A Case for Traditional Music, Part 2

Read Part 1.

How to Judge Worship Music

At this point someone will certainly raise the objection that judging music is terribly subjective. For example, some musicians have taken traditional hymn texts and reset them in a contemporary style. Who is qualified to say whether the older or the newer style better accords with the truths in these texts? If serious and devout people cannot agree on these issues, is that not an indication that these are merely matters of opinion? There are several answers here.

Sustained disagreement, even among sincere believers, is far from an adequate reason to declare a matter to be mere preference.

Surely we realize that in matters of doctrine and practice, Christians of tremendous intelligence and piety have unresolved differences. The fact that such disagreements have not been settled—and show little prospect of ever being settled before the return of our Lord—does not justify our concluding that there is no truth of the matter. While reasons may exist for thinking that music is a matter of preference, a lack of consensus alone is not one of those reasons.

Scripture itself calls us to make exactly these kinds of judgments, and our progress in them is a decisive mark of spiritual maturity.

Consider here two passages from Philippians. The first is Paul’s prayer for that church: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11). Learning to love with discernment, giving our approval to that which truly is excellent, is sanctification. In an important sense, we make progress in Christianity, not merely when we believe the right things and do the right things (out of a sense of duty), but when we come to love what is truly worth loving.

Paul makes a similar point in a familiar passage: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8–9). I am not going to make the claim that you might expect. I am not going to tell you why I think traditional music is honorable and pure and lovely and excellent, and then tell you these verses mean that I am right and you need to love what I love.

No, all I want to say here is that Philippians 4:8 means something. Whatever Paul is saying, he simply cannot be admonishing the Philippians to embrace the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. He is not telling the Philippians to think on whatever things they think are beautiful or they think are lovely. His language explicitly rejects the supposition that value judgments are purely subjective: if there is anything worthy of praise, he says, think on it. Such a statement presumes that some things are indeed worthy of praise.

Again, I am not making an argument for what is lovely; I am only saying that these verses (among others) make clear that loving specific things rightly is an aspect of Christian discipleship. Christian duty is not exhausted in merely knowing God or obeying God, for delighting in God and His good gifts is a core component of discipleship and progress in maturity. This goal cannot be accomplished without making “subjective” judgments.

Those who argue for contemporary worship recognize distinctions in music that undercut their own claim that musical meaning is esoteric.

Even within contemporary music, there are genres and stylistic differences; everyone recognizes these differences and takes them into account when choosing songs and planning worship services. Indeed, much of the rejection of traditional worship music takes the form of critiquing what that music communicates: stiltedness, formalism, a distant God. It cannot work both ways: musical meaning cannot be waved off as a mere subjective interpretation on the one hand and then employed as an objection to traditional music on the other. Advocates of contemporary worship cannot claim that their music communicates the very same emotions as traditional hymnody while simultaneously disparaging what traditional hymnody communicates.

In defending traditional worship, I am compelled to defend one last claim.

The style of traditional worship best expresses the proper affectional responses to the truths of Scripture.

I have suggested some reasons that we cannot simply call this whole thing a matter of opinion. But if I am correct in my larger argument, I must give some account for why so many sincere Christians believe that contemporary music is not only an adequate but indeed a superior expression of Christian affections.

Pastor Mike Augsburger and I agree that no musical style is uniquely Christian in the sense that it has been produced and used only by Christians. But this does not mean that all musical styles that “the world” produces are therefore interchangeable and express the same range of emotions. Every human culture has characteristic virtues and vices when measured by Scripture. Paul recognizes this, for after quoting the proverb “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” he says, “This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:12–13). As cultures express themselves in the arts, we expect them to be displaying their virtues and vices.

In the panel discussion that Mike and I participated in at the 2015 Midwest Congress of Baptist Fundamentalists, Mike argued that American popular music has indisputably changed meaning. There was a day, he contended, in which rock (and related genres) intentionally and successfully communicated sexual liberation and aggression against authority. But now that our bank commercials employ the same music—and what is more staid than a bank?—how can we deny that this music has been emptied of its rebelliousness? From one perspective, Mike’s point is irrefutable: the people to whom we minister no longer see rock music (or other contemporary genres) as expressing sinful values.

My contention in the panel discussion was, and remains, that this music no longer seems to communicate what it once did, not because the music has changed, but because we have. The antiestablishment won the day; the counterculture has become the prevailing culture. I do not think this is seriously contestable. From a broad historical perspective, we do not live in a uniquely depraved culture. But the common grace restraint of lawlessness is certainly less evident in our day. The sexual libertines are increasingly running out of boundaries to transgress. Only darkened minds deny obvious realities, yet denied they are.

To put it bluntly, while our culture may indeed have laudable features, reverence and honor and sobriety and self-control are not high among them. Self-indulgence and strife and disrespect are. Therefore, I see no reason to trust that the popular artistic expressions of our day are likely to express the virtues we want them to express. This has absolutely nothing to do with the origins of any musical genre; it has to do with where we are right now.

Regarding books, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” I have found that the same is true for church music. The music of Luther and Bach, the Genevan Psalter, and the American folk hymn tradition are not saying the same things as contemporary American popular music. The errors to which we are particularly liable are reflected in our contemporary hymnody. The prior ages had their errors, but they understood reverence and judgment and deliverance from judgment, the central themes of worship and the gospel. On this, they are the more trustworthy guides.

From Baptist Bulletin, May/June 2018, with permission. © Regular Baptist Press, all rights reserved.

Michael Riley 2018 bio


Michael Riley is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, MI. Before coming to Wakefield, he served at Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minnesota and International Baptist College of Chandler, Arizona. Pastor Riley received his undergraduate education in Bible from Bob Jones University, his Master of Divinity from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. in apologetics from Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, PA.

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Larry's picture

Moderator

Making an argument means first of all avoiding the slippery slope and guilt by association fallacies, Larry.  Read it for yourself if you doubt me on this, but this isn't an issue of me not understanding it, or simply not agreeing.

Slippery slope and guilt by associations are not necessarily fallacies, though they may be. The Bible uses both. You are hung up on fallacies and they just don't work as you claim they do. It sounds like you often don't have an actual argument. You just try to appeal to your understanding of some logical fallacy. In this case, I am not sure if you understand the argument or not. I have seen no evidence that you do, but then I don't read most of your posts. 

It seems often the case that "you didn't make an argument" means "I don't agree with it." Mike made an argument. It is not an argument for the faint of heart, for those who want to give way to pious platitudes in place of substantive thought. It is an argument that requires an understanding of biblical exegesis and second premise applications. It is an argument that requires an understanding of culture. But it is an argument. And unbelievers have made essentially the same argument.

We realize you don't agree with Mike. That's fine. But let's not pretend that no one has ever made a coherent argument.

It is the complete lack of Biblical evidence for his position combined with a reliance on the genetic fallacy that quite frankly ought to get his books removed altogether from BJU.    

I am not sure who you are talking about here. 

And along those lines, that's why we need to love our brothers enough to gently confront them when they try to abuse Romans 14 with crackpot claims.  For too many years, brothers and sisters in Christ have been hammered into abandoning freedoms Christ gave us this way.

What if your claims are the "crackpot claims"? Where is the biblical argument that music is a Romans 14 issue? You got a verse for that? Of course not. This is a very simplistic way of thinking that does not do justice to the issues at hand. 

I would make an appeal for some graciousness and thoughtfulness. 

JNoël's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

JNoël wrote:

 

I believe this is one reason why a pastor is wise to avoid introducing controversial music into the church if he knows there are members who would be offended. You don't need to do that; there is plenty of God-honoring music that is without controversy, even if a "majority" would like to hear more pop-centric music in church.

 

 

"The smaller church by its nature gives immature, outspoken, opinionated, and broken members a significant degree of power over the whole body. Since everyone knows everyone else, when members of a family or small group express strong opposition to the direction set by the pastor and leaders, their misery can hold the whole congregation hostage. If they threaten to leave, the majority of people will urge the leaders to desist in their project. It is extremely difficult to get complete consensus about programs and direction in a group of 50–150 people, especially in today’s diverse, fragmented society, and yet smaller churches have an unwritten rule that for any new initiative to be implemented nearly everyone must be happy with it. Leaders of small churches must be brave enough to lead and to confront immature members, in spite of the unpleasantness involved."

http://seniorpastorcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Tim-Keller-Size-Dynamics.pdf 

Did you post this because you disagree with my comment? Not sure where you're coming from. I guess it's good food for thought, even if it is pretty obvious. Tim Keller's a smart guy; all he did was well state something any leader with an ounce of experience already knows.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

First of all, slippery slope is often a fallacy, and guilt by assocation  always is.  When you're attacking the person and not the argument, you have a false argument.  It's that simple.  It's not a popular position among those who like to make such arguments, but yet it is the truth. 

Regarding not understanding my position on Garlock's work, read the book if you don't believe me, or for that matter, simply go through the Scriptures and try to place your finger on what passages actually would prohibit the use of certain meters, time signatures, rhythms, instruments, and the like.  Reality is that you'll sooner find a prescription for music with a beat and dancing during church services (Psalms 149-150) than you will find a proscription of modern music forms.

So unless I'm missing something big in the Scriptures, that leaves only one mode of argumentation; guilt by association and other genetic fallacies.  That is exactly the point I brought up to the original post.  The author argues against modern music because, and I quote, 

 while our culture may indeed have laudable features, reverence and honor and sobriety and self-control are not high among them. Self-indulgence and strife and disrespect are. Therefore, I see no reason to trust that the popular artistic expressions of our day are likely to express the virtues we want them to express.

That's textbook guilt by association, Larry.  And it's a mode of argumentation we need to stop, because it's basically throwing rhetorical bombs at the other side, and then we wonder why we're fighting so much.  It's simply because genetic fallacies, and the insults that they contain, are so deeply ingrained in our culture. 

And again, it's also worth noting that Mike's argument is historically and theologically uninformed.  It's theologically uninformed because the sin nature will influence all genre, not just the ones we dislike.  It's historically uninformed because history backs up the theory of the sin nature showing itself in gross public sins. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Andrew K's picture

I don't find the conflation of meaning and morality helpful.

"Morality" is fundamentally linked to God's Law and a reflection of ought. Its nexus is our relationship with God and/or others. "Meaning" speaks of communication, intention, and significance. I.e., a sort of conveyance of a message. It is transactional between two parties. 

The question, then, is whether the medium can convey the complexity of meaning necessary to achieve a form of morality (affirming or negating God's Law--which, don't forget, was given to us in language with words).

Numbers and formula have meaning. Do they convey morality? Only when contextualized. The same with music.

Larry's picture

Moderator

I don't find the conflation of meaning and morality helpful.

There was no conflation at all. I would suggest the actual point I made is helpful even if you don't find it so. But I think this is why the conversation never really goes anywhere. People have their minds made up already. But even so, meaning is fundamental. If you don't know what something means, you have no way of declaring is good or bad. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

This is the only musical standard we need in Baptist churches! Haymen!!!???

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

TylerR wrote:

This is the only musical standard we need in Baptist churches! Haymen!!!???

No thanks! 

The "patriotic hymns" section is too small. We need a better range for the weeks leading up to our "4th o' Joo-lai" Celebration. ;) 

Larry's picture

Moderator

As I said, I don't want to delve deeply here because I think the conversation is lacking some significant issues. But let me try to end my part here quickly.

Regarding not understanding my position on Garlock's work, read the book if you don't believe me, or for that matter, simply go through the Scriptures and try to place your finger on what passages actually would prohibit the use of certain meters, time signatures, rhythms, instruments, and the like.

I understand your position on Garlock's work. It's a bad work and I don't need to read the book. i got it straight from Garlock years ago. But you didn't say anything about Garlock in the previous post. If people are using Garlock's arguments, they should stop.

I am not aware of any passages that prohibit certain meters, time signatures, rhythms, instruments, or the like.  It wouldn't occur to me to search for them. But that's a straw man. If you think that is the issue, then I would suggest you might not know what the conversation is about. That is based on your flawed understanding of what you call "the first fundamental." 

So unless I'm missing something big in the Scriptures

Yes, I think that is the case, and I think you are also missing something big in culture. 

That's textbook guilt by association, Larry. 

It seems you have completely missed Mike's argument. 

And again, it's also worth noting that Mike's argument is historically and theologically uninformed.  It's theologically uninformed because the sin nature will influence all genre, not just the ones we dislike.  It's historically uninformed because history backs up the theory of the sin nature showing itself in gross public sins. ]

I think it is actually quite the opposite, though your last sentence is not clear. 

Again, my only point was to ask one question about whether or not two forms of music were interchangeable. The answer was no for obvious reasons. The question is why those reasons aren't actually part of the conversation. 

Ron Bean's picture

My first exposure to the fundamentalist view of music was massive doses fo Garlock's books, sermons, and lectures. I embraced every detail whole heartedly and regurgitated his "proven facts" to my congregation and students, citing Dr. Garlock as my source. (Quite a leap for a guy like me who spent most of his adult life in the music business before I was saved.)

The summary: Bad music will make you sin! A theory that seems to still exist.

BTW, the definition of "bad" was broad including back beats, tri-tones (?), music with its roots in Africa, hand-held microphones, "scooping", amplified instruments, and guitars (unless you didn't have a piano, then a guitar was OK as long as you didn't play it in a worldly manner.)

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Larry, I'm glad we agree that there is no argument from Scripture, but if not from there, where else can the argument be made?  From where do we get the premises of our syllogisms?

If not from Scripture, it must be the wisdom of men, no?  

And that would be bad enough, but quite frankly, Mike simply santiizes the argument of Garlock by saying he doesn't trust music from today's culture because of the perceived faults of today's culture.  It's superficially more socially acceptable than Garlock's "devil's beat" arguments, but in practice, it really means about the same thing; modern music, meaning the various forms of rock & roll, rap, and the like--those forms derived from jazz and blues, and transitively from black gospel--is not acceptable.  

And if we think that our brothers and sisters of African descent don't catch on to what this really means, dream on.  

Once again, if there is indeed an argument from Scripture that would bound the range of acceptable music styles without contradicting the clear implications of Psalms 149 and 150, I'd be glad to hear it, but quite frankly, I've not yet seen it.

One other note; the historical analysis of the original article is quite frankly incoherent, as it asserts on one side that today's culture is not uniquely sinful, but on the flip side, it argues that the common grace restraint of lawlessness is less evident.  In other words, we're not more sinful than ever, but we are.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Larry wrote:

But even so, meaning is fundamental. If you don't know what something means, you have no way of declaring is good or bad. 

Are you VanTilian? Do you believe everything is either evil or good?

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

JNoël's picture

Larry wrote:

Is there a third option?

Yes - neither. But I didn't need to say that, of course; you already know there are those who believe there are things that have no morality - that's how we interpret Paul's meat. So, larger than the question "is music amoral" then becomes the question "is amorality scriptural?"

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Larry's picture

Moderator

Yes - neither. But I didn't need to say that, of course; you already know there are those who believe there are things that have no morality - that's how we interpret Paul's meat.

I think you need to explain what you mean by neither. Are you saying there are things about which God has no view? That's the actual question we need to ask and answer. I think the answer to that is "No." With God everything is either good or evil; acceptable or unacceptable. 

In Paul, the issue wasn't that meat had no morality. Paul (and other passages) clearly declare that the meat was good. It was acceptable to God. It was people's consciences that were deficient. But that's a far different thing than participating in idol worship with the use of that (good) meat. 

I think you are shifting the categories a bit by conflating a thing with the use of a thing. And the fact that people believe something is irrelevant. 

Furthermore, the assumption that music=meat is far too easily assumed and it actually needs to be argued. What if music isn't meat at all in the terms of 1 Cor?

Again, I don't have a lot of time for this and these discussions typically aren't productive because of the overly simplistic approach. But I think this is missing an awful lot of questions.

Larry's picture

Moderator

I'm glad we agree that there is no argument from Scripture, but if not from there, where else can the argument be made?  From where do we get the premises of our syllogisms?

Again you seem not to understand the conversation. The "no argument from Scripture" was in response to your specific questions. The idea that there is no argument from Scripture about the way we approach God or the way we speak to God and about God is not true. God does reveal something about how we approach God and how we talk about God and to God. He even shows us how it works in other cultures.

The premise of our syllogisms comes from Scripture. What does not come from Scripture is the 2nd premise (and that's what you are focusing on). That requires an understanding of culture and an understanding of meaning.

Mike simply santiizes the argument of Garlock by saying he doesn't trust music from today's culture because of the perceived faults of today's culture.

Again, I think you don't understand Mike's argument. Mike is a friend of mine and Mike and I don't see directly eye to eye on this. But I think I understand his argument. And I think you don't. 

One other note; the historical analysis of the original article is quite frankly incoherent, as it asserts on one side that today's culture is not uniquely sinful, but on the flip side, it argues that the common grace restraint of lawlessness is less evident.  In other words, we're not more sinful than ever, but we are.

Surely you are not arguing that today's culture is uniquely sinful. And surely you are not arguing that humans aren't growing worse and worse. Both of those are clear teachings of Scripture. So to say the historical argument is incoherent needs better support than what you offered here. 

Bert Perry's picture

If you think I'm missing his point, then clarify it, Larry.  As it stands, I'm the one quoting him, and it's textbook guilt by association fallacy.  It is that simple, Larry.  It is sanitized Garlock, but with the exact same conclusion.  White man's music prior to Elvis Presley is OK, other peoples' music not so much.  And again, if you think minorities don't catch on, dream on.

And to be blunt about the matter, if Mike's argument is so esoteric that guys with a master's degree aren't understanding it--that's not just me, but also Tyler and I presume Andrew--then he still needs to refine it, no matter how good it is.  

But let's be blunt about the matter; it ain't that esoteric, Larry.  Mike clearly argues that music associated with our current culture is out of bounds.  Again, that's guilt by association, and that fails freshman rhetoric class 50 years back in any reputable college.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

I'm the one quoting him, and it's textbook guilt by association fallacy. 

Yes, but are you representing him in a way that he would recognize? 

Have you ever considered that you might be too in love with your thinking? Are you really listening to Mike on Mike's terms? When I read Mike, I see a completely different argument. Now, I have the advantage of knowing Mike a little bit and of having seen/heard/read/discussed this for more than thirty years. But if you aren't representing Mike as he would represent himself, you have violated the first part of critique. 

It is that simple, Larry.  It is sanitized Garlock, but with the exact same conclusion.  White man's music prior to Elvis Presley is OK, other peoples' music not so much.  And again, if you think minorities don't catch on, dream on.

No, it's not that simple and it's not the exact same conclusion. My guess is that Mike is a bigger critic of Garlock than you are. The argument has little to nothing to do with association and everything to do with meaning. 

And to be blunt about the matter, if Mike's argument is so esoteric that guys with a master's degree aren't understanding it--that's not just me, but also Tyler and I presume Andrew--then he still needs to refine it, no matter how good it is

The argument is not that esoteric. It's actually rather simple and one that everyone acknowledges by and large in the world around them. He may need to refine it. I think there are some areas where he should, and some points he should abandon. But some people are just determined to reject any argument about the issue without even hearing it on its own terms. Whether that is you, or Tyler, or Andrew is for you to determine for yourselves. I have no idea. But I am fairly confident that what you are objecting to is not what Mike is arguing. It doesn't take a Master's degree to figure that out. Just read the article.

It would not be unexpected that a person with advanced degrees, even PhDs, in other fields of study might not follow an argument or might disagree with it. It would not be unexpected that people with no degrees might understand it. It would

Why not give us a bibliography of works that you have studied on culture, meaning, etc. That way we could have some idea of seriously we can take your view and what is informing your view. 

Mike clearly argues that music associated with our current culture is out of bounds. 

No, he doesn't.

JNoël's picture

Larry wrote:

I think you need to explain what you mean by neither. Are you saying there are things about which God has no view? That's the actual question we need to ask and answer. I think the answer to that is "No." With God everything is either good or evil; acceptable or unacceptable. 

No, I really don't. Because you believe one thing, I and many others believe another. You believe everything is either good or evil, but others have argued there is a legitimate third category of things that are neither good nor evil, they have no inherent morality (they are amoral).

This argument has been well developed over the ages by both sides, and there will be, until the end of time, both sides. And it is why the music debate will always exist.

So it's not that I don't want to keep the conversation going, it's just that nothing else really can be said that hasn't already been said elsewhere. Some will believe one, others will believe the other, and neither will know who is correct - we must each be convinced in our own consciences which is the belief we are best able to reconcile with scripture. I believe there is nothing wrong with listening to Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas. I wouldn't have it playing as background music in my church (context does matter), but I don't believe I am sinning by listening to it in my home. But, depending on the people I invited to my house, I may choose not to turn it on if I felt it may offend them.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Larry's picture

Moderator

JNoel, So you believe that there are things about which God has no opinion whatsoever? Can you give an example of something like that?

I think something is either pleasing to God or it's not. It may be pleasing in one situation and not in another. But that's because it has meaning. But there is no middle ground that I can see where God has no view of something. That's the disconnect here, IMO. To say that something is neutral is to say God has no view of it. 

So in the end, I think the conversation needs to be of a different sort. 

Don Johnson's picture

JNoël wrote:

Some will believe one, others will believe the other, and neither will know who is correct - we must each be convinced in our own consciences which is the belief we are best able to reconcile with scripture.

That sounds awfully postmodern. Are you sure you want to make "fully convinced in his own mind" = postmodern relativism?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

JNoël's picture

Larry wrote:

JNoel, So you believe that there are things about which God has no opinion whatsoever? Can you give an example of something like that?

Sure. A toothbrush. Silly example, I suppose, but if a toothbrush is amoral, then one cannot say everything has morality.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

JNoël's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

That sounds awfully postmodern. Are you sure you want to make "fully convinced in his own mind" = postmodern relativism?

What you call postmodern relativism some call discernment. I know you know these things, Don, so please get to your point.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Jay's picture

Does this sound postmodern to you?

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
‭‭
Romans‬ ‭14:4-12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Larry's picture

Moderator

Sure. A toothbrush. Silly example, I suppose, but if a toothbrush is amoral, then one cannot say everything has morality.

I would say a toothbrush is pleasing to God. It is good for people to care for the bodies that God has given them. If you are trying to say that a piece of plastic with bristles is amoral, then fine. But that is really to miss the point of the whole discussion. 

Kevin Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

I think something is either pleasing to God or it's not. It may be pleasing in one situation and not in another. But that's because it has meaning.

I have to admit that I'm having a hard time processing your statements here. You make an absolute statement that God is either pleased with something or he's not. But then you say that this absolute pleasure or displeasure is actually relative depending on the situation. Is it the inherent "meaning" of something that makes God pleased or displeased, or is it the situation that determines whether God is pleased or displeased?

Don Johnson's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

 

JNoël wrote:

 

Some will believe one, others will believe the other, and neither will know who is correct - we must each be convinced in our own consciences which is the belief we are best able to reconcile with scripture.

 

 

That sounds awfully postmodern. Are you sure you want to make "fully convinced in his own mind" = postmodern relativism?

You imply "right" vs. "wrong" when you say, "neither will know who is correct". That sounds like you have alternate truths to me.

Jay, Romans 14 refers to holding a day sacred or not. These are not the same thing as saying the product of one's heart (music) has no meaning or no moral value.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry's picture

Moderator

You make an absolute statement that God is either pleased with something or he's not. But then you say that this absolute pleasure or displeasure is actually relative depending on the situation. Is it the inherent "meaning" of something that makes God pleased or displeased, or is it the situation that determines whether God is pleased or displeased?

Not sure why that is hard to follow. Depending on the thing, it might be either or both. This has been standard orthodox teaching for millennia. For instance, God is absolutely displeased with idol worship. It doesn't depend on the situation. But if we are talking about sexual intimacy, God is pleased with it in some situations and not pleased in others. I apologize for not seeing the confusion here. Perhaps if you can clarify your confusion I can take a better run at it. 

Perhaps you can explain this mystical third category of something God is neither pleased nor displeased with. I can't wrap my head around that. I can't figure out how an all-knowing and perfectly wise God who is pursuing his own glory has a bunch of things in his creation that he cares not one whit about one way or the other. If he says, "Do all to the glory of God" (and he does), then doesn't that mean something about everything and God's interest in it? So it seems to me that a toothbrush can bring glory to God as it is used, and it does so in way that a steel brush would not bring glory to God if used in the same way. Those two things do not do the same thing with respect to the glory of God, do they? Or does God not care if we brush our teeth with a steel wire brush?

The point with respect to music (and I am way past my intent of participation here) goes back to my original question comparing Norah Jones and Kathleen Battle (or anyone of numbers of others we could compare). Can we really say those forms or styles of music communicate the exact same thing? Of course not, and it has nothing to do with the words. That is not to say that one is right and the other wrong. The question in that matter is one of propriety for the occasion. Does the meaning of the music fit the occasion for which it is being used? Or to be more specific, should we sing to God like a sultry lounge singer? Is that the same as singing to God in a majestic manner? Or does a barbershop quartet mean the same thing as a requiem? To use a different illustration, would the movies of Charlie Chaplin be the same to the soundtrack of Schindler's List? Of course not. Why? Because music has meaning, and the meaning of the very serious and sobering music would conflict with the slapstick comedy of silent movies. 

It kind of goes to Mike's point that no one here has addressed to my knowledge. The minute someone rejects traditional music as being too formal, or too boring, or too whatever, they have given away the farm. They have acknowledged that music has meaning and they have decided that meaning is wrong for the occasion of worship. At that point, the question isn't "Does music have meaning?" The only question is, "How do we know what music means?" 

Ron Bean's picture

The application of musical standards to particular pieces of music is where this discussion gets real.........and sticky. (Does this check?) 

This selection is an example. I've heard it praised and condemned. Does anybody dare to apply your standard to this?

Ngokujabula!

To quote my 16 year old self: "What's wrong with this?" (SMILE)

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Kevin Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

You make an absolute statement that God is either pleased with something or he's not. But then you say that this absolute pleasure or displeasure is actually relative depending on the situation. Is it the inherent "meaning" of something that makes God pleased or displeased, or is it the situation that determines whether God is pleased or displeased?

Not sure why that is hard to follow. Depending on the thing, it might be either or both. This has been standard orthodox teaching for millennia. For instance, God is absolutely displeased with idol worship. It doesn't depend on the situation. But if we are talking about sexual intimacy, God is pleased with it in some situations and not pleased in others. I apologize for not seeing the confusion here. Perhaps if you can clarify your confusion I can take a better run at it. 

Perhaps you can explain this mystical third category of something God is neither pleased nor displeased with. I can't wrap my head around that. I can't figure out how an all-knowing and perfectly wise God who is pursuing his own glory has a bunch of things in his creation that he cares not one whit about one way or the other. If he says, "Do all to the glory of God" (and he does), then doesn't that mean something about everything and God's interest in it? So it seems to me that a toothbrush can bring glory to God as it is used, and it does so in way that a steel brush would not bring glory to God if used in the same way. Those two things do not do the same thing with respect to the glory of God, do they? Or does God not care if we brush our teeth with a steel wire brush?

The point with respect to music (and I am way past my intent of participation here) goes back to my original question comparing Norah Jones and Kathleen Battle (or anyone of numbers of others we could compare). Can we really say those forms or styles of music communicate the exact same thing? Of course not, and it has nothing to do with the words. That is not to say that one is right and the other wrong. The question in that matter is one of propriety for the occasion. Does the meaning of the music fit the occasion for which it is being used? Or to be more specific, should we sing to God like a sultry lounge singer? Is that the same as singing to God in a majestic manner? Or does a barbershop quartet mean the same thing as a requiem? To use a different illustration, would the movies of Charlie Chaplin be the same to the soundtrack of Schindler's List? Of course not. Why? Because music has meaning, and the meaning of the very serious and sobering music would conflict with the slapstick comedy of silent movies. 

It kind of goes to Mike's point that no one here has addressed to my knowledge. The minute someone rejects traditional music as being too formal, or too boring, or too whatever, they have given away the farm. They have acknowledged that music has meaning and they have decided that meaning is wrong for the occasion of worship. At that point, the question isn't "Does music have meaning?" The only question is, "How do we know what music means?" 

I'll try to clarify my thoughts by talking about something I see included in the "mystical third category." Let's talk about PAINT. We won't talk about color yet, or whether it is oil-based or water color. Just the general category of paint. Is paint pleasing to God or displeasing? I'm thinking your answer may be - "It depends on the circumstance." So let's examine that. Paint can be used in beautiful, God-honoring artwork, and paint can be used in vile, degenerate artwork. The finished product would certainly be pleasing or displeasing to God, but would the finished artwork make the actual paint itself pleasing or displeasing to God? The act of painting a degenerate picture would be displeasing to God, but would that act make the paint or the paint brush or the canvas all displeasing? To me, it sounds rather petty if God were to get displeased with paint or paintbrushes simply because humans use them inappropriately.

So let's put some paint on paper and make it an actual artwork, so we can compare it better to music. I'll put a circle of red paint on the paper. What meaning does that have? What does it communicate? It's an artwork, so it must have meaning, right? Is there anything inherent in that red circle that gives it a particular meaning that God would be pleased or displeased with. I'll title the artwork "Mars." So my intention is that the artwork represents the planet Mars, Since Mars was created by God, the artwork must be pleasing to God. But wait. A WWII veteran sees my picture and is instantly reminded of the center of the Japanese flag and feels the pain of losing his fellow soldiers. Is my intended meaning usurped by what someone else sees as the meaning? Never mind that the third person just sees the logo for Target stores. Perhaps advertising has totally usurped the meaning of a red circle. What my three examples actually show are not "meanings," in my opinion, but are actually "associations." I associate a red circle with Mars, so that's why I see the circle in that way. Another person associates it with the Japanese and another with Target stores. All of them are understandable associations, but none of them are the inherent "meaning" of a red circle. Does a red circle even have an inherent meaning apart from it's associations? I don't see how it would. I think the same applies to music. Whatever meaning we think a lyric-less piece may have is actually derived from the associations we apply to the piece.

So let's look at the examples of music that you gave when you asked "Does the meaning of the music fit the occasion for which it is used." Your first example was "Should we sing to God like a sultry lounge singer?" Are you talking here about a "meaning" or an "association." Your word "like" definitely indicates an association. The question then becomes whether some music is SO associated with "lounge singing" that no one can think of it in any other way. You then mentioned singing in a "majestic manner." Is "majestic manner" something inherently pleasing to God? I would think someone singing in a "majestic manner" would be trying to call attention to themselves, but that's only because "majestic manner" is such a subjective way of describing singing. My personal associations of someone singing majestically may be different than yours. You then asked "Does a barbershop quartet mean the same thing as a requiem?" Sure, some music is associated with barbershop quartets and some music is associated with funerals. In fact, in those examples, there is a very strong association really does cause people to think of barbershop quartets and funerals when they hear that type of music, but it is the association that is causing that perception, and not some inherent meaning in the music itself. Can you give me an example of "meaning" in a piece of music without using some sort of association?

Bert Perry's picture

....it's actually immaterial.  Let us grant that there is another argument that says that traditional (e.g. hymns, or camp meeting songs, or whatever) music is insufficient, and that that proves.....not that there is an inherent meaning to the music, but rather that that camp says so.  Now, is it possible for two groups of people to be simultaneously at odds with each other and wrong to boot?  Absolutely--and if you doubt this, didn't we just have an election between two groups of people who were both at odds with each other and dead wrong on many issues?   That portion of the argument is a simple "tu quoque"/"you too" argument.  

And really, even if it did prove something, it doesn't get us to the conclusion Mike suggests; that modern forms of music are unacceptable.  To get there, we need actual evidence that musical forms actually have intrinsic meanings that indicate that one mode of music is acceptable and another not.

That is, moreover, problematic, because what we're talking about as objectionable is primarily rock & roll, but the same musical techniques in rock & roll are endemic to black Gospel, jazz, and blues--as well as rap.  So if we say, as does the original writer, that somehow the current social condition implicates rock & roll, then we have simultaneously denigrated those who survived slavery, Jim Crow, and who made the Harlem Renaissance.  See the problem with that?  

Sorry, but Mike's argument is at its heart still Garlock and Gothard's, and quite frankly, those trained in music will tell you not that music has intrinsic virtues or faults, but rather that it conveys certain moods.  And unless we're willing to say that such a mood is inherently sinful--Scripture again certainly will not get us there--that too is a dead end.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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