I caught myself examining the theology of Ed Sheeran songs the other day. Granted, I’m pretty sure he’s not writing songs with God in mind; he seems to say as much. Even so, some of his lyrics reflect imagery and ideas found in Christianity, and I like trying to figure out what he might believe based on what he sings (for instance, I’m pretty sure he’s not a Gnostic based on “Shape of You”).
I tend to do that with music. I evaluate lyrics in search of theology, looking for nuances of belief in the artist’s expression. Mumford and Sons, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran – each of these artists (all three favorites of mine) employs spiritual terminology at times to make a point. Even though they may not be Christians themselves, they reflect the impact left by Christian belief, and that, in a roundabout way, can lead me to reflect more intentionally on the spiritual truths against which they brush.
In a call for the church to set their eyes on Christ, Paul writes,
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The idea here is one of worship, namely, all of life should be lived in worship. This text is closely associated in my mind with 1 Corinthians 10:31, where Paul calls believers to do all to the glory of God. When we sing, let it be to praise God. When we read, let it honor God. When we speak, let our words please God. Even when we eat and drink, let us do so to the praise and glory of God, with thankful hearts at his blessing and provision.
I think this can apply to music as well. When I listen to the artists I mentioned above, I thank God for the beauty of the instrumentation, for the pleasure I get upon hearing the melodies and chord progressions. When I listen to the lyrics, I am inspired to write by the clever wordings of these songwriters. And even when I disagree with the worldviews presented, I can gain an understanding of their position, and, prayerfully, can respond from a biblical worldview.
There are limits to my listening, however. Paul also writes,
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
1 Corinthians 10:23
I think some artists are immensely talented, but I won’t listen to their music. Some lyrics, by their content and message, incite my mind to lust or bitterness or pride. These do not serve any value for me. They lead me away from worship, not toward it. I tend to stay away from such songs to pursue holiness. They may not affect others in the same way, so I don’t judge those who do listen. But I know myself, and I know my weaknesses.
In all things, I pray I would learn to exercise wisdom and discernment. I pray I would view all things through the lens of the kingdom. And I thank God for the great gift of music.