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Category Archives: Music

The Resurrection in music: an exercise

Here are two attempts to picture the power of the Resurrection in music. The first takes a bit longer to develop; give it about a minute and a half. The second is quicker; give it about thirty seconds.

Both begin with a measure of solemnity, attempting to portray the death of Christ, then both build to a triumph in the Resurrection.

The question: are they doing the same thing? Are there differences in what they communicate?

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Music, Worship

 

A music observation

I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

Jonathan Edwards

The quote above is one that I first encountered in a sermon from John Piper. I was reminded of it this past week, when I traveled to Minneapolis to attend the Desiring God Pastors’ Conference. For what it’s worth, the speakers did a very good job; I certainly commend the sermons from Drs. Ferguson and Horton, and would concur that union with Christ is an unjustly neglected doctrine.

But my remembering this quote was not provoked by the sermons, but the music. I was not surprised by the music; it was what one would expect in such a context. But it was interesting to me to watch, in a more firsthand way than normal for me, the kind of responses that the music seems to generate. In particular, there is a nearly automatic response to certain kinds of swells in the music, as when the drum hits to announce the chorus, particularly after that one verse that is always sung more contemplatively. The drum hits, and all the hands go up. As I say, it’s nearly automatic.

[What I’m not doing here: critiquing hand raising, critiquing music, probably some other things. Read to the end for my one observation that I’m making here.]

It is clear that the idea of this kind of worship service is likely undergirded by something like what Edwards says in that opening quote. The truths of the gospel are the highest and grandest that are conceivable. If so, than it is wholly legitimate (and perhaps holy legitimate) for those leading worship to “raise the affections” of the audience to the highest possible level, because the truths contemplated are of the highest importance. And so the music is employed to raise affections (and hands).

Now, one of the first things to note, which I will not explain here, is that Edwards is almost certainly operating with categories that distinguish affections from passionsEmotions, then, is a sloppy equivalent; it is simply too broad a term to capture what Edwards is saying here. Raising affections, raising passions (God forbid), and raising emotions are not interchangeable, at least for Edwards. So if we are going to enlist Edwards to support a view, it is only fair to make sure we are using him accurately.

But even if we were to grant that Edwards is used rightly, it still seems to me that there is something odd here. I notice that when the same truths are preached rather than sung, a different response is elicited. When the grand truths of the gospel are unpacked by the speakers, when the weight of those truths hits the hearer through the proclaimed Word, the response, most often, is one of sobriety. This is sometimes accompanied by the weighty utterance of Mmm. What is rarely seen, when the truth is proclaimed, is the listener bouncing on his toes, hands outstretched.

Perhaps, and only perhaps, such responses are not caused, then, by the affections of the hearers being raised by the truth, but by something else?

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Music, Worship

 

Redeeming limericks

Thought experiment: if you’re familiar with the poetic form of limerick, you might also be aware that many, many examples of the genre are characterized by bawdy humor (the link is clean; just the top results from an Amazon search for limerick). Such off-color topics are obviously not essential to the form; there are numbers of very clever, entirely clean limericks. However, anyone who is familiar with the form would likely know about their most common use.

Might we suggest the need to redeem the limerick? It seems to me that if we took limericks and used them as a medium to present theological truth, we could demonstrate Christ’s Lordship over even this trivial poetic form. Why should the devil have all the best forms, after all?

You understand, I suspect, that I’m being facetious. But I want to make two quick points:

  • A limerick might be a suspect form for carrying biblical truth because of how it is commonly used. This is a weaker argument against theological limericks, but not entirely without weight.
  • A limerick is a suspect form for carrying biblical truth because the form itself inclines us to expect that the content is jovial and foolish. This may be conditioned (we’ve heard lots of limericks that are jokes) or something more basic (the meter and rhyme scheme combine, in some near magical way, to give a lightness of mood). I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

Thus, “redemption” of a limerick is a pointless category. Stop using bawdy limericks. Enjoy in a suitable manner a funny limerick. But, literally, for Christ’s sake, don’t write theological limericks.

[Anticipated objection: Rap is a more serious genre than a limerick. I completely agree. But what I’m suggesting is that, when we recognize that a limerick, as a genre, is capable of trivializing serious subjects, we have at least, in principle, opened the conversation as to whether other genres might also have problems carrying the gospel. This doesn’t prove anything about rap. But it does provide the categories that the conservatives are using to make their case.]

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2013 in Conservatism, Music

 

A question for certain advocates of Reformed rap

I have largely stayed on the sidelines of the rap discussion, and intend to continue doing so. I’m facing a deadline for a large paper that needs to get finished, and that has occupied most of my time.

However, I saw a tweet this morning from someone whom (and whose work) I admire greatly that raised a question that I’d like to lay out in skeletal form. My terse style here should suggest nothing more than haste; I count the men to whom I address the question not only as brothers in Christ, but brothers who have made many of my road trips much more profitable. (Could we say that they have redeemed driving?)

I take the core of the tweet to be something like this: Christians, especially clergy, should refrain from presenting personal opinions on issues of adiaphora that strongly suggest that only one position is a validly biblical one. If I’m wrong in this summary, I suspect everything else that follows is moot.

I also want to throw in this disclaimer: the panel to which the tweet refers offers some positions and especially some accusations that are wholly unjustified. I am not, in this post, defending this particular panel.

So my question is this: if a panel like this is wrong to suggest that rap (which we’re assuming, only for the sake of argument, is adiaphora) is biblically problematic, why is it OK to post a podcast that essentially celebrates the same matter of adiaphora?

An analogy (in which you are certainly invited to poke holes): would it be acceptable for some in the Roman church to host a podcast called “The Stronger Brother,” in which they swap recipes for meat?

Does the public nature of a podcast discussion limit the kinds of things that ought to be celebrated? Especially since, as was noted above, several of the hosts are clergy? Why is one acceptable and the other not (again, in principle, not in terms of the specific things said in either discussion)?

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Music

 

Accepting sola scriptura and arguing musical style

This is a little intro piece that I’ve written for some friends who have asked for a basic defense of musical conservatism. It hardly gets us to full-blown conservatism, but at least offers the structure of why I think the Bible, while not addressing musical style, still gives us a standard for musical style.

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Here’s the quick outline of my argument on music; it’ll be something to get the conversation started, as we can then have specific claims to discuss. I’ll also say this: I find that these conversations are much better in person than in pixels. There are reasons for that, but given the circumstances, I am happy to do whatever you think would be helpful.

1. In any given passage of Scripture, we can ask what the passage is saying. This is basic hermeneutics.

2. However, I would also contend that every passage of Scripture not only has a what it is saying, but a how it is saying it.

3. I would further claim, then, that faithfulness to the Word of God means that our re-presentation of the text (whether in sermon or song) must accord not only with the what of the passage, but also with its how.

A quick example that I used at our church: I read to them Revelation 21–22. Then I had them sing “I’ve Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltop.” My point is that, even if every phrase of that song were true, the focus of the song and the triviality of its poetry and tune are such that it is utterly incompatible with the content of John’s vision of the final making right of all things in Christ. The longing created by that song simply is not the longing created by the text of Scripture. It might say what John says, but it doesn’t come close to saying it how John says it.

Another example: a pastor could preach a message that faithfully states Paul’s teaching of justification in Romans. If he does so, however, in the manner of a stand-up comic, I would say that he has not been faithful to how Paul has told us about justification, and is therefore liable to criticism. An obvious modern example of this kind of preaching is Mark Driscoll. Another obvious example would be a great many fundamentalist evangelists, even on the occasions when they did get the doctrine right.

As I say, this is the core of my argument, and it does not give direct and precise applications. Music and poetry do things; that is not disputable. It is disputable what a particular piece of music or poetry is doing. That is to say: even if you agree with the idea that Scripture has a how it is saying, it doesn’t mean we’re going to agree that any given song matches the Bible’s how.

This, to me, does not undermine the basic argument, because of the parallel notion of the what and the how of a passage. Christians do not always agree what the text is saying. Consider the diversity of positions on the end times, etc.

The fact that Christians do not always agree about what the text is saying does not allow us to conclude, however, that there is no what it is saying. Furthermore, there are disagreements about what it is saying that are significant enough to break levels of fellowship. It may be that differing eschatological views are sufficient to hinder some cooperative ministry. However, if someone denied a literal return of Christ altogether, that person would be so far from the what Scripture says as to be outside the bounds of any real Christian fellowship.

I would say that the same thing is true about the how Scripture says. Christians disagree in their reading of how a thing is said in Scripture; this does not allow us to conclude that there is no correct understanding of the how. Further, it may be that two well-intentioned, Christ-loving Christians come to sustained differences in their understanding of the how of Scripture. This is no mere triviality: it has to do with their understandings of what God is like, in a manner beyond the propositions of systematic theology. And so it may be that these Christians find their ability to cooperate strained in some way. If the differences are great enough, they may come to the conclusion that, while their propositions are largely in agreement, their views of God and his revelation are so different as to cause them to suspect that the other person is not loving God rightly at all. The claim here is that there is, in addition to orthodoxy and orthopraxy, such a thing as orthopathy, and that the standard for all three is the Word of God, and that disputes about the contents of each are not sufficient to undermine their existence.

Again, I have not yet made the case that a trap-set is on the other side of a line for me. What I want to establish, before we might even begin to discuss application, is that these issues of right affections have an objective standard for evaluation in the Word of God.

The Bible doesn’t tell us about our style of worship. The Bible shows us its style of worship, and we must submit to that.

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Conservatism, Music, Worship

 

Another CD recommendation

For the Sunday afternoon services at Calvary Baptist Church, we have been doing a survey of the Psalms. So far, we’ve spent two weeks considering examples of psalms of praise, and another two weeks the psalms of lament. We begin psalms of thanksgiving this week.

Our custom has been to conclude these services by singing the psalm that we’ve studied. For the psalms of lament, we used the tunes for the psalms from the Genevan Psalter.

For an introduction to these tunes, I’d recommend this recording. If any of the church folks are reading this post, you’ll hear that track 5 is the tune that we sang this past Sunday.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Music

 

Recommendation: eClassical.com

I’m always interested in finding good deals on good music. I’ve recently come upon the site eClassical.com (as I was looking for New York Polyphony’s newest disc, endBeginning, which I recommend to you). Of particular interest is their daily deal page, in which they offer one disc a day at half price. Today’s disc is a collection of Baroque guitar selections, which is quite good (and comes with a gloriously awkward cover as a bonus).

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Music