Is Christian Rock Unbiblical? Part 1. The Common Objections

Is Christian rock Biblical? The objections have been around since Christians started playing rock music, but how do they hold up? In this article, I’ll look at some of the most common objections to CCM.

Before we get into the meat of the post allow me to state my preferences at this point. I used to be a massive fan of CCM (contemporary Christian music). I’ve since outgrown many of the popular CCM artists, but I still fondly look back at CCM’s early days. The early Newsboys, Jars of Clay (who are still great), and of course Switchfoot are favourites of mine to this day. My taste has ventured into everything including rap and hip/hop, heavy metal, folk, pop, you name it, I’ve heard it (and most likely loved it). So it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of music and an avid listener.

But on the rare occasion, I still see an objection to CCM being thrown around, especially towards metal. Throughout the history of CCM, it has been quite common among fundamentalists to label such music as “satanic” or “unholy.” Although the rage against Christian rock has died down some the objections are still present enough to warrant a serious look. My sources for these arguments come from sites such as Jesus is Savior and the hyper-fundamentalist Dial the Truth Ministries.

Argument 1. 

Christian music should be focused on giving praise to God, not to man, and its lyrics should conform to Biblical truth.

I find little to disagree with here. In fact, one of the reasons I’ve parted with most popular modern CCM is the shallow lyrics its artists often write. Of course, there’s a difference between being a theologian and a songwriter. As a songwriter, one must be able to communicate to a far wider audience. Balancing lyrical depth and accessibility can be difficult, however, that can’t be an excuse to settle for lazy, uninspired writing.

I should note that the authors of the above sites don’t have theological depth in mind when examining how much an album praises or conforms to Biblical truth. Their example of an ungodly artist is Michael W. Smith. The reasoning?

“Michael W. Smith’s album, Change Your World, has 2819 words — Jesus occurs — ZERO!
Michael W. Smith’s album, I’ll Lead You Home, has 2046 words — Jesus occurs — ZERO!
Michael W. Smith’s album, Live the Life, has over 1100 words — Jesus occurs — you guessed it — ZERO!

There is NOTHING CHRISTIAN in Michael W. Smiths music!”

Holiness is thus based on the JPM or Jesus-Per-Minute scale. The critic here gives no regard for context. For example, Smith’s I’ll Lead You Home album includes a song dedicated to the entire Lord’s Prayer, quoting it word for word. And how about the worship song “Crown Him With Many Crowns”? How has the critic not mentioned these? The above chart makes Smith’s album sound completely secular when it is far from it. We can also ask how this critic sees the Psalms, as they too are void of any mentions of Jesus. Obviously, a song’s biblical and spiritual merits should be determined by other means. This argument is an important guideline to determine what Christian music should be striving for, but by no means does it rule out Christian rock entirely.

Argument 2.

Christian rock is indistinguishable from its secular counterparts and so it stirs the lusts of the flesh. Since rock is focused on beats and rhythms rather than melody it is perverted and sinful.

In what way does it stir the flesh? To lust sexually? To become angry or hateful? I find it suspicious that the critics are very vague with this point. I’ve never been sexually stimulated by any kind of music, nor has it led me to unhealthy anger (I doubt the critic would count anger at sin itself or even the devil as sinful). The closest I’ve seen to an explanation is that if it doesn’t stir the spirit to worship it must be stirring the flesh in some way. But still, the objection is very vague. I imagine they’re implying that if the music leads one to dance then the focus is on the music rather than God. But how does one rule out dancing as an acceptable form of worship? The critic hasn’t given us a lot to comment on so I think it’s best to leave this to personal conviction. If you’re sexually stimulated by rock music you should probably stay away, but to those who aren’t, I see no problem.

What about Christian rock copying secular music? Aside from assuming all non-Christians only listen to music to stir sinful emotions, there isn’t much of an argument here. Should a church discard all chairs because non-Christians use them? Should a Christian writer avoid publishing a physical copy of their work because secular writers also publish on paper? I think it would surprise the critic that Paul often quoted from pagan sources to make his theological point (i.e. Acts 17:25).

It is assumed that the very use of things not associated with Christianity by the Christian is unbiblical, but that’s not the whole picture. The mere use of something doesn’t mean it’s wrong, we should judge the action on how genuine the takeover is. If Christians used rock music just to become famous for their own benefit we can argue that that is a sinful change, but if they genuinely want to worship with the type of music they love I hardly see anything wrong with that. We should also remember that the earth is the Lord’s and no single object is inheritably sinful. It is people who place certain ideas and beliefs onto objects, not the objects themselves.

Argument 3.

Christian rock focuses on the music rather than the message. Its character is deceptive and allows for false doctrine because this character isn’t readily apparent to the listener. Look at the lights and the smoke bombs, hear the screeching guitars and the banging drums. Surely this is carnality! 

I’ve often heard the critic talk about the “deceptive character” of Christian rock and how the average listener is blind to such deceptions. I have to wonder, if it isn’t apparent to the listener, why does the critic place himself as an authority on the subject? How has he made this observation and why does he think he’s right? All we can do is assume he’s right because….he’s a critic? A pastor? A label is not an argument, but that’s exactly what we have, an authoritative label rather than an argument of substance.

I think music is very subjective in regards to what the listener gets out of it. Some, like I, find screeching guitars and banging drums to be fervent and passionate and spiritually empowering. Others, like the critic, may feel differently. Music is first and foremost an art form. I see critics often give no regard to performance technique, the establishment of atmosphere, and its importance in delivering the desired message. This argument boils down to holding one’s musical taste as Biblical authority.

The critic may then argue that Christian music is not meant for entertainment but for preaching the Gospel. This is admittedly a tricky point. If music isn’t the least bit entertaining why use music at all? Why not simply preach? As already said music is an art form. But sometimes music may put the lyrics to the wayside (although I don’t know many who do that). Christian artists should strive to perfect the balance between captivating music and convicting lyrics, and many have.

Argument 4.

God set Lucifer as the leader and composer of music before he was thrown out. Surely that means Satan has his hand on the music of today!

The Scriptural evidence for this is incredibly shaky, but for the sake of argument, we’ll agree that Satan was the leader of music in Heaven. But think about the first two words in the argument. God set Satan in charge of the music, which means music, or at least the concept of music, existed before it was given to Satan. Music is not Satan’s creation. With that said is it possible that demons have a hand in music today? Possibly. We can argue that there can be a demonic influence on songs that invite feelings of murder and lust, but no Christian should listen to music that upholds sinful values anyway. The critic is assuming that all music, including Christian music, is used by Satan, without evidence or arguments to support it. As we’ve argued Satan didn’t create music so we cannot say music is inheritably sinful. Therefore, even if music has been used for evil (and it has) that doesn’t mean Christians can’t “take it over” for their own purposes. As I said, if the change is genuine how can we argue that their actions are still wrong?

In Conclusion

The four arguments I’ve examined essentially cover the entire basis of the objections towards Christian rock. There are, of course, variations, but there is nothing additional to say to them that I haven’t already said here. In the end, all we really have is vague assumptions, manipulative tactics, and interesting particulars, but nothing resembling an actual argument against Christian rock as a whole. Are there artists who are led by pride and money? Absolutely. Are there artists who are led by the Spirit and a genuine heart for worship and theological insight? There sure are. One cannot generalize from the mistakes of some. The critics are far off the mark.

In part 2 I’ll look at a more serious and extreme position regarding Christian music and instruments. If the Bible is silent about it does that mean it prohibits it?