God Gave Rock ‘N Roll to You

As I grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist church, perhaps the most explosive topic discussed at any youth group was rock music. It was, at best, worldly and not edifying, and, at worst filled with Satanic messages generated in the pit of hell.

One of the popular scares at the time was that of “backmasking” in which musicians would allegedly hide Satanic messages which could be heard when the music was played backwards. For example, when you played Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven backwards, you would supposedly hear messages telling you to cut school, disobey your parents, worship the Devil, vote for democrats, and start reading the NIV. What was never completely clear to me was that, if indeed, artists were hiding these backward messages in their songs, precisely what that meant for those of us who enjoyed listening to our music played forwards.

So I thought I would explore a couple of questions about music and give my perspective and opinion.

Is It OK to Listen to Secular Music (Especially Secular Rock Music)?

In my experience growing up in the church, there seemed to be two reactions to rock music. Either it was OK for us teenagers to listen to “Christian” rock music, but not secular music or (probably a more common opinion in my circles) rock music itself was intrinsically evil and could not be redeemed. Either way, secular rock music was frowned upon. We were often told of the missionary family that was stationed in the deepest part of Africa and when the natives heard the missionary children playing their Christian rock music, they said, “Why are you playing the Devil’s music? That’s the exact sort of music we played in our religious ceremonies before we were saved.” This story always made me want to ask the youth leader or Sunday School teacher where the natives were plugging in their electric guitars, but being a model Baptist child, I always resisted that urge.

However, my reaction to secular music (including rock music) in general is that like everything in life, it must be experience with discernment. There is nothing inherently wrong with any sort of music genre. I will be the first to admit that specific songs should be avoided. However, if you are to single out secular music as a whole as being off limits for Christians, I think that you must be consistent in your worldview and avoid all art, television, movies, sporting events, the Internet, restaurants that serve alcohol, etc. I’ve never figured out what makes music different from everything else in life.

I think that we can actually harm our children’s’ ability to develop discernment by categorically forbidding them to listen to secular music. Instead, we should discuss with them the message that is being portrayed by the artist. John MacArthur in What the Bible Says About Parenting, makes a good point about movies that I think could be applied to music as well. (I’m paraphrasing because we have loaned out our copy of the book.) MacArthur says that instead of forbidding children to see Star Wars because of the new agey religious aspects of the series, we should take the opportunity to discuss the messages in the movie and teach them to contrast that with the Bible’s message.

Can a Christian be a Secular Rock Star?

I think it’s probably very difficult. But then again, it is also very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 18:18-30). There are several well known musicians who claim to be Christians – Johnny Cash (though that’s OK because he’s a country music star), Bono, Alice Cooper (I know I’ll get some heat for this one), and, at one time, Bob Dylan.

My response is that I have no reason to doubt their testimonies. However, I would also not hold them up as necessarily being mature Christians. I think the problem is that Christians are always looking for a star to be on our side. When someone well known professes Christ, they get two reactions. Some instantly hold them up to be a Christian leader when really they, like all of us, need to grow in their walk. Others reject them outright as not being sincere, because, well, just look at them…

We Have Christian Rock Bands, Why Bother at all with Secular Music?

Well, one reason is because, we are missing out on the art of music if we limit our choices to solely Christian music. Frankly, secular music is just generally better. Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent Christian bands out there. Jars of Clay, for example, is as good as anyone in the secular arena. But I believe that if we practice discernment, we can appreciate secular music as a gift of God as we do with other forms of art.

I’d love to hear your opinions (or disagreements)…


3 Responses

  1. Ann, thanks for the comments. I think you have expressed an important point about pushing our children towards “forbidden fruit.” We need to teach our children to discern because we won’t always be there to discern for them.


    I’d double check on that, but my backwards record player is broken.

  2. I always thought the guys in Led Zeppelin preferred the Living Bible…

  3. Interesting post. I do not cast out music just because it is not Christian, although it must be good quality. And taste is something that cannot be discussed…
    If we set out to scrutinize music as to its intentions and hidden (?) meanings, we will end up paranoid. Mostly it is our common sense and the taste for beauty that decides. Having said that I must admit that when I became a Christian my standards were risen as to the texts of songs, and it pains me to listen to shallow and humanistic whinings of some performers. So, I guess, it goes both ways. But keeping the children strictly from the secular music may eventually push them towards the “forbidden fruit”.
    Balance is advised, as always…
    Just my three-pence 🙂

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