5 Steps to Help Catholics Discern Whether to Listen to Christian Music.
My husband walked into the living room, stood there for a minute, then interrupted me mid-lip-sync with, “That song is heretical.”
Dude. Thank you for ruining my Jeremy Camp dance party.
I loved the tune, and the words flowed, so I had cranked up “Same Power” to help make the cooking and sweeping and more pleasant.
Hey, it’s Christian music. Better than all the pop garbage I could be listening to. How bad can it be?
As I stood there, staring at my husband with open mouth, wrinkled forehead and upturned palms, I reluctantly realized: he had a good point.
What are the Lyrics Saying?
The Catholic Faith has the fullness of the Truth. We have thousands of years of solid teaching, and an intricate and beautiful theology.
Should we throw it all away for the sake of music? These lyrics play over and over in my head. I hum them and soak in the energy to help me go about my day.
But what if that energy is leading me astray? What if its faulty theology is slowly twisting my beliefs?
We decided to take a closer look at the song together. We researched the lyrics, hit print, grabbed the Bible and the Catechism, and hashed them out.
There was one line that we disagreed on, and another one we questioned, so we leveled up and scheduled a consultation with our pastor.
Attribute Best Motives
We tackled this one first: “The same power that rose Jesus from the grave lives in us.”
My husband had interpreted the song to be attributing God’s omnipotence (meaning he’s all powerful) to us – humans.
The Catholic understanding that “I can do all things in him who strengthens me,”(Philippians 4:13) acknowledges that all our power to do good is from God. And that we do nothing on our own.
Turns out it’s based on the verse from Romans 8:11 “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Our pastor made the connection between the verse from Romans and the lyrics, adding that we should attribute best motives. Unless we know that the author meant something different and wrong by a confusing line, we should assume the best.
We hopped online and searched for a statement from Jeremy himself. Wouldn’t you know, he had a youtube video dedicated to explaining this song!
We laid our worries to rest, that this line from the song isn’t claiming our omnipotence. When he says “power,” Jeremy is referencing a title of the Holy Spirit. We talked about the Indwelling and other related Church teachings and gave this part of the song a check.
No heresy here.
Do Some Research
So we moved on to our next concern: “We have hope that his promises are true.”
This line was a little tricky. Hope is a good thing, and at first glance, we might not notice anything amiss.
Hope is the “virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1817).
So we hope that we’ll get to heaven, and this hope is upheld by Christ’s promises. But we don’t “hope” that Christ’s promises are true. Instead, we “know” with certainty of faith that they are true.
Faith is the “virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us” (Catechism, 1814). We don’t have to wait to know that God’s promises are true. We can know it right now because God revealed it to us.
The conclusion: this line is theologically problematic. It takes a surety of our faith and introduces an air of unknown.
So what do we do when we find error in a Christian song?
First, we approach it with understanding.
The Catholic faith has the fullness of the truth. But it’s a very deep and comprehensive subject to study. Most lay Catholics (myself included) have a limited understanding of many of the Church’s teachings.
We rely on theologians, apologists, and spiritual directors to untangle difficult issues for us and give us guidance.
Non-Catholic Christians, who lack a definitive teaching authority, will have an even more difficult time nailing the truth on the head. So, we can do our best to attribute them good intentions, while being careful about identifying and acknowledging errors that pop up.
With this particular song, we were able to change the way we sing along.
By swapping out the word “hope” for the word “faith,” the error is addressed.
But other times, it’s not so simple.
It can be hard to identify the errors, and even harder to know what to do about it. Should that stop us from listening to Christian music altogether?
What Does the Bible Say About Holy Music?
The Bible encourages us to listen to music that praises God.
Ephesians 5: 18-19 says, “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.”
Clearly, it’s good to sing spiritual songs, and to sing them together. Sing them with your whole heart. There are so many Christian songs that make me feel this way – songs that help me belt out my praise to Jesus.
But why can’t we just sing traditional songs, that we know are on board with the Church’s teachings?
We certainly can.
The Church has a rich and beautiful musical tradition. Many of her songs bring me to tears. Not only are the words moving, but the artfulness of the music is astounding. The Church’s traditional songs and liturgical music are masterpieces.
But the Bible also has something to say about “new songs.” Several verses in the Bible mention singing a new song:
- “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:3
- “O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” Psalm 98:1
And in the New Testament:
- “And they sang a new song before the throne.” Revelation 14:3
Music Gives Glory to God’s Creativity
Music is an art. It’s a way to reflect God’s power of creation.
There’s a reason that people don’t stop drawing, or writing, or making music. It’s not just about the finished product. Music and other forms of art are about the process of creation. And the wonder and awe at something new.
As Images of God, when we create something new and beautiful, we reflect God’s power of creation. The process of making is a way to give Him glory.
Old art and music are beautiful and good. But new art and music are glorious, too.
They are an expression of self as tabernacles where God dwells. They are the result of God’s goodness and truth welling up inside of us, and spilling over onto a canvas or vibrating through our vocal chords.
We need old songs, but we need new songs too. They energize us.
But we do have to exercise prudence.
Make a Prudent Decision
If something is leading us astray, we should make an effort to avoid it. Music with vulgar or evil lyrics presents an easy decision: it should not be tolerated.
Music with neutral lyrics is fine, if you enjoy it. Music with good lyrics – even better!
But something like “Christian Music” (which is not particularly Catholic) is a little more tricky. This is because its goal and motive is so good – it’s meant to draw us closer to God.
But theology is a serious and important topic, and we need to make sure we’re actually drawing closer to God by the ideas we feed ourselves.
So take it to prayer, and evaluate how it affects you. You can ask these or similar questions about the entire genre, and about particular songs:
- Does it lift you up?
- Does it help you think about God?
- Is it theologically sound?
- Is it encouraging you to pray more?
- Does it inspire you to learn more about your Catholic faith?
- Is it helping you remain faithful to the teachings of the Church?
If you can answer yes to these or similar questions, then listening to that song, or Christian music in general, is probably a good and holy pastime to add to your life.
But consider these questions:
- Does it confuse you?
- Is it theologically suspect?
- Does it make you question your faith?
- Does it tempt you away from the Catholic Church?
If you find that listening to Christian music is a temptation to believe falsehood or heresies, or that it’s leading you away from the Church, then that song or genre probably isn’t the most prudent choice for you.
The answer will be different for each of us. And the answer could be different for each artist or song, as well.
A Catholic (like my husband) who can spot lines that are theologically off, and is dedicated into researching to find the truth, can probably feel a lot more comfortable listening to the Christian music genre.
A Catholic who gets a lot of comfort from the emotional power in Christian music, and finds it helpful to maintain a sense of prayer and unity with God throughout the day, can reap great spiritual benefits from Christian music.
A Catholic who finds herself wishing for a different church that’s more “upbeat” or “charismatic,” may find Christian music a temptation pulling her away from the Church. She may need to foster her love for traditional Catholic music, or stick with theologically neutral music, so as not to enter into temptation.
A Catholic, especially youth and teens, may not have enough knowledge of the faith to discern the truthfulness of theological assertions in songs. He may need to be more selective about which artists and songs to listen to, so as not to become confused about what’s true.
5 Steps to Help You Decide Whether to Listen to Christian Music
Prudence helps each of us decide what’s best for us spiritually. Some are undoubtedly more equipped to handle certain challenges in life than others.
The same goes for music, social media, television, the books we read, and any entertainment we engage in.
We need to be wise about what we feed our minds.
We need to know our strengths, weaknesses, and limits. We need to choose what will lead us closer to God and let go of anything that would lead us astray.
While there’s nothing bad or evil about “Christian music,” there are a few cautions that arise from theological implications of some of the lyrics. Only you can decide if the genre or song is good for you.
Here are 5 steps to consider:
1. Check out the lyrics
Pay attention to what the words are actually saying.
2. Attribute Best Motives
Unless you know that an artist adheres to a certain heretical theological view, attribute best motives when you can. If something is vague, and can be interpreted either way, interpret it charitably.
3. Do Some Research
Get out your Bible and Catechism.
Check out what they say about the themes and verses the songs are based on. Learn a little Scripture and theology while you’re listening. It’s a good opportunity to go deeper in your faith.
4. Be Understanding
If you discover a simple mistake, try to be understanding. None of us is infallible, and we’re all prone to mistakes.
But be aware of it, and if it’s something that could be easily remedied – like a word change, for example, go ahead and sing it a different way.
5. Make a Prudent Decision
If you find that a song or artist are blatantly and routinely heretical, it’s probably time to find a different artist.
If you find that you’re becoming confused or tempted away from the Church, maybe try exploring some different musical genres for a while.
Allow yourself to make an honest and prudent decision regarding the entertainment you consume.
Catholic Musicians to Check Out
Catholic Musicians are out there. If you want to find artists whose music is more likely to adhere to the solid Catholic theology you’re looking for, check them singers such as:
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