When we consider the content of so much of our music and television, a Christian might certainly wonder whether it is appropriate to watch any of it. It often depicts sexually explicit scenes or violence, and pop music lyrics glorify promiscuity and rebellion and various other things that a Christian would not delight in. So some Christians go so far as to only listen to Christian music artists and watch only Christian television. I, on the other hand, am one who believes that God has given gifts of talent to all people, and that we should enjoy those talents in so far as they do glorify God. And so this is precisely where I would draw the line; not so much between what is labelled “Christian” or “secular”, but rather, I would be discerning about everything I listen to and watch.
My daughter goes to dance classes which are run by a local Christian school. It’s not the school my daughter goes to; she goes to a government run public school. But a newsletter came home from the dance class which stated that one of its aims was to “glorify God [through dance]”. Someone asked me “how can that glorify God when they never discuss God or even dance to Christian music?” Well, God created mankind to enjoy music and to enjoy dancing. We glorify God when we enjoy this gift that He has given us, and demonstrate our God-given talent for dancing. This remains true whether the dancer believes in God or not. We can listen to a beautiful singing voice, or watch the graceful moves of a dancer, and say “Praise God! Look at the marvellous gift He’s given to this person.” Whether they see their talent as God-given or not doesn’t change the fact that it is, in fact, a wonderful gift from God.
So when we listen to “secular” music, we can enjoy the talents of others and praise God for them. But like any gift from God, whether given to an unbeliever or to a Christian, it can be abused. When a singer uses her talent to promote promiscuity, perhaps not realising the enormous influence she has on those who admire her talent, she does a great wrong. But a Christian can abuse their gifts also. James speaks to those Christians who consider themselves to have a gift or talent for teaching, telling them to be very careful what they teach because of the enormous influence their words can have (James 3).
In Romans the Apostle Paul says:
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13)
When we listen to secular music or watch television programs, we need to be continually thinking about how this is shaping our lives and the way we think. Every individual in our culture is influenced by Platonic philosophy though they’ve never read Plato. And every individual is influenced by Postmodernism though they’ve never read Nietzsche. These philosophical ideas are present in the arts and we don’t recognize it. This is why we need to be careful to view all things through the lens of Scripture. The things we listen to and watch influence our values and morals. To give one solid example, there was a certain TV show about vampires which contained a strong theme about “vampire rights”. I commented that this is really trying to say something about gay rights. Well, the people I said this to didn’t agree. They said, “But it’s about vampires!?” Nevertheless, I happened to catch one scene in which a minister was discussing whether “vampire marriage” should be allowed! Though we don’t recognize the influence of a scene like that, it is quietly shaping the way we think so that when it comes to gay marriage, we have an opinion that has been shaped by this kind of thing. I don’t think we should avoid watching television or listening to music lest it influence us in a non-Biblical direction. Rather, we need to be discerning about what we listen to, including the Christian media we enjoy.
Where do we draw the line? Obviously watching pornography is going to be a sin; there is really no excuse for viewing it. But what if there were a documentary about people’s attitudes towards sex which also happened to depict nudity? This is really going to be up to the individual and an honest evaluation of one’s own motive for watching such a program. I, personally, might watch a program like that because I want to know what society’s attitudes towards sex are. I do this because I’m quite interested in thinking about the Biblical answer to some of the un-Biblical attitudes that people have. On the other hand, I have turned my eyes away from certain music videos which really only show women in bikinis. But this is all based on a fair estimation of my own weaknesses. (And I’m not saying I always get that right, either.) Some may have a weakness for pornography and even watching a serious program which depicts nudity would not be wise for them.
Another thing I’d like to comment on is my own experience with reading materials written by atheists. I suppose I was first interested in hearing what atheists have to say after a discussion with an atheist friend of mine. I really wanted to know how to answer his objections to Christianity. I was a little worried because of the things I was told in Church growing up, and even the things that my current pastor has said. They gave me the impression that if I listened to arguments against the existence of God, I’d end up believing them. But that’s not what the Bible says. Faith is not something we blindly believe; it is a supernatural gift of knowing the truth. The Bible says that I cannot lose my faith; I believe because that’s the kind of person God has made me to be - a believer. So I began to look into various atheist websites, and I visited an atheist forum to talk to the people there. The more I did, the more confident I became that my faith was a sure and steadfast thing. The arguments I heard were very thought provoking, but as I read my Bible and thought about them, I saw time and time again that they were really quite weak. Now, we can be influenced and fall into error; I don’t take reading atheist material lightly, or without prayer. But if we are to minister to the lost, we need to know what their view of the world is! Knowing that Christ will keep me from falling, I have confidence to expose myself to the world-view of atheists and such so that I can, in love, show them the truth.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25)