Music in the Bible and the Contemporary Music Styles Debate (Part 4)

Gregg Strawbridge continues his series about contemporary music styles in the church.

Christianity, Culture and Music

The larger issue in the entire discussion of CM is Christ and culture. How are we to see the basic relationship between the people of God and cultures in the world? To put it in Biblical terms, what are the full implications of being “in the world but not of the world” (Joh 17) and doing all things to the glory of God (1Co 10:31). Moreover, where do the Biblical principles of accommodation function - “And to the Jews I became as a Jew … I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” (1Co 9:20-22)?

For my own commitments here, I believe that Christ will largely transform culture. The Biblical support for this Calvinistic view may even be drawn in several distinct categories:

Missiologically

We have both the imperative and prophetic forms of world discipleship which implies that Christ will transform culture to some extent (Mat 28:19-20 (11) & Psa 22:27).

Eschatologically

Christ’s second advent is sequenced by reigning at the right hand of God “until He has put all His enemies under His feet,” the last of which is death which is demonstrably overcome at the resurrection (1Co 15:25, 54-55). Hence those of His enemies which have cultural manifestations shall be affected in the present progressive reign of Christ.

Culturally

The music of the redeemed shall flow from all ethne, loosely stated, from all cultures. For example, Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord saying, “Sing to the Lord a new song, sing His praise from the end of the earth! (Isa 40:10). “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth” (Psa 96:1). Notice that “new songs” are being commanded from other nations.

The New Testament indicates that worship from other nations is a climactic hope in the drama of redemption. God desires for “the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, ‘Therefore I will give praise to thee among the gentiles, and I will sing to Thy name’ and again he says… ‘praise the Lord all you gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him’ ” (Rom 15:9-11). “And they sang a new song …Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’ ” (Rev 5:9-10). Therefore, we are as much as told that the nations will use their music to glorify God.

Developmentally

Scripture itself recognizes change in cultural mediums of communication and allows for cultural differences and changes within time. Proof of this might be developed from observing the linguistic references throughout Scripture. “And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading” (Neh 7:8, see also Mat 1:23, Mar 15:34).

Cultural diversity and change is factually depicted and assumed throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. Moreover, the revelation of the Messiah is brought through the medium of the Greco-Roman language and culture with Judaistic roots rather than the language Abraham, Moses, or David eras - remembering their were vast differences lingustically/culturally between even these patriarchs.

When this is coupled with the “sing a new song” prescriptions, linked to ethnic groups (Psa 96:1-2; Isa 42:10-11) and that redemption is intended for “every tribe and language and people and nation,” the ethnomusical implications are strong. The cultures of the world will and do in fact use their languages and musical expressions for praise! Hallelujah! - this is a universal word of praise.

Culture and the Heart-Language

If music changes interactively with culture, whatever the musical heart-language of people is, is the best for expression of heart-truth. As Chenowith and Bee say, “When a people develops its own hymns with both vernacular words and music, it is good evidence that Christianity has truly taken root” (p. 212). Like it or not, a country bumpkin, harmonically impoverished with the sounds of Nashville, will not sing “I love you” to his fiance in the style of John Dowland’s renaissance Lute songs (a sixteenth century court musician of Queen Elizabeth).

Adequate reflection on the issues here will prevent us from adding to Scripture our pseudo-absolutes. We will not be as quick to condemn the musical mediums of other cultures and subcultures by imposing an ethnocentric standard. Our North American culture certainly is not an authoritative standard by which we can judge other cultures. We have no more right to impose a North American or Western European style of music on other cultures than we do to make them have their services in Latin. (And we’d be probably be better off to impose Latin rather than our current cultural norms.)

As Protestants we all believe “the holy scriptures are to be translated out of the original into vulgar languages” (Larger Catechism 156) and prayer is to be “if vocal, in a known tongue” (Westminster Confession 21:3). But people also need the “vulgate,” of music in their common tongue, do they not? Some level of intelligibility is required (1Co 14:7-9, observe Paul’s very illustration). The irrelevance and ineffectiveness of the church is often fostered by an unreflective stance against the new. On all sides our shared concern should be for the communication of meaning and truth. Our music styles must comport with this. Calvin Johansson, though no friend of CM, has acknowledged the need for cultural and subcultural relevance in his stimulating book, Music and Ministry: A Biblical Counterpoint (1984).

Relevancy in church music is neither a matter of popularity nor of intrinsic worth, but a matter of identification with music. That is to say, the music must have something about it which is recognizable and ordinary, both in the configuration of the various musical elements and in its total impact…One must also pay attention to the peculiar musical culture of the congregation. (p. 39)

Music is a manifestation of culture, like language, which changes. Though we must not fail to distinguish Biblical absolutes from cultural relatives, this is not ethical relativism. The one individual who made the term “absolutes” part of the current Christian vocabulary, Francis Schaeffer (Art and the Bible, 1973) said, “Let me say firmly that there is no such thing as a godly style or an ungodly style” (p. 51). “And as a Christian adopts and adapts various contemporary techniques, he must wrestle with the whole question, looking to the Holy Spirit for help to know when to invent, when to adopt, when to adapt and to not use a specific style at all. This is something each artist wrestles with for a life time, not something he settles once and for all” (p. 55).

Music makers make sounds with the particular instrument-technology available. Further refinements culturally and technologically necessitate different musical sounds. Before the technology to make valves for brass instruments or hinged keys for woodwind instruments was available, wind instruments had a different sound with limitations in range and technique.

It may surprise people who are fond of the “tyranny of the organ” to realize that no Biblical-times music in any recognizable way resembled the sounds they call “sacred.” These sorts of technological changes alone account for vast transformations, much less the profound philosophical, religious, and linguistic changes affecting musical-stylistical developments.

My twentieth century harmony professor, composer Luigi Zaninelli, used to take exception to the idea that music has “progressed.” He would say it has simply “evolved” (i.e., no value judgment). Given the Biblical view of history, though, I would assert that music has progressed in the sense that it is intertwined with the unfolding plan of redemption and the advance of Christ’s kingdom. Moreover, music has become more complex and intricate, being the occupation of the intelligence, feeling, ambition, and purposes of more and more people made in the image of God.

When new sounds are made and development takes place the result is change in some aspect of that music. Eventually such changes make the music different enough to warrant the description that it has become a new style. For a distinctly Christian artist, new musical styles should be molded for the glory of God. As Schaeffer (1973) has said, “To demand the art forms of yesterday in either word systems or art is a bourgeois failure” (p. 49).

This series continues next week.

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KD Merrill's picture

I don't think it makes sense to say that music can be OK lyrically but not OK instrumentally, much less defend that position biblically.  In both instances that KD referred to, the reference is to the totality of the music being used.  

Neither scripture reference gives any indications that words had any impact on the hearers.   In fact, the 1 Samuel 16 passage says absolutely nothing about words.  The indication is that this was instrumental music only.  It is a huge stretch to maintain that the lyrical content being sung by the Jews at the base of Mt Sinai were intelligible to Moses, Aaron, et al.  Indeed, the text reinforces my point. 

But he said, “It is not the sound of shouting for victory, or the sound of the cry of defeat, but the sound of singing that I hear.”

 

 

Bert Perry's picture

JNoël wrote:

 

Jay wrote:

 

Is there any place in the Bible where God condemns the style of a song...?

Is there any place in the Bible where God condemns Daisy Dukes? Being a dishwasher at a strip club? Eating sushi?

We could see this as a provocation, but let's run with this.  For starters, as a lover of sushi, if it's wrong, I don't want to be right!  Seriously, the salted fish from the Sea of Galilee wasn't cooked, either, so saying that eating uncooked fish is morally wrong has a serious uphill battle when seen in light of ancient Israeli culture.

Regarding the "risk" fo sushi, that's extremely low in any credible restaurant.  Air Force survival training has told pilots and others who might get stranded that they can eat saltwater fish raw without risk, but they need to cook freshwater fish.  It has to do with the parasites that infest each kind.

Regarding Daisy Dukes, you've got the (Leviticus 18, the prophets) question of exactly how much nakedness one can uncover before one is being seen as "available for a Biblically unlawful relationship", to put an idiom around it.  Regarding "being a dishwasher at a strip club", that's pretty straightforward as well; you're enabling the degradation of the women "performing" there, not to mention destroying the minds and morals of the men who watch.  

See?  That wasn't so hard, was it?  Now, what Biblical principles would we apply to the question of whether it's wrong to use the 12 bar blues, or a set of drums, or an electric guitar?  Or, for that matter, an organ, piano, or squeezebox?  (I was just listening to Klezmer renditions of the Psalms in Hebrew)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

KD Merrill's picture

Bert, I've offered proof.  I have offered Biblical proof. 

I understand that you don't accept it. 

I understand why you don't accept it.  Accepting the fact that music is a form of human communication and is thus inherently moral behavior has earth-shattering ramifications.  It changes everything.  It's visceral.

To put it mildly, if you're going to say you can find the context of Ephesians 5:10 in CCM (or whatever genre of Christian music), you're picking a fight, and you'd better bring the goods a sight better than guys like Garlock.  

Wow.   I've presented Biblical evidence to support my argument.  I've asked numerous questions that heretofore have been unaddressed based on those Biblical claims and I'm now "picking a fight"?   Like I said - this is visceral.

Has anyone on this thread ever scolded his/her children for rolling their eyes at their Mom or Dad?  If so, why?  And what is your Biblical evidence that it was an inappropriate action?  How did you know it was wrong?

Dan Miller's picture

JNoël wrote:
...So I assume by your response then that you care nothing about discernment, that the only things you don't do are those things specifically spelled out in the Bible? I can't see how a Christian could possibly live in that manner. But, to each his own, I suppose, and that would be the end of the music conversation (and countless others), as KD suggested.

Come on. You don't really think I'll agree with this do you? 

I'm not saying that the anti-CCM argument fails because it isn't "specifically spelled out in the Bible." I'm saying that the Bible never expresses concern about music as a category that contains evil. 

I'm certainly open to discernment - and yes there are styles that I would not want to see used in my church. They would not be diapheronta.

 

KD Merrill's picture

Bert, I'm glad to see that you agree with me and disagree with Strawbridges' expert witness Schaeffer when said, "Let me say firmly that there is no such thing as a godly style or an ungodly style" - even though certain clothing styles aren't specifically addressed in Scripture.

 

Bert Perry's picture

KD, you've provided nothing beyond generic boilerplate, a starting point for basically any discussion of any topic.  If you want to make your case, you need specifics.  Again, precisely how would we decide that, say, the 12 bar blues is inherently good or evil, Biblically speaking?   What passages would come to bear?  

You're still in the on deck circle.  Step up to the plate, if you've got more than Garlock.  That noted, starting with Exodus and the Golden Calf is not a good sign.  That horse is more than adequately beaten to death elsewhere, and the first thing to note is that the only path you can take from there is the one Rajesh and Garlock take--to make a number of unfounded assumptions, admit you don't know what that sound was like (if it was music at all), and then proceed to guilt by association fallacies, preferably based in offhand comments by a guy who's never had a platinum record, and applied to people whose music is completely different.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Isn't it possible that a thing that communicates may be characterized as "neutral" which, I suppose, would mean amoral? For example, look at retail signage. Let's use Sonic as an example. It's artistic. It isn't just the letters S, O, N, I, and C in black arial font on a white background (although some may call that "art" anyway), it has colors and shapes, and it communicates "yummy" to the viewer (to some, anyway). Is it really moral? It isn't immoral, at least in the eyes of an American (perhaps it has some aspect that is immoral in some culture at some point in history), but does it possess God-glorifying morality, or is it amoral / neutral?

This has wide-reaching implications to all kinds of Art That Communicates. Perhaps some music truly does communicate immorality, while other music communicates beauty in a way that is actually pleasing to and glorifying of God. And then perhaps a third category of some music is neutral / amoral: it doesn't communicate evil, but it doesn't point the listener to God, either.

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)

KD Merrill's picture

Thanks, Bert, for acknowledging that at least I'm on the playing field.  I'd like to encourage you to suit up and join me out here. 

I have posed numerous questions and arguments that you and others haven't addressed.  I'll give it one more try:

  1. Is music a form of communication?
  2. Is communication a human behavior?
  3. Is human behavior subject to God's moral law?
  4. Thus, is music subject to God's moral law, vis-a-vis, is music moral?

If you can answer those questions..er...address those "generic platitudes," you're out of the clubhouse and at least in the dugout.  You want me to get into specifics - I've  maintained I'm not going to do that unless we have agreement on the most basic principles outlined earlier.  

starting with Exodus and the Golden Calf is not a good sign.  That horse is more than adequately beaten to death elsewhere, and the first thing to note is that the only path you can take from there is the one Rajesh and Garlock take--to make a number of unfounded assumptions, admit you don't know what that sound was like (if it was music at all),

Do you seriously deny that Moses and Aaron heard music as they descended Mt Sinai?  I have no idea what the music was - other than a) it was the sound of singing and b) it sounded like war.  That tells me that music is a form of communication.  Factor in Saul and David and then add to it any respectable musicologist and that's enough evidence for me to accept that most basic fact.  Add in your own Unwarranted Assumption fallacy in the statement above and you've got a juicy hanging curveball just waiting to be drilled over the Green Monstah.

Bert Perry's picture

Let's rephrase this:

1.  Are facial expressions a form of communication?  Yes.

Questions 2, 3, 4, same as before.

Obviously there is something wrong with your syllogism, because Scripture nowhere commends any facial expressions to us as either good or evil.  Hence we cannot conclude that any genre or musical technique is intrinsically good or evil, as much as I would like to conclude that Kenny G is evil.  

Regarding GCM, again, that horse has been rather mercilessly flogged ad infinitum.  Key issue is that since we don't know what that sound/music was like, we have no way of applying your thoughts outside of a guilt by association fallacy.

Not on the field?  Au contraire.  You just hit a couple of easy pop-ups into my glove.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

KD Merrill's picture

You just hit a couple of easy pop-ups into my glove...

...that then fell harmlessly to the ground.   You maintain...

Scripture nowhere commends any facial expressions to us as either good or evil.

Yet Solomon stated that the Lord hates a proud look (ESV - "haughty eyes").  Isaiah remarked, "For the look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it."

Are you saying you've never made a moral judgment regarding someone's facial expression?   You've never asked a child to wipe a smug look off his/her face?  Never seen eyes flashing anger and rebellion?  

Please be careful, Bert.  This appears to be a denial of reality.

Bert Perry's picture

KD, absolutely, I've never made a moral judgment about someone's facial expression, and here's news: neither have you.  Rather, what you've done is inferred someone's mental state from the facial expression, and from that whether their motivations were good or bad.  It is not the facial expression, but the state of the heart.  I believe Scripture talks about that in places. There are no objectively evil emotions, there are no objectively evil facial expressions, and there are no objectively evil tones of voice, all of which matter a whole lot in communication.

If you doubt this, take a look at the life of our Savior, and you'll find the entire range of human emotions, which would then have been represented by the entire range of facial expressions, the entire range of vocal techniques, and so on.

Now if we cannot accuse our Savior of sin for presumably raising His voice while clearing the Temple (and at other times dealing with the Pharisees especially), let's address the question of whether we can, without clear authority from Scripture, decide that another set of sounds is inherently sinful.

To ask the question is to answer it.  Congratulations, KD, by your own logic, you've just proven that musical techniques, instrumentation, genre, and the like are merely tools in the hands of the artist, just like vocal techniques, facial expressions, and other tools of communication.  It's the same argument that most fundamentalists, when in a more lucid state, would make about firearms, really.  It's not the tool, but what is done with it by its user.

No, KD, pointing out that the only viable argument from Exodus 32 is guilt by association, and pointing out that you cannot impugn entire categories of facial states, do not amount to dropped balls,   They represent places where your argument is fatally flawed.  

Put another way, if you want to talk to someone who is denying reality, shave.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Now we're really getting somewhere, and I doubt anyone at SI has the intellectual capacity to actually answer the fundamental question which is the reason why this debate continues to go unanswered: what is morality and how does a Christian know what things possess morality?

To use the facial expression example, can a facial expression actually, in itself, be immoral? Can another human know that one who displays a particular facial expression is actually sinning? Is the expression itself the sin, or is the sin that which is leading the person to flex his muscles in such a way as to produce a facial expression for others to see?

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)

Bob Hayton's picture

I've enjoyed this series. I have no disagreement with the point brought up that music is a form of communication. the question to me centers on what meaning does that communication have? How specific is the communication in question?

In an old post on my blog "Music, Morality and the Bible" I zeroed in on this question:

How music becomes moral or immoral depends on the meaning of music. Just like there is nothing morally wrong with a rainbow colored bumper sticker, there is nothing morally wrong with any different style of music. Now a bumper sticker of the colors described above has taken on a meaning, and the meaning is quite specific. And for that reason I can judge the meaning as unquestionably immoral, and I would not put one on my car. Now with music, then, morality becomes a question of meaning.

So how much meaning is in music? ...Apart from any lyrical context, without any words, and without any context, simple sounds or a simple music style does not have a specific enough meaning to become inherently moral or immoral, in my opinion. Add some words, add a context, the music increases in specificity and can clearly be inherently moral or immoral....

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.

JNoël's picture

Regarding Context:

Bob Hayton wrote:

Add some words, add a context, the music increases in specificity and can clearly be inherently moral or immoral....

Can you give an example of adding a context to a particular musical composition (minus lyrics)? Let's take a horror movie theme song, for example, like Halloween. Does the musical composition and production itself communicate sin? Is the problem with the song strictly limited to the fact that it is music that is completely tied to the movie?

 

Thoughts on Perception:

KD Merrill wrote:

Are you saying you've never made a moral judgment regarding someone's facial expression?   You've never asked a child to wipe a smug look off his/her face?  Never seen eyes flashing anger and rebellion?  

This is not the same thing as one's perception of artistic expression. A facial expression is a physical manifestation of an emotion, and the problem is with the heart, not with the face. The expression itself isn't sin, the pride is. Yes, the Bible says that God hates a proud look, but are we so literal that we think the look itself is what God hates? I think not.

Music, as a form of communication, is an artistic expression. And the problem with that is that the recipient makes a decision based on his perception of what he hears, just as with all art forms. To some, a particular form of art may be beautiful, to others, vulgar.

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)

GregH's picture

I am not as dogmatic on this as I used to be. This has been a subject of debate in philosophy for a long time. With a few exceptions, I think the idea that an object gains moral qualities based on context is relatively new in the scheme of things. It goes back to empiricism of the early modern philosophy period. It is a form of relativism when it comes down to it.

I am not saying that such thinking is wrong. I agree with it myself. But I also think it is a philosophical more than a theological argument and there are plenty of alternative theories that may also be credible.

Bob Hayton's picture

JNoël wrote:
Regarding Context:

Can you give an example of adding a context to a particular musical composition (minus lyrics)? Let's take a horror movie theme song, for example, like Halloween. Does the musical composition and production itself communicate sin? Is the problem with the song strictly limited to the fact that it is music that is completely tied to the movie?

I agree - the musical notes and composition are not inherently evil/good, but can have an association to a certain context which may communicate to a certain degree. The tune of "God Bless America" communicates based on the association with the lyrics. A style of heavy, beat-laden loud music could communicate the feel of being in a nightclub/bar where unChristian things are going on - but a style is less specific than a melody line and as my quote (from what I shared in my first post above) goes on to say: "Yet even then, music is by nature subjective...." 

There is now a cultural history of contemporary praise music that also has to color how we think of certain styles. In a vacuum, fifty years ago, perhaps a style may have communicated (to some people) something approaching a bad ethos (the bar music of fifty years ago). But today that music has a different association and context.  This is akin to the argument that "pants are for men". There was a time when that could somewhat largely be true (seventy years ago??), but not anymore....  

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.

Bert Perry's picture

Never thought we'd be discussing the movie Halloween here!  But since I suffered through it 35 years back, here's a link to an image of the sheet music; lots of sharps, and here's a recording.  Interesting balance between the low brass, keyboard and maracas; not much between the bass line and the keyboard/piano line, which is decidedly "to the right side" of the ivories.  

On the light side, if you didn't "know" it was Michael Myers stalking promiscuous teenagers, it would make an interesting backdrop for the conflict between Tweety and Sylvester.  There is definitely something that feels "ominous" about the bass line, but evil in itself?  No.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

KD Merrill's picture

We have indeed gotten somewhere - and where we've gotten is more than a little concerning.  

Bert, it appears that you're asserting that outward human behavior can not evaluated morally.  You're implying that God is only concerned with the internal.  This is nothing more than a weird internal/external dualism.    Do you really believe that He judges everything internally, but couldn't care less about our external actions?

Is God concerned about just the haughty spirit behind the proud look?  Absolutely.  That goes without saying.   But it's disingenuous to suggest that the text of Proverbs of 6 indicates that He is only concerned about the heart and not also its outward manifestation.

Bert, you attempt to convince that emotions themselves are amoral because our Lord displayed "the entire range of human emotions," citing the anger He displayed when cleansing the temple.   Do you really maintain that the anger He displayed is the same anger that an abusive husband displays when berating his wife?  Do you think His face was convulsed with rage?  Because anger is anger?   Or are they different kinds of the same emotion?   Do you honestly think that His facial expression was the same displayed by a petulant child?   Or could His face been similar to what John saw in His revelation?

You've made the unfortunate error of portraying communication, whether music, facial expression, body language, etc. as a thing.   Communication isn't a thing - it's an action, a behavior.  There's a world of difference between the two.

Bert Perry's picture

KD, it's not that outward human behavior can not be evaluated.  What I'm saying is that certain outward behaviors--facial expressions, tones of voice, rhythm and pace of speaking/singing, etc..--are indeed morally neutral until one links it to the motivations and other actions that can clearly be described as either good or evil.  You have an angry look; is it the man about the beat the snot out of his wife because she burned the toast, or is it our Lord about to turn over the moneychangers' tables in the Temple?  (same thing with a loud voice, etc..)  The context makes all the difference.  If we decide that certain looks, tones of voice, or whatever are intrinsically wrong, we end up blaspheming.  It's that simple.

In the same way, is that electric guitar backing up the Swan Silvertones for "Mary don't you weep", or is it the rhythm to "Highway to Hell"?  The context makes all the difference in the same way that a pipe organ can be used for playing Bach's toccatas, or as a backdrop for a slasher movie.  

Put differently, if we're going to say certain musical techniques or styles are completely out of line, we've got to do a MUCH better job of actually finding Biblical authority than have guys like Garlock and Gothard.  Again, their arguments boil down to a pious-sounding appeal to authority fallacy, and it's the same of fundagelicalism that we haven't more often pulled these guys aside to tell them "hey, you're building your argument off a logical fallacy.  Knock it off!"

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Regarding "was His face convulsed with rage?", consider the fact that He chased a fairly significant number of moneychangers to abandon the money that was scattered all over the floor and leave the Temple, armed just with a whip, when people routinely carried swords for their own protection.  We're talking serious chutzpah here.  Suffice it to say the moneychangers "saw the veins on His neck", and yes, it's strongly likely that, yes, His face was indeed "convulsed with rage".   

What you were trying to do with your example there, KD, is to "map out" a subset of anger that would be automatically banned.  Trouble with that is that Scripture nowhere makes such an argument; and where Scripture is silent, should we be talking?  (and again, the same principle applies to music)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JNoël's picture

Let’s work with something in which we all agree. Music is a form of art.

As art, it communicates. We disagree with what it communicates, that is, with how we apply scripture to a particular instrumental composition and choice of instruments to convey the composition.

As I have stated earlier, I believe there are three categories of music – moral, immoral, and amoral. I hate the word “moral” because it can be confusing, so I am going to refer to these three as good, bad, and neutral.

But how do we know what music is bad?

As an art form, I believe we must look to the intent of the artist. The same is true for all forms of art. What is the intent of the author of the music behind the certainly un-Christian lyrics of the song Highway to Hell? How about the aforementioned score to Halloween? The music is written to support themes that are sinful. These should be easy examples of music that can hardly be considered pleasing to God and in line with Philippians 4:8. They demonstrate the reality that some music is, indeed, “bad.” And if we can conclude that one song is bad, then there are, of course, other examples. These artists are not artists who are creating art while being filled with the Holy Spirit; they are creating works that are fleshly and even demonic in many cases.

Good music is a little easier to define; the authors are Spirit-filled as evidenced by their very lives (you will know them by their fruit). Sure, they may still employ some of the styles that included themes in which they were trained before they were transformed, but all of us are still growing in our degree of sanctification until the day we die, and it is wrong to condemn another believer who is striving to live as a faithful Christian and allow God to do his work in them in his time. (And, no, I am not saying CCM artists will, one day, all compose music in a genre akin to Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.) But, and this is a guess, I doubt the writer of Highway to Hell would take the exact same music and put a gospel message to it if he became a Christian.

And then I believe there is neutral music, music that can communicate various emotions to us – fun (Roll Out the Barrel, Turkey in the Straw, The A B C song, etc.), appropriate romance (pick a non-adulterous, non-pornographic love song – there are plenty), relaxation (the list is endless). These are not music compositions that necessarily point us to God, but neither the authorial intent nor the message they communicate can hardly be considered sinful.

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

Jay's picture

Isn't it possible that a thing that communicates may be characterized as "neutral" which, I suppose, would mean amoral? For example, look at retail signage. Let's use Sonic as an example. It's artistic. It isn't just the letters S, O, N, I, and C in black arial font on a white background (although some may call that "art" anyway), it has colors and shapes, and it communicates "yummy" to the viewer (to some, anyway). Is it really moral? 

It's the association of that retail sign that makes you think "yummy" because you have learned the assocation is with a restaurant in the year 2019.  If you break the association (say, by dropping the Sonic sign into Japan in 800 AD), they're not going to know what it is, much less think that it communicates "yummy".   It may communicate "aliens" because it dropped from the sky.  It may communicate that it is a deity to be worshipped because it fell on an animal and killed it and they equate the falling sign with divine judgment.  It may communicate another meaning because it emits noise.  How do you know?  You can't until you put it within a specific context.

The point is that you want to argue that CCM communicates sensuality.  OK, but it doesn't communicate sensuality or even the same emotions to everyone.  There's nothing sensual about the thousands of male voices on the T4G Live albums.  There's nothing sensual in the lyrics to "Let Your Kingdom Come" by Sovereign Grace.  Is the song "Steady My Heart" by Kari Jobe communicating sensuality?  Someone mentioned, a long time ago, that either Bach or Mozart (I don't remember) triggered all sorts of memories in one person because they used that music to celebrate Satanic rituals when that person was a Satan worshipper.

That's where the argument falls apart, and why I instead ask "What does the song teach us about God?"  

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

JNoël's picture

JNoël wrote:

Let’s work with something in which we all agree. Music is a form of art.

As art, it communicates. We disagree with what it communicates, that is, with how we apply scripture to a particular instrumental composition and choice of instruments to convey the composition.

...

As an art form, I believe we must look to the intent of the artist.

 

Let me clarify. My post was only about one aspect, one thing that I was trying to find common ground on. No single post will address every angle of a subject, especially one as complicated as this.

My point was that music = art, art = communication, therefore music = communication; as such (and this is the big picture point of my post, but is not meant to address every single aspect of the conversation), the intent of the author of the music should be part of one's assessment of the music's good/bad/neutral -ness (assessment of morality - meaning moral, immoral, or amoral).

So, with that in mind, do you still believe 

Jay wrote:

That's where the argument falls apart, and why I instead ask "What does the song teach us about God?"  

?

 

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)

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