The Delusion of Secular Music

Hillsong United. Chris Tomlin. TobyMac. Maybe a little Kari Jobe, or some Crowder? For those of you who grew up in this ever-online Passion generation, you (most-likely) know these names almost better than you know Veggie Tales’ top-ten Bible characters.

We cherish their music. Who doesn’t? Each of them have uniquely grasped a piece of the Lord’s character and brought it to light in a fashion that is awe-inspiring, snagging the fronts of our shirts abruptly and yanking us into the presence of God. A part of us learned how to worship with these songs. The impact of these artists is why we go to such lengths to creatively express our own praise to the Lord now, as songwriters and musicians.

It speaks volumes that these bands have written songs—decades old—that are still being sung regularly in church services. It just proves to show that they were successful in capturing both the beauty of God and the correct emotional response to Him.

But is that particular emotional outcome dependent on the “Christian” genre?

Check this.

Have you ever been listening to a mainstream song, and halfway through the chorus you have a mini-nervous breakdown because you realize that the Lord is present within their own creativity?

Like, WHAT? Remember when Chance the Rapper performed Finish Line/Drown a few days before Christmas on SNL, and we were all like, “Yaas, LAWD, we goin’ to church today!” Here are a few lines:

“I may cry a river—I may cry a thousand tears,
But you take each drop and you wash me new.”

It was a cool moment. But the Lord’s influence on an artist isn’t always as obvious. Growing up in Christian homes with Christian parents and Christian songs, sometimes it’s hard to make the distinction between music that’s God-inspired and music that is disrespectful to who the Lord is. After all, there’s a lot of music out there that we should reject—our minds should stay holy.

But there are bands like Colony House, Underoath or Johnnyswim—musicians and creatives coming to the surface who’ve realized that their craft allows them to praise the Lord in alternative ways. And it’s an easy entry point for us to continue exploring other artists’ endeavors.

Artists are struggling to get from point A to point B…We’re trying to do the same thing.

And so we dive in. We see that “Christian music,” isn’t a black and white issue anymore. Jon Foreman says this on dividing the so-called sacred and secular:

“I think we like to put things in boxes. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku and parking spaces feel like progress. We like geometrical lines that can divide one thing from another. I don’t find many of those things in nature; it’s fluid and changing and the tides go in and out. The way I see people is like that. We are all hurting human souls that desperately are looking for hope and meaning and purpose and truth and friendship and belonging. Some of us are looking at the bottom of a bottle or the bottom of a checkbook; we’re all looking to different things to satisfy these needs and longings. For me, I don’t see delineations in the people around me—if anything that’s God’s job—my job is just to love people.”

There are artists out there who are struggling to get from point A to point B and make it all the way to Jesus. They have stories to tell. They have hurt to work through just like anyone else. They need and deserve an outlet. Chance the Rapper, Justin Bieber, Mumford and Sons, etc—they’re all desperately trying to find the ideal way to express themselves. Honestly, it’s a raw and beautiful experience. We’re trying to do the same thing.

Here’s a fun exercise: Only one of these lyrics comes from what most consider a Christian artist.

“Old Jerusalem, New Jerusalem Comes like this beast with a ball of fire
They poisoned the scriptures and gave us the pictures of false messiahs It was all a lie,
Mystery babylon, tumbling down Satan’s establishment crumbling down.”

“So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s land”

“I’ll keep swingin’ for the fences.
It’s like this heart is defenseless
Against the passion that’s pumpin’ through my veins
Blood, sweat, tears, it’s a callin’
And if I can’t walk, then I’m crawlin’
It might flicker, but they can’t kill the flame.”

“I put my heart into your hands
Here’s my soul to keep
I let you in with all that I can
You’re not hard to reach
And you’ve blessed me with the best gift
That I’ve ever known
You give me purpose
Yeah, you’ve given me purpose.”