Christian Rock

A rap artist steps onto the stage. He's wearing a gaudy pair of black nylon pants and a studded belt, his long, shaggy hair teased out into a wild mane. He grabs the microphone and belts out a catchy rhyme, while the bass pounds and the guitar whines. It looks for all the world like a typical rap concert. But wait—the words aren't typical at all. The singer is urging his audience to stay away from drugs and to save sex for marriage. This is the face of Christian popular music today. Teens can now listen to Christian rap, blues, jazz, heavy metal, and rock. Some parents welcome the new styles as a wholesome alternative to secular music. But others don't like Christian pop music, even with its sanctified lyrics. Is this just a difference of taste? Or is there a biblical principle for evaluating Christian popular music? The answer is yes, there is. And the principle is found in 1 Corinthians 10: All things are permitted but not all things are constructive. When Paul wrote these words in the first century, the question facing Christians was whether they should eat meat that had been offered to idols. Was it all right to eat this meat? Yes, Paul said—but only if the believer is able to separate the meat from the pagan practices connected with it. In other words, some things are not right or wrong in themselves but only in the cultural meanings attached to them. So what are the cultural meanings attached to rock and roll? Rock emerged from the 196-0s, in a resurgence of a philosophy known as romanticism. Originally, romanticism arose as a reaction against science: against a scientific materialism that pictured the universe as a vast machine, running by inexorable laws. But human beings are not machines, and many people reacted by turning to romanticism. Instead of the machine, romanticism stressed the pulsing energy of life. Instead of rationality, it glorified emotions. Instead of civilized society, its ideal was the primitive, the Noble Savage. Does this sound familiar? These are exactly the ideals exalted by the counter-culture of the 1960s, with its beads and flower children. And rock music was its principle mode of expression. The sheer energy of rock—the pounding beat, the screams, the spectacle—all bypass the mind and appeal directly to the sensation and feelings. In other words, by its very form, rock music encourages a mentality that is subjective, emotional, and sensual—no matter what lyrics you add on. Yesterday I argued that the medium sometimes sends a message of its own. This is clearly one of those times. Even when you tack Christian words on, rock music tends to foster a mentality focused on feelings and experience over doctrine and obedience. So let's teach our teens to be sensitive to both the message and the medium. We all enjoy the choruses derived from Christian folk and pop music; they can add a fresh touch to our worship services. But when the style of the music overwhelms the Christian message, there we have to draw the line.


Chuck Colson


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