Views from a Branch: What is Christian Music?


Lord’s Library contributor Jared Helms offers views from a branch and answers the question: “What is Christian music?” with commentary. Check out Jared’s YouTube channel and two blogs: A Light in the Darkness and Blind Faith Examples. Lord’s Library’s Ministry Leaders Series is a collection of contributed articles written by ministry leaders on key Christian topics.

Ministry Leaders Series BadgeWhat is “Chrisitan” music? Faithful musicians have pondered this for centuries alongside theologians, and for decades now, record executives have joined the conversations with their own unique perspectives. Today, there are two sides dominating the debate. The record industry has a tight definition of sound and theme to set boundaries around their lucrative genre. Meanwhile, some independent artists have demanded freedom to address any theme, and to craft their own sounds.

In many ways, it is a reflection of the struggle against secular genres of music. However, with the word “Christian” involved, answering this question is much more pressing, but Christianity stands for the good news that God became a man (Jesus) who died for our sins and rose again in victory, extending a free offer of eternal life to all who would believe.

Of course, anyone can use the title, and we should not be surprised that many people do it for the simple reason that they can make some money off of it. We do not want to cast the entirety of the “Chrisitan” music industry (mainstream or independent) as insincere, but we must understand that a considerable amount of money is involved here, and money has a way of tainting motivations. This includes our own motivations for seeking out Christian music.

The Gospel

What is “Christian” Music?

Why do we want an alternative to secular music? Is it only because we have been told that we should? Is it only because it is a part of the society we have become a part of?

No, and no. The fact of the matter is that secular music is, and always has been somewhat problematic for the faithful followers of Christ. There have always been explicit themes suggesting that the unacceptable is totally acceptable. There has always been a coarse language that is unbecoming. These present a danger if uncritically taken in consistently of tainting our thoughts. However, the real danger is what secular music leaves out. Secular songs say a lot, but they can never say the whole truth because as they are secular, they reject the whole truth.

We Christians love the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We might like some secular music in so much as it captures some truth, but we can’t be fully satisfied with songs that fall sort of telling us the whole truth. So, we want our own music that reinforces the true reality rather than challenging it. We want sons that speak of true beauty without distorting it. We have always wanted this, and God has clearly intended for us to have it. God put music into the Bible, well lyrics anyway, in the Psalms, in Song of Solomon, and in other portions of the Old, and arguably New Testaments.

Music is a gift from God.

As a brief aside, when we say that secular music has always had problems, we mean always. It is popular to say that the current music scene is much worse than what came before, and perhaps in terms of explicit and crude lyrics (not to mention musical merit) there is a case to be made. There is, however, nothing new under the sun and everything we might condemn in the latest album from Taylor Swift was present in Frank Sinatra’s work as well.

When we offer praise to God for such good gifts we naturally want to do so in an authentic voice. We want to sound like ourselves. So, when a rock’n’roll band gets saved they would naturally praise God by rocking for the King. When a folk is drawn to Jesus, we would expect him to worship through folk songs. It doesn’t always happen because, for some, the old musical genre is too much tainted with negative associates to be redeemed in their hearts: and for them, it ought to be abandoned. For many though, playing different genres of music is simply an honest expression of the newfound reality.

So, there is a legitimate reason to have Christian music from the perspective of both the consumer and the creator. We might also add that there is some use for Christian music as an evangelistic tool, and a discipleship aid as well; meaning that there is also a ministry motivation to make Christian music. Now, to really fulfill the legitimate demand for Christian music we must have legitimate Christian music. So, we return to our original question.

Before positing (placing into your mind) an answer, let us state very clearly what Christian music is not. It is not a sound. Chrisitan music does not sound like any particular thing, it does not fit nicely into a sonic compartment like other genres because it is not a genre. To put it another way, Christian music could appear in any genre that is not defined as being inherently anti-Christian; black-metal is the only genre of music I am aware of that is defined as being anti-Christian.

To clarify, we are speaking of Christian music, not Church music. Church music is music intended for corporate worship, and it must have sonic constraints as it must be accessible to a whole congregation to sing. In Church music, the instrumentation serves the lyrics.

The lyrics are what matters in all Christian music. It is the lyrical contents, and the lyrical contents alone that makes a song Chrisitan. Christian music tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This leave opens the possibility for Christians to create songs about anything and everything.

Chrisitan artists are not confined to singing exclusively about theology, but their songs must be theologically sound. They do not always have to sing about Jesus, but their songs must always account for His presence. A Christian song does not have to be upbeat or positive, look at Psalm 42 and 88.

A Chrisitan could sing about sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. A Chrisitan could not praise sex outside of marriage, encourage the use of illegal drugs, or portray rock’n’roll as anything more than a type of music. It is not that they can’t say as much as their secular counterparts, it is that they have much more to say!

We think there is a strong Biblical case to be made for clarity in lyrics. It is not helpful to leave the audience confused as to whether we are singing about Jesus or our girlfriend. It is helpful to leave the truth in doubt when we are called to speak the truth in love.

There are a lot of artists past and present who explore all of life in light of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in no uncertain terms. In our own individual lives, the sounds that resonate with us can be very helpful in speaking truth into our lives. When it comes to Christian music we can have our pet sounds in our private walks, but we must always seek the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when the song proclaims to be truthful by proclaiming itself “Chrisitan.”

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Timothy Andrew
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Timothy Andrew

Timothy Andrew

Tim is the Founder of Lord's Library. He believes the Bible commands us to minister "as of the ability which God giveth" (1 Peter 4:11). Tim aspires to be as The Lord's mouth by "taking forth the precious from the vile" (Jeremiah 15:19) and witnessing The Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15: 1-4) to the whole world.

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