throughout europe.
      I would as that person if all the movies she watched edify the church, or every painting she has ever looked at, or every photograph?

  7. “Yet what is good in itself glorifies God because it reflects God. The artist has his hands full and does his duty if he attends to his art. He can safely leave evangelizing to the evangelists. He must first of all be aware of his limitations as an artist—for art transcends its limitations only by staying within them.”

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