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My Experiences with Secular and Christian Rock Music

Part Two

By Gary F. Zeolla

This article is continued from My Experiences with Secular and Christian Rock Music: Part One.

Struggles with Secular Rock Music

As indicated in Part One of this article, by the mid-1980s, I no longer listened to secular rock music. At least, I never played it myself. However, through the 80s, I worked as a cook in the kitchens' of various eating establishments. And very often, there would be music playing on a radio. And that music was of course secular music, usually WDVE (a hard rock station) when I was still in the Pittsburgh area.

Having to listen to that music was emotional troubling. But I don't think it was so much the lyrics as simply the associations I had with the music. As discussed in Part One, I associated secular hard rock and heavy metal with partying and powerlifting. I hadn't gone partying or drunk any alcohol for that matter since college, but the temptation was still there. And that music would stir those desires.

But more important I think was the association with powerlifting; having to give up something that I loved so much still stung when I thought about it. And such music does psyche a person up, but the question is, for what? For me, it was lifting, but for many it is rebellion, drug use, illicit sex, and the like. And for those reasons, I can understand why some Christians will rail against it. But it is also for those reasons that such music is favored by many non-Christians.

But the soft rock is no better. As discussed previously, soft rock is generally about romance. But by romance is often meant sex not love. And even when the songs are about love, there is too much of an emphasis on its importance. Since throughout most of this time I was not in any kind of a romantic relationship, having to listen to such music was simply depressing.

But one of my jobs at this time was in the kitchen of a country club. There was only me and a chef in the kitchen, along with a couple of dishwashers. Often, the chef wasn't there, so I was basically in charge of the kitchen. I got permission to bring in a music box/ cassette player, on which I would play my CCM tapes. I often had to work late Saturday nights, so I would put on "Saturday Night Light" on WPIT FM, which was their hard Christian rock time. This actually gave me many witnessing opportunities with the dishwashers and waitresses.

But then in March of 1988 I moved to Denver to attend seminary. I rented a U-haul trailer to pull behind my car, and with doing so, I had room to take my stereo system and my now rather large collection of CCM cassette tapes.

In Denver, I once again worked various kitchen jobs where I had to listen to secular rock. But even worse, it seemed that CCM was not that popular in Denver. This was probably because there was no FM Christian station that played CCM. There was an AM station (KJIM), but it seemed like not too many listened to it, besides me. So the Christians around my age (late 20s at this point) listened to secular rock.

And that is an important point to the detractors to CCM. If you take CCM away, almost certainly, most Christians, especially those of the younger generation, will simply continue to listen to secular rock. Complain as you might about CCM, but there is not doubt it is much better than secular rock. And sorry, but the reality of the situation is that you will simply not get most young people to listen to old, boring hymns.

In any case, it really bothered me having to listen to secular rock whenever I did anything with other young adult Christians. So much so that one of the sermons I preached for one of my classes at seminary was on this very topic.

The sermon was based on Romans 14:14-15:2 where Paul teaches not to do anything that might offend a Christian brother while with that person. When I was discussing the sermon with my pastor before I delivered it, he pointed out that I was putting myself in the position of the "weaker brother" in being the one who was bothered by the secular music (Rom 15:1). I hadn't really thought of it that way, but I would realize what he meant much later.

In any case, KJIM had programming similar to WPIT in playing softer CCM during the week, but then Saturday nights was "White Noise." This was when they played White Metal. This would be even harder rock than WPIT's "Saturday Night Light." And I loved it so much that I taped it on many nights to play back later. And that "White Noise" program helped to get me through many lonely Saturday nights while in Denver.

Interestingly, Sunday nights was "Listener Controlled Radio" when KJIM played listener requests. But it seemed that night turned into another episode of "White Noise" since most of the requests were for White Metal. So it would seem that I wasn't the only Christian in Denver who listened to White Metal, but unfortunately, I never actually met any of the other Christian metal lovers. Also unfortunately, KJIM eventually changed its format and ceased to be a Christian station, so that left no CCM on Denver radio whatsoever.

No Longer Bothered by Secular Rock

Due to my deteriorating health, I had to drop out of seminary in December of 1990 and returned to the Pittsburgh area. At that point, I didn't have the money to rent a U-Haul, so I had to sell off my stereo system and many other possessions before leaving Denver. I only took home with me what I could fit in my car, but at least I could fit all of my cassette tapes. But once I got home, all I had for listening to those tapes was a dual-cassette music box. Later I would replace that with a combination cassette/ CD music box.

Shortly after my return, WPIT was bought out by another company and changed to WORD FM. Initially, there was no music on WORD. This was a great loss for the Pittsburgh area. I knew from my experience in Denver that without a radio station playing CCM, most Christians would not get exposed to CCM and thus would simply keep listening to secular rock.

I also remember thinking that a possible reason that CCM was off of the air in Pittsburgh and in Denver was because of the complaints of CCM detractors. So all they accomplished was to cause a lot of Christians to listen to secular rock. But at least I now had my extensive CCM cassette collection, and also began purchasing CCM CDs, mostly at my local Family Christian Store. But with no CCM on the radio, it was hard to keep up with new groups to know what to purchase.

I continued to listen to solely CCM until the late 1990s. My health was such now that I only worked out of my home, having started Darkness to Light in July of 1991. Those who are opposed to CCM will probably gruff at the fact that almost all of the writing I have done for this ministry has been done with CCM playing in the background, like right now.

Eventually, WORD FM started playing CCM on the weekends. So I'd listen to that on the weekends, but otherwise, I would play my tapes and CDs.

In the late 1990s I began working out at a local Nautilus center. This would be the first time in about 15 years that I was able to do any kind of strength training. At the Nautilus center, they always had WSHH FM (99.7, a.k.a. "Wish") playing on the radio. Wish is a long standing Pittsburgh station that has always played soft rock.

What I said in Part One about hard rock or heavy metal being best for lifting weights really proved true here. I found it very difficult to work out with any kind of intensity with that slow music playing. No wonder I met many people there who had been working out there for years, but to look at them, you would never know they had worked out at all.

Actually, the reason for the lack of progress probably had more to do with the fact that Nautilus equipment, or any kind of strength training machines for that matter, are nowhere near as effective as free weights. But I am sure the lack of intensity due to the slow music was a factor as well. In any case, listening to the soft secular rock was the first time in years I had listened to any kind of secular rock.

Then came March of 2001 and my 40th birthday. I just happened to be flipping the dial on the radio when I came across a station that was playing what it called "Classic Rock." It didn't take me long to realize that what it meant by "Classic Rock" was the rock I grew up with, namely music from the late 1960s to the early ‘80s. I also quickly realized that "Classic Rock" was just a nice way of saying "oldies!" Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, and other such music I grew up with were now oldies!

Feeling very old, I spent my birthday just lying around listening to that station and all the songs I used to listen to way back in high school and college. Two interesting things happened as I did.

First off, I hadn't played any of this music myself in about 17 years, and it had been over a decade since I had to listen to it at work. But even after of those years, it seemed I still knew the lyrics to just about every song. This is important as many will defend their listening to secular rock by saying, "I don't listen to the lyrics; I just listen to the music." Sorry, but you're listening to the lyrics and the message they convey whether you realize it or not.

Secondly, it no longer bothered me emotionally to listen to the music. As I said before, my main associations with such music was partying and powerlifting. But now, I had no desire whatsoever to party. I hadn't even had a beer in almost two decades. So even songs with lyrics like KISS's "Rock and roll all night and party every day" didn't inspire any desire whosoever for that kind of lifestyle. Such a lifestyle simply had no appeal anymore. So I could listen to such songs for the nostalgia, and nothing more.

As for the powerlifting, well, I was still working out at the Nautilus center. So I was getting a small taste of my former lifting days. But again, that association simply wasn't that strong anymore.

Of course, there were some lyrics that did bother me. I could do without songs like The Rolling Stone's "Sympathy for the Devil" or Eric Clapton's "Cocaine." And I can see how such songs could lead some people down the wrong path. But I was now strong enough in my Christian faith that I could simply ignore such songs when they were played.

This all takes me back to my saying I was the "weaker brother" when hearing secular rock music being played bothered me. What my pastor said back then now made sense. It is those who are weak in their faith who find secular rock music disturbing. Since it still incites temptations to sin, be it drinking, illicit sex, rebellion, or whatever, then they apparently have not completely overcome these temptations or they simply wouldn't be temptations anymore.

But for those who such behaviors are no longer a temptation, then secular rock music is not so much of a problem anymore. And that probably explains why some Christians rail so much against it while other see no problem it.

After my birthday, I continued to listen to the Classis Rock station at times, again, mainly for the nostalgia. On that, you must understand that listening to such music takes me back to a time before all of my health problems began, and I had my future with a world of possibilities ahead of me.

But now, due to my health problems, my life has not turn out even close to how I had hoped. And with my body racked with problems, I am very limited in my life, with little chance of things ever changing, at least in this life.

But those days back then were also before I was a Christian. So the nostalgia is tempered by that fact. And with now being a Christian, I still mainly listen to CCM. The secular rock music is okay at times, but too much of it can be depressing. But as stated before, CCM always lifts my spirits.

Along with WORD on the weekends, eventually an AM station began playing CCM on weekdays and on the weekends, WAVL (a.k.a. Praise 910). So throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s I'd listen to Praise 910 during the week and WORD on the weekends, along with my Christian tapes and CDs.

Romans 14:1-15:2

Many will gruff at my saying it is the "weaker brother" who has a problem with secular rock music. But this is Paul's point in Romans 14:1-15:2. His discussion there is about eating certain foods, but I believe it is perfectly applicable to this topic as well. Paul's main point is that some things are bothersome to some people that are not bothersome to others.

In the case of rock music, again, I can understand fully why people who are still tempted by sins that are promoted in secular rock music find it troubling. I can also understand how some people have various associations with music that is troubling to them. A particular style of music, a particular group, or even a particular song can bring back bad memories. Being single myself, I can especially understand how music that glorifies romance can be disturbing to those who are single. So for such people, it would be best not to listen to such music.

But the one doubting, if he eats, has been condemned, because [it is] not of faith. Now all which [is] not of faith is sin (Rom 14:13).

However, some people are not troubled by such things. So for them, it is not sinful for them to participate.

One believes [it is permissible] to eat all [things] … (Rom 14:2a).

And the one eating, to [the] Lord he eats, for he gives thanks to God … (Rom 14:6b).

I know and have been persuaded in [the] Lord Jesus that nothing [is] unclean by means of itself (Rom 14:14a).

In addition, the person who believes it is permissible to listen to secular rock music should not look down on the person who does not. And the person who thinks secular rock music is problematic, should not judge the person who listens to it.

1Now be receiving the one being weak in the faith, not for disputes over opinions. 2One believes [it is permissible] to eat all [things], but the one being weak eats [only] vegetables. 3Stop letting the one eating despise [or, look down on] the one not eating; and stop letting the one not eating judge the one eating, for God [has] accepted him. 4Who are you, the one judging another's household servant? To his own master he stands or falls; but he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. 5One indeed judges [or, considers] a day [to be] above [another] day, but another judges every day [to be alike]; be letting each be fully convinced in his own mind (Rom 14:1-5).

But why do you judge your brother? [fig., fellow believer] Or also, why do you despise [or, look down on] your brother? (Rom 14:10a).

Therefore, let us no longer be judging one another (Rom 14:13a).

Finally, if you are not bothered by secular rock music but are with somehow who is, then Christian love should prompt you to not play such music while with that person.

but rather, judge [or, determine] this, not to be putting a stumbling-stone before your brother, or an offence [or, an occasion for sin] (Rom 14:13a).

But if on account of food your brother is distressed, you are no longer walking about [fig., conducting yourself] according to love; stop ruining with your food that one on behalf of whom Christ died (Rom 14:15).

20Stop tearing down the work of God for the sake of food. All [things] indeed [are] clean, but [they are] evil to the person eating with offense [fig., eating something that cause someone else to sin]. 21[It is] good not to eat meat nor to drink wine nor [to do anything] by which your brother is caused to stumble [fig., to sin] or is made to fall [fig., is offended] or becomes weak. 22You have faith? Be having [it] to yourself before God (Rom 14:20-22a).

1But we, the strong, ought to be enduring the infirmities of the weak and not to be pleasing ourselves. 2Let each one of us be pleasing the neighbor for good, toward edification (Rom 15:1,2).

This article is concluded at: My Experiences with Secular and Christian Rock Music - Part Three.


Scripture taken from the Analytical-Literal Translation of the New Testament: Third Edition. Copyright 1999-2008 By Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.DTL.org).

My Experiences with Secular and Christian Rock Music. Copyright 2008 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).

The above article first appeared in the Free Darkness to Light Newsletter.
It was posted on this site May 4, 2008.

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