Is There Such a Thing as “Christian” Music?
Christ's redemption extends to all of creation, and thus includes the redemption of music.
As a young teenager growing up in a very conservative church context, I often heard older people loudly declare that rock music was of the devil. Anyone who grew up in evangelical circles in the past 50 years or so would likely have heard similar things.
Many Christians have a narrow view of creation that does not go beyond the physical stuff we can see and touch. However, the Bible repeatedly asserts God is the creator of all of life, and thus creation encompasses the whole of our creaturely existence, including the norms and laws and structures God has woven into the fabric of reality that guide and give shape to our life on this earth, and enable us to live in conformity with his will.
What is problematic, then, is the idea that the forms in which the lyrics of songs are communicated to us have no significance. If this is true, the underlying assertion is that music is not something that is normed by the laws and structures of creation, and, ultimately, the conclusion must be drawn that God is not sovereign over music.
To be sure, the idea of music being normed by the laws and structures of creation is a very complicated one, because it is exceedingly difficult to define what that actually looks like. All of us are aware that there is a great deal of bad music out there, and many of us will probably agree on what that is. \
But what does good music sound like? That is a very difficult question to answer, not least because each of us has different opinions and tastes when it comes to music. I do not intend to enter into an exhaustive discussion of that question here, nor do I intend to put forward any suggestions as to what the answer(s) might be.
With the aim of setting up something of a framework in which to discuss these things, however, let me say that I believe the starting point of this conversation is the concept of beauty. Good music is often judged by whether or not we consider it to be beautiful and pleasing to the ear.
For this reason, we need to begin by asking the more fundamental question of what beauty is. Can it be defined? Or is it, as our culture suggests, entirely subjective, a matter of beauty being in the eye (or in this case, the ear) of the beholder?
Far from it. As theologians down through the centuries have argued, our standards of beauty must be rooted in the supremely beautiful one, God himself. He is the one by whom all beauty must be judged and evaluated. In the case of music, then, we can say good and beautiful music honors and glorifies God by conforming to the standards of beauty he has woven into the fabric of creation.
As with all of creation, though, music too has been affected by the incursion of sin into the world. This accounts for the glut of bad music we are all too familiar with.
But Christ’s redemption extends to all of creation, and thus includes the redemption of music.