Monday, 26 April 2010

What Is Christian Music?

Is there such a thing as Christian Music?

What is it? Is it the sound that automatically results when a Christian musician picks up his (her) guitar (bagpipes/keytar) or is there an extra critical ingredient?

I wanted to look at this topic after seeing this post about Owl City and reading the kicking Adam Young got from some of the commenters.

This post is a departure for me because, like a bad lawyer, I’m asking you questions I don’t have the answers to.

In the last 25 years I’ve played secular music, instrumental music, Christian music and VERY Christian music – the whole gamut from hair metal through traditional Iranian bagpipe music and contemporary gospel to leading worship.

I’ve been a pagan musician, a musician who “happens to be a Christian,” a Christian musician and all points in between and I still haven’t figured it out.

So help me out. Here’s a bunch of questions. Pick your favourite(s) and give it your best shot.

1) What makes music ‘Christian’? Artistic intention? Lyrical content?

2) Can instrumental music be Christian? Is an instrumental version of a Christian song still a 'Christian' song?

3) If there’s an objective criterion for what makes a song 'Christian' could a backslider, an atheist or a Muslim write one? Could Diane Warren produce ‘em to order?

4) Is music that is explicitly Christian more valuable than implicitly Christian music, or music that is simply moral? Are Christians squandering their talents (or even dishonouring God) writing something other than ‘Christian songs.’

5) Are the rules for creating Christian music different from Christian painting? Or Christian plumbing? Why?

Related Posts: Where should worship start?
The five vegetables you meet in heaven

Free songs by matt Blick 


  1. Good post.

    If a plumber is a christian does that make him a "christian plumber"? Or just someone who fixes your heating system?

    Surely, there is no such thing as Christian music. There is just music and a wide range of marketing music to different tribes of people. Christians are merely a group of people that get sold certain genres of music.

    That should get you started....

  2. @Tim - I guess a Christian plumber could be someone who is a Christian & a plumber and only does plumbing for Churches or to bless individual Christians...or at least has a fish on his van?

    C'mon Tim - you're being very mild, surely such a rabid fan of CCM has more to say on the issue?

  3. Right, one by one:

    1) Having almost certainly not given this enough thought I have decided that the term “Christian music” is a stupid and meaningless term that only serves to try and shoehorn music into a particular category at the whim and fancy of those who listen to it. Although it’s worth noting that I could have said that about any of the ridiculous sub-genres of rock or metal.

    I think a far more helpful division to make is between worship music and non-worship music. For instance, take U2 and delirious?. Both sound almost identical, both bands have a Christian makeup (Catholic in the case of U2) and both write songs with decidedly Christian themes to them. The difference is that delirious write worship songs and U2. So my re-badging of worship music as Christian music would leave Delirious as a Christian band and U2 not (which i think is about right). But how about bands like Switchfoot, Mumford and Sons, POD etc? While their music is often very clearly inspired by their faith, little or nothing of theirs could be considered worship music, whereas this would not be the case for, say, Phatfish, Matt Redman (Band of Christians rather than Christian band etc.).

    I think a lot of the reasons that Christians feel the need to pigeon-hole the music they listen is because it never seems to fare to well against its more secular counterparts (essentially because it’s rubbish!). I’m not quite sure why this is the case although it may have something to do with the level of peer to peer critiquing, that is the world of “Christian” music is perhaps not quite as dog-eat-dog as the secular world but I’m don’t know and am just throwing it out there.

    2) I don’t see why not but I’d add a couple of disclaimers in. Firstly I’m happy that is possibly to worship God using instruments (just as with dancing, flag waving, whatever) although it is unlikely to be suitable for congregational worship because no-one could understand it! Although I guess, given that we should only use tongues in congregational worship provided they are interpreted afterwards, the same rules would surely apply to instrumental music if there was a desire to use it (call and response I guess is what it might be like; old blues musicians used to do as similar thing).

    3) A worshipful heart and worship-minded content routed in the Bible i guess. Whatever logically falls out of ramblings in response to part 1. So no, a Muslim couldn’t write one, nor could Diane Warren (no matter how cheesy or how many hackneyed key changes are inserted!)

    4) Pass.

    5) I wouldn’t think so although differences in appearance would probably be due to ease of “consumption” as it were. I reckon it’s much easier for the average person to listen to a song and understand it (enough, at least) based on a lyric sheet, whereas I’m not sure is nearly as easy to understand/appreciate a painting to nearly the same extent. And as for plumbing, well, where do we begin?!

    Well that concludes my uninformed and ill-thought-out drivel on this subject for today, I'm interested to here some of your own thoughts in more detail Mr. B,


  4. 1) With regard to question 1, I have a similar POV to Ali. I think the term ‘Christian music’ is a nebulous and inaccurate term, and that no single factor can decide whether music is Christian or not. To cut out a whole load of waffle, I’ve had a think and here’s my working definition:

    Christian music: Music that is at least arranged by a Christian with the intent of pleasing or giving glory to God.

    This is to encompass:
    - Instrumental music intended to allow for worship/reflection, or even just using musical gifts in celebration to be pleasing/worshipful to God (i.e. IMO, music need not require lyrics to be considered 'christian music' within the scope of this definition).
    - Music with lyrics that are explicitly Godward, as well as music with lyrics that implicitly about Christ/Christianity written with the intent of the artist of being pleasing or giving glory to God (e.g. to give weight to the ‘intent’ with which a song was arranged or written)
    - Music written by non-Christians that has been validly adapted (i.e. arranged) by Christians to be worshipful/pleasing to God (e.g. music that is at least, in some capacity, arranged by a Christian to be pleasing/worshipful towards God)

    In coming up with the working definition, I tried to reflect 1 Cor 10:31 “So whether you eat or drink [paint, or plumb] or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Which I think is the same qualitative measure we would apply to Christian painting, Christian plumbing etc.

    I like to think this definition ties together my response to Matt’s questions 1-3 & 5. Any thoughts?

    2) With regard to the 4th question, I think my answer would have to be that explicitly Christian music is just… well… ‘more explicit’ than implicitly Christian music. Each are different, with different merits and uses... though, of course, certain examples of each may be better or worse than one another. For example, I can think of some stupendous songs that are implicitly about the kingdom of God, and I can think of some horrendous songs that are explicitly about the kingdom of God. I wouldn’t like to say that one is ‘more valuable’ than the other – I’d say they are complementary to one another (all things being equal).

    Are Christians squandering their talents writing something other than Christian music? As with most controversial questions, the answer is typically more complex than the question would seem to imply. For example, I have written musical etudes and pieces that are musical, but that are not intended to be inherently worshipful in and of themselves. However, some pieces are to improve my musical gifting in further serving God, the pursuit of which I understand is pleasing and worshipful to God. Other pieces I derive great pleasure from and I am enjoying the gift God has given me, and I give him the glory for this immense gift and privilege… which I also understand is pleasing and worshipful to God. I would not say that such pieces are 'Christian music'- I mention this purely to illustrate that such use of music (IMO) need not be 'squandering' your musical gifting.

    However, there are times when music (mine and others) does not please or give glory to God. For example, I once wrote set of lyrics expressing my dissatisfaction towards a certain situation. This was outward human expression with no praise or giving glory to God, not intended to be pleasing to him, and was purely self serving in a human way (FYI I don’t plan to ever complete this song). In such cases, I believe that Christians operating in this area are perhaps using their gifting unwisely, and it could be argued that they are squandering their gifts.

    Any thoughts people?

  5. @Ali & Mark - Great comments guys. I think I might sum up my response in a follow up post. Thanks for responding!


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