Part 1: Can God Be Glorified in “Secular” Music?
There really are two ways to answer this question: Biblically and my personal opinion. Now, you you may ask, “Shouldn’t your opinion be the same as the Biblical perspective?” My answer is, “Absolutely!” The difficult thing is that many people’s opinions can differ greatly on this, and they all feel they are following Scripture. Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit never specifically told Paul that followers of Jesus couldn’t listen to U2 (or whatever the first century equivalent was). We can look at Scripture and find some pretty clear answers to this question.
Secular music, by definition, is music that is not overtly religious in nature or written for the church. We do find in Scripture examples of people using music that would be considered “secular” by its definition, but God uses it and sometimes even commands it!
David and Saul
The Lord used David to play his harp to soothe Saul, who was being tormented. It was instrumental music and at no point does it say that it was only being done as a worship song. In fact it was most likely just instrumental music, which technically has no sway towards secular or Christian, but the Lord used it! (1 Samuel 16)
Song of Solomon
Solomon wrote love songs for his bride, and God is glorified in all that is written. Many would say that the Lord gave the words to Solomon as an allegory for God’s love for His people.
Paul and Greek Hymns
In Acts 17, Paul quotes greek hymns that were written for Zeus to bring the point home about being children of God.
As we can see, the Bible shows us that secular music can be used in many instances to glorify God!
We must, however, see these verses in the context they are set. At no times were these songs directed to the Lord. These songs were not being sung in the temple or as an offering to the Lord. We must then conclude that there is a time and place for secular songs. I (Jon) have made the decision, based on what I see in Scripture, to not include secular songs in a worship service where the goal of the service is to lead others to sing praises to the Lord or the Gospel message is being taught. On the flip side, I am totally willing to play songs that are secular in Café Amici downtown, because it would be appropriate in that context in that venue.
So, would I play just any song in that venue or listen to any song in my car? No! Scripture states,
“Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’ (Philippians 4:8)
“You say 'I am allowed to do anything'--but not everything is good for you. You say, 'I am allowed to do anything'--but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
We must monitor the lyrics we put into mind and our hearts. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23).
In conclusion, secular music can be good in a certain context and can be used to glorify the Lord. I love listening to everything from Radiohead to Stevie Wonder, and there is an album by Sigur Ros called Parenthesis that has taken me into some of the deepest personal worship times I can remember. I wouldn’t play them on a Sunday morning, but I LOVE listening to and growing musically from secular music. I do, however, steer clear of much of the music out there that has lyrics that would be in direct opposition to how the Lord has taught us to live. In the end, this is a personal choice and must be a decision made with prayer for each person. Hopefully, this is helpful!