There is No Secular Music

John J. Thompson

John J. Thompson
April 3, 2017

How Tom Waits, Kendrick Lamar, and Beck blend the sacred and secular.

Doug Vande Griend
April 3, 2017

I quite agree that "there is no such thing as secular music," but would note the greater theme of this forum, that there is "no such thing as secular." :-) Which doesn't mean, in either case, that there is no such thing, more broadly speaking, as good or evil, better or worse.

But in the case of music (sans lyrics), I would also suggest there is no such thing as "evil" music, even if there is "bad" (not to confused with "evil") music, that is, music which is akin to noise.

Music creates an emotional tone/state, but one without conceptual content. Filling the music with lyrics turns the music into a "song," which can be "good or evil."

Matt Lyon-Wall
April 3, 2017

There is no such thing as secular music,I agree with you there,even Slipknot fans worship to the sounds of their favourite band. But I think as Christian artists,we must always remember our identity in Christ first and use our work to bring the message to the Church.Taking our music to the streets MUST be an imperative.

Chris MacIntosh
April 3, 2017

I do not believe in either secular or Christian music. I believe in music that is done with excellence and is done to reach an audience at a deep level. As the host of what I have been told is the world's oldest rock n roll radio show, it is my responsibility to play for my audience the absolute best music that I can find. As a Christian I have chosen to limit my playlist to artists who hold to a biblical worldview. That being said I personally find much of what is termed CCM to be shallow and just flat out bad art. Yet there are artists of faith who are producing some of the best music that I have ever heard, artists such as Dave Bainbridge, Glass Hammer, Over The Rhine. As far as the best concert that I have ever seen that would be a toss up between the double trio version of King Crimson and a band called Iona.

April 3, 2017

What a great piece, John. Thank you. As a classically trained musician myself, I couldn't possibly agree with your thoughts here more. I think the only thing I might add is a cautionary note: precisely because music is fundamentally spiritual, it demands (from Christians) a kind of stewardship of power that, I think, makes us answerable to a higher power than the entertainment biz for the integrity of our art. When Christian artists of any stripe are selfish in their work, it has the potential to be peculiarly damaging--and lasting. But when they wisely steward that power, they can be peculiarly effective witnesses to a Kingdom reality that transcends sensuality and carnality--even when the art itself is ostensibly pedestrian entertainment.

Thanks for your consistently astute Kingdom perspective, John.

Debra Bardwell-Simic
April 3, 2017

Interesting article-thank you. Music is a powerful medium. I dislike what is happening in many Christian churches-the sort of "dumbing down" of music. Gone are the choirs, the soloists, the traditional church music, organ. assuming that the entire congregation likes pop-gospel. I listen to a lot of classical music, and find a spiritual component to it, but I also listen to jazz, folk, blues and rock. I know that i am not alone in this view as I have discussed it with others. I agree with your last statement about the Gospel becoming crass, commercial, and oppressive. i moss those quiet, reflective times in church, and I miss stirring , well-played music.

Steve Moffitt
April 3, 2017

I was just talking to a pastor/friend about this the other day. We were talking about how "secular" music is just as capable of making us feel God's presence as "worship" music is. Many of Leonard Cohen's songs have that effect on me. I did a paper for a music appreciation class in college, analyzing Orff's "Carmina Burana," which contains the oft-used-in-movies "O Fortuna." The inspiration for "Carmina Burana" came from a collection of old poems/songs that were "written in a mix of Latin, German and medieval French by the Goliards, a band of poet-musicians comprising scholars and clerical students, who celebrated with earthy humour the joys of the tavern, nature, love and lust." I find the mixing of the "sacred and profane" fascinating. Back in my days as a music store manager I hated that "Christian" music was in its own section instead of mixed in with the rest of the music. I saw the "Christian" label do more harm than good to some very talented bands, such as King's X, Galactic Cowboys, etc.

I was asking my pastor/friend why it is that I have experienced the same euphoric joy listening to "secular" music or at "secular" concerts as I have in church services. We agreed that if all good gifts come from above, then why shouldn't God's Spirit be made manifest through the gift of music, whether he is the center of that music or not.

This might seem silly to some people, but I wept art a KISS concert once. For a lonely 11 year old boy, they were everything. As a man in his late 30s, seeing them for the first time, it was a religious experience.

I find it odd that people who believe in the infallibility of the Bible can be so opposed to music that is sexual, or mixes sexual ans spiritual metaphor. Haven't they read Song of Solomon?

Linda Westmoreland
April 3, 2017

When I was the Director of our Church Ministry, we chose a setting for our Acclamations that was quite beautiful. The Holy, Holy was partly in Spanish. I had complaints from the parish that, ."We already have a Mass in Spanish"!
The discussion was quite long, and never settled. When I told those in charge, they shrugged their shoulders and said "Predjudice". Then they told me to change it. The last words were, I suppose you have something in African next. I said, as a matter of fact, it's a beautiful Gloria!
That is when I begin to look for a teaching job. I guess we hear music with open or closed ears. If we are classically trained, we hear with ears that were trained that way. Same way with rock or jazz or other styles. We all have our own predjudices toward the language the lyrics are in.
I guess that is why the Catholics want to go back to Latin with words strictly from the Bible. In a way, they might be right.

April 3, 2017

The Apostle John in his epistles, teaches us that theremare two spirits behind just about everything, the spirit of Christ, and the apirit of Antichrist, which equates to believers and unbelievers. If someone doesn't have the spirit of Christ, that person is under the influence of the spirit of antichrist. We are all spiritial beings, being driven by one of two spirits. So in that sense, you could say there is no 'secular' music.

At the same time, there is music that appeals to our new nature in Christ, and music that appeals to our human senses. Some appeals to our sinful nature (the sin hangover) we are all suffering from, and which stirs up sinful pasions.

And if 'secular music' means simply not intentionall religious, some music is indeed 'secular'.

April 3, 2017

Thanks John, I agree there is no secular music. When we were kids we would discuss rock songs for there spiritual content, My brother a rock n roller always loved spending time talking about things with our pastor uncle our pastor uncle always enjoyed my brothers company. When Lemmy who was as bad ass as they come passed the last thing read at his memorial was the song precious lord...
keep on rocking in the free world

Shannon Lewis
April 4, 2017

I agree & disagree, but I greatly appreciate the idea & respect the writer.

I've long thought that they isn't a secular/spiritual distinction that can be made in music or art, however I think there is a genuine distinction between what is written to be creative expression/entertainment, & what is written to be a corporate response: between "worship music" & mere entertainment. There just seems to be a number unique elements to a song which was written for the purpose of community participation in a vertical engagement with the divine. Thoughts? Am I totally off base?

April 5, 2017

I'm a Christian that makes commercial music, often to sell cheeseburgers for a major corporation I won't name here. I have no problem with this whatsoever. But it certainly never feels "spiritual," either. It's just my job.

November 17, 2017

Ever thought what spirits draw you to music?
Isn't 'secular' music inspired by something different than god?
Who was the one who once made music to praise god and was then thrown from heaven? And who was came down to earth with him? Isn't music with lyrics praising everything other but god praising something else?

Glenn Kaiser
April 5, 2018

Great stuff John as always. My reply is (sorry) thick and hopefully, sound (pun intended). Grace my bro! -Glenn glennkaiseronworship.wordpress.com/2018/04/05/sacred-vs-secular/

Glenn Harrell
September 24, 2018

Music is called upon to serve many human needs. Perhaps the greatest one is ego and the desire to be popular and famous. While this is natural in the world, we now have the church full on board using music like an elementary child and approved by pastors everywhere.

No secular music. Music denies this shallow association

No "Christian" music
Any more than Christian medicine or aerobics

Music simply has intrinsic values (some may lane "spiritual" because this sounds informed and oooooo

Music has associative values. This nods to our preferences and prejudices born of culture and ego.

There is nothing sacred about a Bb major chord or spiritual about a diminished minor 7

It's just music

Use responsibly, especially the church-- please.

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