Nothing is more irritating to me than the three-word command of “change the song.”
If you grew up in a conservative Adventist setting, you too have probably heard this command as the rebel in you explored the unproven stigmas of secular music. By default, you were given strict orders to put safe, Christian music on the rotation—whether it was Sabbath or not.
Coming into adulthood, you either embraced these guidelines or you ditched them. I did the even more unholy deed and mixed the two overgeneralizations of “Christian” and “secular” music together. Why?
Because our understanding of these music categories is faulty at best.
First, we must understand that genres are hardly the most reliable classification system of the music medium. Due to the simple fact that inspiration and influence are drawn from anywhere and everywhere, to label a specific type of music transcends a simple name such as “rock” or “rap.” We place music in a permanent box when we give it a critique of “I love country” or “I despise metal.”
This “box” mentality has chased us all the way to our religious perspectives of sonics. It is common practice within the Adventist culture to write off a song based on its usage—or lack of “holy jargon.” It also isn’t uncommon to avoid songs that contain certain instrumentation—because we aren’t supposed to have drums in the church, remember? Slapping these labels of “Christian” and “secular” music on these boxes we drop on the laps of those around us does nothing more than cause more confusion than clarification.
There are nuances to be known in our learning of music. This is because there is such a narrow perception of what secular music is; it poses limitations on our learning.
An Adventist reaction to secular music is usually based on how the music seems as opposed to what it actually is. For example, the genre hip-hop is grossly misrepresented because of its surface mainstream reputation, thus overshadowing the authenticity of how it came about.
The same can be said about other core genres, which in turn influence the crossovers that come about from it. While lyrical themes may still not align with the Word, sonics should not always dictate that.
We must take it upon ourselves to know when to listen beyond the music.
“If it’s not Christian, it’s secular,” responded Caroline Guchu, a freshman communications major, when asked about the perception of all music within the Adventist Church. Visibly annoyed by these broad generalizations, Guchu thought a little more before adding, “In a broader sense, since you’re using your God-given talents to make music. You’re praising the Lord no matter what context.”
An interesting angle. However, what happens when the execution contradicts the original intent? What happens when one of God’s own uses His name in vain, claiming He doesn’t exist?
In reference to Philippians 4:8, freshman biomedical science major Noah Ford mentioned that “Whatsoever is pure . . . think on these things.” Ford then mentioned how classical music is an example of a “safe” type of secular music.
When I asked what “safe” meant to her, Ford replied, “Safe is not associated with anything impure.”
Another interesting angle. Ford and I then discussed other types of “safe” secular music, which in turn underscored conversations I’ve had with countless others of how undermined the realm of non-Christian music truly is.
Understandably so, however, because of the clear intent we Adventists have to be “in the world and not of the world.” However, if we don’t truly understand the world around us, how can we fulfill the Great Commission? If we spend a lot more time talking and criticizing instead of listening and understanding, how can we truly reflect the character of Christ?
This article does not intend to change your listening preferences, but rather how to perceive your preferences. Christian music limits the Christian. What is left—namely, secular music—can broaden a perspective artistically, lyrically and philosophically.
Because, when we educate our opinions with facts we significantly decrease the risk of stereotyping.
Listen beyond the music.
AJ Valcin is a super senior who enjoys communicating and contemplating. Every state he has lived in begins with the letter “N.” He is the most obsessive music nerd you may know, and anything involving vanilla ice cream and gummy treats are his weaknesses. AJ also wants you to “download my mixtape, bruh.” - a Soundcloud exclusive under the alias “A2nelito.”