Question: “Should a Christian listen to secular music?”
Answer: The question of whether a Christian should listen to secular music is one that many Christians struggle with. There are many secular musicians who are immensely talented. Secular music can be entertaining and/or educational. There are many secular songs that have catchy melodies, thoughtful insights, and positive messages. In determining whether or not a Christian should listen to secular music, there are three primary factors to consider: (1) the purpose of music, (2) the style of music, and (3) the content of the lyrics.
(1) The purpose of music. Is music designed solely for worship, or did God also intend music to be soothing and/or entertaining? The most famous musician in the Bible, King David, primarily used music for the purpose of worshipping God (see Psalm 4:1; 6:1; 54:1; 55:1; 61:1; 67:1; 76:1). However, when King Saul was tormented by evil spirits, he would call on David to play the harp in order to soothe him (1 Samuel 16:14-23). The Israelites also used musical instruments to warn of danger (Nehemiah 4:20) and to surprise their enemies (Judges 7:16-22). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul instructs Christians to encourage one another with music: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19). So, while the primary purpose of music does seem to be worship, the Bible definitely allows music to be used for other purposes.
(2) The style of music. Sadly, the issue of music styles can be very divisive among Christians. There are Christians who adamantly demand that no musical instruments be used. There are Christians who only desire to sing the “old faithful” hymns. There are Christians who want more upbeat and contemporary music. There are Christians who claim to worship best in a “rock concert” type of environment. Instead of recognizing these differences as personal preferences and cultural distinctions, some Christians declare their preferred style of music to be the only “biblical” one, and declare all other forms of music as ungodly at best or at worst, satanic.
The Bible nowhere condemns any particular style of music. The Bible nowhere declares any form of musical instrument to be ungodly. The Bible mentions numerous kinds of string instruments and wind instruments. While the Bible does not specifically mention drums, it does mention other percussion instruments (Psalm 68:25; Ezra 3:10). Nearly all of the forms of modern music are variations and/or combinations of the same types of music instruments, played at different speeds or with heightened emphasis. There is no biblical basis to declare any particular style of music to be ungodly or outside of God’s will.
(3) The content of the lyrics. Since neither the purpose of music nor the style of music are determinant as to whether a Christian should listen to secular music, the content of the lyrics must be considered. While not specifically speaking of music, Philippians 4:8 is an excellent guide as to what we should listen for in the lyrics of music, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” If those are the things we should be thinking about, surely also those are the things we should invite into our minds through music and lyrics. Can the lyrics in an entirely secular song be true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy? If the answer is yes, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with a Christian listening to a secular song of that nature.
At the same time, it is abundantly clear that much of secular music does not meet the standard of Philippians 4:8. Secular music often upholds immorality and violence while demeaning or belittling purity and integrity. If a song glorifies what opposes God, a Christian should not purposefully listen to it. However, there are many secular songs that have no mention of God, but still uphold godly values, such as honesty, purity, and integrity. If a love song promotes the sanctity of marriage and/or the purity of true love–but does not mention God or the Bible—such a song can still be listened to and enjoyed.
It is a fact that whatever a person allows to occupy his mind will sooner or later determine his speech and his actions. This is the premise behind Philippians 4:8 and Colossians 3:2,5: establishing wholesome thought patterns. Second Corinthians 10:5 says we should “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” These Scriptures give a pretty clear picture of the kind of music we SHOULD NOT listen to.
Obviously, the best kind of music we can listen to is that which praises and glorifies God. There are very talented Christian musicians in nearly every musical genre, ranging from rock, to rap, to reggae. There is nothing inherently wrong with any particular style of music. It is the lyrics that determine whether a song is “acceptable” for a Christian to listen to. But if a style of secular music, whether in the music itself or in the lyrics, leads you to think about or get involved in something that does not glorify God – it should be avoided.