“Our music is our view of the Christian life in microcosm.” http://ow.ly/3YfSH
Category Archives: Music
A number of months ago, I presented a paper at a Conservative Worship Symposium organized by Scott Aniol of Religious Affections Ministries. Scott has been posting my talk in bits and pieces over at his site, but for those interested in such things, both the audio of my talk and my notes are available from the CWS website.
The gist of my presentation is as follows: God’s aseity guarantees the existence of non-relative truth, in that God’s knowledge does not depend on anything outside himself. I argue that a meaningful parallel exists between God’s knowledge and God’s affections; this is, I think, perhaps a novel contribution to the discussion of the impassibility of God. If I am right, God has “feelings” (or better, valuations) about all of his creation that are the standard for our feelings about all of creation, just as God’s knowledge is the standard for ours.
If this is correct, there is good reason to disbelieve that beauty is in the eye of beholder.
I have appreciated the good discussion and questions that followed my last post; to my discredit, I have not followed up on the feedback as I ought to have, so I’m going to use a new post to do so.
In order to provide a framework for this discussion, I first want to re-establish the analogy that drove my argument. In that first post, I said this:
Suppose that you’re visiting in a church service, and as part of their liturgy, they recite a creed (which is helpfully printed for you in their bulletin). Suppose further that this creed is not one of the standard ecumenical creeds, but one which has been drawn up specifically for use in their assembly. And suppose finally that one line in their creed is as follows: “I believe that God equally intends all people to be saved, and that only their own free will keeps them from salvation.”
Do you recite this line of the creed?
My point is this: I disagree with this line of the creed, and thus I could not in pure conscience say credo. My refraining from joining them in this portion of their liturgy raises a number of good questions, which I will begin here, and then continue in a few followup posts.
Is a church permitted to make such a statement part of their liturgy?
The question (clarified) is something like this: can a church have, as part of its liturgy, components that are not “mere Christianity”? I am convinced, for a variety of reasons, that churches can indeed have distinctive doctrines which they covenant together to uphold, but which they recognize are not essential to the faith itself. In other words, my church’s doctrinal statement is not the boundary of the gospel; I fully affirm that a person can reject (for instance) believer’s baptism or a particular millennial position without raising even the slightest question about his justification in Christ. And yet I have no problem with a church professing its confidence that the Bible, rightly understood, does teach believer’s baptism.
The root of our problem is, of course, that “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all” (WCF 1.7). This truth, it seems to me, is exactly to the point of the question asked by Scott Cline: “How certain are you that any given song is unfit enough to demand the destruction of Christian unity?”
Let’s ask this same question about our doctrinal analogy; in time, I’ll suggest how I shift it back to the music discussion. Thus, “How certain are you that any given doctrinal position is errant enough to demand the destruction of Christian unity?”
My profoundly unsatisfying answer: I think it depends. One relevant factor, it seems to me, is the existence of a number of orthodox churches in a given area. So, for instance, if my church is the only one holding to the gospel within 50 miles, I am less likely to emphasize my secondary-level doctrinal distinctives. However, if our town has both a gospel-faithful Baptist and Presbyterian church, I would be more comfortable making commitment to believer’s baptism a condition of membership.
Perhaps this is sloppy; I’m open to discussion along those lines. But it seems a very practical reality.
Furthermore, doctrinal differences cannot be measured solely by degree of clarity; they must also be measured by degree of importance. So, consider again the two examples I mentioned before: believer’s baptism and premillennialism. Let us say, for sake of argument, that both positions are about equally clear in Scripture; which of the two, if denied, has greater impact on one’s understanding of the gospel and the life of the church? I would be inclined to say that the credo-/paedo-baptism debate is of greater moment.
This discussion of clarity and importance is relevant to our creed-reciting example: the Arminian line from our hypothetical creed is one that I find problematic on both accounts. That is, I think it expresses doctrine against what is clear in Scripture, and that it makes a statement that is significantly wrong. Thus, I cannot affirm it with that congregation. This is, perhaps, not a problem if I am merely a visitor. It is a big problem if that is my church.
I have recently had conversations with several people about the propriety of choosing not to participate in the singing of certain songs in public worship. More specifically, those of us who have embraced the arguments for ordered affections and conservative worship believe that some of the songs sung in our churches, or at other churches or conferences, have texts or tunes that misguide the affections; that is, these songs teach people to feel the wrong way about God (or about some Christian truth). In such cases, some of us choose not to sing those songs.
Is this an acceptable choice?
The argument for singing everything on the order of service is often very simple: certainly, it is claimed, these songs are not so far outside the bounds that we’re really violating our conscience to sing them. Instead, our refusal to sing is merely public demonstration, and is almost certainly rooted in condescending arrogance (elitism, if you will). The imperatives of pursuing unity (over petty preferences) and submission to one another in love trump our concerns about the merits of these songs.
It seems to me that the validity of this line of argument hinges entirely on the initial premise: these songs are acceptable. This is, of course, just the point under dispute.
For purposes of this post, I’m going to write as though we have little hope of resolving that issue (that is, whether these songs are appropriate). However, I think for many readers (even those who are not sympathetic to where we’d draw our lines), the idea that some music is either textual or musically inappropriate for worship is not utterly crazy.
If so, I think we can change the topic slightly, and in doing so draw some useful parallels. Suppose that you’re visiting in a church service, and as part of their liturgy, they recite a creed (which is helpfully printed for you in their bulletin). Suppose further that this creed is not one of the standard ecumenical creeds, but one which has been drawn up specifically for use in their assembly. And suppose finally that one line in their creed is as follows: “I believe that God equally intends all people to be saved, and that only their own free will keeps them from salvation.”
Do you recite this line of the creed? (Obviously, the dilemma presents itself only to those who are Calvinistic; if you are not, change the illustration to fit your theological persuasion.)
The point of the illustration, for me, is this: I would not recite the creed with this congregation, because I could not do so in good conscience. My refusal to join them in this creed, however, does not in any way imply that I think they are all pagans, or any such similar nonsense. It merely means that while they believe that this statement reflects the teaching of Scripture, I do not.
In the same way, I believe that certain songs do not reflect the mood of Scripture. This is not to say that my understanding of Scripture is absolute; I may be wrong about my judgment of the song, just as I may be wrong about my judgment of the Bible’s teaching on election. (Of course, I happen to believe that I’m correct about both.)
In either case, however, to join in the public use of these devices, when I believe they are not supported (and are instead actually contradicted) by Scripture is, in the words of Luther, “neither right nor safe.”
In the most recently released podcast from Religious Affections, I introduced a comparison that I’ve been mulling over for some time now. Here is a (lightly edited) transcript of the relevant portion of my comments. The section below begins about the 16:00 minute mark of the podcast:
I had mentioned, I believe, in the previous podcast, the fact that hip hop and rap do seem to have a heavy dose of ego involved in them. The form itself is very much that way: “Listen to me.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something that I don’t intend to be offensive, but I think is probably true. If we use hip hop for the cause of Christ, let’s compare it to preaching and preaching styles. There is a certain way of presenting the gospel (and fundamentalism in particular has been guilty of fostering this) using an approach in the pulpit that is full of ego.
The guys that support the use of hip hop are going to be very anti-Jack Hyles, and we’re going to be also…. You watch the videos and you listen to the audio (of that style of preaching) and it’s just appalling that it was about him. His preaching style was about him.
And I’m concerned, at least, that Christian hip hop has taken a form that is irreducibly egocentric, and is using it to present the gospel. But the approach to presenting the gospel is every bit as in-your-face and contentious as certain forms of preaching that we’re really trying to move away from.
Again, I say this cautiously, I throw it out there for consideration; but I think it’s worthy of consideration.
As some evidence for my proposal, I’d ask you to watch this and this. (The early going of the second video is especially useful for this comparison, when they’re having technical difficulties. This has the effect of isolating the rhetorical form of the rap.)
Note how both the preachers and the rappers employ rhetorical bombast; both seem to aim for the same kind of response from the gallery: “Oooo, that (guy, version, sin, whatever) just got burned” (or something similar). You can hear it in the crowd replies both videos at different points.
For the sake of this comparison, ignore the content of the message; I want to focus on form alone here.
If this parallel holds, both fundamentalists who oppose rap, and advocates of rap who loathe this style of preaching, need to give some consideration to the way in which their own arguments turn back against them.
There is some further discussion of this issue at the original post.
In a previous post, I requested some help interpreting a few lines of poetry. I mentioned that I was assembling a collection of poems and hymns suitable for a Good Friday devotional time.
I have put these together in a small booklet that some of you might find useful, either for use individually, with your families, or perhaps for a larger assembly (although this is likely too short a lead time to use in a church this Friday). Special thanks goes to Scott Aniol, who typeset all of the hymns.
The file is a pdf, and it is formatted on half sheets of paper. My recommendation, if you choose to print it, is to select “Booklet Printing” from the “Page Scaling” drop down box in the print dialog of Adobe Reader. If your printer does not handle duplex printing, you can choose to print front sides only, reload the paper, and then print the back sides.
And finally, an invitation for those in the greater Detroit area who would be interested in joining us: we will be using this booklet in the Good Friday service at Huron Baptist Church this Friday at 12:30pm.
I tend to favor period instrument recordings of early music, but had never taken note of the significant sonic differences between modern pianos and those which 19th century composers would have known. This article highlights those differences, and offers some interesting comparison audio clips.