Loving God with All Your...Music?

GuitarDetermining what music is or is not appropriate for the Christian is a hard nut to crack. We’ve all heard of the “Worship Wars” that have been going on for decades (and, it could be argued, even going back to the Reformation), and the rise of fundamentalism this past century has really escalated the issue.

In separating from the world, fundamentalists have taken measures to build a defense of their music standards, but sometimes that defense comes across as somewhat abrasive. Instead of shooting other sheep in the flock, is it possible to reach a level of cordiality among Christians of different backgrounds? Here are a few principles that I believe can help us determine what kind of music is appropriate for the personal lives of Christians.

1. Be committed to whatever the Bible requires

If all of our thoughts are to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), then there’s not a square inch of real estate in our lives that is available for rent. Even in our private lives, we need to be concerned about what God wants in worship, because every act is to be an act of glorifying God (1 Cor. 10:31). There’s no time that is truly “me time” during which we can unplug ourselves from our dedication to Christ.

Having made that somewhat obvious point, I have a hard time deriving many specifics from the Bible regarding musical choices. I hate to rain on the I-get-my-personal-music-standards-from-the-Bible parade, but the truth is that the Bible has more than 600 vague references to music, and none at all to musical styles. We know that some music can refresh our spirits (1 Sam. 16), and maybe the case can be made that some music can make sounds similar to that of war (Ex. 32). But does any of that information give us guidance for particular styles? I would say no, though there are several other points that can guide our thinking on this issue.

2. Recognize music’s ambivalence

A professor at the University of Bordeaux, France, once wrote about the ambivalence of technology. Technology is not neutral or amoral, he said, for it is always used for good or bad. In and of itself, it is ambivalent—it can go either way. He used a knife analogy to say that a knife could peel an apple or kill a person.

Similarly, music is not neutral or amoral, but it is ambivalent. No one can jot down an inherently evil rhythm or play a sinful chord progression, though many artists have combined musical elements (including lyrics and video) that feed sinful desires. There is no question that God’s gifts can be perverted. However, just because certain rhythms, etc., can be physical, they are not necessarily wrong. An upbeat, driving piece of music played before a basketball game can be an appropriate way to provide an athletic, physical atmosphere, just as a composition with heavy, predominant percussion can set the tone for a battle scene in a movie.

Christian leaders have made an honest attempt to protect young people from worldliness, but in doing so, some of those leaders have unfortunately alienated young people by preaching against styles of music that are intrinsically ambivalent.

3. Don’t add to the Bible

Christians must give each other a large degree of latitude when it comes to defending a biblical position on music. Some Christians take the “ready, fire, aim” approach—blast anyone who’s not like them, and then figure out a semi-plausible case. But Christian leaders would do well to remember that unbiblically binding the consciences of other Christians is a sin (1 Tim. 4:1-5). If music is a gift to be enjoyed, then every restriction on that gift needs to have an airtight argument. The Bible says much about music in general, but nothing about style specifically, and Paul, in 1 Timothy 4, is remarkably hostile to the idea that someone would dare to legislate morality on an issue about which God has been largely silent.

One passage that is sometimes used in an attempt to justify extra-biblical prohibitions is Acts 15. Verses 20 and 29 include restrictions that don’t seem related to the moral law, and Paul’s response to dietary (and other) restrictions is that such restrictions are demonic (1 Tim. 4:1-5) and a sign of worldliness (Col. 2:18-23). It appears that whatever the Jerusalem Council did in Acts 15 is not appropriate now, and perhaps wasn’t appropriate then either.

The two familiar passages on Christian liberty—Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8—provide pictures of interaction between Christians who disagree on non-doctrinal issues, and the picture is vastly different than the picture in Galatians 1. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 talk about living peaceably with Christians who differ in interpretation. Paul’s cursing the wolves that are destroying the foundations of the gospel (Gal. 1:8-9) is perfectly legitimate, but our cursing of sheep that bleat differently from us must certainly grieve the Holy Spirit.

An oft-quoted statement attributed to Augustine goes like this: “In essentials, unity; in things indifferent, liberty; in all things, charity.” Maybe it would be nice to have every Christian be as conservative as we are, but if God’s Word has not put specific boundaries around music styles, we are epitomizing legalism—not to mention adding to Scripture—in our attempts to be devout.1

4. Use a food analogy

One of the most helpful things for my thinking on music has been to compare music choices to food choices. Before anyone cries “Foul!” because music is an act of worship and food is just food, remember 1 Corinthians 10:31—even our food choices should glorify God.

Some food is healthier than other food, and some food may have no health benefit whatsoever—it just tastes good. John Piper has done the body of Christ a lot of good in reminding us that the pursuit of pleasure—far from being inherently sinful—can be a very biblical endeavor. One of the most recognized statements from Desiring God is that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.”2 Smart young people hear the argument that “certain music caters to the flesh” and translate it into “if you like something, it’s bad.” But is it really a moral lapse to like something because it makes me feel good? Greasy food may harm the temple of the Holy Spirit to some degree, but how far should we go in saying that greasy food is sinful? Sometimes I just want a cheeseburger.

Some music might be healthier (there’s more artistic quality to it), but the other stuff isn’t necessarily sinful. And if children are trained to appreciate “finer” music, they just might end up choosing healthier music because they recognize its higher quality (and not just because they’ve been brow-beaten into feeling guilty any time a drum kicks in).

5. Cultivate your musical taste

Speaking of food, Christians should develop a taste for high quality music. Just as some foods do better things for the body than others, so too does some music do better things for the mind. Just as great books reward careful reading and other books are nothing but entertainment, so too is great music something that can be studied and appreciated on an intellectual and artistic level.

I don’t have anything against “fun music,” just as I have nothing against cheeseburgers, but children need to learn how to eat good things, read good things, and listen to good things too. Many young people, having been reared on a strict diet of only fundamentalist-sanctioned music (and having been taught that “fun music is bad music”), are reaching the age where they can make their own decisions, and when that door of freedom cracks open, they kick it down and leave the old music in the remaining rubble.

Some music is definitely harmful (because of its emphasis on rebellion, illicit relationships, or other sins), but one of the biggest ways to make sure that our families are not swept away by the draw of harmful music is by inculcating an appreciation for fine music at an early age. If possible, children should take music lessons and be involved in solos and ensembles with instruments and voice, and we should play classical music in our homes.

I have a broader appreciation of music because of the priority my parents, church, high school, and university put on it. I still listen to music from SoundForth and The Wilds from time to time, and often I’d rather listen to Rutter’s Gloria than something by Josh Groban. During the Christmas season, I’d much rather hear Handel’s Messiah any day of the week over the goofy stuff on popular radio stations.

Conclusion

Of course, other intelligent Christians may disagree with me. My degree was not in music, but I’ve been heavily involved with music my entire life, including the privilege of singing for several seasons with a community chorus—not to mention substantial involvement in quality high school, collegiate, and church music programs.

A clear and present danger is that our looks of scorn towards those who are less musically conservative (“those worldly Christians”) might be noticed by our children, and when they start making their own choices, they might cast those same looks back at us and all the rest of the people who “still believe that stuff.” However, if we relax the white-knuckled grip on our children’s music choices, maybe, just maybe, they’ll start making wise choices on their own and love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, strength, and music. (Uh oh. Did I just add to the Bible?)

Certainly, just as rules alone won’t stop people from making bad choices, neither will a relaxing of rules necessarily promote good choices. But as more decades pass, I think that we will find that we were much like the medieval geocentric Christians—we were well-meaning in our attempt to be devout, but over time, we’ve come to discover that the heliocentric Christians weren’t as worldly as we thought.

Notes

1 For much more mature and well-written pieces on differences between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, see Kevin Bauder’s timely posts—”Now, About Those Differences“—here at SharperIron.org.

2 Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1986.

[node:bio/jeremy-larson body]

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There are 45 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate this perspective on a long debated subject... not really taking either "side" with a blinding passion.
And I share Jeremy's interest in developing deeper and higher musical awareness in kids. Last year I was greatly encouraged recently to see our local high school choir sing something in Latin at the Baccalaureate. It was the first evidence I'd ever seen that the school was making students aware that music actually existed before the 20th century.

(About the Jerusalem council, though... Ac 15.28 seems pretty clear that the council did do the right thing at the time.)

I appreciate the point about ambivalence. Not sure I'd reason to all the same conclusions, but the "is music amoral?" debate is one that should have died a long time ago. Music is always used and nothing is amoral in use. I'd also argue that the suitability of certain styles for particular uses also tilts the ambivalence one way or another--often heavily.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Charlie's picture

Jeremy Larson wrote:

An oft-quoted statement attributed to Augustine goes like this: "In essentials, unity; in things indifferent, liberty; in all things, charity."

Hey Jeremy, sorry I'm not discussing your actual piece more, but I couldn't pass up this opportunity to let people know that the quote above is not, in fact, by Augustine.

Here's a brief link on its history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_necessariis_unitas,_in_dubiis_libertas,_...

Here's a more substantial one: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/augustine/quote.html

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Steve Newman's picture

Quote:
I have a broader appreciation of music because of the priority my parents, church, high school, and university put on it. I still listen to music from SoundForth and The Wilds from time to time, and often I’d rather listen to Rutter’s Gloria than something by Josh Groban.

I think I agree to a point. I also think this is where things break down. The author states that he appreciates better music because it was emphasized to him, but that he doesn't think it needs to be emphasized so strongly in the future.
How many families are content to eat junk food? By saying that it is OK once in a while, it just seems to be opening the door a lot wider.
I think the ambivalence analogy is closer than the old moral/amoral view of the past, though.

Philip's picture

To Steve: a high-fat menu is precisely God's inspired picture of his plans for us in salvation (Isa. 25:6).

Greg Long's picture

Thank you, Jeremy, for this post. It was well written and I share your perspectives.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

MKBennett's picture

Is "ambivalence" really the right term? It seems to me that ambivalence has to do with a person's attitude about someting resulting in an action. I don't see how technology, or music for that matter, can be in and of itself ambivalent. It is the user of the knife that determines to kill or peel the apple. Is my laptop computer moral or immoral? It is neither. I can use it for moral or immoral purposes.

It is true that music is language. How clear that language is, and what it communicates is the topic of much discussion. I wonder though, if the morality of music (and the message it communicates) is more determined by the culture than anything. I remember when the Beatles came to the USA in the early 60's and many a preacher (and college professor) preached passionately about that "hellish" music. Forty years later the music (without text) is considered relatively benign, and even imitated by some of our most conservitive music arrangers.

Additionally, I think Jeremy has made a valid point about the Bible's lack of reference to music style. That gives us great liberty in determining what is best (and God-glorifying) for ourselves, and our individual churches, as it should be.

mkbennett

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Quote:
A clear and present danger is that our looks of scorn towards those who are less musically conservative

It's not just the choices that we make about things like music, clothing, entertainment, etc... but our attitude towards those who've made different choices- or maybe haven't really made any choices yet because they are still growing in grace and knowledge and they are continuing their previous behaviors by default rather than 'on purpose'. We often grow in knowledge but not in grace- hence the scornfulness instead of humility and compassion.

We have to realize that it is well night impossible to be consistent about some things. I remember when my dad would not shop at any store that sold alcohol and/or cigarettes (probably because before he got saved he was a bar-hopping chain-smoker). If he were living today, he'd have to forsake that practice. It was an unsustainable conviction.

I think music is like that too, because even if you believe rock music is from the pits-of-Hell, you can't listen to talk radio without hearing bumper music, or shop in a store that doesn't play Top 40 or the Best of the 70's, 80's, and 90's, or watch television.

Which reminds me- one of my kids was singing some song from 'my time', and I was wondering why on earth they'd be singing "Major Tom(Coming Home)"- but they'd heard a commercial using that song, and like me, they are sponges when it comes to music.

I'm definitely on the band wagon of impressing quality music on my kids so that they don't develop a taste for 'junk' music.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Don't numbers 2 and 4 contradict each other? If something has no intrinsic value, how can one example be better or worse than another?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Don't numbers 2 and 4 contradict each other? If something has no intrinsic value, how can one example be better or worse than another?

I think it goes back to use and fitness for use. But there even to that aspect than I think many realize.

A thought experiment...
Suppose you have this hypothetical piece of music in an opaque and sound proof box where it's playing itself... it also composed itself. This is music no human being was involved in producing and no human is involved in hearing. Put another box next to it with "different" music in it (yes, I know, we'd never know it was different... try to overlook that). We could probably emphatically say that one is just as good as the other--or rather, that they are equally morally neutral.

But in the real world music is always

  1. produced by somebody who had motives, ideas, affections, goals, responses, etc.
  2. heard by somebody who has all of the above

    The consequence is that while it's "ambivalent" (a better word is probably needed but it's a huge improvement over "amoral"!), it always goes one way or the other morally when it's made in the first place and, thereafter, whenever it's heard. So the music never exists in the insulated box that would be required to call it amoral.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

KevinM's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Don't numbers 2 and 4 contradict each other? If something has no intrinsic value, how can one example be better or worse than another?

Chip, oh, Chip...don't you know what happens when you emphasize beats two and four? Smile

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

You start wigglin'! http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys.php ][img ]http://www.freesmileys.org/smileys/smiley-dance011.gif[/img ]
(But to make sure we're taken very seriously when we disapprove, we call it "gyrating")

This may be of some help on the "ambivalence" question...

Webster wrote:
ambivalence 1 : simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action
2 a : continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite) b : uncertainty as to which approach to follow

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ambivalent

#2a sort of works

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

TRJones's picture

Two points to think about:

1. How much does God care about our ability to differentiate musical whole grains from white bread from
"witches' brew" (apologies for the alliteration)? Does Phil. 1:9-11 speak to this?
2. Can the music itself affect our decision, or--given the lack of references to musical style--must we reserve our examination to texts?

I know my own answers, and I think I know Jeremy's. But is there consensus?

Todd Jones

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Hey Kevin, I didn't number them; I just referred to them.

Aaron, so am I missing something or not. I understand ambivalent music to be music without inherent goodness or badness (amoral though we are trying not to use that word). That would seem to indicate a position that says music does not communicate in and of itself, but rather only in association with previous experiences.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Shaynus's picture

Jeremy,

Great article. I'm sure Mr. W is about to throw his electronic baton at you Smile

The comparison to food is really interesting. The comparisons really work in my mind. Both have been controversial in church history. It's a part of every day life, and the Bible isn't clear on exactly what the people of God post-cross are supposed to eat, or listen to. We're supposed to flex our conscience muscles and reason from scripture what is BEST in a given situation.

I did a sermon for my church on a theology of food. One passage that stuck out to me was 1 Cor 10 just before the WILDS passage, "If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience."

The issue of meat offered to idols is really complex, but there seems to be a way that we can give credit to our non-Christian friends in this area of conscience by in some way partaking in a controversial/weaker brother issue that can help evangelistic interaction with that friend. But there is a line: if he suggests that you are partaking in sin with him.

He goes on to say. . . "But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—"
(1 Corinthians 10:27-28 ESV)

Great work. Keep it coming.

Shayne

mounty's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Don't numbers 2 and 4 contradict each other? If something has no intrinsic value, how can one example be better or worse than another?

I think it goes back to use and fitness for use. But there even to that aspect than I think many realize.

A thought experiment...
Suppose you have this hypothetical piece of music in an opaque and sound proof box where it's playing itself... it also composed itself. This is music no human being was involved in producing and no human is involved in hearing. Put another box next to it with "different" music in it (yes, I know, we'd never know it was different... try to overlook that). We could probably emphatically say that one is just as good as the other--or rather, that they are equally morally neutral.

But in the real world music is always

  1. produced by somebody who had motives, ideas, affections, goals, responses, etc.
  2. heard by somebody who has all of the above

    The consequence is that while it's "ambivalent" (a better word is probably needed but it's a huge improvement over "amoral"!), it always goes one way or the other morally when it's made in the first place and, thereafter, whenever it's heard. So the music never exists in the insulated box that would be required to call it amoral.

According to quantum mechanics there's no guarantee there even *is* music playing until you open the box, and even then up until that point the music can be said to be both moral and immoral. We'll call it "Blumer's Musicbox" and move on. Biggrin (Though I do have good reason to go there.)

Whether or not music is a moral or amoral agent isn't really the point. Music, as Aaron so deftly pointed out, never exists in a vacuum. For it to be music, one must combine different sounds in some way and then communicate those sounds, even if only in the mind's ear. At the point where those separate sounds are communicated as one sound by a performer to a listener, music becomes communicative, and the end result of that communication upon the listener is where the whole "morality" spiel comes into play. Depending on the cultural context of all parties involved - composer, performer, and listener (and one person could fill all three roles simultaneously) - that communication may nudge someone towards a particular state of mind or to act on a feeling; but the communication itself should never be to blame.

Take the English letter "D." By itself, it may be said to be amoral, uncommunicative. But "D" never exists in a vacuum. Even if it stands alone (at the top of a term paper, for instance), it communicates meaning. By adding three more letters, say "a," "m," and "n," behind "D" I can make a word that is either offensive to some, or a staple word in the English language that carries a great weight of meaning in the Bible...and precisely because of that "ambivalence" we still cannot pass moral judgment on the word I formed. But even if there were no ambivalence in English, we still cannot past judgment. If I were to travel to China and write that word (or a different, everyone-who-speaks-English-agrees "bad word") on a large sign and stick that sign in the ground in a remote province, I'm even farther removed from the "morality" argument because perhaps no one there knows the Roman alphabet, never mind what word I wrote or what different meanings it has in different contexts to people from a vastly different culture separated by thousands of miles. Even if my original intention was to offend every Chinese man, woman, and child who sees that sign, to them the characters they see do not communicate in any meaningful way.

Which brings us to the "higher quality" argument. If you want to be pedantic, you can safely judge something to be "higher quality" only if you have a disclaimer that it is comparatively higher than something else given the social and cultural values of a distinct and necessarily small sampling of the target population, and that it is "higher quality" only because it is more effective at communicating an intended payload than something else. This is why the "higher quality" argument works so well in uniformly bland churches - virtually everyone there shares the same educational background, upbringing experiences, and cultural heritage, or they have artificially claimed those similarities for the sake of fitting in. But in a true multi-cultural environment, with people whose personal "cultures" are all over the place, how can you judge X style of music, with all its complexities, to be of a demonstrably "higher quality" than Y style of music, with all *its* complexities?

And there lies my biggest complaint with this article. As I read it, I see some instances where Jeremy argues much the same as I would; and yet after reading it I feel like it lands in the "pizza is great but not every day" type of argument. Even the second-to-last paragraph seems duplicitous: just before an admonishment to let kids make their own choices (yay!), you read about people who are "less musically conservative (boo!)." If you think I'm way off-base I can provide other examples of statements that left me feeling confused about the direction this article wanted to take - right now I have to drive downtown, probably while listening to Rachmaninoff, to rehearse Chris Tomlin songs for Sunday afternoon worship. Just call me a man of many cultures. Smile

Scott Aniol's picture

Aaron Blumer stumbled on what is the faulty underlying assumption of this discussion. He said,

Quote:
Music is always used and nothing is amoral in use.

I agree. Something that God creates, like music, is neutral. It only becomes moral (or immoral) when it is used. Anything a moral human agent does is either good or bad. There are no neutral actions performed by man. So man's use of music is what determines its morality.

So we have two categories: (a) a God-created object (or idea), and (b) a use of that object by man. Category (a) is neutral (or, actually, it is inherently good since God created it), and category (b) is not neutral (it is either good or evil).

So in which category does a song fit? Well, since a song is the human use of God-given principles of music, songs fit into the use category. Even before a song is sung in some context, it is already in the use category; music has been used to create something by a human. Songs with similar defining characteristics are then grouped into what we call forms or styles. These, too, are still in the use category since they are products of human creation.

Again, no product of human creation is ever amoral.

So, in reality, everything we call "music" in our discussions fits into the moral use category, not the amoral (or "ambivalent") object category. God never wrote a song (that we have, anyway). Any songs or styles under consideration are human products.

And every product of human creation must be judged as to whether it is good or evil. To deny this is to stray very close to Pelagianism.

Scott Aniol 
Executive Director Religious Affections Ministries
Instructor of Worship, Southwestern Baptist

mounty's picture

I wondered when you'd chime in, Scott. This seemed right up your alley. Smile

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Suppose we have a consensus that whenever music is used (which is to say, all the time), it's moral, but the morality is flexible based on a whole lot of factors.
We might actually be pretty close that sort of consensus here at least.

A good goal (from a "music wars" standpoint) then would be to gain a consensus that determining what the morality is is where the rub is.
I can dream can't I? Seems like arriving at a point where a majority recognizes that would be really good place for the various viewpoints to help each other toward understanding.
(I'm on some cold meds so if I sound delusional blame it on that.. I'll get over it in a day or two)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Rpyle's picture

Really? Everything man does is either moral or immoral? In Romans 14 one man eats anything he likes and another man eats only vegetables. Paul says that the one who eats does so to the Lord and the one who abstains does so as well. About the one who has scruples Paul says that God has accepted him. The implication of course is that God has also accepted the one who eats meat (since he is identified as the one who has faith). Either choice is acceptable to God--though I doubt that Paul would recommend that the weak remain so all their lives.

I suppose you will say that both choices are "moral" because the scripture does not condemn either choice. All that is being suggested by Larson's article is that the scripture doesn't condemn particular musical styles either.

RonP

mounty's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Suppose we have a consensus that whenever music is used (which is to say, all the time), it's moral, but the morality is flexible based on a whole lot of factors.
We might actually be pretty close that sort of consensus here at least.

A good goal (from a "music wars" standpoint) then would be to gain a consensus that determining what the morality is is where the rub is.
I can dream can't I? Seems like arriving at a point where a majority recognizes that would be really good place for the various viewpoints to help each other toward understanding.
(I'm on some cold meds so if I sound delusional blame it on that.. I'll get over it in a day or two)

I don't know that I'd go quite that far, though I think you're in the neighborhood. I would say that whenever music is used (which is to say, all the time), it causes a moral activity on the part of the listener, but the morality is flexible based on a whole lot of factors. I'm not convinced music is ever moral or immoral. Let me flesh that out a bit.

Music is a language. Like any language, it is made up of discreet parts that are combined in different ways, written down, recorded, spoken, and interpreted by the listener according to a host of learned behaviors. And like any language, there exists a certain amount of ambiguity. In our linguistic context, we learn to discern most of those ambiguities but recognize at some level that the ambiguity is not the fault of the word but rather its use. So while the word "hell" can be used as an invective, it also has perfectly justifiable uses as well and we cannot categorically declare the word "hell" as moral or immoral based upon its (mis)use. One can (and I think should) argue that no word is moral or immoral, or even that it magically acquires its own morality with use. To be moral or immoral implies that a choice was made and that choice is being judged against a specific context. Actions, therefore, have morality. People have morality (based upon their actions or a pattern of actions). Abstract concepts do not and cannot have morality, and anytime you think you have a concept that is immoral ("genocide") you'll find out that at the core, it is really the act of engaging in that concept that is immoral. In those cases, however, the concept is so closely tied to the actual action that they are well nigh inseparable.

Anywho, with that background, music is a language. Like language, music is only abstract until it is performed (and by extension, heard). It may cause an emotional reaction in a hearer, and the hearer's response can be said to have morality, but it is not the music itself that caused that morality, because someone in a completely different context might have the exact morally opposite response. If music has an absolute morality to it, it would be impossible to cause opposite moral responses. Similarly, if music has intrinsic morality, how then could we explain music that causes no moral response on a hearer? The actions involved in responding to music take on the moral qualities of the hearer, but the music itself neither takes nor imparts moral direction.

So what about songs emphasizing what we would classify as immoral actions like fornication? Understand that now there are two languages to be judged. The language of music is one, and the language of the lyric is another language. Again, we judge each language based upon the actions taken by the hearer. If the spoken language causes the hearer to glorify fornication as a good lifestyle, the hearer is engaging in immoral activity. But are the words themselves immoral? While a lot of people would jump up and say "Yes!", I would argue that they're just words. Speaking those same words to someone who doesn't speak English will not cause them to entertain thoughts of immoral activity. If the actual words were truly the moral agent, they would communicate their morality regardless of the context in which they were being employed.

Let's not underestimate the communicative power of music. Music can be crafted in such a way as to play upon the faculties of those who hear it - that much is undeniable. The act of creating music designed to inspire immoral activity can be said to be immoral. The activity a person engages in upon hearing that music can be said to be immoral. But is the music itself immoral? I don't think I'm willing to go that far.

Bob Hayton's picture

I appreciate what the author is trying to say. But I agree some of this seems like speaking out of both sides of one's mouth at the same time.

I don't understand how the following fits in:

Quote:
If possible, children should take music lessons and be involved in solos and ensembles with instruments and voice, and we should play classical music in our homes.

Why exactly should we do this again? Does Scripture encourage us to be professional musicians? Of the classical variety? We need this to be able to "sing songs and hymns and spiritual songs" and "(make) melody in our hearts"? Really?

And who is saying which music is higher quality, anyway? Is it only music created by white Europeans in countries where God blessed them for their stand on Scripture (which was basically stated by someone disagreeing with me on my blog one time)?

And then Scot's statement seems strange too:

"Anything a moral human agent does is either good or bad."

Tying my shoes comes to mind. How can I do that in a good or bad way?

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

TRJones's picture

@RonP:

Quote:
Really? Everything man does is either moral or immoral?

Yes, it's just that factors other than the deed itself affect morality/immorality. To eat unto the Lord is moral, but to eat without faith or to eat and cause offense (especially knowingly) is not.

What the Bible condemns are certain lifestyle choices that musical styles can (I say) reflect. That reflection is not inherent in the chord or instrument itself. It may not be eternal or universal, but it is no less real for being culturally bound.

Perhaps we mean different things by "moral."

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Did hymns originate in the church, or in times before the church? Were any of the oracles and poetry of the O.T. considered "hymns?"

I have read about idol hymns like the "Homeric Hymn To The Son of Cronus," written in the 7th Century B.C. I also read about the Cleanthes "Hymn to Zeus" in written the 3rd century B.C.

If hymns were used to sing to idols before the church began, was there controversy in the church when God's people started singing hymns to the Lord like is recorded in the book of Acts?

Scott Aniol's picture

We're still mixing categories. Let me be more explicit:

Objects (neutral):
meat
shoe
gun
facial expression
middle C

Uses (not neutral):
eating meat in faith (moral)
eating meat without faith (immoral)
tying your shoe (moral)
shooting your neighbor (immoral)
shooting a terrorist (moral)
a facial expression that communicates joy (moral)
a facial expression that communicates rage (immoral)
a song that communicates noble values musically (moral)
a song that communicates debase values musically (immoral)
combining a noble musical form with a sinful text (immoral)
combining a debase musical form with a moral text (immoral)

I say again, once a song has been written, it has already entered the category of use. No song is neutral.

So, in other words, it is invalid to say, "A song (or style) is like meat." That is a category error. It is correct to say, "A note is like meat," or "A song is like eating meat at dinner," or "A song is like eating meat as part of pagan worship."

Songs are uses, not objects.

Scott Aniol 
Executive Director Religious Affections Ministries
Instructor of Worship, Southwestern Baptist

DAWilliams's picture

I really appreciated your article Jeremy. Especially this part:

3. Don’t add to the Bible
Christians must give each other a large degree of latitude when it comes to defending a biblical position on music. Some Christians take the “ready, fire, aim” approach—blast anyone who’s not like them, and then figure out a semi-plausible case. But Christian leaders would do well to remember that unbiblically binding the consciences of other Christians is a sin (1 Tim. 4:1-5). If music is a gift to be enjoyed, then every restriction on that gift needs to have an airtight argument. The Bible says much about music in general, but nothing about style specifically, and Paul, in 1 Timothy 4, is remarkably hostile to the idea that someone would dare to legislate morality on an issue about which God has been largely silent.

:bigsmile: We need a smiley face that jumps up and down and dances. I would put it here.

Greg Long's picture

Scott Aniol wrote:
We're still mixing categories. Let me be more explicit:

Objects (neutral):
meat
shoe
gun
facial expression
middle C

Uses (not neutral):
eating meat in faith (moral)
eating meat without faith (immoral)
tying your shoe (moral)
shooting your neighbor (immoral)
shooting a terrorist (moral)
a facial expression that communicates joy (moral)
a facial expression that communicates rage (immoral)
a song that communicates noble values musically (moral)
a song that communicates debase values musically (immoral)
combining a noble musical form with a sinful text (immoral)
combining a debase musical form with a moral text (immoral)

I say again, once a song has been written, it has already entered the category of use. No song is neutral.

So, in other words, it is invalid to say, "A song (or style) is like meat." That is a category error. It is correct to say, "A note is like meat," or "A song is like eating meat at dinner," or "A song is like eating meat as part of pagan worship."

Songs are uses, not objects.

How is tying a shoe moral?

Can a facial expression that communicates rage be moral (Jesus cleansing the temple)?

How can a song communicate noble values musically?

How can a song communicate debase (debased?) values musically?

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Joel Shaffer's picture

Quote:
I really appreciated your article Jeremy. Especially this part:

3. Don’t add to the Bible
Christians must give each other a large degree of latitude when it comes to defending a biblical position on music. Some Christians take the “ready, fire, aim” approach—blast anyone who’s not like them, and then figure out a semi-plausible case. But Christian leaders would do well to remember that unbiblically binding the consciences of other Christians is a sin (1 Tim. 4:1-5). If music is a gift to be enjoyed, then every restriction on that gift needs to have an airtight argument. The Bible says much about music in general, but nothing about style specifically, and Paul, in 1 Timothy 4, is remarkably hostile to the idea that someone would dare to legislate morality on an issue about which God has been largely silent.

Big smile We need a smiley face that jumps up and down and dances. I would put it here.

Scott, I hesitate to even ask this question, because I am sure you are a godly man of Character....

How would you defend your position (and ministry) in light of I Tim. 4:1-5?

Jeremy Larson's picture

I have been waiting for a little more interaction with Scripture. Acts 15 shows the church making extra-biblical restrictions, and Paul tears into that kind of thinking (in epistles written after the Jerusalem Council).

It is also interesting the shift in arguments from previous decades. No one here (except in facetious ways) has called a pox down on anapestic beats or trap sets. The morality of musical elements (styles, rhythms, etc.) is ambivalent. Lyrics certainly change things, but I'm waiting for specifics on why certain styles are inherently wicked. Any comments on my examples of driving beats in athletic songs and/or battle scenes in movies? A physical response to a song isn't sin.

I'd go further and suggest that a sexual response to a song doesn't have to be wrong. In fact, it's interesting that Shayne would invoke the name of "Mr. W." I will never forget a conversation with him about his wife's singing Karen Carpenter songs to him. A light bulb went on, and I asked him if certain music could be inappropriate at some times (e.g., for singles) and could become appropriate in other circumstances (e.g., for married people). I appreciated his honest answer: Dunno.

I may attempt to defend my "higher quality" comments later. Until then, I may join Tom in listening to some Rach music.

"There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!" ~Abraham Kuyper

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Jeremy Larson wrote:

I may attempt to defend my "higher quality" comments later. Until then, I may join Tom in listening to some Rach music.

Emphasis mine

Is "Rach" music the same as "rock for classical music lovers," or maybe "classical for rock music lovers?" Smile (I know you mean Rachmaninoff, but your abbreviation struck me as funny for some reason!)

Dave Barnhart

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Along with Greg, I would have trouble defining tying one's shoes as always a moral action. Does that mean that leaving them untied is always immoral? Wouldn't leaving them untied purposely to disrespect some rule be different from leaving them untied because you are in a hurry to run outside and help someone?

And is shooting your neighbor immoral if he's trying to rape your wife? (I speak as a fool - the OT makes the self defense case pretty clear. But doesn't that indicate that the morality of particular actions can depend on circumstances [as Scott's example on eating meat seems to imply as well ]?)

I agree that it's all too easy to fall prey to category errors, but the list Scott chose as absolutes is based on his earlier assertions that ALL human actions are either moral or immoral in and of themselves, i.e. intrinsically. But that doesn't appear to be truly supportable from scripture. From what I read, the heart attitude will affect the action's moral character, and I can't see how that wouldn't affect music as well, since it doesn't communicate so clearly.

A person could write a song intended for an immoral purpose, and that would be an immoral action. But a person hearing that song and not knowing the purpose for which the song was written, could have a heart reaction to it that is not immoral. One could say that that song wasn't well done if it didn't accomplish it's true purpose, but it seems much of music is like that -- without tying music to immoral lyrics, it's not all that easy to clearly communicate immorality with the music itself. The associations of the listener always come into play, and might even completely overshadow the intent of the writer.

Dave Barnhart

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