The Core Message of Music

I am participating in a bloggy-go-round of sorts with Keri at Pop Parables and Donald at Project Mathetes on the topic of Christian and Secular music. Below are some of my thoughts…

Music is a wonderful thing. In fact, God can speak magnificently through the melodic whispers of a singer’s voice, the quiet strum of a guitar, and the rolling beat of a djembe drum. Music soothes and comforts; it speaks and inspires. There is something quite special when you experience God’s quiet whisper through song.

On the flip side, it is also safe to say that not all music glorifies God. Lyrics can also spew hatred and lies. Emotions can be evoked that are contrary to the truth laid out in God’s word. When the layers are peeled back in any song, however, something greater is exposed: a story of redemption or one of destruction.

I believe music, at it’s root, points to a need for God.

I think as Christians we try to compartmentalize things so much that we become judgmental towards the other side of the coin. I was that way growing up: the driving thought behind my snobbery was, “Why listen to secular music when there is always a Christian alternative?”

While that was where I was at in high school, I failed to see that, regardless of the type, music expresses the condition of the heart. No matter the artist, lyric, or beat there is a person on the other side pointing toward a need–a need to experience something greater.

In the end, that is how I want my children to understand music. As a parent, I’m in a place of authority right now to filter what my toddlers listen to (no matter how hard they beg, they are not listening to Young Jeezy). It won’t, however, always be like that. Ultimately, I want to teach them the value of words and ideas, and give them the freedom to discover the joys of both the Christian and Secular genres.

Disclaimer: at the moment my girls’ favorite song is “You Belong To Me” by none other than Taylor Swift. I know what you thinking, “You have two girls and a wife. I could have guessed that in less than two seconds.” True. They also like Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham. Oh yeah, and J-Biebs. Lord, help me with that one!

What are your favorite bands? In what ways does music inspire you?

Photo credit: Inderjit Singh

40 Comments

  • Donald Borsch Jr

    February 25, 2011

    D,

    The wait was worth it.

    Your maturity shows how you can balance the sacred and the secular as you do, keeping an eye/ear on the influence secular music might have on your daughters, but not running about screaming that all secular music of of the devil.

    You are pointing others to a deeper walk with our Father, using music as your platform. And rightly so, because as you stated, music points to our need for God.

    Nicely done, sir. Great way to begin this rainy and cold Friday here in CT!

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      Sure thing, thanks for your thoughts, D. Like you said, I think ultimately it needs to point to a deeper walk with our Father. That needs to be the end-goal.

      Reply
      • Donald Borsch Jr

        February 26, 2011

        D,

        Keeping what you have just said in mind, I suppose my purchasing the phenomenal “Anne Murray and Slayer World Tour 2011” cd isn’t a good choice, is it? :)

        Not that I mind Slayer, no. But that Anne Murray…yikes!

        Reply
  • Jim F

    February 25, 2011

    I had my Pharisee stage in life where everyone who was a Christian who listened to “Devil Music” was sinning and needed to repent because they are not as “Holy” I was. Then I began to grow and began to hear secular music from the perspective that it could actually help me to see God and to grow. It was a long process that was quite the journey. I had many people who lovingly challenged my view. Right now in my MP3 player you will find 80’s music, cold play, U2, along with Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, and a wide variety that includes country to R&B to Big band. I have a teenage daughter and we discuss music and she like her dad is very eclectic. We have had many discussions about it and I am sure we will have more.

    Good thoughts Dustin.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      I’m right there with you, Jim. I was the same way. Also, looks like we have similar tastes in music!

      Reply
  • John

    February 25, 2011

    Great thoughts Dustin. I tried to write about this once but you did a much better job than I could. I used to be of the mindset that a Christian could only listen to Christian music. Thankfully God allowed me to see that listening to “non-Christian” music is ok, as long as the content does not cause a person to sin. So that’s my standpoint now.

    Right now my two favorite groups are Drew Holcomb and the Neighors and The Civil Wars. Neither are “Christian.”

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      Thanks for the comment, John. Regardless of the music, even as adults, it’s still important to filter what we listen to. Also, I love The Civil Wars also!

      Reply
  • seekingpastor

    February 25, 2011

    I find it interesting how a some love songs that point horizontally (from person to person) can very easily be pointed vertically (from us to God). For instance, the song “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” can be a beautiful song of worship if pointed upward to God.

    Reply
    • Keri

      February 25, 2011

      I really like your words here…love songs that point horizontally can very easiliy be pointed vertically. Amen to that!

      Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      Dude, Rod Stweart (and Van Morrison) FTW!

      Reply
  • Keri

    February 25, 2011

    Dustin…completely echo Donald’s statements. You have a way for saying a lot in a little amount of words.

    I also really like how you tied the parenting aspect into this. I think it is important for us as parents to teach our kids how to make good choices, in all areas, even music. Music can be such a point of contention in the adolescent years. But, for many teens it is the way in which they can define, recognize and process their feelings. I hope that when my boys are teens I can be open enough to seeing their music for how they see it. And, open to having loving, thoughtful discussions with them about the pros and cons of any artist and their words.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      >>> “loving, thoughtful discussions…”

      Yes!! I know that I have a measure of control/authority/responsibility because my girls are so young, but I want to encourage and foster those discussions (like you said) because they will inevitably come up when they are older.

      Reply
  • Michelle

    February 25, 2011

    Personally, I struggle with music. I am VERY auditory. Words get stuck in my head in no time and they have a very unique way of becoming a part of me. I think that this is true no matter what you listen to. The words remain. I’m not against secular music, but I will say, for me, I’ve made the choice to not listen to it. Although I do love me some Johnny Cash and I can laugh about the crap I used to listen to as a teenager. I sometimes ride with my sister to different places and she listens to Eminem. When I have to hear those words which are vulgar and angry, it weighs on me. If i’m grocery shopping, I always hear a song playing and the first thing I notice are the words being sung. My kids are no different.

    I agree with you Dustin, but as a personal choice (not a legalistic one) I know I want to breath in Jesus. So I choose my music wisely. I know people who say that making a big deal out of music is stupid. But I have a son with sensory problems and you know how they put his nervous system back into balance? Modified listening CD’s. You want to know what was on those CD’s? Mozart, Bach, Beethoven. It amazes me what listening to those CD’s did to him. He’s a different boy. And anyone who discredits music as not affecting us only need to look at where my son was 5 months ago..he was off balance, overly sensitive, scared of everything, and hyper. Now he is still spunky, but not hyper and he will sit at a desk and do work, he isn’t fearful and he is more organized and full of life. That isn’t to say that secular music made him that way, but listening to certain types of music put him back in place. Music affects our nervous system and our brain. What goes in our ears affects our whole body.

    Just a few thoughts ;). Ramble over.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      Michelle, always appreciate your thoughts. It has to be a personal choice on what music you listen to. The fact of the matter is that music affects us, whether we want to believe it or not. I completely agree with you.

      Thanks for sharing about your son – a real life, personal example of just that.

      Reply
  • Moe

    February 25, 2011

    this is so good Dustin. I don’t have anything else to say, but I think you, Keri and Donald have done a good job at pointing out the influence and beauty of music.

    All that is left for you to do is grab your guitar, Donald his drums and Keri her mic, and sing to us. Oh yes! Play a lovely melody for us! I’ll call you the “DoKeDu” band.

    *Justin Bieber rocks dude. Even if we don’t like to admit it.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      There is something quite magnetizing about JB. He has certainly Bieberized my girls a few times. :)

      And, I’m all for a jam sesh. Moe, you can be our breakdancer. What what!

      Reply
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  • Jason Vana

    February 25, 2011

    This might get me labeled as worldly, but most of my favorite artists aren’t Christian. I have found what you mentioned above to be true – “secular” songs can have the power to move us just as much as Christian songs.

    Some of my favorites are:
    Better Days by Goo Goo Dolls
    Haven’t Met You Yet by Michael Buble
    Her Diamonds by Rob Thomas
    All We Are by Matt Nathanson

    And more, I just don’t feel like filling up your comment box =D

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      Jason, certainly not worldly. Those are good songs. :) I enjoy your weekly Sunday music posts as well-they introduce me to new stuff!

      Reply
  • Sean Sabourin

    February 25, 2011

    Dustin,

    Enjoyed the post. Making the rounds on our computer and car is:

    Need To Breath
    Jesus Culture
    Mumford & Sons
    Band of Horses

    Have you ever watched the video series, “They Sold their Souls for Rock & Roll?” We show it to all our students at Teen Challenge. Pretty crazy!

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      I’ll have to check out that series. Is it on the internet?

      I’m so with you on those artists – Needtobreathe (love them); M&S (love them); BOH (just introduced to them, good stuff); And don’t know much about JC, but from what I’m told they produce some good worship tunes!

      Reply
  • kristinherdy

    February 25, 2011

    I think you’re right. I think music expresses the uniquely human longing to communte with our Creator and those things He created. Emotions, truths, the TRUTH, all worked out or struggled with through music.
    As I shared on Keri’s blog, it is often when I can worship through secular music that I know just how much God loves me, that he speaks to me through every channel possible.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 25, 2011

      “unique human longing” – I like how you put that Kristin. Thanks for sharing, as always!

      Reply
  • Lizzie

    February 26, 2011

    I’ll admit, I’ve been timid when it comes to secular music. Normally, I just relate to Christian music so well and I’m not really looking for anything else. But the invention of iPods and iTunes was a marvelous invention. With iTunes, you can get a single, clean song of a secular artist that you like whereas before you would have had to buy the whole CD full of songs you didn’t. So I have definitely taken advantage of that.

    Note: this is going to be a long comment. I love music.

    Some of my favorite bands/artists are: Barlowgirl, Bebo Norman, Nichole Nordeman, Rascal Flatts, Nora Roberts, and Mark Schultz.

    Music inspires me to be a better person, to draw closer to my God, and to appreciate beauty.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      February 26, 2011

      Lizzie, thanks for your thoughts. I truly believe everyone will have varying thoughts on this subject. It certainly will be personal to everyone. And you know? That’s totally okay.

      Oh, Bebo Norman. Saw him in concert years back when he came to my college campus and did a show for all the campus ministries at the time. “The Hammer Holds” is still one of my all-time favorites.

      Reply
      • Lizzie

        February 28, 2011

        Sorry for the late reply! How fun to see Bebo Norman live! I’d never heard “The Hammer Holds” before, and checked it out after you mentioned it. Beautiful lyrics, I really liked it!

        Reply
  • Bryan Thompson

    February 28, 2011

    Hi Dustin. I agree with your “no Young Jeezy” policy, my friend. My kids will find that off-limits as well. My 5 yr-old has a cute little innocent crush on Justin Bieber. She hasn’t heard his music but he is talked about at her school as you can well imagine.

    I have played this secular/sacred music line for a while, and I have been a worship pastor. At my church now, our band actually does “secular” radio-friendly songs each week during the offering time. Nothing offensive by any means, but our church is very much driven for the unchurched. And we reach a lot of unchurched. And the songs are usually related to the series or topic of the message. (This month it’s been about our money management and tithing, so one of the songs was the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.”)

    I often have found that I find more real-life application and God working behind the scenes in “secular” music than in the Christian music scene. I have worked with that industry in a few occasions and so much of what happens in the industry is all money related. And they’re all owned by the secular music giants anyway. It’s an industry like anything else. In the end, I think we have to find music that makes us feel GOOD about our lives, about the world, and that is uplifting. And I think anyone who is open to writing tunes like this can be used by God to write it. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      March 1, 2011

      You know, I’m a fan of playing relevant songs during church services. There are plenty of secular tunes that convey appropriate messages…. I’m all for that. Thanks for sharing, Bryan – I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

      Reply
  • Brandon

    February 28, 2011

    I love Leeland, Phil Wickham, Kristian Stanfill, Revive…and some more.

    Reply
  • Tony Alicea

    February 28, 2011

    Two killer quotes from this post:

    “I believe music, at it’s root, points to a need for God.”
    “music expresses the condition of the heart”

    Spot-freaking-on dude. I love your perspective on this.

    I couldn’t name my favorite bands because my comment would become a blog post. I’m a music fanatic. Okay a quick few from all over the genre map:

    Mutemath
    Blindside
    Underoath
    Ray Lamontagne
    Jesus Culture
    Nas
    John Mayer
    Anberlin

    I could go on but you’d fall asleep. Music is the food to my soul. I couldn’t live without it.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      March 1, 2011

      Dude, your cool points just went up 100% with the mention of Blindside and Mutemath. I also like that you have a nice little variety right there…

      Reply
  • ThatGuyKC

    February 28, 2011

    Two of my favorite bands are Third Day and Nickelback. I like a sound that makes me want to get up off my butt and do something. I’ll usually jam to these bands at the gym or even while I’m doing chores around the house.

    “Modern” worship music inspires me to be a better person and to connect with God. I’ve never felt so close to him as when I’m singing my guts out.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      March 1, 2011

      “get off your butt and do something” – that is awesome!
      I’ve seen Third Day in concert a few times… definitely helps as their hometown is right around the corner from where I’m at.. Good stuff!

      Reply
  • Sandy Sandmeyer

    March 2, 2011

    Until recently, I didn’t listen to Christian music exclusively. I have always loved pop music, classic rock, ambient music, classical. I just find now that my soul is edified more listening to Christian music. I’ve found in the last year that I’ve found my joy again. I’m the person I was when I was a kid; the one that smiled all the time. I really think it’s because I’m in a better place in my relationship with God and because I listen to music that fills my soul. The radio is on from 5:30 AM until I get home at 4 PM. It’s on every time I’m in the car and while I sit at my desk at work. Every once in a while, a Saturday night dance party hits the car radio, especially when the family is with me, but I’m happy listening to just Christian.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      March 3, 2011

      That’s great- music, whether we believe it or not, is influential… and if you listen to it a lot, if affects you. I appreciate your comment. Thanks!

      Reply
  • Michelle

    March 3, 2011

    Remembering fondly the days when we all listened to nothing more secular than the Supertones :) I now have a different perspective as well. Oftentimes, a non-Christian song can have a more gospel-oriented message than many Christian ones, especially since the Christian ones can have a very narrow doctrinal angle. But, if I could change one thing about the music I listened to growing up, it wouldn’t be that I’d listen to music with fewer curse words. As a young Christian girl, I think the songs that were most damaging to my understanding of the world were the “innocent” love songs I heard all the time. These songs, combined with what I was being taught in church about saving myself for marriage, led me to believe that God would send me an exceedingly romantic, tender, and godly husband, very early in adulthood. Now, at age 28 and still single, I’m starting to see that not only am I not entitled to that story, God is incapable of being anything but good to me, and often His good is other than mine. So sometimes I wish my young heart had been slightly less tainted by the croonings of infatuation, and more marinated in the perfect love that God has for me. Something to think about when you have daughters!

    Reply
    • Dustin

      March 4, 2011

      Supertones…. oh yes, oh yes. If I were to put a percentage to it, I think 10% of my life has been spent listening to the OC Supertones… :)
      Michelle, first off thanks for commenting–you bring up a really interesting perspective. What a reminder about the importance of emphasizing the truth in God’s worth over any message the world has to offer (including, like you mentioned, innocent love songs). Much to think about. Thanks for your perspective!

      Reply
  • jay sauser

    March 4, 2011

    interesting stuff man, interesting!

    Reply
    • dustin

      March 5, 2011

      thanks, jay. always appreciate the “stop by”!

      Reply

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