One of the things I have noticed about Christian parents is that they can be on hyper-alert about keeping certain forms of corruption out of their homes, but clueless or carefree about other forms. They are on guard against pictures of porn, for example, and they have filters on their computers, and the family computer is out in a shared living space, and dads talk with their sons about temptations, and so on. But then, in the form of their kids’ Spotify playlists, they allow all manner of aural filth into their homes, allowing their kids to listen to however much the sewage pumps of the music industry can manage.
This is like being really careful to lock up your house every night, at least on the side facing the street, while leaving the back door unlocked, with all the windows open on the back alley side, and with the curtains blowing in and out invitingly.
First the Standard
Christians are given plain instructions on how we are to discipline our minds. This is a regimen for righteousness, and it is supposed to be holy and glad, not duddy and dull. And if Christians are supposed to setting their minds and hearts in this way, then that means that Christian parents need to be teaching their kids to set their minds and hearts in this same way. This is part of what it means to bring your children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:1-4).
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Philippians 4:8 (KJV)
There are all kinds of things going on down here that can allure us, but we are told to look up instead.
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Col. 3:2 (KJV)
As we store up these pure and lovely things, as we set our minds on heavenly things, this affects the content of our hearts. And the content of our hearts drives what comes out of our mouths. The heart drives behavior—but we must remember that there are two kinds of wicked behavior that can result. More on this in a later section.
“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
Matthew 12:34 (KJV)
So the ultimate question is one of friendship. Do you want to be friends with the world, or friends with God? You need to choose because you can’t be both.
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
James 4:4 (KJV)
And Now By Way of Contrast
Now read over those passages just cited, and then ask yourself how they might comport with the fact that your teen-aged daughter is currently in the process of memorizing the following:
“You selfish b***h, I hope you f****n’ burn in hell for this s**t.” (Eminem, Cleanin’ Out My Closet). This is a song about his mom.
“Yeah, reckless behavior
A place that is so pure, so dirty and raw
In the bed all day, bed all day, bed all day
F*****g and fighting on
It’s our paradise and it’s our war zone” (Zayn, Pillowtalk).
“F**k me right
Do me wrong
I’ll still sing the same old song” (Souly Had, Overrated)
These are samplings from some very non-hypothetical playlists.
And so how is this not a form of catechesis in the ways of a liquid and diseased corruption?
Now big towns have always had a wrong side to the tracks. There have always been seedy places to go. If someone wanted to chase corruption down, there were always places he could go to find it. But Christian parents need to come to grips with the fact that corruption is now chasing your kids down. Each one of your teenagers today is walking around with Bourbon Street in his pocket, or in her purse. And in many cases, already downloaded. You are driving off to church, and your (inexplicably sullen) teenager is in the way back, airpods in, preparing his heart for worship by listening to “effin’ on the blim blam, n-word in the vocative plural!”
A Practicum: How to Check
The first thing you don’t want to do is assume that everything is quite all right with your kids, because you might well be quite surprised. I have seen numerous situations where genuinely nice Christian kids, when it comes to their music, have all the discernment of a five-gallon wet vac. So the first step in learning how to check on them is to decide to check on them. You really need to.
Go to Spotify, and type your kid’s name in the search bar. Near the top, the menu bar will have something labeled “Public Playlists.” Click on that, and then navigate to the available playlists. Click on one to open, and then run your cursor down the list of songs. As you do, the songs that your kid should not be listening to will have the word “explicit” pop up. This is a sign that Spotify is more on top of monitoring things than you have been. They are willing to tell you what songs you should keep your kid away from, and it also serves the alternative purpose of telling your chumpy teen-age son what songs to gravitate to.
If you don’t want to wade through acres of gunk to find out what that “explicit” means, and you don’t want to take Spotify’s word for it, you can go to Google, and type in “lyrics/name of artist/name of song.” If you did this for Lana Del Rey, for example, who is a bad one, and her song “Norman f*****g Rockwell,” you would quickly see that—adjusted here for ongoing compliance with Eph. 5:12—this song begins with “G**D*** man child/you f****d me so good I almost said ‘I love you . . .”
You do need to do your own checking on the lyrics, at least on the level of a conscientious sampling, because in some respects this is like the movie ratings system. What Christians may listen should not to be defined by some clueless person in the entertainment industry. After all, if you go and look, you will see that they labeled Sweet Home Alabama as explicit also. They are not always helpful, in other words. So let them flag things without letting them define things. But if you are talking about the average pale white Christian teenager, the chances are pretty good that 98% of the explicit ratings in his playlists are of songs that the algorithms of Spotify placed in the raunchy bucket correctly.
The way to filter out explicit content is easy. First tap home, or if you have Premium, tap library. From that place, tap settings. From settings, tap explicit content. There will be a place there where you can turn off Allow Explicit Content. When you do this, the songs that fit that description are now grayed out and it is not possible to play them—the player will skip over them. That means that if your kid has done this, and goes over to listen to a friend’s playlist, which has 75 songs on it, but he can only play 3 of them, the chances are pretty good that your kid needs some new friends. Either that, or you need to give that kid’s parents a heads up. They may be in the same position you were in.
This is because young people today are routinely tempted by things that their grandfather didn’t find out about until his second year of medical school. Remember what I said about corruption in our day having legs—corruption is now pursuing us.
Two Kinds of Kids
There are two kinds of kids caught up in this business. First, there are those who are drawn to this stuff. They know what they like, and this is what they like. When the devil speaks to them in his native language of lies, they understand him, and they follow him. For this group, their damnation is already well under way. This kind of kid is drawn to this kind of vile behavior. It is bad, and that is why he wants it.
The second kind of kid is being badgered and pushed into it, pressured into it. They do not have a natural affinity for the corruption, but they are really afraid of coming off like some kind of a goody-two-shoes. Their folly is not so much what they want to become as it is what it is they want to avoid being accused of. They are not drawn to the stench itself, but they are repelled by the lies that are going to be told about holiness.
The first kind of kid thinks that way himself, and wants to live that way. The second kind of kid is being maneuvered into living a compartmentalized life. They have a Jesus part of their brain for Sundays, and they have an “eff you, b***h” part of their brain for when they rise up, for when they walk along the road, and for when they sit in their house (Dt. 6:4-9). Their temptation is not that of actually becoming a gangsta, which if attempted would be risible, but rather that of becoming a pasty white hypocrite, the kind with inert worldview thoughts somewhere in the storage room of his head. That one really is achievable. We do it all the time.
Now obviously, in the abstract, no sin is to be preferred over another one. In the temptation, we are never allowed to opt for “the little one.” But with that said, it remains true that some sins lie closer to repentance than other sins do. This is why the prodigal son, buying drinks for whores, was closer to repentance than his older brother was. He was going to repent of his dissolute ways sooner than his brother was going to repent of his fastidious and schizophrenic ways.
“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.”
Matthew 21:31 (NKJV)
So all of this should be taken as a solemn warning. All the Christian kids who console themselves by saying that “they would never” act out any of this need to recognize that this is actually the central temptation. It is the main temptation. If you started to act out, and descended into lived-out immorality, that would be really bad. The only good thing abut it is that there is no ambiguity about the sinfulness. But if you stunt yourself into some senseless in-between place, you are becoming the kind of Christian that Jesus threatened to spit out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16). You are becoming a meh Christian. Like we needed more of those?
But some are going to respond to all of this by saying something like, “Look, it’s just music. Our generation listened to some pretty crappy music too, and we turned out okay. Out of 100 Christian kids listening to this stuff, in twenty years 90 of them are going to be Christian moms, and school teachers, and doctors and lawyers, and pastors, and the world will go on. Calm down.”
The problem with that reasoning is that we didn’t turn out okay. There are millions of professing evangelical Christians in this country, and we nevertheless let Roe get imposed on us, we let Obergefell get imposed on us, we let the tyrannical lock downs get imposed on us, and we continue to allow our evangelical leaders to represent us with an etiolated “gospel-centeredness” that keeps the gospel at the center of a little tiny box that we store in the innermost recesses of our being. So when it comes to maintaining the form of religion while denying the power (2 Tim. 3:5), we are the champions.
We are living in a generation when Brave New World, and 1984, and That Hideous Strength, are all simultaneously descending upon us, visibly, and we are (still) led by celebrity theologians who look at dystopia and call it democracy.
And that is why we are somehow content if 90 out of 100 Christian kids growing up are willing, when they are grown, to still have the word Salt printed on the side of their box. But the Lord Jesus is looking for something else from us, and that something else is actual saltiness.
“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”
Matthew 5:13 (KJV)