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Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Sort of Final Word on Music

One of the most heated debates in Christianity of the last decade is in the area of music.  Maybe I'm wrong in pronouncing it a dead issue for me.  But it's not something I struggle with anymore.

Why?  I just don't think it's a life or death issue.  

I have some obvious nevers. I'll never try to find a heavy metal album and burn it on my computer.  I get enough headaches from the natural stress of working at a daycare, so I don't need to plug in for pain.  I can hear the screams of the countless lost human souls that bump into me every day.  So I don't need to go to a screamo concert to hear them cry our for purpose.  Plus, I like to nourish my soul on hearty food.  So my usual music selections are more conventional and refreshing.  

I know that worship music is the big deal and in some ways, glory is at stake.
For my readers who have passionate convictions about music on either side, I really can sympathize.  I've landed on every possible extreme since 5th grade.  In junior high, I made a vow to high church legalism. Mostly, I felt pretty good about my standards and felt like God was pretty impressed too. But it was no easy road to keep my rules which limited me to hymns and soundtracks and Irish music (which has always been my favorite).  I got to a point where I would feel guilty about accidentally listening to (and sometimes even enjoying) secular music played in stores.  That kind of thing jeopardized my relationship with God in my system.  In my high school years I turned "rebel" and started looking for more "worldly" music.  I obsessed over Josh Groban--which, oddly, didn't seem to bother the anti-CCM people I knew.  But, I also started getting interested in Casting Crowns and Jeremy Camp.  Sometimes, I felt so great about my music choices because I really saw God glorified in the words of these singers. Other times, I felt guilty because people told me that a certain beat was a sin or certain musical instruments were wrong to use.  But, of course, it was all based on my emotions and fear of man.  People would throw their opinions at me like spaghetti in a food fight. The result? Well, I made a mess of trying to please people and feel good about myself.  Nobody ever bothered to calmly explain why they thought the way they did about music or concede that they might be wrong.  Music seemed like a very fundamental issue.  So why did I know people who really loved God and disagreed about music? In recent years, God has been gracious to allow me to study the Bible more and know some people who talked me through different aspects of the debate.  
So I ended up with a few thoughts that are now a loose guide for how I think about music.  It's not something I would die for.  It's just where I stand. It's my current last word on music and I'm willing and ready for God to continue teaching me in this area as I become more like Him.

I've come down on a few non-negotiables.

First of all, motive is absolutely key. It's not everything (by that I mean that it is possible to have right motives and make a wrong decision), but it is key.  My goal in music must be to make God look glorious as He is!  This theme runs the entire length of Scripture along with a prevailing emphasis on the heart.  If emotion or attention or the praise of man is the motive for worship, I'm not worshiping God, I'm worshiping myself.  However, motive can be wrong or right no matter what your style of music. You can be worshiping yourself even if you're only singing songs written by Fannie Crosby.  Side Note:  One of my greatest frustrations with fundamental circles is the idea that emotional worship is wrong.  Emotion should not be squelched...controlled, maybe, but not squelched.  Read Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, Chronicles, and Psalms and circle how many times the people raise their hands, clap, and should loudly in worship!  They were worshiping a real God and maybe we need to be reminded of who He is.  Deep feeling springs from deep thought. If I'm thinking deeply about God and I feel deeply because of it, amen! God made emotions. They reveal what we value and if I value God, I am bound to feel excited, somber, exuberant, joyful, sorrowful, etc. because of Him.  The cross is an intense experience, and if it doesn't ever touch us we need to do an assessment.  

Secondly, music should be thoughtful.  This thought is all about living above the triviality. Western culture eats triviality for breakfast and that's why were are so mind-sick. Music should be rich with meaning. Psalm 47:7 says, "For God is King over all the earth, sing praises with understanding."  This is my only issue with some CCM.  Repetitive, fluffy songs don't promote thoughtful worship.  But then, neither do some of the hymns written in the 1970's.  Some of those flowery words really don't mean anything to a new generation of believers. What do we do?  Be honest with where we are.  Select music meaningfully. Not because "we've always sung that song" and not because "everybody else is singing that song."  We should love theologically rich songs and appreciate the poetry of good music.  (Here I insert a thanks to my friends who introduced me to the textually excellent music of Andrew Peterson as well as that of Keith and Kristen Getty.)

Thirdly, John 4:24 says that God should be worshiped in spirit and in truth. I am not qualified to go into detail on the meaning of this passage. My main point here is the TRUTH part.  I'm disturbed sometimes by the bold statements of popular Christian music.  A few I've heard recently on the radio, "God help me to believe that I'm someone worth dying for." Followed shortly by, "You can't love anyone if you can't love yourself."  I don't apologize when I call out these songwriters for buying into the lies of popular psychology.  Romans says that Christ died for us when we were still sinners.  There wasn't anything worthy about us.  And as we all know, the one who lays down his life is the one who finds it. You love others by dying to yourself, not loving yourself.  Our music, especially our worship music should be rooted completely in the truth of God's Word.  Singing a lie and calling it Christian music is even more dangerous than the blatant lies of secular culture.  

On worship music, we could all use a lot more humility.  We're just dirty, rotten sinners trying to tell our Savior how thankful we are for the cross.  That's worship. It's brokenness that sings in painful joy.  It's a right perspective of who we are in light of who He is.  I think that right perspective can be achieved with an organ as well as with an electric guitar.  So it's probably a good idea to put down the bombs and sing with one another in anticipation of worshiping Him together in His new kingdom someday.  

So how does this apply to secular music?  Admittedly, a lack of truth is the foremost danger of secular music. 
As an example, allow me to split some hairs and step on some toes (as well as use some  A few years ago, a song from the Narnia soundtrack became really popular.  Titled "The Call," the song itself was a sweeping, catchy melody with emotionally engaging wordplay.  I enjoyed it, but I struggled with the implications of the wording.  I'm picky enough about philosophy that the first lines gnawed like a flea on my mental skin.  "It started out as a feeling and then grew into a hope, which then turned into a quiet thought, which then turned into a quiet word. And then that word grew louder and louder until it was a battle cry."  Why is this so troubling to me?  Because the song operates on the assumption that feeling leads to thought which leads to action.  I heartily disagree. Scripture affirms (Luke 6:45) the eloquently worded statement of my theology teacher from college, "What you feed the mind will fuel the affections and fix the will." Regina Spektor's interesting song makes me think I have to have a vague feeling before I can do anything worthy.  

That said, it is not necessary to make a wholesale rejection of secular music in order to enjoy the good stuff.  (To add another cliche, that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.) Plenty of secular music speaks to the commonality of human existence, and by nature of our image-bearing qualities this music (sometimes even against the writer's will) brings glory to God.  Celebrating cultures, history, marriage, special holidays, etc. are part of the God-given human experience.  All truth really is God's truth.  My motive in enjoying secular music is the same. I wish to see something about God that I didn't see before and there are a lot of places I can catch a glimpse of His goodness. (We do this with our reading all the time...we read good, secular books to get a better idea of our world and of our God.)  Sometimes, I am so narrow in how I see Him and I think He can only be found musically in the hymnal.  No way! He is much bigger than that.  We find him primarily and perfectly revealed in His Son, Jesus and in His revealed Word, the Bible.  But He is all over His world.  Plainly in literature, He is in the brilliance of Shakespeare, the lyricism of Milton, the conversational fiction of Lewis, even the colloquialism of Alcott, and the mythology of Homer. And we are quick to attribute this beauty to our God, and rightly so.  Did those writers have it all right?  Nope.  But they were image-bearers and for that reason, they unwittingly reflect the Creator in some way.  I think of music this way too.  I am not afraid to say that Yanni's piano playing fills me with an indescribable longing for an unnamed, transcendent something.  For some reason, Latino music makes me laugh.  I relax to Beethoven and control my 4-year-olds at daycare with Tchaiovsky.  Owl City makes me think and then sort of wrinkle my brow in enjoyable confusion.  When I'm doing dishes, I sing along with Acapella.  Andy McKee plays guitar with a passion that inspires me to write. Five for Fighting performs a song that makes me weep for how I waste my time.  Christopher Cross wrote a song about sailing that connects me in a million ways to my childhood, my mom, and the sea.  And then there's a short list of love songs that perfectly illustrate my parents love story.  There's a place for all of it in the grand sphere of earthlings small existence.  And as all good things come from above, I think we can be thankful for it and give glory to God.  


  1. An interesting post about this topic from a side that few of my friends listen to with an open mind. Read this and ponder, please.

  2. Wow. I am so glad that I finally got to read this through. And I gotta say, I agree with EVERYTHING you said, but I could have never said it so eloquently. Praise the Lord for the blogosphere, where we can dump our souls and make it an art!