We use the term “Christian music” as though we are confident about what it means, but most of us would be hard pressed to come up with a good definition of precisely what Christian music is. I think we can rule out three common definitions for Christian music: it’s not necessarily music made by Christians, it’s not music that features Christian subject matter, and it’s not necessarily music directed at Christian audiences (follow these links to read my qualms with each of these potential definitions).
So what is Christian music? Before I give my final thoughts, I have a couple of clarifications.
For one thing, our definition of Christian music can’t focus on a distinction between the sacred and the secular. This distinction is common, and it may be useful in some cases, but too often it leads Christians to the assumption that there are some parts of our world that God cares about, and some parts that he doesn’t. It makes us believe that things like worship and obedience belong in one sphere of life, while in the other sphere we follow the dictates of science or government or philosophy or psychology.
The Bible insists that all of life is God’s. This world and literally every thing in it belong to God, and he cares deeply about every part of the world he made. Every action, every thought, every breathe must be submitted to the lordship of Christ. So there are really no purely secular areas of life. God demands every part of our lives and every part of our societies.
Christian music cannot be thought of as sacred music as opposed to secular music. Madeleine L’Engle says it well:
“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”
In other words, because Jesus came to earth and took on human flesh, we know for certain that no part of the human experience is too “secular” for God to take an interest in. This is also reflected in the mission of the church. Daniel Siedell explains:
“The church is not a religious sphere separated from the realities of the world but reveals the world’s true meaning and significance.”
Furthermore, getting to know the “secular” spheres in our world is a means of getting to know the world God made. So is such exploration really secular? Philip Graham Ryken explains:
“Some Christians continue to think that certain forms of art are more godly than others. They make a sharp distinction between the sacred and the secular, not recognizing that so-called secular art is an exploration of the world that God has made, and therefore has its place in deepening our understanding of God’s person and work.”
The other major issue to get past is that we are destined for trouble when we try to use the word “Christian” as an adjective. A Christian is a follower of Jesus. In what sense is music (or a t-shirt, workplace, or radio station) a follower of Jesus? I don’t want to make too big of a point here because I think the term Christian can be used descriptively of these types of things, but I do want to point out that we’re bound to have some category problems. There is a difference between saying that Paul was a Christian and saying that a song is Christian. Let’s keep that in mind.
Well, I had hoped to wrap this series up right here and now, but I’ve gone too long. To give you some hope that this won’t go on forever, let me assure you that I have already written the concluding post (including my definition), and it’s scheduled for tomorrow. I’m guessing it’s going to provoke some disagreement (but hopefully some profitable thought processes as well).
 Madeleine L’Engle, Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (New York: North Point Press, 1980) 50.
 Daniel A. Siedell, God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008) 139.
 Philip Graham Ryken, Art For God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2006) 34.