Debating Contemporary Christian Music

Jason Micheli —  December 19, 2012 — 5 Comments

I got this question recently from a friend with a sharp mind and wit:

The other day at church they played ‘Lover of the Light’ and I promptly freaked out. Something tells me if you could choose worship music it would be heavy on Mumford and Sons. Just curious, what are your thoughts on turning secular music spiritual?

Before I answer, I wonder what all you think about turning the secular into sacred?

Most of you could probably predict my gut reaction but here goes anyway:

First, reworking popular secular music for a worship gathering, to me at least, reeks of precisely the kind of eager to be relevant desperation that I think non-Christians find cloying and repellent. It strikes me as the musical equivalent of my grandfather saying ‘cool man.’

Second, I think it trades in the kind of sacred vs secular dichotomy that is Platonic, leads to overly spiritualized Christianity and is unbiblical. While secular music may not be appropriate for worship that doesn’t mean the artist who created was not inspired by God’s Spirit nor does it mean that music cannot be a means of grace to people.

Here’s the real- moral- problem I have using secular music for worship: It’s using art in a way that is contrary to how the artist intended it to be received. This seems to me to be the opposite of worshipping a non-violent Lord. It’s a sort of violence to disregard an artist’s intent and use it for other ends. I mean, it’s certainly the case that ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or ‘Tears in Heaven’ are better art than any Chris Tomlin garbage, yet Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton didn’t write their songs for the sanctuary. And if Christians are people who respect others, we should respect that.

And write better songs.

Jason Micheli


5 responses to Debating Contemporary Christian Music

  1. If you really feel that way then wth was that re-purposed music we heard all summer????

  2. That’s funny, my pastor (also named Jason) spent the summer encouraging my colleagues and me to adapt and/or parody popular music in conjunction with a (fascinating) sermon series on obscure bible stories. Huh.

  3. A moral problem with using originally secular music for worship? You’ll need to throw out a good chunk of your hymnody. Didn’t Luther and Wesley and many others wildly violate this principle setting sacred texts to secular tunes? Haven’t Christians been appropriating music, not to mention symbols and traditions, from other traditions for hundreds if not thousands of years?

    • But borrowing music is different than making lyrics do things they weren’t meant to convey. It’s not as if Come Thou Long Expected Jesus was a pop song appropriated by Charles Wesley even if the tune may have been (though Wesley and Luther’s borrowing of popular music is grossly exaggerated).

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