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My Experiences with Secular and Christian Rock Music

Part One

By Gary F. Zeolla

As I am sitting here in front of my computer, I am listening to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM, a.k.a., Christian Rock Music). There are some Christians who would condemn me for listening to Christian rock music. I even listen to secular rock music at times, and there are Christians who would really condemn me for that.

To respond to these criticisms, in this three-part article, I am going to provide an outline of my experiences with rock music over the years, going all the way back to Junior and Senior High School.

Junior and Senior High School

Growing up in the Pittsburgh, PA area, the main radio station I listened to was WDVE, 102.5 FM. Interestingly, that station is still around today, with the same format as back then. Other than KDKA (the world's first radio station), WDVE is one of the few stations in the Pittsburgh area that has not changed its "call letters" and format since I was a kid. Many others have come and gone over the years, but WDVE has remained.

WDVE has always played rock music, and nothing but rock music. It plays mainly what would be called "hard rock" or even heavy metal, although it will play softer rock on occasion. But growing up, I always preferred the hard rock and heavy metal. In fact, the first album I purchased was Black Sabbath's Paranoid. And yes, that was a "real" album, as in vinyl, those 12" flat, disks for those of the younger generation.

I would go on to amass quite an album collection. Along with all of Black Sabbath's albums, I also had all of the albums by Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, and many other heavy metal and hard rock groups. I even had albums by rather obscure metal groups like Starz.

Why did I prefer hard rock and heavy metal? Mainly because that was the music I listened to when I lifted weights in my basement. I began lifting weights in Junior High School. I lifted in my basement up until about 11th grade when I joined a gym. At the gym, WDVE was always playing. By then I had started powerlifting, and us powerlifters would always have the music cranked up when we lifted.

What is interesting is that I was on the right track in listening to such music while working out. A while back, there was a report in Men's Health magazine about a study that was done to find out what type of music was best to listen to for different types of exercise modalities. The report found that heavy metal was the best type of music to listen to while lifting weights, with Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" given as a specific example.

So the main association I had with such music while in High School was with it being an incentive for lifting heavy weights. Such music simply helps a lifter to get "psyched up." If the reader has never pulled a heavy deadlift, then you will not be able to understand the mentality here. But trust me; there is no way I could get psyched up with soft rock playing.

That is not to say I didn't listen to softer rock. I did at times, when I was relaxing. In fact, soft rock would help me to calm down after an inspiring workout. So along with my heavy metal albums, I also had many albums by Bread, Jim Croce, The Beach Boys, Chicago, and the like.

To listen to all of this music, I saved up money to purchase a really high powered stereo system. If I remember correctly, if cost me like a $1000, but it was worth it!

I should mention that the only Christian music I listened to at this time would have been when I went to church. I was raised Catholic, and continued to go to church until I left for college. The music played at church was old-fashioned hymns with a pipe organ accompaniment. I found that music as boring as the mass itself.

College

I graduated from high school in 1979. I went to a local Penn State extension campus my freshman year. But then my sophomore year, I went Penn State's main campus. And when I did, I of course took along my album collection and stereo to listen to music in my dorm and later apartment.

At the weight room in Rec Hall a popular local station was always played. I forget the call letters, but it played music similar to WDVE, mainly hard rock and heavy metal. And when members of the Penn State Barbell Club were in the gym, we'd have that music cranked up. And between the music blaring and us screaming for each other as we lifted, we put in some incredible workouts.

So the association between hard rock and heavy metal and lifting heavy weights continued. But in college, such music took on another association as it was the type of music played at most of the parties I went to at Penn Sate. And party I did. Every Friday and Saturday night I'd be at a party or bar getting drunk as could be.

Along with hard rock and heavy metal, I'd still listen to softer rock at times. When relaxing, but also on the rare occasions when I was alone with a female, and I am sure you can guess the reasoning there. Soft rock helps people get into a "romantic" mood.

I didn't go to church at all in college, so I never heard any Christian music. However, I did listen to classical music at times, mainly when studying. So even back then, I had rather varied music tastes. But if I had a classical music station playing and for some reason it played some opera, that would get changed immediately!

Post-College

I graduated from college in 1983. By the time I did, my health had deteriorated, and I could no longer powerlift. As a result, my life really fell apart. My whole sense of self-worth and my career plans were wrapped up in my lifting.

It was after college that for the first time in my life I began to seriously think about spiritual issues. There was no way I was going to go back to the boring Catholic church I attended before college. But by that time, my brother was attending a charismatic church, so I began going to church with him.

The music at that church was praise and worship music, along with contemporary Christian rock music. And the music could get really loud and rowdy at times. My brother even played a trumpet in the church band. And I must say, I enjoyed the music at that church.

I also liked that there were many other young adults at the church. My brother and these other young adults at the church introduced me to CCM. It was all that they listened to. So for some time, I'd listen to the CCM when with the people from the church, but when alone, I'd still listen to my album collection.

However, as described, the main associations I had with the secular hard rock and heavy metal was with powerlifting and partying. The partying stopped when I left college. But still, when I'd hear the songs that were often played at parties, it would bring back the desire to party again. But I had left that life behind when I left college and especially when I became a Christian. So such songs would create emotional turmoil.

But more than that was the lifting. Having to give it up was emotionally devastating. But when I'd hear songs that were often playing when I was lifting, it would get me psyched up and bring back the desire to lift again. But I simply couldn't. So the music created extreme emotional turmoil.

It was also around then that I first heard the concept that there was something wrong with secular rock music. Such a concept just never came into my mind before. But as I really listened to the lyrics, I had to confess there were concepts being presented that were decidedly unchristian in both the hard rock and the soft rock.

Then one day, I was listening to a Black Sabbath album. In the song N.I.B are the lyrics, "Your love for me just got to be real." I always just assumed it was supposed to be a guy speaking to a woman. But that day, I heard the line, "My name is Lucifer, please take my hand."

That was the last straw. I just knew I couldn't listen to that kind of music anymore. So with much emotional struggle, I took several album cases worth of heavy metal albums and dumped them all into the garbage. I threw away what at that time was probably hundreds of dollars worth of albums.

However, for a while I continued to listen to soft rock. But that also caused emotional problems. Soft rock is mostly about romance. But after college, I wasn't dating anyone. So listening to music glorifying romantic love simply stirred up feelings for something I didn't have. So it would often leave me feeling depressed.

And there were the lyrics. When I really listened to them, it struck me how some really "pretty" songs were not about love but about sex. Consider for instance the song "We've Got Tonight." Summarizing the lyrics: "We've got tonight, who needs tomorrow. I know your plans don't include me. But still, here we are, both of us lonely, why don't you stay?" The song is not talking about love; it is talking about having a one night stand. And that is decidedly unchristian.

But more than that is the overemphasis placed on romantic love. I can clearly remember being in my car one day when a song came on with the lyrics: "Life isn't worth living if living is without you." As I thought about it, what that song saying is, if my girlfriend dumps me, I'm going kill myself. Or more to my point at that time, without a girlfriend, there's no reason to go on living. Again, a decidedly unchristian notion.

I literally turned my car around and went to my brother's house and borrowed some Christian albums. I then pitched my remaining secular soft rock albums. That was the summer of 1984 when I was 23. And I didn't listen to secular rock music for the next 17 years.

Early CCM Experiences

The albums I borrowed from my brother were mostly what would be described as soft Christian rock. This would be signers like Michael Card, Michael W. Smith, David Meece, and Amy Grant. But there was some harder rock as well, like Petra and White Heart. Meanwhile, the main Christian radio station in my area at the time was WPIT, 101.5 FM. It played CCM weekdays in the afternoons.

So initially, it was only softer and somewhat harder Christian rock music that I listened to. And listen to it I did. I borrowed many albums not just to listen to but to tape. Now, I must confess now that doing so is not exactly legal, but I never really thought of that back then. I just knew I needed to have some music to listen to. And with Christian music only being played weekday afternoons on the radio, I needed music to listen to at other times. I also taped WPIT in the afternoons just to listen to later. I also began purchasing CCM albums and tapes. So I began to amass a new album and tape collection, but this one with all Christian music.

Now I know that some would say there really is no difference, that I had just replaced one evil with another. But that thought never occurred to me at that time. I KNEW there was a big difference between secular and Christian rock music. I knew it in how it made me feel. Again, the secular music would cause much emotional turmoil while the Christian music would lift my spirits.

Then on Saturday nights, WPIT began featuring "Saturday Night Light." The music featured here was of a much harder rock type. At first, this was a bit difficult as it would "psych me up" like secular rock music did, giving me the desire to lift again. And in fact, around this time (summer 1985), I managed to compete in (and win) a couple of local bench press contests.

But after that, my health deteriorated again, and I stopped lifting altogether. But I continued to listen to the harder Christian rock music. But now, it would psych me up for the LORD. I know that might sound strange to some, but God is worth getting excited about!

For example, when I was thinking about becoming a Christian, I was attending church and other Christian functions but still engaging in many "worldly" activities. On one of my harder rock Christian tapes was a song with the lyrics, "One foot in, one foot out." It was talking about living with one foot in the Christian faith and one foot in the world. That was me. But as the song made clear, I needed to make a decision one way or the other. And that song helped me make the decision for Christ. And many times sine then when I have been struggling spiritually, it has helped me to rededicate myself to the LORD.

Later in the 1980s, I would find there was such a thing as heavy metal Christian music, a.k.a., "White Metal." Resurrection Band was the first such group I heard of. But a Christian friend introduce me to even heavier metal groups like Saint, Bride, WhiteCross, and most famously, Stryper.

It was also in the late ‘80s that I first heard complaints about Christian rock music. This made no sense to me whatsoever. What did such people expect me to listen to, the same boring hymns they used to play back at the Catholic Church?

Actually, by this time, I had left the charismatic church and was attending a small Baptist church. I much preferred the teaching and doctrines of this church. However, the music left a lot to be desired. It also only sang boring hymns. And yes, I said, boring. I tolerated the music to get the sermons. But it never did anything for me spiritually as I found if just too boring.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one who felt that way as there were no other young adults in the church. This was such a contrast with the charismatic church I had left. I really felt at that time the reason for the difference was the music. Most people in the 20s as I was then simply find the old hymns boring.

In fact, I have seen a very clear pattern since then. Churches that use more contemporary music almost always have a younger congregation while churches that play only the old hymns almost always have older congregations. Those who promote only older hymns must accept that such music turns off many younger people.

Moreover, having read the Bible through several times at that point, I did not see any mention whatsoever that any particular style or form of music was somehow wrong. There simply is no Biblical evidence in this regard. So to declare one style of music "good" and another "bad" has no Biblical support whatsoever.

What I did see in the Bible was the various musical instruments of the time being used both for praising the LORD and for praising false gods. Compare for instance, the instruments being used in Daniel 3 in the worship of the golden image created by Nebuchadnezzar with the instruments used to praise the LORD in Psalm 150 and other psalms. Same instruments, but different purposes.

Of course, it is impossible to know at this point what type of melody was being played. But I do know by reading Psalm 150 that worship in Biblical times could get loud and rowdy. So to say that today we must use slow and boring hymns simply is not Biblical.

Psalm 150

1Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary;
    Praise Him in His mighty firmament!

2Praise Him for His mighty acts;
    Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!

3Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
    Praise Him with the lute and harp!

4Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
    Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!

5Praise Him with loud cymbals;
    Praise Him with clashing cymbals!

6Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
    Praise the LORD! (NKJV).


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My Experiences with Secular and Christian Rock Music - Part Two

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

Scripture Workbook
For Personal Bible Study and Teaching the Bible
By Gary F. Zeolla

The above article first appeared in the Free Darkness to Light Newsletter.
It was posted on this site April 8, 2008.

Ethics, Spirituality, Christian Life

Contemporary Christian Music

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