Music in the Bible and the Contemporary Music Styles Debate (Part 2)

This series continues as Gregg Strawbridge examines some common arguments against contemporary music styles in the church.

The Natural Law Argument

Bill Gothard (1986), a well-known critic of CM says, “There is no such thing as amoral music.” He diagrams an analogy between other disciplines and music. “The following disciplines illustrate how the purity of an item can be corrupted by adding even a small amount of another element” (p. 124).

  • Chemistry: H2O + CN = poison
  • Language: truth + lie = untruth
  • Math: solution + 1 = incorrect
  • Art: figure + nudity = pornography
  • Music: rhythm + imbalance = acid rock

However impressive this line up is on first glance, this presentation actually begs the question; it assumes what must be proven. Namely, it has not yet been shown that “acid rock” music style (whatever it is) is, in fact, evil. The illustrated argument rests on an analogy between different disciplines.

Accurate evaluation of music is only possible as we integrate it with the related disciplines of mathematics, science, history, and medicine. The laws of these disciplines act as an authoritative reference to confirm that the musical expression is either following or violating established principles….Just as there is a balance of power in the three branches of United States government, so the laws of related disciplines provide checks and balances for music (p. 123).

The perceptive reader will note that until one can prove that a music style is analogous to poison, falsehood, mathematical inaccuracy, or pornography, the indicting conclusion is fallacious. The fallacy is called the fallacy of false analogy.

There are a number of reasons why such analogies should not be persuasive:

  1. Contrary to what is asserted, unless the analogies are Biblically supported they cannot be “authoritative” (sola Scriptura).
  2. The analogies themselves do not really have the impact intended upon further analysis. Poison in large quantities may be medicine in small quantities; the truth or falsity of a statement must rest on the intention of the author; mathematical inaccuracies are quantitative not qualitative (as music is); figure plus mere nudity does not equal pornography, cf. medical text books and some art (e.g., David, Michelangelo).
  3. “Imbalance” in the last of the series (rhythm + imbalance = acid rock) must be defined. If “imbalance” essentially means CM, the argument has not advanced beyond circularity. If imbalance can be defined so as to prove a particular music style is morally evil, then it must rest on Biblical implication.

The Bad Emotions Argument

Garlock and Woetzel in Music in the Balance really do a much better job of arguing their case. I am especially glad that they spell-out their arguments. The issue is addressed on page three. It is given in an informal syllogism.

“Since music is an emotional language, and since some emotions are wrong for the child of God, then some music is wrong for the Christian” (from Tame, 1984, p. 151).

However, the syllogism, as a syllogism, is invalid. It contains four terms (rather than three, a requirement for logical validity): (1) “music” (2) “emotional language” (3) “wrong” and (4) “emotions.” Therefore, the syllogism either has four terms (making it invalid) or the terms “emotional language” and the “emotions” must be taken as meaning precisely the same.

Second, the inductive fallacy of hasty generalization (since the premise must be inductively proven) is evident. Unless all emotions are expressed in music, the conclusion that “some music is wrong,” would not follow. It is logically possible that only the moral emotions are expressed in music.

A better formulation of this argument in a valid syllogism, keeping the same intention as the authors, would look like this:

  1. All emotions are (in) music.
  2. Some emotions is sinful.
  3. Therefore, some music is sinful.

The substantial difficulties can be seen more clearly now. How is one to prove the first premise, all emotion is in music? An even more difficult problem arises in the second premise, a problem to which the original writer of the argument (Tame) alludes: “Hate, when directed at sin, is good and acceptable….Anger is unacceptable except when the one who is angry is not sinning. An emotion like lust is never right” (p. 3).

Defining the ethical content of an emotion is difficult. How much more difficult when the emotion is represented in musical expression! The fact is, the Bible represents the same emotion, described with the same word, as in some situations good and in others evil. (See the Appendix: Emotions in the Bible)

Apparently, the same basic emotions can be sinful or acceptable, given the purpose and motivation. Thus, the syllogism is incomplete until the music critic can identify the specific content of the emotion in the music. One is hard pressed to identify the specific content of a CM style (especially apart from the lyric content of a song) with a specific sinful emotion. Certainly the emotional argument has not proven that any CM style is inherently evil.

The Beat

The thrust of many CM critiques is to demonstrate the sinfulness of “the beat.” Lawhead (1981) wittily titles this discussion, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Some suggest that when the beat becomes the main focus of the music, overwhelming all other components, that is when the trouble begins. The pulsating beat assaults the mind and puts it to sleep, so to speak, opening it to evil invasion while the listener is off guard. That is the assertion. But how is such a statement to be proven? Or disproven? The argument at that point moves from the realm of the concrete to the metaphysical. And metaphysical arguments cannot be settled in the laboratory. (p. 69)

Bill Gothard has even used the exact term, “metaphysical,” to refer the power of music. He says listening to Christian rock is “fellowship with demons.”1 Explaining the biological phenomenon, Gothard information on the subject asserts rock music causes “a mix-up in the alpha waves between the two hemispheres of the brain, resulting in what some researchers call ‘switching.’ ‘Switching’ is a phenomenon which occurs in adult schizophrenics to produce regression to infantile, reptilian locomotion (where crawling is done with the same, rather than the opposite, arms and legs)” (Cannon & Cannon, p. 12). This booklet comes complete with a picture of a crawling baby adjacent to an alligator.

Much of the behavioral research to which the above Gothard-endorsed authors refer is based on the behavioral kinesology of Psychiatrist John Diamond. Diamond says that the anapestic beat (“da da DA”) found in some rock music causes muscle weakening, even up to a reduction of two-thirds (Cannon & Cannon; Miller, 1993, p. 12ff). An example of this beat is that fine specimen of popular music, “Southern Nights” by Glenn Campbell. Miller (1993) is right in questioning these conclusions.

As for a refutation, suffice it to say that at every Golds Gym, Diamond et al is constantly being refuted. An instant autonomic reduction of strength is de facto not occurring as iron-pumping people are bench-pressing to anapestic back beats.

Garlock and Woetzel (1992) focus on the inherent immoral qualities of rhythm-dominant music (pp. 79-80). “The emphasis of most of contemporary sacred and secular music is on the rhythm. Rhythm is that part of music which elicits a physical response. Therefore, most of today’s music, secular and sacred, feeds and satisfies the self-seeking, self-centered, and self-worshiping part of man” (cf. p. 67). Here is another example of demonstrably fallacious reasoning. Either the argument is invalid because of equivocating on terms “physical response” and “self-seeking, self-centered, and self-worshiping part of man” - or, the authors are guilty of serious theological error in equating the physical part of man with the sinful part of man.

Even if we overlook the fact that many of the Church’s greatest theologians have taught that man is dichotomous (comprised of a body and soul, the soul including all the non-material part of man), the conclusion does not follow from the premises, unless the physical part of man is the sinful part of man. But, the physical part of man cannot be equated with the sinful nature since, the sinless Son of God was made flesh (1Jo 4:2). Further, the first man and woman were initially sinless, though incarnate. And we shall ever be sinfully incarnate after the Resurrection.

Passages which use “flesh” (sarx) to refer to sinfulness (Rom 6-7, Gal 3, etc.) are not referring to merely the physical body, but the inherent sinfulness of fallen human nature which permeates every facet of man, body, soul, spirit, mind, heart, bowels, and spleen. Of the 147 times “flesh” (sarx) is used in the New Testament, only a small minority of passages have the sense of “sinful nature” (NIV). “Flesh” (sarx) is used in a number of ways both positively (Rom 1:3, 2Co 4:11), and negatively (Gal 5:17). Fatal to the argument above, is the clear teaching that the regenerate spirit of man is also sinful. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2Co 7:1).

Finally, it is simply metaphysically false to imply that evil is to be equated with embodiment, since the devils are not physical but are evil. To connect sinfulness with physicalness is the Gnostic heresy and is a flat contradiction to the redemptive enterprise of the incarnate Jesus.

Let us suppose that Garlock and Woetzel really mean that rhythm appeals to the “sinful nature” (“flesh”). By this they would avoid a theological error of no small proportion; however, if rhythm appeals to the sinful part of man, it follows necessarily that good music should have no rhythm at all! But of course, this is not possible, since all music involves sound in time.

Note well: what the Bible almost explicitly teaches about rhythm in music is irreconcilable to the above critics of CM. Scripture does not condemn the appeal to bodily movement and rhythm in music. This is indicated by the correlation of dancing with the use of music and especially percussion instruments such as timbrels and cymbals.

  • Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre. (Psa 149:3)
  • Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. (Psa 150:4)
  • And Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing.
  • And Miriam answered them, “Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.” (Exo 15:20-21)

It is predictable the above authors of a CM critiques do not bother with extracting Biblical principles from such passages (or even mention them for that matter).

This series continues next week.

Notes

1 At the Memphis Pastor’s Conference, 3/6/95. I corresponded to Mr. Gothard about this and other assertions following the conference; for proof of his harsh accusations he referred me to his publication, How to Overcome an Addiction to Rock Music


Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy (USM, 1994).

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There are 11 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

One thing to note regarding Garlock's claim about emotions is that Scripture really doesn't describe any emotions as sinful.  There can be a sinful use of emotions, especially anger, but there are no emotions that are inherently sinful. 

I can go with the notion that certain genre will tend to communicate better to certain populations, and there are perhaps some genre that will be troublesome to communicate the Word of God at all, but it's a real disgrace to fundamentalism that peers of people like Gothard and Garlock didn't pull them aside decades ago, show them their huge errors, and plead with them to knock it off.  We've had decades of needless strife over music in the church due to nonsense like theirs.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Tyler....

Great article! Thx for bringing sanity into this discussion. Thx for your work on this topic. Thankfully the issue is not nearly as clouded today as it was 15 + years ago. Oh my word the confusion that Type A fundamentalism brought to corporate worship and music a generation ago. The legalistic tendency in music to demand a certain style and then to try to find Biblical backing for your "tradition" is sad and frankly was one of the things that shoved God's people out of much of Type A fundamentalism. It's OK - many of those who left are in better places now. Most have healed and moved on.

A text can only mean what a text meant and too much of the music debate has twisted the intended meaning of Scriptures. By the way - you don't help your cause when you do that. If anything you shove young people (and old people) ever further away from your cause. Trust God's Spirit and God's people with God's truth. 

One more note to those still trying to push the beat issue against CCM -  You have no case that is clearly Biblical/textual or exegetical. On top of that you undermined your own position when you taught young people the Reformed and Baptist principles of Scriptural authority. They went to Scripture and found your position from the text to be unclear, unsubstantiated ... and often just wrong.  

A far better way of handling the music/worship war in a local assembly is to appeal to believers commitment to first honor God with music that clearly honors him in the words and even approach. A second appeal for the music we will use in worship is charity to one-another. We are willing to give up what we like... or what we think... when Scripture is at best unclear... for sake of Congregational unity. If you have a believer who is being divisive in music - you warn them and if they continue you handle their disobedience just like any other church discipline issue. Our congregation is conservative with a mix of hymns and newer songs. We will use a drum (African) from time to time but rarely. We mix the best of the older hymns, newer hymns and the best of theologically based praise choruses. All ages enjoy all of the music together.... No war is necessary.... No war is present..... Thank God!

Straight Ahead! 

jt

 

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

TylerR's picture

Editor

All I did was post an article Gregg Strawbridge wrote! Nothing here is mine, but I'm glad you found it helpful.

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?

JNoël's picture

Who said all music listened to or performed must be Christian music? Anyone who argues that must never watch A Bug's Life, play a game of ping pong, or ride a roller-coaster.

Thank you for posting this series. It is very helpful.

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)

JSwaim's picture

I really appreciate this article. I'm glad Sharper Iron published it. 

Bob Hayton's picture

Looking forward to  the rest of this!

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.

Jeanlee's picture

As long we know that the Devil has his music and God have his own then we are clear. 

Kevin Miller's picture

Jeanlee wrote:

As long we know that the Devil has his music and God have his own then we are clear. 

Music can be used for both bad purposes and good purposes, but i don't know of any Bible passage that says some music is specifically "the devil's" and some is specifically "God's." Do you have one in mind?

Steve Newman's picture

Wouldn't it be proper to say that emotions are God-given? Even anger was created by God and can be used for good purposes (i.e. Jesus cleansing the Temple). 

Isn't the question instead "What kind of emotions are being created?," with its corollary being "Can/should they be satisfied in God?"  

Having been saved out of a background of heavy listening to secular rock before Christ, it is easy to see secular rock creating emotions. Those emotions are not meant to be righteously satisfied, either. 

The ubiquitous nature of secular music in so many workplaces, etc. make it that we are being manipulated by it a lot more than we may think. In addition, such manipulation seems to me to be more cumulative than directly manipulative. 

Kevin Miller's picture

Steve Newman wrote:

Wouldn't it be proper to say that emotions are God-given? Even anger was created by God and can be used for good purposes (i.e. Jesus cleansing the Temple). 

Isn't the question instead "What kind of emotions are being created?," with its corollary being "Can/should they be satisfied in God?"  

Having been saved out of a background of heavy listening to secular rock before Christ, it is easy to see secular rock creating emotions. Those emotions are not meant to be righteously satisfied, either. 

The ubiquitous nature of secular music in so many workplaces, etc. make it that we are being manipulated by it a lot more than we may think. In addition, such manipulation seems to me to be more cumulative than directly manipulative. 

Well, what would be the answer to that question "What kind of emotions are being created?" Do those emotions have a name? Is anger, for example, an emotion created by rock music?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Kevin asked:

Well, what would be the answer to that question "What kind of emotions are being created?" Do those emotions have a name?

I answer:

Sweet Emotions ...

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?

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