Review: By the Waters of Babylon

Tags: 

aniolScott Aniol’s new book, By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, argues at length against the architects of missional evangelism—not because Aniol thinks the attractional model (of Hybels, Warren, et al.) is better, but because he doesn’t see cultural forms as neutral, suitable for any message including the gospel.

Here’s what I take to be his thesis paragraph for the book:

Although the missional church seems to correctly recognize the nature of the Christendom paradigm in western civilization and in many cases rightly discerns the integral relationship between Christianity and culture during that period, it appears to view this development in the history of the church as entirely negative, with very few positive fruits. At the very least, most missional advocates see what happened as merely neutral contextualization of the church’s worship to culture, yet their very quick dismissal of worship forms coming out of that period as simply antiquated “relics” reveals what may be a simplistic understanding of the impact of the church upon culture during that period. This perspective limits their ability to recognize the strengths of the cultural forms from that period in expressing Christian values and the vast differences that exist today with regard to culture and contextualization in worship.

In other words, Aniol wants the missional church to stop seeing modern (pop-)cultural forms as neutral and to start instead seeing those forms which were shaped by Christendom as the most suitable forms for worship. (Best quote in book: “The Israelites wept while they remained in captivity because they could not sing the songs that rightfully belonged in their Temple in their land. Today, Christians do not weep over their captivity; instead, they sing the songs of their captives.”)

I agree with him this far (and a lot further, though not in every respect), and I was greatly helped by being introduced to missional thinking as a self-conscious body of thought rather than as a smattering of similar thinkers, the way I had previously perceived them. Aniol did his homework, it seems to me, in listening to the advocates of the missional model. He is even able to give heartfelt appreciation for their insights. (He praises missional thinking, for example, for “its strong emphasis upon fervent evangelism and its recognition of cultural shifts in the West.”)

Aniol is at his strongest when he does two things:

1) When he shows the connection between worldview and cultural form.

2) When he tries to map our modern concept of “culture” (a conception to which he does not, in principle, object) back onto the biblical category of behavior (Greek: ἀνάστροφη).

If there’s anything left for beleaguered conservatives to argue for—and there has to be; I, for one, am not giving up—in the face of an almost all-out capitulation to contemporary worship forms, it’s the idea that culture is not neutral. I like Aniol’s proposal that we map “culture” into the NT category of “behavior” or “way of life.” If we’re successful, it becomes possible to say with biblical authority behind us that certain of those ways are “futile” (1 Pet 1:18) and ought to be put behind us.

To say this today—to say that Western choral music is better or more advanced than Zambian choral music, or that Shakespeare is better than Beavis and You-know-who—is tantamount to being racist at worst and elitist at best. It’s to compare and contrast what multiculturalism insists must be kept in separate silos and given equal respect (on this one simply must read Stanley Fish’s article, “Boutique Multiculturalism”). Aniol, however, insists right back that if you equate race and culture, then all moral comparisons of one culture to another will be ruled out of court as racism; he says that culture can and should be evaluated, not just accepted—and that cultural forms have meaning. I’m with Aniol against Beavis. Aesthetic relativism is not a Christian virtue.

But I think Aniol makes a few errors (not unique to him) in his interpretation of the transformationalism associated with (or underlying?) missional thinking. I don’t know missional thinking wonderfully well, but I wrote a basically transformationalist book and I’ve dug fairly deep into transformationalist themes. In particular, I’ve found very helpful the writings of Al Wolters, whom Aniol singles out for special criticism (this is entirely appropriate given Wolters’ pre-eminent spot among the modern transformationalists). But whereas Scott seems to think that Wolters views cultural forms as neutral, it’s important to note that Wolters actually views them as positively good—and yet twisted by the fall.

Far from undercutting Scott’s overall argument, I think this adjustment could help him by defusing objections. He does acknowledge at different points in the book that by God’s common grace, predominantly non-Christian cultures can come up with beautiful and worthy cultural artifacts: musical compositions, novels, paintings, sculptures. And I think he’s completely right to argue that Christendom gave us an artistic and musical tradition deeply shaped by the Bible, and is therefore something we ought to cultivate and not jettison (we are to “work and keep” our culture). But in his efforts to defend that tradition I think he protests too much against 1) other culture’s forms and even 2) the bastardized cultural forms of today. I think it’s important to recognize that rap and rock, for example, have discovered something true about God’s world (hear me out!), namely that there are musical ways to express bravado and sexuality, respectively. (I acknowledge that this is a massive generalization, but I think it holds true as such.) If there are ever times when public expressions of bravado or sexuality are called for, then those musical forms may be righteously called for, too. I just happen to think that bravado is very rarely, and sexuality just about never, called for in public. The fact that we are awash not just in sexual images but in sexual musical sounds is something about our culture that the Bible challenges, not accommodates. (An example: I like a cappella multi-tracking, and I noticed that a particular YouTube artist did an a cappella duet of a Disney song. One of the commenters said, “The female vocalist was too sensual for a kids’ song.” He was right. Another example: a GQ reporter visited Carl Lentz’s Hillsong NYC church and couldn’t figure out why the worship leader was so sensuous; “It made my body feel confused,” said the reporter.)

I think rock music is mostly degraded and rap music mostly even worse; I don’t listen to either. But I still say that the inability and disinclination to find the good, albeit the twisted good, at the heart of cultural forms gets Aniol into some unnecessary awkward spots. This is where his near-equation of culture and the NT’s “behavior” also falters: he’s right that’s impossible to answer the questions, “Is behavior good or bad?” You have to know what behavior is in view. But I think you can answer the question, “Is culture good or bad?” The “making-something-of-the-world” which we call culture is, as I’ve argued at length, good. All cultures today are twisted, but they’re the twisting of something good, not the creation of something bad. There is no such thing.

So when Aniol says (in reference to 1 Pet 1:18), “True, redemption results in transformation, but this transformation results in entirely different culture than the ‘former manner of life,’” I find myself asking, Why, then, is Scott recognizably American and not Djiboutian or Kazakhstanian? The essence of discernment is keeping babies and throwing out bathwater, and only a transformationalist, cultural-mandate paradigm makes that possible in my mind.

Scott is nearest the mark in criticizing Wolters-type transformationalism when he discovers what he thinks is a fundamental category mistake in Wolters’ application of his “structure” and “direction” concepts. Aniol thinks dance and music are not structures but directions—directions of a more fundamental structure called communication. I disagree, but I have trouble explaining why. I think Aniol has hit a weak spot, and I’d be in his debt if he would push on it more incisively. Either I need to toughen up or he needs to hone his spear tip here. There’s room for mutually edifying discussion.

I also thought Scott would do well to interact with Ken Myers of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Scott said, “For the transformationalist, only the content of culture expresses worldview, not cultural forms.” I take Myers to be a Class A transformationalist, and it seems to me the man exists to deny that cultural forms have no connection to worldview! I’m a class D transformationalist, maybe D-, compared to Myers and Wolters, but I wholeheartedly agree with Aniol that cultural forms bear worldviewish meaning.

This is a serious book written by a serious conservative. Aniol should not be blown off but listened to. I told him personally a few years ago what I say to him again: keep going. Keep maturing. Keep developing your argument. Listen hard to your tradition and your critics and your students and your experiences and your history books and, preeminently, your Bible—and keep serving the church. Some of this book’s material felt like it took a while to come to print. I’d like to read a fresh book on the same topic by the same author in 10–15 years. I count Scott a friend, and honor him as someone who has worked hard to give to Christ’s body. I felt he worked to be fair and gracious to his opponents, but he’s exploring an area of theology his tribe (he teaches at SWBTS) hasn’t been involved in for very long. Again I say, keep going, friend.

Bonus Thoughts on Select Paragraphs

That’s all for the formal review. Truly dedicated readers can go on to read the following paragraphs from Aniol along with my annotations.

This quasi-transformationalist perspective has therefore shifted the missional approach from the early articulations to how it is actually practiced today. The earliest missional advocates sought to distinguish between the gospel and western culture, which they believed had merged with Christendom. But the transformational impulse imbedded in the concept of missio Dei itself is rooted in Christendom ideas. Van Gelder admits as much: The understanding of what we refer to today as “God’s mission” was developed in these confessional documents within a worldview of Christendom in which the church was established by the state. It was thus assumed that the church was responsible for the world, with the church’s direct involvement defined primarily in terms of the magistrate’s obligation to carry out Christian duties on behalf of the church in the world. Within a Christendom worldview, the church and the world occupied the same location: the social reality of the church represented the same social reality of the world within that particular context.37 Thus, more recent missional authors are falling back into the error they supposedly repudiate. Instead of advocating Christ as the transformer of culture, they are viewing Christ above culture once again. They are accommodating culture.

Mark: So Aniol’s problem need not be with transformationalism but with Christ above culture paradigms which don’t see the world as worldly.

Like transformationalists, missionalists see no sacred/secular distinction and argue that all of life is worship

Mark: But in my own transformationalist book, I carefully distinguished the sacred from the secular while still asserting that they do not constitute a dualism. I used the analogy of the sabbath: the sabbath is specially to the Lord, even though there is no day of the week that is not to the Lord.

The culture produced from unbelief is not neutral; it is depraved. As Snoeberger notes, “Cultural neutrality is a myth and culture is hostile toward God; just as man is individually depraved in microcosm, so also culture is corporately depraved in macrocosm.”

Mark: I think you have to read Aniol too carefully not to come away with the idea that culture is bad, or at least not to be confused when he speaks positively of common grace.

Paul had evidently spent some time studying the religion of Athens, and he used that knowledge to present the gospel in the best way possible, but what Paul thought about this religious culture is enlightening. Verse 16 reveals that Paul was “provoked” (parōxyneto) by the culture he saw in Athens. He did not adopt their culture; he did not approve of their culture; he despised it.

Mark: This is a bit of a leap: Paul despised their culture? Did he despise their learning? Their architecture? Their sculpture? Their poetry? The text doesn’t say he was provoked by their culture but by the fact that the city was full of idols.

Paul did communicate the message of the gospel differently to pagans than he did to Jews. However, the difference involved the fact that he could build on the truth of the Jewish religion, while his attitude toward the religion of the pagans was one of disgust and condemnation. He did not immerse himself in their “culture” in order to reach them; instead, he exploited the ignorance and superstition of their religion in order to confront them with the truths of the gospel. Rather than highlighting similarities between his worldview and that of the Athenians and seeking to express the gospel in their philosophical categories, as missional authors suggest, Paul was pressing the antithesis between their worldviews and ways of life in order to reveal the inconsistencies in their own thinking and highlight the authority of the Christian worldview.

Mark: I don’t think Paul’s Acts 17 address to the Areopagus can be enlisted in the service of the missional folks or of Aniol. The basic point does seem to be that Paul tailored his message to some degree to his audience. Whether he approved of their respective cultures or not must be determined from other texts, or left undetermined.

One of the clearest examples from Israel’s time in Babylonian captivity of a kind of discerning contextualization that I am advocating is found in Daniel 1. Here Daniel both embraces some aspects of Babylonian culture (their “literature and language”), yet he rejects other aspects (“the king’s food”). He did not simply accept uncritically all of their culture, but neither did he reject it all either. This kind of critical evaluation of culture is more fitting with a biblical understanding of the nature of culture presented in the last chapter, and reflects the New Testament’s emphasis as well.

Mark: But that’s precisely what I’d say, and it’s just what transformationalist Andy Crouch says—I don’t think he’s established that the missional folks would disagree here.

What is clear from this exploration is that each of the three primary post-Christendom approaches to culture has strengths and weaknesses when compared to the New Testament’s understanding of culture as behavior. The separatist approach rightly recognizes the fundamental antithesis between belief and unbelief, but it fails to also recognize commonality that exists due to common grace and the fact that even unbelievers sometimes “borrow” a biblical worldview. The transformationalist approach rightly recognizes the reality of common grace on the cultures of unbelievers and the need for Christians to express their values in every sphere of life, but they do so to the neglect of any real antithesis in the cultures themselves. Perhaps the two-kingdom approach is closest to the New Testament perspective, with its balance of both antithesis and commonality, but it fails to emphasize that a Christian’s involvement in the culture should manifest his Christian values and actually has evangelistic impact.

Mark: This is a key paragraph where Aniol summarizes the three major views (though I don’t remember him properly introducing the “separatist” perspective earlier) on culture he’s sparring with and offers summary critiques and praises.

Scripture itself comes from God in various literary forms, and therefore these inspired forms are authoritative as well. Therefore cultural expression is essential to the worship elements themselves and whether or not they faithfully comport to Scripture’s teaching… What kinds of poetic expression and aesthetic forms God chose to use in the communication of his truth should inform and regulate the kinds of cultural expressions churches use as they communicate the gospel and disciple believers into acceptable worshipers of God… The same is true for musical forms used in corporate worship. Although there are no musical scores in Scripture, and there is no mandate that worshipers today use the exact same musical idioms used, for example, in the Jewish temple, the aesthetic forms in Scripture, when properly studied and understood, do form boundaries and guidelines sufficient for the regulation of musical forms in corporate worship.

Mark: This begs to be fleshed out. How, precisely, could the literary forms of Scripture regulate the musical forms of the contemporary Western church? The connection between the two is too tenuous. I don’t think this is the way forward. I think Aniol is looking to the Bible to do something God didn’t intend for it to do. And I know this because of the hopeless morass we’d be in if we tried to argue that our hymns reflect biblical literary forms! I’ve encountered this idea before, and I notice that those who use it don’t adopt the literary forms of the Bible to make their arguments; Aniol’s book is not a lament or a narrative or a Gospel or an apocalypse—it is instead a fairly standard 21st century non-fiction, Christian book. If he doesn’t apply his thesis directly from the Bible (read: literature) to his book (read: literature), then how can anyone expect to apply the thesis from literature to music?

The conservative evangelical missional church movement. Although the movement has contributed positively to evangelicalism in many ways, including its strong emphasis upon fervent evangelism and its recognition of cultural shifts in the West, I have nevertheless argued that deficiencies in its understanding of the nature of culture, the posture of contextualization, and the relationship between worship and mission leaves the missional philosophy of worship without clear biblical and theological support and, ironically, renders it less able to accomplish God’s mission for the church. I have insisted, rather, that God’s mission is to create worshipers for his own glory; he accomplishes this mission through redemption, and he has tasked the church with making disciples who will worship him acceptably. This requires that churches communicate God’s truth to both believers and unbelievers using cultural expressions that fittingly shape the content in similar ways that the Bible itself does. Only with this understanding will churches accomplish the mission God has given them for his glory

Mark: This is a thesis summation.

Disclosure of material connection: Kregel gave me this book to review. They didn’t attach any strings that I could find.

Is this battle being lost?

 

Contemporary forms/styles of worship have undeniably made inroads into many branches of fundamentalism.

Some observations:

1. From the IFCA's website (note that this article dates from 2000): 

Excerpts: "In the quest to reach a pagan culture for Christ and to lead believers in fresh, genuine worship of
God, IFCA International church leaders face a critical question regarding today's worship music. Does
contemporary worship music adapt to our culture within biblical guidelines, or does it err in conforming to the world (Romans 12:2)? To put the question another way, how do we shape a music ministry in our churches which is fresh and relevant but which avoids compromising to the whims of secular culture? We face this question whenever we choose church musicians, when we decide what instruments to use in our worship, when we determine what style of music these musicians and instruments will use, and when we select music for worship services."

........................................................................

“The fact is, worship music in every era has borrowed the styles of popular culture. So what does the Bible say? As one of my seminary Hebrew professors pointed out to me, all the instruments listed in Psalm 150 had their origin in pagan nations and were first used in pagan worship. Yet God commanded Israel to use those same instruments in the worship of himself. According to Psalm 150, there's room for brass, strings, percussion, and winds,. Furthermore, worship in the Psalms is exuberant and enthusiastic. Psalm 100 calls believers to shout for joy, worship with gladness, and come with joyful songs. Somber is not more sacred than music with a distinct beat..

Scripture gives believers freedom in the area of style. To be honest, the fuss about worship styles is due mainly to preference, not to theology. This is a key area of church life in which Christians must practice love. We must learn to use and appreciate styles which may not always fit our tastes. This goes for senior saints as well as senior high saints. Worship leaders should not alienate traditionalists by disregarding their tastes. But neither should traditionalists alienate new believers or believers from a younger generation by refusing to allow worship songs which conform to their preferences.”

http://www.ifcamedia.org/ifcaweb/pubs/ifcavoice/Individual%20Articles/Today'sWorshipMusicAdaptingOrConforming-Mathewson-2000Sep-Oct.pdf

Poking around the websites of various IFCA churches, it's not hard to find CCM being used at IFCA churches.

 

2. From the GARBC's website (dated 2012):

http://www.garbc.org/news/psalms-hymns-and-some-really-new-songs/

Note the songs (and the songwriters) being used at many GARBC churches**, as listed here: 

http://www.garbc.org/news/top-50-worship-songs-used-in-garbc-churches/ 

(** "The survey data.....represents the 839 GARBC churches who subscribe to the CCLI service, about 65 percent of GARBC churches.")

 

3. The Sword-of-the-Lord branch of fundamentalism receives much attention from the likes of David Cloud for their recent CCM music selections:

(One example): http://www.wayoflife.org/database/lancaster_and_contemporary_%20worship.html

 

4. BJU and PCC aren't exempt: CCM music has been making (unofficial/informal) inroads into both.  (One only needs to talk to some current students to know this.) 

 

5. Locally, The Minnesota Baptist Association has some  churches that incorporate some  CCM into their services.

 

6. The FBFI (organizationally) may be an exception; I'm not aware of any current advocacy or toleration of CCM in their midst.

The battle...

The battle isn't really over "CCM." That's a symptom, and what has happened shows that one battle was lost long ago--the battle to think biblically about believers'/the church's relationship to culture (and a closely related battle to think biblically about what worship really is.)

So the battle now, recognizing what we lost or never had decades or centuries ago, is a battle to build that biblical understanding. It can't be done by superficially adjusting music styles or imposing arbitrary restraints externally. The real problem is a kind of theological cancer, or maybe anemia, and the music wars have often been an unhelpful distraction--not because the fight is unimportant but because it has so often focused on bad apples rather than looking at branches and roots (and because the fight has been so full of weak arguments on both sides, arguments flung with a vehemence inversely proportional to their merits.)

Personally, I'm greatly encouraged to see the seriousness and thoughtfulness of Aniol's work on this, but also the seriousness and thoughtfulness of Ward's alternative perspective. Ward's view seems to better answer to the whole of what we know--and don't know.

And he correctly points out the weakest links in Aniol's view.    Disclaimer though: I haven't finished reading the book myself yet.

Form and meaning

One meat & taters point I want to tack on as an example of what I mean by branches and roots. If we could just regain a strong and widespread understanding the form has meaning we'd be making great progress. The fight over what sort of meaning various details of various forms has is silly when it's evident that so many don't seriously consider form as message at all.

How to use "By the Waters of Babylon" in a CCM discussion

How to use "By the Waters of Babylon" in a CCM discussion (actual [ Smile ] surreptitiously obtained transcript of deacons' meeting): 

Pastor: Tonight we are going to discuss CCM. I have been reading "By the Waters of Babylon" (holds book up ... explains the reference from Jeremiah) ...

[deacons in awe as most of them don't read [but some of heard of Frank Garlock and "Pop Goes the Music: God's Principles of Music")]

Pastor: It's about conservative music

Deacons thinking ... sounds better than "liberal"

Pastor: The thesis of the book is ...

Deacon thinking ... what's a thesis?

Pastor continuing ... the thesis of the book is ...

Although the missional church seems to correctly recognize the nature of the Christendom paradigm in western civilization and in many cases rightly discerns the integral relationship between Christianity and culture during that period, it appears to view this development in the history of the church as entirely negative, with very few positive fruits. At the very least, most missional advocates see what happened as merely neutral contextualization of the church’s worship to culture, yet their very quick dismissal of worship forms coming out of that period as simply antiquated “relics” reveals what may be a simplistic understanding of the impact of the church upon culture during that period. This perspective limits their ability to recognize the strengths of the cultural forms from that period in expressing Christian values and the vast differences that exist today with regard to culture and contextualization in worship.

Deacons hear:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nulla tincidunt id tellus a tempor. Ut fermentum erat at mi mollis lacinia. Vestibulum consequat congue velit vel pulvinar. Vestibulum in mollis enim. Fusce rutrum turpis sit amet tellus scelerisque porttitor. Praesent a augue sed turpis fringilla tempus. Cras pellentesque faucibus orci, id pulvinar ipsum aliquet quis. Morbi eget hendrerit erat. Praesent vel sem rhoncus, dignissim nibh quis, mattis urna. Donec dignissim tincidunt nisl eget maximus. Maecenas vehicula nibh id ante consequat, in facilisis erat eleifend. Vivamus quis orci a leo sodales ullamcorper id nec turpis. Aliquam luctus vitae augue vitae congue. Ut felis sapien, ornare at eros sed, feugiat euismod urna. Integer mattis tincidunt risus vitae commodo. Nam pulvinar, augue vitae interdum convallis, ex odio sagittis elit, sed convallis sapien nunc vel turpis. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus.

Pastor: and that's why CCM is wrong

Deacons: [it's now about 9:30 pm and most are fighting to stay awake!] ... makes sense to us ...

Action: Motion made ... quickly seconded ... and passed unanimously

Worship music forms

Scott Aniol wrote:
Although there are no musical scores in Scripture, and there is no mandate that worshipers today use the exact same musical idioms used, for example, in the Jewish temple, the aesthetic forms in Scripture, when properly studied and understood, do form boundaries and guidelines sufficient for the regulation of musical forms in corporate worship.

This statement demonstrates in a nutshell the issues that many have had with Scott's thinking, dating back to at least 2005 when he was a regular here at SI.  Notably, Mark Ward also points out this problem.  Scott makes bald assertions like this one; then either refuses to back it up, or does so with a lot of hand waving.  He is probably right in getting us to think about forms meaning "something."  However, just as he completely failed to adequately defend his side in the debate he had with Shai Linne, he has never been able to prove his point with anything more than something like "you'd need to be a musicologist like me to understand."

My tastes in worship music are probably not very dissimilar to Scott's, and part of me wishes he could prove his point.  However, as far as I can tell, nothing he has written would prove that "high-church"-type forms are the be-all, end-all of worship music forms.

Dave Barnhart

Jim wrote:

Jim wrote:

How to use "By the Waters of Babylon" in a CCM discussion (actual [ Smile ] surreptitiously obtained transcript of deacons' meeting): 

Pastor: Tonight we are going to discuss CCM. I have been reading "By the Waters of Babylon" (holds book up ... explains the reference from Jeremiah) ...

[deacons in awe as most of them don't read [but some of heard of Frank Garlock and "Pop Goes the Music: God's Principles of Music")]

Pastor: It's about conservative music

Deacons thinking ... sounds better than "liberal"

Pastor: The thesis of the book is ...

Deacon thinking ... what's a thesis?

Pastor continuing ... the thesis of the book is ...

Action: Motion made ... quickly seconded ... and passed unanimously

Scenarios like that are too common, I’m pretty sure.
Fortunately…
a) Lots of churches have well informed, thoughtful, sharp deacons
b) It’s quite often a handful of influential leaders and institutions that end up shaping how many others think: so even the poorly informed and/or intellectually lazy often end up getting on the right bandwagon (yes, they also often got on the wrong one, but I’m focusing on the positive realities here)
c) “Form has meaning” is really not a difficult concept.
d) Even the more complex aspects of culture, meaning and forms (and eventually things like music styles) can be articulated in relatively simple and clear terms

One of the reasons “d” is pretty rare is 1. Writers of books etc. are targeting leadership… they want to move the movers. 2. Some are targeting the masses and hope to move the masses but do not understand their audience.

I haven’t read Ward’s book yet to see how it does on the accessibility scale.

Should probably add, 3. It’s not easy to get people to actually listen to the branch and root stuff. So communicating on that level requires not only the ability to simplify and clarify but the ability to draw in audiences that are not fond of abstraction/not quick to see the value of looking at branches and roots vs. low hanging fruit.

Ditto Dave!

I've been engaged in the music wars for 40 years and I've been on both sides and Dave Barnhart and I share the same opinion. I also agree with his assessment of the Aniol-Linn discussion. I've re-read that debate a number of times and believe that Shai had more warrants for his claims that Scott had for his. (I'm 69 years old and agreeing with a rapper-----I never saw that coming!)

And Jim Peet accurately describes the average person's interpretation of the discussion.

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

Jim

If your excerpt, above, was actually a quotation from the book, then I'm surprised. It's extremely difficult to read. The sentences are overly wordy and cumbersome.

For example, this:

At the very least, most missional advocates see what happened as merely neutral contextualization of the church’s worship to culture, yet their very quick dismissal of worship forms coming out of that period as simply antiquated “relics” reveals what may be a simplistic understanding of the impact of the church upon culture during that period.

actually means this:

Most missional advocates believe the church is accommodating to culture in a neutral way. They dismiss older worship forms as "antiquated relics," but this dismissal betrays a simplistic understanding about how the church impacted the culture during that period.

Is that truly an excerpt from the book, or were you being silly!?

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

OP

Tyler, look in the original post.

Dave Barnhart

Thanks

I am most unpleasantly surprised by the startlingly robust occurrences of unnecessary words present in the above mentioned excerpt, and am disinclined to venture to purchase said book because the multiplicity of the aforementioned superfluous text is a taxing distraction from the otherwise important topic under discussion in the treatise. This is most unfortunate, as the topic is universally acknowledged by good conservative Christians, of every theological flavor and persuasion, to be a most important and practical topic which deserves serious consideration by every fair-minded Christian. Perhaps the blog of the said author is a more fruitful place for succinct and clear inquiry and discussion for the said topic, rather than the text in question. Having said all this, it may be advantageous, rather than acquiring the treatise outright sight unseen, to simply borrow the text from some appropriate public organization which loans these, and other, texts out to qualified patrons without a fee (i.e. a library).

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

:)

You nailed it, except for the part about things on his blog being more succinct -- not sure he knows the meaning of that word.  Perhaps he feels his opposition will fall due simply to the amount of obfuscating verbiage being presented.

Dave Barnhart

I don't understand his thesis

dcbii wrote:

You nailed it, except for the part about things on his blog being more succinct -- not sure he knows the meaning of that word.  Perhaps he feels his opposition will fall due simply to the amount of obfuscating verbiage being presented.

I'm not the brightest bulb, but I have three degrees - seminary, economics & finance, and computer science - and I don't understand his thesis!

Book

I've ordered it via ILL from the local library. I've never really managed to grasp his main point. I've always thought he was really being subjective, when you get right down to it - and I even prefer hymns to CCM! I hope this book will help clarify where he's coming from. It's also possible that I'm just really dense . . .

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Well at least they are true to their music ...

Real world conversation with church state rep of upper midwest state (true story! I was in this conversation!):

  • About the "Renwood Dam" church [church name changed to protect the innocent]
  • Has been without a pastor for more than a year
  • Down to a few old people
  • Looking for a pastor but the pastor will need to support himself [translation - they have no $$]
  • Rep: They have stayed faithful to conservative music
  • Meanwhile, there is a robust E-Free church in town

The Octopus

I'm reminded of the illustration of the octopus who, when in a difficult position, seeks to hide himself in a cloud of ink.

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

Aniol's Writing Style

Aniol is the not the most stimulating prose stylist. But I read the entire book and I never once thought, "This is unintelligible, obfuscatory gibberish." Read him on his own terms within his own argument and I think he'll repay your reading.

Mark L. Ward, Jr., Ph.D.
Logos Pro • Faithlife

This is a serious book

This is a serious book written by a serious conservative. Aniol should not be blown off but listened to. I told him personally a few years ago what I say to him again: keep going. Keep maturing. Keep developing your argument. Listen hard to your tradition and your critics and your students and your experiences and your history books and, preeminently, your Bible—and keep serving the church. 

That is my question.  Is Scott really listening to his critics?  In one sense, yes.  I was presently surprised that Scott and Shai Linne's debate on sinful music was made available on religious affections and there seemed to mutual respect at least of each other.  However, the part in the debate where Scott tried to define what is rap vs. what isn't rap to a seasoned rapper really showed his lack of knowledge about rap and Hip-hop and it compels me to question if Scott is really listening to his critics (Proverbs 18:13).  

Thanks!

Jim, many thanks for providing that link. Here is an example of what I take to be pure subjectivism by Aniol:

Scripture says that human communication must be evaluated. Communication can express anger, wrath, malice, and obscenity (Col 3:8). Communication can be corrupt or edifying (Eph 4:29). Furthermore, Scripture’s principles concerning communication apply to all forms of communication like body language or facial expressions (even a “look” can express pride [Prov 6:17]), not just propositions.

Thus, what Scripture says about communication must be applied to music. In particular, music communicates similarly to tone of voice and body language. Assuming what we say is good, if our tone of voice expresses love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control, it is good; and if our tone of voice expresses impurity, sensuality, enmity, strife, or fits of anger, it is sinful (Gal 5:19-20, 22).

This argument appears to run thus:

  • Human communication can express emotions
  • Music, in a very similar way, also communicates emotions
  • the implied conclusion seems to be that rap is sinful, because it communicates sinful and unholy emotions

Who gets to decide what a particular style of music, apart from lyrics, actually communicates? Is there an inherent morality encoded in the very style of music? I think this is a cultural thing, and it gets contextualized depending on what your background is. Remember, we aren't talking about lyrics!

For example, while I was stationed in Italy for several years, I saw it was common for Italian men to greet one another with exclamations of "Ciao, bello," (translation - "Hello, beautiful"), and to kiss one another on each cheek. Now, in an American context, this activity between two men would surely communicate some kind of inappropriate, sinful and sexual motive. Try it when you go to church this Sunday, and see the reaction you get! Greet a visitor with the holy kiss of fellowship! But, in Italy, this behavior is perfectly normal and has no such sinister overtones. Culture.

I'll read the whole PDF, but I'm not encouraged so far. And, I don't like rap, either - but I think that's just because I'm a nerdy, stiff white guy who was raised around classic rock . . . 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Worth your time

Tyler, it will be worth your time to read the entire debate, but understand that Scott wasn't able to "bring it home."  As someone who doesn't like rap or hip-hop, and whose music runs way more to classical, with a little jazz and world music added in, I would love to be able to say that there is no such thing as "holy hip hop."  Scott's arguments didn't give me a basis for being able to say that.  Not all that shocking really.  Garlock tried something similar (but with less academic emphasis) when I was in high school in the 70's and though I thought he had good intentions at the time, his arguments were also ultimately unconvincing.

Both men try/tried to build on something that many would say about music -- that because music can and does affect our emotions, it truly seems that musical forms communicate something on their own beyond just being a neutral vessel for lyrics.  However, apart from being able to break down music's effects on us into something that objectively has the same effect on all (or at least all within a particular culture), and can be shown to communicate in an objectively corrupt fashion, and not just interact with our current emotions and mental/spiritual state to cause something corrupt inside us, any argument that is left is based on something completely subjective.

Dave Barnhart

The larger issue at hand

In my interactions regarding CCM in the church, the case against using it has been made from three angles.  All of these have been rehashed more than a few times in the forum.

The first is that music itself is moral, and that there is an absolute God approved aesthetic.  Everything else is of Satan.  Only godly music should be used in worshipping God.  Although no biblical counsel is given on what should be godly or satanic, mature, Holy Spirit filled believers have discernment on what is godly or ungodly.  Ungodly music is characterized by beat, irregular rhythm, inharmonicity, and high amplitude.

The second is that there is a primary cultural context in which music is developed and employed and the relative godliness of the primary cultural context is what determines whether that music is acceptable for worship.  The biblical grounds of this argument rests in verses such as I Thess 5:22, II Cor 6:17, and I John 2:15.

These first two arguments are prevalent with conservative fundamentalists.  The third argument posits that the Bible teaches us worship principals, and that these principals should regulate our worship. Such believers (usually conservative reformed Christians) stick to exclusive use of psalms and and rejects modern instrumentation and hymnody.

The second argument is the one used by Aniol.  Aaron and Mark correctly have commented that this argument deserves consideration.  Aaron has also correctly pointed out that the idea of using discernment in cultural contexts transcends to battle over music.

Many in the fundamentalist camp have used music selection as THE litmus test to decide whether a believer or church subscribes to the idea that cultural context determines the suitability of something in the life of the believer.  Christians who do not line up with the music argument are therefore worldly, fleshly, or backslidden.

As someone who identifies in the fundamentalist camp, I have come to the realization that brothers in Christ who do employ CCM also have their own list of contextual cultural taboos.  They, however, are things like gun ownership, extreme nationalism, and homophobia.  They view these totems as being representative of a culture that is hateful and prejudicial that poorly reflects on the qualities of Christ.

I think the first step in reconciling the issue is to realize that far more Christians do employ the use of discernment of cultural context than fundamentalists may give them credit for.

The second step is more complex.  What do we do with brothers and sisters in Christ who view taboos in a different cultural context as ourselves?  What degree of fellowship and censor should we have with them and over them?

My view is that both steps are being overlooked due to the tunnel vision that the CCM issue has created.

John B. Lee

My concern is that ...

My concern is that - and I am not directly commenting on Aniol's position, but rather Garlock's , is that music (as my pastor calls the "music wars") - music has just become another fissure point (like versions have been) among God's people.

Since my church is in the MBA (Minnesota Baptist Association), I am too. And some things there make me chuckle. We have KJVO churches in the MBA ("black sheep" I guess) and even some who employ CCM (Larry Nelson noted this earlier this week on another thread)

My concern

is the overall thought of response at church, including both singing and preaching. Having visited nearly every evangelical church in my city that I thought I could tolerate in a vain attempt to find a church to attend (about 20 churches), I found the same thing over and over and over again. What they have is a basically unskilled group of musicians (I did wonder if perhaps they were more skilled but repressed their skill in some vain attempt to be humble) who try to play the "current" top 20 on ccli, or they play really obscure stuff (I ran into that as well). Anyway, invariably, the crowd stood looking like a cow at a new gate, acting like they were bored and uninterested. Half were working on their cell phones. I never thought that the average church attender had any interest in the music. It was tolerated at best.

Then, the preacher would give some lame "feel good" "practical" message: "5 ways to a better marriage", "5 ways to be a better parent", etc... NOT ONE preacher preached expository messages.

I admit I am in the boonies as far from good seminaries as you can get, nestled right in the middle of fly-over country, so that might affect the observed results.

My conclusion is that music is way over rated. I am not sure that people really demand CCM. They seemed as board with that as with hymns if you take the stereotypical response.

FTR I visited large (500+) all the way to 30ish attendance churches. There is no "megachurch" in my town.

Generally, I thought everyone seemed board and un-interested. The musicians were dancing, singing, clapping, etc., and the people in teh crowd looked like they were on Xanex.

 

This isn't hard

Tyler, the quote you cited isn't an example of subjectivism.  It's a simple, objective statement regarding any form of human communication, really.  

Here's my fancy shmancy flowchart.

  1. Music is a form of human communication.  There shouldn't be any argument here.  It has been called the universal language by those with no ax to grind in the CCM argument.
  2. Since music is a form of human communication (as are tone, gestures, facial expression), it is governed by Biblical commands and principles regarding communication.
  3. The onus is on the Christian to prove how his/her music fits the Biblical guidance and is thus acceptable to a holy God.   There is no Biblical direction to prove it wrong.

"Who gets to decide what a particular style of music, apart from lyrics, actually communicates?"

A number of factors contribute here.  I'm oversimplifying, but...

  1. What did the originators of the musical style say about it?  What were they attempting to convey with it?
  2. What type of associations and behaviors fit with it?

"Is there an inherent morality encoded in the very style of music?"

Again, keeping it simple.  Yes.  I once asked the question in the comment section of Scott's debate with Shai why most secular rap/rock videos include scantily clad women gyrating to the music.  The response I got was to the effect of "Well, how else would you expect the world to behave?"  I never responded, but I should have said: I've been to plenty of symphony concerts led and played by unbelievers and have yet to see anyone start twerking to Saint Saens organ symphony or the 1812 overture.

The fact is that the behavior fits what the music is communicating.  Why do they gyrate?  Why are the scantily clad?  It fits with the music.  This is not hard.

Who gets to decide what a

Who gets to decide what a particular style of music, apart from lyrics, actually communicates?"

A number of factors contribute here.  I'm oversimplifying, but...

What did the originators of the musical style say about it?  What were they attempting to convey with it?
What type of associations and behaviors fit with it?

You realize that the original Hip-Hop/Rap didn't feature scantly-clad women gyrating to the music.  Those associations and behaviors  didn't emerge for another 15-20 years after when Hard-Core rap from the East Coast and Gangsta' and G-Funk rap from the west coast emerged mainstream in the 1990's.  Hip-Hop/Rap started in the 1970's in the poorest sections of the Bronx as a positive alternative to the negativity of the gang-life in the streets.  And it derives its influences from a number of other African-American and African music genres and cultural aspects, including jazz, talking blues songs, Negro spirituals, Black gospel, R&B, West African Griots,  and Jamaican "Toasting."  

As for your example of classical music, lets not overlook the sensuality that often occurs within operas.  Composers such as Wagner, Strauss, and Camille Saint-Saëns purposely wrote certain operas with love stories that contained passionate, sexual eroticism.  Parts of the compositions attempted to create an erotic mood.      

 

Speaking of Obfuscation...

1. I announced I was oversimplifying

"As for your example of classical music, lets not overlook the sensuality that often occurs within operas.  Composers such as Wagner, Strauss, and Camille Saint-Saëns purposely wrote certain operas with love stories that contained passionate, sexual eroticism.  Parts of the compositions attempted to create an erotic mood."

2. This argument smells a little fishy.  Somehow, I've got a hankering for some red herring.  Inappropriately sensual music, no matter what genre, should be avoided.  I don't remember making a blanket endorsement of all classical music.  Funny how some might question and outright reject the fact that music can communicate sensuality within today's pop/Christian music, but are all too willing to point the finger at other styles that do the same.  

"You realize that the original Hip-Hop/Rap didn't feature scantly-clad women gyrating to the music.  The associations and behaviors came later."

3.  Let's assume for argument sake that rap's origins are pure and holy, yo (must fight eyes compulsively rolling backwards).  Now, let's ask ourselves the question, "Would the sensual dress and movement have still fit it while in its infancy?"  Yup.  Youtube is an amazing resource.

Why are we still dancing (pun intended) around the fact that performers - and listeners - dress and move inappropriately because it fits the music?   What the music communicates fits with what the dress communicates, which also fits with what the movement communicates.  This appears to be today's elephant in the room.  It's the emperor's new clothes.  Everyone knows it.  We just don't want to talk about it.

 

The sub-title of the book

The sub-title of the book “Worship in a Post-Christian Culture” might assume too much about there ever being a “Christian Culture.”  As stated in the thesis paragraph there is recognition of a “Christendom paradigm in Western civilization” and much of Christendom wasn’t Christian. Even if one recognizes the “strengths of the cultural forms from that period in expressing Christian values” we are still talking about cultural forms and Christendom, not necessarily biblical Christianity.  The recognition of the present-day validity of those cultural forms neither discounts the value and validity of all current cultural forms nor uncritically embraces them.  

Several years ago I wrote an article for SI on the worship wars  http://sharperiron.org/article/weary-of-worship-wars.  I still believe most of that and am more concerned about what is happening in our church than observing and commenting on what takes place in other churches.  Of course I’m not an expert on music and Scott certainly will rightly point out some valid concerns with missional churches and CCM, hopefully without overgeneralizing. There’s much to critique in both missional churches and CCM although the terms themselves are somewhat fluid. There’s also much to critique in Christendom churches with ancient forms and corrupt theology. 

There’s does need to be critical evaluation of what is practiced and published under the name of missional and CCM. There is plenty of vapid CCM music and entertainment passed off as worship. However, in the end it is a robust, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting theology issued from a high view of Scripture which will help determine which cultural elements of what is called missional or CCM are as valid as ancient cultural forms. And we might disagree on some elements. I would question the “best quote” comment about the Israelites in captivity and Christians singing the songs of their captives.  It’s pithy but with questionable application. I haven't read the book yet but suppose that Scott mostly preaches to the choir and won't change the minds of those whose biblical and cultural framework differ from his.

The key

is we need to be preaching and teaching a separation from the world around us. That is biblical. Now, to be certain, people interpret that differently and it can manifest itself differently in different cultural situations, but I think that attitude is mostly gone from too many churches and most evangelicals. They are not trying to live separated lifestyles.

You are never going to convince a person that "CCM", whatever that is, is focused on the wrong thing if you don't start with a focus on the people of God living and expressing themselves different than the unsaved world around us.

Shai Linne

The mention of Shai Linne brought up some additional thoughts. The church I planted in a NW Philly in 1982 recently merged with the church Shai is planting in that same area of the city. Shai is from Philly, converted in 1999, and attributes his growth to the preaching at Tenth Presbyterian under James Boice and Phil Ryken. When I planted the church in 1982 we were traditional in our worship – hymns, organ, and experienced God’s blessing. I have not been to Shai’s church but imagine that the worship is different both from what it was when I was pastor and certainly than what Shai experienced at Tenth Pres., a center city church with from what I understand mostly a drive-in crowd and traditional music. I’ve only been there once for a Christmas Eve service and the music was outstanding. Now I am fairly sure that Shai’s church plant and Tenth Pres. have different demographics which is reflected in how they worship. I am not surprised or offended when churches reflect their culture(s) in their worship.

In thinking of our church where we are meeting now in North Philly. The neighborhood is over 50% Hispanic with Africa Americans, Caucasians, Asian, and various immigrant groups making up the rest. Our church attendance is around 50% Hispanic, Africans from Kenya, Liberia, Cameroon, etc., African-Americans and Caucasians in the minority. Among our six elders are a Kenyan, Cameroonian, and Dominican, and a white elder married to an African-American. We translate the messages instantaneously with headsets into French and Spanish, we sing, pray, read Scripture in different languages. We incorporate hymns (some of which are universal) with what we find the best of contemporary music (some with translation). We have a worship team that “leads” from the sides rather than the platform with great congregational singing. Some people sway, some lift their hands, some have a tambourine, some stand stiff as boards. We observe the Lord’s Supper and recite the (edited) Apostles’ Creed weekly. We are attempting to practice biblical contextualization and don’t always succeed. It might be simpler if everyone was like me and homogeneous churches have their place when and where they reflect the demographics of the community.  I don’t expect all churches to worship as we do. I don’t expect other churches to expect us to worship as they do.

I’ve copied our service order for this Sunday. Some might find it helpful.

SUNDAY  August 14, 2016

We gather to joyfully worship Jesus Christ as the Risen Savior and Lord of all

We Gather to Worship

Welcome – John Davis

O Praise Him

Praise To The Lord The Almighty

Scripture – Romans 3:19-25 Susan Craig (French)

In Christ Alone

Stronger

Your Grace Is Enough

Intercessory Prayer – Justin Tamofo (French and English)

Message –  Steve Davis  Ephesians 3:1-6 The Mystery of Grace Revealed

The Wonderful Cross

Confession of Faith

Lord’s Table – Rolando Diaz (Spanish)

Good, Good Father

Happy Day

Benediction – John Davis

 

 

 

Christian culture

I don't know much the concept of "Christian culture" is developed in the book. That we are now post-Christian is abundantly clear, though.

A "Christian culture" does not require that all or even most of its people be genuinely regenerate. It certainly doesn't suggest a culture that is perfect in every way. A reasonable use of the term would express the idea of a society that accepts several of the major pillars of a Christian worldview. But I think I'm not claiming to much to say that Aniol has much more in mind--a society in which Christian ideas about reality, right and wrong, beautiful vs. ugly, moral vs. immoral, etc. are the dominant influences on all that is designed, composed, painted, sculpted, and built.

Yes, there was a society like that. I'm pretty sure Aniol would say "we"= the West in general and we started moving away from Christian culture in the late middle ages. If you plop into Europe in, say, 1680 or as far back as 1200, you find a Christian culture. So why are we now post Christian? Well, it's been dying by degrees for a long time, but it's now obvious that Christian ideas about reality, right/wrong, beauty, virtue, moral/immoral, etc. are not dominant.

I keep italicizing ideas because people like to point out that folks behaved sinfully and created raunchy works of art occasionally even in the middle ages. But this is not the same thing as defining the core beliefs and values that a society upholds. Consider this contrast:

a. Person who believes it's wrong to commit adultery, does it anyway.
b. Person who believes marriage is a silly old fashioned idea commits adultery because, why not?

They both do the same thing, but the thing they do is not at all the same.


▴ Top of page

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.