A very brief essay that argues that modern conservatives, who embrace the same fundamental principles that the liberals do, thus offer no real challenge to liberalism.
Monthly Archives: October 2009
I am a conservative, but that label is at least as misattributed, muddled, and problematic as is the label fundamentalist. The label conservative lumps me in with a host of people with whom my disagreements are profoundly sharp.
Even among those who own the label in a manner similar to me, there are differences. In my blogroll to the right, however, I have listed a number of other bloggers who share this same worldview (there are exceptions even on that list; not every man listed in my blogroll would consider himself a conservative in my very restricted sense; some would actively oppose my thinking on these topics).
What this sort of conservatism, the sort that I am advocating, has in common is best articulated by Richard Weaver’s profound work, Ideas Have Consequences. In my next several posts, I want to unpack (in a very cursory manner) the following three paragraphs, from the introduction of Weaver’s book:
Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.
One may be accused here of oversimplifying the historical process, but I take the view that the conscious policies of men and governments are not mere rationalizations of what has been brought about by unaccountable forces. They are rather deductions from our most basic ideas of human destiny, and they have a great, though not unobstructed, power to determine our course.
For this reason I turn to William of Occam as the best representative of a change which came over man’s conception of reality at this historic juncture. It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.
I would contend that these lines are the core of everything that Weaver says in IHC; if he is right about the importance of universals, your affirmation or denial of universals (whether overt or assumed) determines much else about your understanding of the world.
In my last post, I linked to a number of recordings of one of the great hymns of the faith; I offered a handful of links of each traditional and contemporary recordings. That exercise leaves us with some questions.
The first is this: can anyone legitimately say that all four of the “conservative” recordings express no diversity? I am inclined to believe that anyone who would say that they “all sound the same” would be outraged if I offered the same evaluation of, say, U2 and the Beatles on the one hand and Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus on the other. And they would be right; the music represented by those names is not the same; there is a diversity there. But I would suggest that a strong argument could be made that the conservative tradition allows for at least as much diversity within itself as does the pop/rock/whatever genres.
If I’m right, the idea that we need progressive music styles to express the manifold glories of God seems strained. The onus would be on the advocates of progressive music to demonstrate that the newer styles highlight elements of God’s character that we would otherwise likely overlook. I, for one, do not see how the modern settings of “A Mighty Fortress” drew my attention to some new aspect of God’s character; it seems to me (and I’m open to correction) that the primary appeal of the modern settings is to make the weighty, sublime poetry of that great hymn more immediately accessible to a new generation. We can have the conversation as to whether that is a good thing; note, however, that that argument now moves away from the contention that the musical diversity helps us see something about God’s nature.
Let me offer what I believe to be the conclusion of the whole matter: the argument for worship diversity is correct in form. That is to say, everything that Kauflin says, I could agree with. Just as a certain kind of diversity is very helpful when we’re doing the work of theology, so that we can see God better and appreciate the unique giftings of our brothers more readily, musical diversity in worship allows the same thing. But the parallel with doing theology offers us this further insight: after a certain point, diversity in theology is no longer profitable.
I should expand on that: for individual study, especially for the student of theology, exposure to a very broad range of theological opinions is very helpful, both to allow the student to incorporate what is true in a false system, and to prepare the student to confront what is evil. But the wise pastor does not bring all his liberal studies into the pulpit, into the corporate worship, with him. To do so would be foolish; it is ecclesiastical suicide. The very nature of the gathered body places additional strictures on the value of the diversity expressed.
This holds true, I think, for music as well. It may well be that some piece of music may enable me to see some element of God’s character that I would not have seen before, but the piece of music (taken as a whole) is as mistaken affectionally as, for instance, liberation theology is theologically. So while it may be interesting for me to read a liberation theologian and gain “eyes” to see God’s works of deliverance in Scripture (and in our lives), I will not bring it into the pulpit.
Ultimately, then, the difference that I would maintain with Kauflin, and with all others who would use his argumentation to introduce contemporary worship styles into the church, is that a given musical style can communicate something mistaken about God. That issue, of course, is enormous. Perhaps I will pursue that topic at some point; I conclude for now, however, with the thought that the scope of the diversity that we allow in worship will be so intrinsically related to our understanding of the nature of communication in worship that, while we may agree about the principle of diversity, our application will always be determined by another principle.
Our discussion on this subject is drawing to a close. I argued, in my previous post, that I suspect that much of the enthusiasm for the worship diversity argument is in no way distinctively Christian, but is, rather, an attempt to re-purpose the idealogical pluralism that pervades our society. In this post, I wish to begin to address the most theologically significant of Kauflin’s arguments: that the manifold perfections of God cannot be expressed in a single style of worship.
In order to make this conversation profitable, we should have some reference points. Let’s consider a number of settings of Luther’s “Ein’ feste Burg.” I’ve selected these not entirely at random; several I’m familiar with because they’re part of my own music collection. I have attempted to pick legitimate representative samples of various styles; it would have been quite easy (and quite unfair) to highlight many abysmal recordings of this piece of both conservative and modern style.
- Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (Track 5)
- The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir (Tracks 1–8)
- Himlische Cantorey (Tracks 5–7, preview only)
- Concordia University Wind Symphony (Track 5)
- Indelible Grace
- Crossroads Live Worship (Track 2)
We can now consider how these artists imagine God as our fortress; what does each portray that the other lacks? In what way do they help us understand the manifold glories of God?
If you are a football fan, please read this article.
I thoroughly enjoy the sport of football, both as a fan of my local teams and by participating in fantasy football, but as more and more information comes out about the long-term effects of the brutality of the game, I am rethinking the degree to which it is acceptable, as a Christian, for me to derive entertainment from watching men maim themselves.
In our earlier discussion, we noted three arguments for musical diversity in worship. These arguments have been presented (in various forms) by any number of defenders of diversity in worship; however, I believe they originate from Bob Kauflin’s work Worship Matters. I offer these paraphrases of his arguments:
- The multiplicity of perfections of our God cannot be rightly expressed by one style of music.
- Differing musical styles allow us to see different aspects of the truths expressed in the words of our songs.
- Musical diversity expresses that God is seeking worshipers from every tongue, tribe, and nation.
In my next posts, I will address Kauflin’s first and third arguments. I have no objections (in principle) to his second argument; we would obviously differ on the range of music that we would find acceptable for highlighting different aspects of the truth, but the point of his argument stands.
I’m going to begin with Kauflin’s third argument, not to be contrary, but because it seems to me that this third argument may well be driving much of the popular enthusiasm for worship diversity.
Let me first state that I think that Kauflin and others who use this argument are to be commended for their love for the spread of the gospel to all peoples. One major emphasis of the young Reformed movement is missions; John Piper’s work Let the Nations Be Glad has been a significant influence on my own thinking about and love for missions. The fact that a rising generation of believers is endeavoring to spread the worthiness of Christ’s name (even in dangerous places) is, obviously, a very good thing.
That being said, we do need to recognize how easy it is for us to be self-deceived, particularly about the motivations of our hearts.
The rest of this article may be perceived by some as unnecessarily inflammatory; I want to do all I can to assure you that this is not my intent. I am not, in writing this, seeking to question the motives of any particular person; I have no one in mind. I simply wish to ask us all to consider the ways in which our hearts may be shaped by the culture around us, so that what we claim to do because we are Christians is actually done because it is popular, and then baptized.
I love Asian food; in particular, I especially love Thai and Indian food. Japanese is outstanding; I’ve developed a fondness for sushi. Chinese is good. I’ve heard good things about Korean food, but haven’t had opportunity to sample that cuisine to this point.
Why would I bring up a list of favorite foods in the midst of this post? Because it would be silly of me to suggest that my love of Indian food, for instance, is really or primarily about my burden for the Hindus of Mumbai. The reality is that I like Indian food (or Thai food, etc.) because I find it tasty; to embellish my affinity for it by attributing to it a loftier motive would be, on my part, quite disingenuous.
Furthermore, one of the distinguishing features of Western culture is a curiosity about other cultures. Without question, we might point to many examples of Western imperialism imposing its own view of culture on other people groups; I don’t dispute that. But it is also Western culture that has taken the initiative to learn about other cultures, to seek to preserve their uniquenesses. This distinctive of Western society has blossomed into the near cult of multiculturalism that pervades our society today: if something is from another culture, it carries its own virtue with it. Being “from another culture” is enough reason to prize something.
Because this mindset so pervades our society today, we must cautiously consider whether our love for diversity in music is really rooted in a heart for missions, or whether missions is a convenient Christian cover for us to pursue what is already very accepted in our pagan society.
Please, again, do not misunderstand me: I am not for a moment suggesting that you are not sincere in your love for missions. I am not setting myself up as judge of your heart; I am merely suggesting that the pervasive values of our society embed themselves deeply in us, sometimes without our notice.
Let me cite a humorous example of what I’m talking about, by way of illustration. (As always, a link from this website doesn’t mean that I endorse all of the language/wordview/etc. of the site to which I’m linking.) I have been amused by the site Stuff White People Like, which spoofs the lives of the stereotypical white upper-middle class Americans.
Consider, for instance, some of these things white people like:
- Black Music that Black People Don’t Listen to Anymore
- Promising to Learn a New Language
- Self Aware Hip Hop References
- Multilingual Children
- Being the Only White Person Around
- Mos Def
- Being an Expert on YOUR Culture
(This list could continue for some time. I must add, for sake of completeness, Appearing to Like Classical Music.)
What you notice from this list is that “white people” (whether believing or unbelieving) stereotypically have a soft spot for anything that is from another culture. We could speculate on the motivations for this; such a discussion might profitable. Regardless of the motivation, this love of all things from other cultures is a widespread part of being a white American today; for this very reason, then, we must realize the danger that we might simply be attributing Christian language to something not distinctively Christian whatsoever.
As I mentioned earlier, I am inclined to believe that this mishmash of motives is the main driver of the advocacy of musical diversity in the church. But for now, I simply offer these thoughts for your consideration.