The Devil’s Music: Christian Contemporary Music And Its Critics

It seems that for a style of music that attempts to promote a message of love that Christian Contemporary Music doesn’t receive very much love itself. Christian Rock and Rap bands and performers (like TobyMAC, his former band dc Talk, and the like) have ignorant bigots pronouncing their music as satanic [1]. Let us examine two interrelated problems with Christian Contemporary Music (hereafter shortened to CCM) and its critics: what is the line between what is godly and satanic in the field of music, and what does this mean for our own hymnals and musical habits in general, beyond the field of CCM.

According to its critics, Christian Rock is a tool for Satan to deceive the young, and that no rock music of any kind can be Christian [2]. Along with the usual statements against the ungodly lifestyles of many secular musicians (along with the well-documented struggles of many “Christian” musicians with alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual sins, and the like, problems which of course are to be found in spades among the ministry and general membership as well), there are criticisms of the satanic nature of rhythm. Some go as far as to argue that there is a fundamental difference between the timbrels and loud cymbals (and accompanying dancing) that are part of God’s authorized musical worship (see Exodus 15:20, Psalm 150:4-5) and the drums and rhythm that mark rock, rap, and other forms of CCM. The Bible, though, through its placement of rhythmic instruments (like cymbals and timbrels) and dancing as part of the accepted biblical standard of worship, makes a clear demarcation line based on instruments alone very difficult. Harps, violas, guitars, and banjos (as well as pianos) are all stringed instruments, after all (see Psalm 150:4).

Seeing, therefore, that the problems and immorality of many CCM acts are shared (lamentably) by the larger Christian community and that the Bible itself places stringed and rhythmic instruments within the acceptable instruments by which to praise Him, we must therefore seek to make sense of the vehemence of some people for CCM. Some of the hatred seems to be racist and ageist in nature. Rock & Roll and Rap specifically come from the much-maligned youth and urban communities. Like Gospel music, Rock & Roll and Rap spring from the mixture of European musical traditions with those of Africa. Is something inherently sinful simply because it comes from Africa? If we are hostile to Christian rap, are we as hostile to “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho” or “Amazing Grace?” Are not those people who brought (pagan) Africans across the Middle Passage as slaves and then sought to exploit them economically and in other ways responsible for bringing African rhythms and traditions onto these shores in the first place? Why blame those who had no say in coming here?

For if it is improper to mix the Christian truths of scripture with “secular” forms of music like rap and rock, would it not be equally sinful to mix Christian truths with any forms of secular music, whether they be European or African or from any culture? Is it not immoral then to sing songs like “Let All Things Now Living,” whose music comes from the Welsh folk song “Ash Grove [3]”? Is European paganism acceptable but somehow African paganism is not? And if European paganism is not acceptable in music, then we ought to consider our other pagan-influenced religious customs like the Trinity, and Christmas and Easter and Sunday observance. If the grounds of attacking CCM is its influence by African paganism, we have a lot to clean up in our European house as well. And if it is improper to mix Christian truths with secular musicians like the Beatles and the Byrds (one of whose hits, “Turn Turn Turn” was itself an adaptation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), then it is also improper to sing “secular” songs like Handel’s Messiah and Xerxes, Mendehlsson’s Elijah, or anything by Bach, Brahms, or Mozart. What’s good for secular musicians of the 20th century is good for those of the 17th, 18th, or 19th century too. We must not judge with partiality, after all (James 2:8-13). Judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.

What does this mean about our opinions towards CCM? I am not sure myself what to think of it—I feel ambivalent about it. On the one hand, I see nothing improper with seeking to explain the truths of God in the idiom of the youth or of other cultures. Are those who bash the satanic influence of Christian rock music doing anything to preach God’s truth as a witness to the youth, or are they merely insulting our intelligence and anyone who tries to reach out to the lost and struggling among our poor and minority populations? On the other hand, I think there are legitimate concerns about many efforts to water down doctrinal truths and to make church more about a spectacle to appeal to the masses than a sincere examination of biblical truth. I feel no need to single out CCM alone in this—it is a general problem of our entire Christian cultural enterprise.

At its core, the problem is this: what uniquely and genuinely Christian culture does the Church have to provide to its members and to the world? Do we have genuinely Christian novelists, musicians, artists, historians, mathematicians, scientists, filmmakers, journalists, engineers, farmers, judges, economists, teachers, and other professions, all teaching and practicing and applying God’s law in their respective professional and personal lives? Until we do, we will merely be baptizing secular culture with the veneer of Christianity. If this is unacceptable we need to have a genuine and complete understanding of what God’s culture is supposed to look like so we can be missionaries of that culture, both teaching the Church (which plainly has no idea what a genuinely biblical culture looks and acts like) as well as the world at large (which has even less of an idea than the Church).

Right now we are falling down on the job, and we probably don’t have much time left to learn how to do the job, so we might as well be shining some lights and hitting the books, rather than cursing the darkness. The critics of CCM are as much to blame for their purely negative attacks as CCM is for importing the latest secular musical trends and baptizing them as Christians. The process started a long time ago, and it’s high time to assess what sort of secular and “satanic” baggage we all are walking around with ourselves before we start pointing fingers at others. Are we prepared to show our own simon-pure biblical behavior? Or do we plead excuses and special privileges for those pagan traditions we happen to like. By the same standard we judge others we will be judged ourselves, and I think most of us would not fare very well by the biblical standard. Let us work on doing better—we have a lot of work to do.




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Biblical History, Christianity, History, Music History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to The Devil’s Music: Christian Contemporary Music And Its Critics

  1. David Lewis says:

    Music is a really sensitive issue. When some want to say one type of music is God’s Music and other types are Satanic I think this is being narrow-minded. God made the 70 families of humanity. He designed them to look differenlty, dress differently, eat differenty, sing differentkly. God is the author of diversity. I like certain types of music that are far too heavy for most people. Musically, I am a German and a Russian. I get criticized because I like Mahler. I feel musical tastes are an extension of one’s personality. God made the Thai and the West Africans and gave them their temperaments. Their music flows from their temperraments. Within reason and the bounds of his laws, I believe God is quite open to a great deal of diversity. A Japanese Church in the Millennium will be very different from a Yoruba, Bavarian or Texan church.

    • You are absolutely correct, and that’s the point I was making. One does not need to look very hard to find “classical” music that has been used for satanic purposes–the corruption of Psalm 87’s message of grace triumphing over race into “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” set to Haydn’s Deuschland Deuschland Uber Alles (the national anthem of Hitler’s Germany) is a perfect example of how this can happen in a European context. It is my personal belief that content is the key–if the music (or anything else) glorifies the self, the tribe, or the nation, it is idolatrous. If it serves for the glory of God, then I am not concerned with the instrumentation that goes with it. Ultimately, God is the judge of what pleases Him–and He made us to please Him with different tongues, with different instruments, and with different gifts. It is not our place to condemn others simply for being different or for performing music a different way.

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  3. Joe says:

    This really is a great topic, and I appreciate that you wrote it Nathan, a job well done, again. It is a sad thing that some people pick on something without thoroughly investigating the underpinnings, and even sadder that so many people agree with them after hearing just a few obvious facts.
    Music, all music, when heard and where there is a sense of joy, love, peace, or freedom emanating from the whole, can give a person the personal perception of him/her singing to God or vise-versa.
    As a practice, I have always done this. With love songs, it is easy to relate them in a personal context towards God. As the verses always are about a person who pines or is appreciative of someone and the love they bring. The same applies to peace, joy and freedom songs.
    There are many songs in the rock genre where it is obvious the lyrics are directed towards God. George Harrison of the Beatles is one good example with songs like “My Sweet Lord” and “Give me Love”. The list would be so long but we haven’t the space to list them.
    My point is that I feel it would be more in the way of how a person can find God reference in all music as much as one can find the other type. When I hear songs like “Hello it’s Me” by Todd Rundgren, I often relate it to myself singing it to God and it leaves me feeling closer to Him as all songs should.
    Music is a medium from which we can heal emotionally, and as we realize and learn to relate all things to God, then music becomes something of a communication tool or medium from which we find the love, peace, joy, and freedom of Godly recognition and acknowledgement in our lives.
    We have one judge and we will all stand before Him on that great day. Some will wish they had saw the point of music as such a spiritual medium rather than of judging those who listen to it, or judging the intent of the songwriter. We get out of music what we put into it, analyzing it can be distressing to a point where it might be grieving God as I feel certain that God loves music and dance.

    • Indeed. There are surely some people who pervert the purpose of music for purposes of immoral behavior and sexuality, and such behavior will lead to judgment. But this is a perversion of a good thing, rather than being an evil one. The fact that God Himself designed an entire musical service for his tabernacle and temple (served by the Levites, the religious leadership of the time) suggests that music is of great importance to Him. We ought to follow the biblical example and examine what use music has to God rather than be carried away by our own prejudices.

      Interestingly enough, the principle of using an obvious “love song” as an allegory of the love of God for man (and vice versa) was the biblical book of the Song of Solomon, which Jews see as allegory for God’s love for Israel and Christians see as allegory of Christ’s love for the Church. I personally see the Song of Solomon as both a literal defense of the proper place of godly sexuality within marriage as well as having allegorical significance for both Israel and the Church (which is spiritual Israel, after all). After all, and this is a very deep matter, human sexuality is part of the longing for the “oneness” that is shared by God and Jesus Christ, a human shadow of that spiritual state of perfect unity which we all hope to enjoy the substance of in the future.

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  11. Truth Detector says:

    What a topic! I much prefer the old hymns accompanied by a pipe organ and choir so no drums and guitars in church please … however, I do enjoy so many rock/ pop tunes from decades gone by however, today’s SEXUAL scene within music and swearing too is so dangerous! Comparing Dianna Ross, Karen Carpenter, Petula Clark, Abba, Jewel, Celine Dion, Barbara Streisand, Doris Day to ………… Britney, Christina, Kate, Brianna, Ga Ga, Myley, Pink and even Lopez to some extent, one can see the deterioration of music brought on by modern female performers using SEX to lure in and make profit. Madonna to me may be the most disgusting she Devil of all! So many Rappers & Heavy Metal acts are in the same boat too and you know what, each of these so called artists know what they are dong to our youth and do not give a DAM! Beyounce included. It is high time that the wholesome performers of the past like the Neil Diamonds and Diana Rosses get OFF THEIR behinds from retirement and speak out against the ruination of Top 40.

    • I think it would be hard to speak against that ruination, since what was merely hinted at by Dinah Shore (to give one example) has been fully realized in their contemporary followers. Even those who speak out against the corruption of the present day, like Gloria Loring (the mother of singer Robin Thicke, whose “Blurred Lines” caused such controversy with Miley Cyrus this past year at the MTV awards) are somewhat compromised by being agents of that corruption in less nasty forms (Loring, for example, sang about friends with benefits in “Friends And Lovers” a generation ago). It’s all such a mess.

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  13. margo says:

    I just can’t picture the angels in Heaven praising God with contemporary rock/rap music. Complete with a smokey rock-concert atmosphere. It just doesn’t seem like it would please Him. Rock and rap music have a rebellious quality. Rebellion is what the devil is all about. God is all about peace and reverence. It seems like the devil is using contemporary “praise” music to insult God.

    • Many people feel that way, but let us not confuse our own thoughts and prejudices with the ideas of God. As He hasn’t said anything about rock and rap music in His word, nor shown a hostility towards wordplay or percussion instruments, let us worship God as best as we understand and let Him tell us what He likes and what He hates.

      • margo says:

        It’s not a matter of my “own thoughts and prejudices.” It’s a matter of common sense and knowing God through the Bible. God doesn’t mention a lot of things but that doesn’t mean he condones them.

      • Just because you dislike something does not mean that God does. God certainly hates immorality, but there are a lot of things that self-professed Christians consider ‘immoral’ that are highly praised or even commanded in the Bible (like dancing, drinking in moderation, and so on).

      • migsly says:

        Just read the Bible and the Spirit will tell you what God appreciates. That’s the only proof I need.

      • margo says:

        “Christian” rock and rap style origins come from the dark crevices of Africa. It was incantations to drum up demons which possessed people. It has no place in a church. The dancing the Almighty commanded was joyful, not said style that drummed up demons. The God I know personally through scripture is One who would detest so-called Christian rock and rap. And I do know the Mind of God through scripture. So please go back to traditional praise.

      • If you’re going to make claims like that you’re going to need to back them up.

  14. migsly says:

    I thought it was common knowledge.

    • A broad brush statement like that needs to be proven, especially since many Christian hymns come from questionable European folk origins.

      • migsly says:

        Just read the Bible and the Spirit will tell you what God appreciates. That’s the only proof I need.

      • How do you know the right spirits are speaking to you?

      • migsly says:

        That question would be more appropriately put to you and your kind.

      • You speak as if you know who I am.

      • migsly says:

        The way you worship is a sign of a devil’s servant.

      • I don’t happen to worship as you would think; I do, however, think that those who would judge one nation’s folk traditions differently than others because of race are definitely not God’s servants.

      • migsly says:

        Voodoo was born of Africa. That is fact. It’s not racist. You sound like a liberal. That in itself is a ticket to hell.

      • Yes, but we’re not talking about voodoo, we’re talking about percussion instruments, not too dissimilar from those spoken of in Psalm 150. Try reading your Bible, and reading less into what others say.

      • migsly says:

        Voodoo required percussion instruments to conjure up demons. So we ARE talking about voodoo.

        Now, if YOU’D try reading your Bible you’d find that the percussion instruments of the Bible were not played the way they are today. Today it’s look-at-me-aren’t-i-cool-get-down-baby-shake-that-booty-buy-my-cd’s. In the Bible it was look-at-God-He-is-great-rejoice-and-praise-Him-give-Him-tithes-we-are-nothing-without-Him.

      • That is a question of motivation, not of instrumentation. I agree that the motive is often bad, but it was often bad in ancient Israel as well, and God did not ban instruments because they were used corruptly.

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  19. Christia Bucher says:

    Interesting conversation. Joe said (2011) that George Harrison was obviously singing to God, but it would have to be god, because in it he clearly says Hare Krishna, which is not to the GOD of the Bible, our Great Creator, and the Saviour, but to a false god. Just sayin…

  20. Christia Bucher says:

    In addition to what i just posted, a false god is only the devil…

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