Written by the members of ListenUpReviews.com.
[: NKJV™ verses are used in this article.
Copyright info on its use can be read by scrolling to the bottom of the page.]
This debate has two different parts. This first part is for critics, parents, and Christians. The second part (which we may or may not cover) would be for those who do not know, or would like to know more, about what Christian music is.
We welcome your feedback on this article; however, please read and digest the entire contents before responding. Thank you.
For critics, parents, and Christians
This article is not directed at those who write typical reviews, rating CD’s and so forth; that kind of honest, constructive analysis is great and keeps the quality standard high. Nor is it directed at those who are genuinely concerned about the personal lives, beliefs, and convictions of certain bandmembers; musicians are role models, and it’s good to do your homework on who you support. This article is primarily directed at those who have written, spoken, seen, or heard harsh public criticisms of openly Christian bands for their style of music, the way that they do their shows, the bandmembers’ appearances, and etc.
This criticism usually falls on those bands who play in a lot of secular venues, who use metaphor or subtlety to get their point across, and/or who are in an indie, Rap, Rock, or harder-than-Rock music genre.
Those who publicly criticize these Christian bands and question their faith usually have done one or a combination of the following: They do not like the band’s style of music, live shows, or looks in the first place; they do not read the lyrics (or they read them but take them literally, not looking deeper or allowing any room for art or metaphor); they pick on only a single song or video, to the exclusion of all else; and they generally just don’t do their research on the band, its members, or the element they’re picking on.
“And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it– lest you even be found to fight against God.” – Acts 5:38-39.
We’ll get to what makes a band Christian in a moment, but first let’s begin with a frank statement: Putting likes and dislikes of music styles aside, people who are in trouble— angry, hopeless, depressed, into cutting/self-injury, or worse (and there are unfortunately far too many; the statistics are literally shocking, and the signs of trouble are often disguised)— are not typically going to get hooked on traditional or AC worship music, right away. What they need is a Christian alternative in the same genre of music that they’re already listening to— that genre typically being Rock, Rap, indie, or harder— because it will meet them where they are and then guide them to hope.
In fact, we have personally read and heard some of the truly innumerable (and truly amazing) stories of people whose lives— not only their souls, but also their physical — were saved because they got into some Rock-or-harder Christian band’s music, eventually being led to God through it.
You personally do not have to like the band’s style of music, the way they write, how they do their live show, or how they look— if you don’t like it, you simply don’t need to watch or listen to them. Just remember that there are a lot of other people in the world with a lot of different tastes and needs; and the element that does not appeal to you will appeal to people who would not be reached any other way.
By now you may be thinking, “Well, all of that’s fine for saving the lost, but I just don’t want my kid listening to Metal or Screamo (etc.), Christian or not.” That decision is up to you, of course; but please keep in mind that just about all teens and young adults will listen to music in some amount, at home or elsewhere. And no matter what you may dislike about some Christian music, it is infinitely, infinitely better for your kid than the secular alternative they will listen to if you ban the Christian stuff.
Almost all of the harsh criticism we’ve seen stems from the confusion of what our pastor calls “Form and Function.” The function (the purpose) of certain activities never change. However, the form (how that activity is accomplished and in what appearance) can, will, and indeed must change to fulfill the needs of today’s generation and even just different people.
A good example of the form-function difference is church service and worship styles. Some of the main functions of a service are to gather with other Christians, worship God, and receive teaching from His Word. The forms are how that is accomplished: Some like reciting liturgies, some do not; some like one kind of music during worship, some like another; some like longer worship, some like a longer message; some like solemn services, some like lively ones; etc. etc. All of that is pure form: no matter what style, it accomplishes the function while meeting people where they are. In fact, when you look at it, not all— as there are certainly some occasional doctrinal differences— but most of the differences between church denominations are differences of form.
And this variety is actually a very good thing, because different people connect with different forms. Some people, in fact, will only exclusively connect with one certain form, while some others will only exclusively connect with another form. Think of it like language— just as the Bible is translated into different languages to reach certain groups of people who don’t speak (or read) any other language, so each different form will reach people who would never be reached by another. This is true for all forms, from the aforementioned differences in church to music outside of church.
Unfortunately, there is a tendancy in some quarters to latch completely onto the forms, in which case any other form (or even an insignificant or necessary change in that same form) is seen as being a deviance from or contradiction to the function, which of course it is not. And while that should not happen at all, the unfortunate phenomenon can occur nearly anywhere over nearly anything, including not only church but also the realm of music; and it would all be remedied by simply laying aside attachment to the temporal forms and instead focusing on the true eternal functions in God’s Word.
By now you’re probably asking, “What makes a band Christian, then?”
Well, first of all, before we even get to the lyrics, we must emphasize that it is definitely not a band’s music style that makes that band Christian. Think about it: if there were ‘good’ and ‘evil’ types of music, who’s to say what instrument, sound, or type of music ‘good’ or ‘evil’? Where in the Bible does it say, ‘this instrument or vocal is good, and this instrument or vocal is not’? For example, if Rock, which was created by humans, is ‘worldly’, then why isn’t traditional ‘worldly’, since it was also created by humans? Or even the “loud cymbals” in Psalm 150:5 and the music played on “all kinds of instruments” in 2 Samuel 6:5? It’s just plain common sense that apart from lyrics and intent, music alone, in and of itself, is not inherently ‘good’ or ‘evil’, no matter what it sounds like— music is music, a form and nothing more.
To explain this further, here’s a more detailed example. Take whatever music you are comfortable with— for the discussion, let’s say it’s traditional hymns. Select one, and take the organ or whatever instrument(s) it utilizes and replace it (or them) with an acoustic guitar (which would most likely be an acceptable switch, since the traditional 1800’s Christmas hymn “Silent Night” was actually written for an acoustic guitar!). The hymn that you chose to work with here has the exact same lyrics, and the same heart for worship; just a different instrument underneath. Now, since the acoustic guitar is strumming along with the hymn’s vocal accompaniment, why not add another acoustic guitar, a piano, and a bass to round out the sound? Why not keep time with some soft drumming? For that matter, why not use an electric guitar? Actually, why not bring the organ back in now, as well?
No instrument is holier, or less holy, than any other; they’re just tools. And any tool can be used for evil or for good. If a tool happens to be used for evil, do we blame the tool, or the person who was controlling it? The tool is inert, with no will of its own; of course the responsibility falls on the person who used it. And so it is with instruments. A flute is no more ‘Christian’ than a drum; an electric guitar is no less ‘Christian’ than an organ. And vocal styles are the same way. The tool doesn’t matter— what matters is the intent of the person using it.
Continuing with our discussion on what makes a band Christian, it’s also not the way that they do their show. Lots of lights, cranked-up amps, wildly flung water, and bandmembers crowd-surfing, swinging their instruments, and running/jumping/dancing around or even lying upon the stage, are all simply for show, for fun, or to release energy. None of this has anything to do with whether they’re Christian— at one time King David danced wildly before God, even when some observers thought it looked ridiculous (2 Samuel 6:14-23).
It’s not the bandmembers’ physical appearance, either. (“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement.” – John 7:24.) Long/colored/oddly-styled hair, odd clothing, tattoos, body piercing, and even on occasion (*gasp!*) eyeliner, are not indicators of their soul condition. All of that is completely exterior, and could only be a sin if it was expressly done against their own conscience. (“I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” – Romans 14:14. “… All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with a feeling of giving offense.” – Romans 14:20, latter half.) And remember, “…We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18. “…The Lord does not see as a man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7, latter half.
And finally, it’s not even necessarily their lyrics. Before you object, we are NOT saying that there shouldn’t be, or aren’t, any limits here— all Christian bands keep it clean, to an artistic extent, even when dealing with heavy subject matter; they support good morals and point out contrary ones; and they usually also put some specifically Christian content in there somewhere. However, they have every right to use an artistic, metaphorical, or subtle writing style if they wish to; and the lyrics certainly do not have to be (and are certainly not going to be) praise and worship all the time.
Yes, some bands are called to praise and worship; and some are indeed called to have an outspoken message. However, there are also some bands who are called to create music with a subtle message, guiding people to hope gently. And then there are some who are called to do all of the above. We need to respect our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ; understanding that not everyone has the same calling, and that calling is for God to decide.
What truly makes a band Christian? The hearts and lives of the bandmembers themselves. (Again, 1 Samuel 16:7, latter half; and much of the New Testament deals with this.) It’s their love for (and personal relationship with) the Lord. Their genuine care for other people. The conversations they have. The way they touch people’s lives… and indeed, bring them closer to God, in the way they were called to.
Some more passages you may want to refer to are:
“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God’. So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” – Romans 14:1-13.
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free— and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body’, is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body’, is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’. No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-25. – (Modern translation)
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. – (Modern translation)
And to those who would quote Romans 12:2 (“do not be conformed to this world…”) and other similar passages, we would ask you to check the context carefully, remember the separation of form and function, and then see:
“If you died with Christ from the basic principals of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle’, which all concern things which perish with the using— according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” – Colossians 2:20-23. – (Modern translation)
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with … immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the … immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” [physically] – 1 Corinthians 5:9-10.
“And so it was, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.'” – Matthew 9:10-13. – (Modern translation)
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-16.
We Christians are supposed to be “salt and light” to the world. How can salt season what it does not touch? And how can you be a shining light in the darkness of the world if you don’t step out of the comfortable, already-well-lit areas into where the darkness is to light it up? (Remember Matthew 9:10-13.)
Really, there should be some Christian bands in every type of music genre— we’re trying to be light to the entire world, not just a certain part of it!
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.
So should those bands who feel called to do so.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them.” – Romans 12:6, former half.
“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” – Romans 11:29.
* Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Bible text from the New King James Version® is not to be reproduced in copies or otherwise by any means except as permitted in writing by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Attn: Bible Rights and Permissions, P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214-1000.