Secular music that glorifies God


(Jennifer Wilkinson) #1

Can secular music glorify God? If so, what are some specific examples?

As a classical musician, I can find examples in that field, such as Mozart. His music grew out of the Enlightenment and a belief in the orderliness of the universe. Mozart didn’t write all his music to the glory of God like Bach did, but Mozart’s music still reflects the beauty and rationality of God.

Are there similar examples in popular music? Are any styles of music unredeemable? If music is the language of the heart, are some styles so linked to the brokenness of our culture that they should be avoided?


Introduction: Jennifer Wilkinson
How much is music an influence?
(SeanO) #2

@Jennifer_Wilkinson I do not personally believe that any style of music is unredeemable. For example, wrap music may often glorify things that are ungodly, but men like Lecrae use it to share the Gospel and declare God’s glory. So I think that content is more important than style.

I believe that when we create we reflect the image of our Creator - so composing beautiful music that reminds people of the joys and sorrows of this world is a reflection of the fact that we are made in God’s image. However, I am not sure if I would say that reflecting God’s image and glorifying God are exactly the same thing. I would need to think about that further.

Ultimately, I think that as long as we obey Paul’s injunction in Philippians to think only on those things that are praiseworthy, the style of music is not the issue.

Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

The world needs to see people in every arena who have been genuinely changed by the gospel. Christian musicians in the general marketplace have the opportunity to influence non-Christians not only with their music, but with their lives. God may give them opportunities to share the Gospel with others who may never be reached otherwise. Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope are two artists who made a difference in that way. There are many more. Some Christians will serve the church in the church. Others will serve the church outside the church. Both are demonstrating through their lives that Jesus is the only Savior and sovereign Ruler of the world.

Music, no matter the genre, relates to the human condition and helps the heart feel understood. The musician and listener can feel pain, joy, and fear, an experience that transcends languages to help us understand our human condition. As apologists, we can draw this analogy towards Christianity. Abdu Murray describes how Christianity, in contrast to the other major world religions, meets us in each human experience. We are reminded God became man and experienced the same pains and joys we experience. As apologists, we can use music’s connections to begin meaningful conversations as we discuss the heart’s desire to be understood.

Lecrae

I really like this song by Lecrae.


Music
Should a christian listen to songs that are not christian in nature ? Or more importantly go sing on pubs to win others ? This has been bothering me!
(Emily Kimani) #3

I wish to comment on the above about secular music.

My understanding of the word secular in its literal sense is something outside God. The question that then forms in my mind is can something outside God be done to really glorify God?

Genre of music is another whole new category and it doesn’t mean secular. It might have developed or get associated with gangs, cultures and other stuff but that is not what the secularism is about. We are told that in a big house there are many articles some made for noble and ignoble work…but if the latter cleanses themselves, they are used for God’s purpose (wooded, gold, silver, bronze…whichever type). If i take to mean the genres are the gold, silver, wood… but if all they are to be based on the word, like Lacrae, then I believe they are powerful instruments of effecting the purpose for the Kingdom of our Father.


(Kathleen) #4

Hi, @Emmy! Before I weigh in, I would like to understand what you mean when you say ‘outside God’ and to ‘glorify God’? :slight_smile:


(Kathleen) #5

And, sorry, I should be more specific with my own question. :slight_smile: As I believe that God is the Author and Sustainer of all things, I find it difficult to conceptualise what being ‘outside’ of Him looks like…or if that’s even possible. Similarly with ‘glorify’… I believe that all things, in the end, will glorify God. For example, even in present suffering and injustice, one day, God will hold those responsible to account, therefore, He will be glorified in His perfect justice.

But, if I understand you correctly, you tie ‘secular’ to the sense of something that has no reference to religion or God. Music, and other art, can then be categorised as sacred or secular. That is, there is music that makes reference to God (hymns, CCM, sacred choral music, psalms, etc.) and there is music that does not. So, can music that does not reference God be used to glorify Him? Again, with ‘glorify’ are you meaning ‘worship’ or ‘reflect’? Or something else?

Sorry for the mind dump! Just trying to understand where you’re coming from! :smiley:


(Jennifer Wilkinson) #6

@KMac, thanks for your clarifications. I realized after posting my question that I should probably clarify what I mean by glorify and unredeemable.

I’m looking for secular music that would reflect God’s character or draw people one tiny step closer to knowing Him. @SeanO, thanks for bringing up Philippians 4:8. That is exactly what I’m looking for in music, something pure and lovely, something that might speak of truth or justice.

As an extreme example of my question, what would happen if someone wrote a song inciting violence and calling for murder? A Christian could take that music, eliminate the lyrics, and create lyrics about the love of God, but it wouldn’t make sense. If the original music properly supported the violent lyrics, we can’t turn it into a worship song.

We also can’t take that exact style of music with its melody, harmony, and rhythms and think that it can communicate purity, truth, and justice. How do we evaluate music to determine whether certain popular styles communicate the heart of God?

I’m aware that different people will draw the line in different places. Dissonance and heavy beat in music can be like salt in food. If you have a high sodium diet, a food might taste flat to you when it is too salty for someone else. I grew up on hymns and classical music, and even though I’ve tried to branch out somewhat, I am so sensitive to dissonance that I can’t listen to most CCM or praise & worship music. I have to notice what it is doing to my soul. If it’s not good for me, I turn it off even though I know it blesses many people.

I’m not a good judge of how to live as a Christian in the popular music field, but I would like input from others on how they draw a line between music that edifies and music that doesn’t.


(SeanO) #7

@Jennifer_Wilkinson I think the question you are asking is along the lines of one raised by one of the following articles on William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, “Does music have moral force apart from being contextualized in culture and accompanied by words?”

Is that the right question? What do you think of Booth’s view that all seven notes belong to God? I thought that was quite a plucky statement :slight_smile:

When he was criticized for using secular tunes to attract crowds, he replied, “Secular music, do you say, belongs to the devil? Does it? Well, if it did I would plunder him for it, for he has no right to a single note of the whole seven.”

To Booth, music in and of itself had no moral force. The spiritual power of the associated texts, regardless of the tunes chosen (the contrast ranged from revivalist hymns to tavern—room ballads), made all the difference. Booth’s approach to music was direct, simple, and practical. He advocated music that is attractive, carries a solid message, and, in the process, avoids the dangers of “sophisticated” church music making.


(Jennifer Wilkinson) #8

Thanks for the laugh, @SeanO! I love that statement about plundering the devil. But Booth’s tunes weren’t modern enough if he only needed if he only needed to give God seven notes. Considering the music I’m practicing right now (or ought to be practicing if I weren’t distracted with this conversation), I’d better give God all twelve.

Back to violin practice now. I’m looking forward to reading the articles you posted this evening.


(SeanO) #9

@Jennifer_Wilkinson Enjoy practice - look forward to hearing your thoughts.


(Jennifer Wilkinson) #10

@SeanO, thank you for sharing the articles about William Booth. I was unfamiliar with his opinions about music. He was probably right that the kind of tune he used had no moral force of its own. A good hymn tune is simple and singable with a limited range and easy rhythms, and it sticks to the notes of a major scale, hence Booth’s contentment with seven notes and not the twelve I desire.

If we look at the sophisticated music Booth avoided, I’m inclined to say it’s not neutral anymore. When my friends and I perform a symphony by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, or Mahler, we are attempting much more than putting together pretty notes to please an audience. These composers tried to communicate the depths of their souls in their music.

My first question is where pop music lands on the continuum between simple tunes and great artistry. The closer it gets to artistry, the harder it is to swap out lyrics without creating incongruities.

Secondly, does purely instruments music convey something deeper than momentary gratification? Ravi Zacharias said that we approach philosophy at three levels. We argue at level one (logic), illustrate at level two (the arts), and apply at level three (the kitchen table). Can we use instrumental music as an illustration at level two? If so, is it truly neutral?


(SeanO) #11

@Jennifer_Wilkinson Great thoughts! I hope other weight in - those are excellent and thought provoking questions.

On one level, I think that this question is one of conscience and must be determined at the level of each individual. Two people can listen to the same piece of music and have different emotional responses - it may make one sad and the other happy in a melancholy sort of way. Even if a great composer intended for it to produce one emotion, it may actually induce a different emotion in the listener. So I think each of us must be aware of the effect that music has upon us and choose what we listen to wisely.

On another level, I do agree that if music was written to induce anger or some other ungodly emotion, then perhaps there is a sense in which it is unwholesome. However, I think there is an appropriate place and time for many emotions - there are times when we should have righteous anger against injustice, times when we weep for a lost loved one, times when we struggle with the dissonance of what we know to be true and the brokenness of the world - so I think there may be an appropriate place and time for a wide variety of the emotions produced by music.

I’d be curious to hear more of your thoughts as a musician. Have you ever found the ‘right’ place for a song that you at first felt did not fit anywhere? What would be an example of instrumental music that you feel is not wholesome or is not edifying?


(Warner Joseph Miller) #12

I think that a lot of where I fall is summed up in Sean’s final analysis:

As a quick example, I gave a talk some years ago to a younger audience (15-25) entitled, “No Church in The Wild”. The title is based on a popular song – at least in my context – written by Jay-Z and Kanye West. Neither one of these men would probably be mistaken for a Jesus followin’, Christ lovin’, Bible believin’ Christian.:wink: In fact, the song in summation essentially says that church has become essentially impotent and has no real power, effectiveness or utility outside of its four walls. However, because of the word play and verse construction of the two rappers and the catchy beat, it was/is a really popular song…the beat even being used in commercials. Anyway, while I didn’t play the song out right in my talk, I DID make references to it while also playing the instrumental and providing my OWN changed, self-written lyrics that articulated a call for that Jesus followin’, Christ lovin’, Bible believin’ Christian audience to leave the comfort and safety of the four walls of their local assembly and reach the masses to the glory of God. Basically, it was a call to evangelism. The song was used as insight into how many Christians – particularly in America – are viewed by non-Christians AND to incite Christians to go out and be light in darkness, spreading the message of the Gospel to Jesus Christ. Again, as Sean pointed out:

“Even if a great composer intended for it to produce one emotion, it may actually induce a different emotion in the listener.”
_

I’m almost 1,000% certain that the writer’s intent was not to inspire people to preach the Gospel! :grin: Nevertheless, when I heard it (and even, now, hear it) it’s convicting and stirs me to engage and affect change in the “wild” for Christ. Thankfully, to God’s glory, the approach was very convicting, convincing and effective in moving those listeners to also engage the culture for Christ. Bottom line: essentiallly, a secular song that potentially highlights the Church’s ineffectiveness in the world (read “the wild”) and encourages heathenism was used as a tool to promote and inspire those toward the Great Commission and making Christ known! If that ain’t irony…:wink:


To Yoga...or NOT to Yoga...?
(Jimmy Sellers) #13

True confession, I love Leonard Cohen. His lyrics are laced with truth, doubt, sarcasm, humor and even mockery. But for me they draw me in and make me wish that Leonard knew what I knew. He seems to be close enough to touch the garment but he did not. In my mind this genre of music is the results of bad Sunday School teacher (my euphemism for those who are the product of misinformation or hard hearts or bad examples of Christ followers).

I hope you’ll don’t church for this but do listen to this song and see what you think.
Warning Leonard Cohen’s music can be considered objectionable my many listeners.

Hineni, hineni (Hebrew for “here am I”, think Abraham and the Aqedah)

I’m ready, my lord

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame (who is the Flame)

I could go on but I don’t think that it would be on topic.


(Olivia Davis) #14

This discussion is delicious. Thanks, @Jennifer_Wilkinson.

@WarnerMiller, I love this story! I think it’s a great example of how God gives us creativity. It also is a great example of the idea articulated by William Booth in the article that @SeanO gave us. To quote from it:

“You must sing good tunes. Let it be a good tune to begin with. I don’t care much whether you call it secular or sacred. I rather enjoy robbing the devil of his choicest tunes, and, after his subjects themselves, music is about the best commodity he possesses. It is like taking the enemy’s guns and turning them against him." – William Booth

I’m not saying that Jay-Z and Kanye’s song was a “devil tune” (haha), but I think the idea is sort of the same – taking something that wasn’t intended to glorify God and then making it do exactly that!!

@SeanO, I’m intrigued by the question, “is it possible to have instrumental music that is irredeemable?” At first, I thought, well, maybe something that’s really dissonant, that doesn’t show any beauty, and my mind went to a few pieces that aren’t beautiful but are still “art music”. After thinking through those, I realized that it depends on how we conceive of music.

I’d argue music is essentially an emotional medium. We love it because of how it can enrapture us, how it makes us feel – it challenges us and moves us. It’s also amazingly complex to study and play, and in a way shows us how order can emerge from chaos (all those notes on the page and all those musicians!). At the same time, because music is emotional, there are so many different emotions that intentional sounds elicit.

So, for example, Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.

It’s dissonant and hard to listen to, but at the same time, I don’t think it is incapable of glorifying God. It’s so effective at providing a collective emotional experience. I mean, I can’t even listen to the whole thing. It almost becomes a conduit for empathy for the victims of Hiroshima. But…How might it glorify God? Perhaps it represents the chaos of life without having him as an anchor? In some ways, the ability to interpret is useful and can incline a heart to worship even through dissonant music.

And music, of course, elicits different emotions for different people. Franz Liszt’s Cantique D’Amour (Hymn of Love) is one of the most powerful pieces of piano literature I’ve heard…y’all, listen to it :sob: When you think about Liszt’s history and that he was an abbé for 21 years, it’s all the more meaningful.

I think in the end, the measure of whether or not something (anything, music/ literature/ paintings/ @Jimmy_Sellers’s Leonard Cohen song!) glorifies God is whether it inclines our hearts to worship. As @KMac wisely pointed out, in the end, all things will glorify God! What makes us meditate upon Jesus and his love for us is being used to his glory to glorify him. If when we listen to music and our hearts feel troubled, if we feel prompted by God, we can redeem it (as @WarnerMiller demonstrates!).

I sometimes feel burdened by the worship music that my church does because it seems to present a watered-down Gospel, but at the same time, there are people in my small group who say that the songs lead them to a higher view of God. God REALLY had to work my hymnal-thumping and Bach-loving self on that one, and he still does (every Sunday! I’m such a work in progress!). But, even then, look at that – God used the music that didn’t initially incline me to worship to make me rely on him even more. How typical of Jesus to transform a weakness into a cause for worship!


(CARMEN ST. CLAIRE ) #15

Hi Jimmy,

Thank you for your homage to Leonard Cohen. I agree that his lyrics sound like a man who is “seeking” God but has resigned himself that his efforts are an exercise in futility. He writes, as the character Salieri in Amadeus speaks of Mozart’s music, “it was filled with an unfulfillable longing”. Listen to his lyrics in “Hallelujah”, “she tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair and from your lips she drew the hallelujah…but even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah”.
Even the music in Jesus Christ Superstar refills me with love for Jesus, somehow, He can always use what might not be meant for His glory, FOR HIS Glory.


(Jennifer Wilkinson) #16

@SeanO, you asked if I’ve ever found the right place for a song that I at first felt did not fit anywhere. In my teens and early twenties, I was uncomfortable with most 20th century art music. The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy helped me see how well the arts illustrate worldview topics so we can feel the pain and brokenness of our world. I’ve developed a deep appreciation for modern art music even though I still don’t listen to it for fun.

However, the more I understand about the power of music and the way it captures the emotions of the worldview from which it comes, the more I question the way the church sometimes treats music. If we view it as neutral entertainment to attract people into the church to hear the gospel, we might think we’re plundering the devil when we’re actually accepting into our city a Trojan horse.


(Jennifer Wilkinson) #17

Thanks, everyone, for your great examples of how music can glorify God even when it wasn’t first written for that purpose. Does any secular music come to mind that might glorify God as its original purpose?

A hypothetical situation might clarify my question. What if one of my strong Christian students tells me he wants to pursue a career in music, more specifically he wants to create popular music for the secular market to promote values like truth, justice, love, and forgiveness? Are there certain styles of pop music that would support these values well? Are there any styles that are incongruous with the message my student wants to communicate? Are there any current popular songs that are good examples of this type of music?


(SeanO) #18

@Jennifer_Wilkinson That is helpful to hear how you grew in appreciation for certain types of music. I think for me I am less concerned about a ‘Trojan Horse’, in which bad things are snuck in, than I am about a hollow noise - music that lacks meaning. I do not think music (without lyrics) is particularly harmful, though it may be annoying / agitating. But theologically shallow music, if not accompanied by solid teaching, can be an issue. Now, people might sing a song that is not theologically deep and yet in their hearts truly be giving God great praise, so I am not judging those who sing songs that are very repetitive / simple (I in fact enjoy some such songs). I am only saying that when the theology is missing from the music, sometimes it is harder for people to acquire it. Music can really help build up peoples’ theological foundation.


(Kathleen) #19

I do think there are more Christian artists than we realise who are in ‘secular’ market, so I’d tell your (hypothetical or real) student to go for it! I’ve come across a number of them in the acoustic singer-songwriter or folk genre, mainly because that has always seemed to be the more thoughtful arena… one that prizes a sort of depth and profundity. I once was at a church where the second most quoted source by the minister(outside of the Bible) was Bob Dylan…followed closely by U2. It was great. :rofl: Mumford and Sons have a number of songs too that have hints of Light, though I am unaware of any profession of faith in Jesus by any of their members.

As far as ‘pop’ music goes, I don’t tend to equate that genre with valuing any sort of intellectual or emotional depth, so a lot of what we find there will be fluff.

@lauragrace73, help me out! You seem to have a good grasp of some groups out there now. :slight_smile:


(Laura Prime) #20

@Jennifer_Wilkinson Ooh this conversation is fascinating! I’ve been thinking about all this very recently and want to give some thought to a response, so shall sleep on it. Thanks for the tag @KMac!