03 February 2015

Whoa whoaaaaa, listen to the mu-sic...

by Dan Phillips

I'm looking forward to a periodic local pastors' lunch today, and thought I'd share with you the topic we'll be solving resolving discussing: music in worship.

Here's the starting-point of the discussion—

1.         Scripture contains not a syllable dictating what style of music, meter, or instruments NT churches must or mustn’t use, focusing instead on content and intent (cf. Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Anyone truly affirming the sufficiency of Scripture (hel-lo?) should see this as significant.
2.         Music-style in NT churches was neither that of 19th-century England, nor of American 1950s, nor of American 2000s.
3.         That being the case:
a.         Some people insist that no yoots will come if we don’t change our music/worship style from X to Z. Hence: church's sell-by date is coming due.
b.         Others insist they will leave instantly if we don’t keep our music/worship style at X, and shun Z. Hence: church's sell-by date comes due even faster.
c.         Often, the latter category has loved the church and carried the burden of its work for decades, does most of the work and pays most of the bills.
d.        Sometimes, the former category might like to do more, but they feel sidelined – and music-worship style is one way they take as a subtle (?) message that they’re not seen as central to the church’s mission.
e.         So what do we do?
i.          Tell “a” to grow up, and make the main things the main things? (But why should their culture be ignored?)
ii.        Tell “b” to mellow out, and give a thought to the church maybe not dying when they die? (But what if it’s a convictional matter to them?)
iii.      Have two services – so that nobody has to practice grace, forbearance, longsuffering, and humility (Ephesians 4:1-3, etc.), let alone honor the vision of Titus 2?

Just to supplement and affirm that first point, I've long noted that the OT psalms are pretty much in the exact same style as pagan Canaanite poetry. For instance, consider Psalm 92:9 —

        For, behold, Your enemies, O LORD,
               For, behold, Your enemies will perish;
               All who do iniquity will be scattered.

Now consider this line from a much-earlier Ugaritic poem to Baal:

         Behold, thine enemies, O Baal,
               Behold, thine enemies shalt thou crush,
               Behold, thou shalt crush thy foes!

Similar? In form, yes, very. In content? A world of difference between Baal and Yahweh.

Weigh in as you see fit.

Dan Phillips's signature


J. Brian McKillop said...

Looking forward to reading your complete post AFTER the meeting!

Bill O'Neill said...

Perhaps there'll be a drum set nearby at the luncheon. And David Regier on piano.

DJP said...

Reminder of the way this usually works:

Please discuss this issue, this post, here. Please don't tell me Scott Aniol or someone answers it at X or Y place (link); but if Scott or whoever wants to come and discuss this post here, that could be pretty great.

DJP said...

I'd love that, Bill!

Anonymous said...

It admit that last bit about the similarities between the Psalms and psalms to Baal opened my eyes more than a little.

Someone ought spread that around a little. I may not like the result in music style, but I may not have a case either...

You don't suppose God would use something like that to sanctify me, do you?

Tiribulus said...

Here's the thing. I am on board with the obvious gist of where you are headed here.

You can't objectively condemn any particular style of music chapter and verse. But "Christian" Death Metal? Really? Listen to the vocals. And I'm someone who isn't necessarily against regular old time metal or rap for instance, but what do we do with something like this?


The point is, is there such a thing as a "spirit" or attitude in some styles of music that cannot be reconciled with the gospel?

DJP said...

I've heard of it happening, Daryl. (c:

DJP said...

So because death-metal is bad, Watts and the Gaithers are the two boundaries we have to stay in?

Pastor Nathan Dick said...

3-e-iii nailed it! It seems to me this is the path most often taken, and leads to one divided church after another. I really believe that Satan is effective in dividing the church in this very area. We have a church very close to us that has basically split over this issue. The two groups don't see one another, yet, somehow, they are gathering "together" to worship the Lord.

DJP said...

If it's easy for a pagan to look at a church and say "Oh, those people clearly hang together because they all share the same tastes," the Gospel is not well-served.

aaron said...

The issue, stylistically, is not about death metal, rap, etc. . .it's about "congregationality" (I think I made that word up). It must be SUNG by your church. The Gettys have alot of good material on why celtic-centric melodys are great for this. But, so are many hymns, and so are many modern choruses. Assuming for a moment that we're checking the theological veracity of a song/chorus/hymn. . . Than, the next item is that we make sure that we're SINGING it. Each church may have different nuances in play so that that dynamic is in play. That also speaks to the generational issue you raise. . . are our kids singing it? Are our seniors singing it? Let's find as many songs as we can that both are true! We may need to leave some room for that not ALWAYS being true.

Scott Fuemmeler said...

I am one of several worship leaders in my church. It is a large church for our area, and has a very wide generational demographic. We made the conscious decision about 15 years ago to not offer multiple styles of services on a Sunday, but to have each service we do on a Sunday be identical.

Instead, we vary the style Sunday by Sunday (more traditional orchestra + choir one Sunday, scaled back "Acoustic" feel the next, full "contemporary worship" band the next, etc). The thinking behind it is that style of worship is a preference, as I think you have captured well in your post. So week to week, portions of the body defer their preferences to honor and serve others in the body who prefer something different. In addition, we offer separate dedicated worship times periodically throughout the year, including hymn sings, and various styles along the contemporary spectrum.

While there is inevitably push back from some, the overall result has been positive, and enabled our body to worship together better as a body across generations and styles. As one example, our last hymn sing (which is just piano, organ, and vocals) had about half of the attenders under the age of 25 (including a large high school contingent), and both old and young were blessed by the experience.

DJP said...

Scott F, to me that sounds ideal, assuming you've got the musicians to pull it off. (I've pastored where it was just me, my guit-tar, and my self-taught skilz.)

Scott Fuemmeler said...

Yeah, that's the drawback to the approach; it requires a lot of volunteers to make it realistic (we have somewhere around 60-70 people between worship leaders, instrumentalists, and vocal teams, not to mention those in choir and orchestra who are only serving there).

The one thing I would add is that regardless of what style one prefers, the lyrical content MUST be theologically sound, or else you have a much bigger problem. That needs to be right before the discussion about style can even begin.

Dave Hyatt said...

I don't have enough experience to make a universal observation, but how many churches, when migrating over to 'modern' or contemporary worship music, do not maintain the breadth and/or depth of content (which is important)? I used to belong to a church that even went so far as to indicate that as the reason for the switch. By design, they wanted songs to be shorter, with more repetition, for more contemplation, heart feeling, blah blah blah.

Now, I know there are plenty who maintain the balance, modern worship songs that are theologically rich. But it's saddening to run into people who treat hymns and theologically rich songs as if it's some ancient language akin to using the KJV. Makes me wonder how they treat the Psalms themselves, they must think they are the worst! ;)

Chris H said...

A bunch of years ago, the Elder board at my church was faced with this situation: some people had a conviction against music involving drums and guitars, while others felt said music was glorifying to God and edifying to His church.

The Elder board prayed together, and then searched the Word (in english, german, hebrew, and greek, just to make sure all bases were covered), and came to the same conclusion you did - the Bible does not care what instrument, meter, tempo, etc is used.

But, I said in private with one Elder, certainly there are some hymns which have wonky theology, or whose message is steeped in "Christianese" as to make it inaccessible for visitors to get around (eg: "There is a fountain flowing with blood").

So, what developed was that we do some more modern, God-honouring and church-edifying and unbeliever-accessible choruses with appropriate instruments, and we do some God-honouring and church-edifying and unbeliever-accessible hymns with appropriate instruments. One family couldn't stay because the drums violated their consciences, and so we wished them well as they left.

Perhaps not a perfect system, but theologically, it was the only one we felt we could adopt.

Kerry James Allen said...

Was there a connection between the post title and one of the groups other songs, "Jesus is just alright by me?" and to my shame am I the only person who would notice that?

Robert said...

Just thinking back to something from Sunday School this week. It seems to me that when we spend time building relationships with people who annoy us or like different styles/music that we don't like, God sanctifies us through that and works to remove some planks from our eyes. These types of issues, non-Scriptural issues, that divide people in the church are the ones that we need to be clearing out instead of holding onto.

Unity in truth...if we agree on the Scriptures and right doctrine, then we should be one in Christ...regardless of musical tastes.

David Regier said...

Great post, and great questions to ask.

The most important thing to me has been to recognize that groups 'a' and 'b' are one in Christ. Otherwise we're saying, "In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, barbarian or Scythian, slave or freeman, except when it comes to music styles."

So where I'm ministering, we make it clear that everybody sings. And everybody sings.

We have an 'older' congregation. We have a piano and organ and choir. Recently added an 83-year-old bass player and a 14-year-old percussionist. It's a little weird. But everybody in the church sings, and we are in the first stages of bursting at our small seams.

So we're adding a second service. And the way that's looking is that the instrumentalists are going to be gravitating towards specific services, and even though we do more or less the same songs, they will be stylistically different.

But the most important thing is that the congregation sings. Whatever band is playing is accompaniment to the congregation singing. And it's important for them to know that.

In the midst of that, it's important that the kids know "Come Thou Fount" (including what an Ebenezer is and how you raise it), and the old folks know "All I Have Is Christ". And have potlucks where they all have to sit together and know each other and help each other out.

I'll think of something else as soon as I post this, but it's a start.

JackW said...

Is this the reason that Days of Elijah was not on the Pyro Sufficient Fire conference song list?

This is a great approach and I agree that content has to be primary and style secondary, though style needs to compliment and not distract from the content.

Scott Aniol said...

Hello, fellas. I have been summoned here by Dan and a few others, and thoughts I'd stop by for a chat.

Dan, the points you make are very common, but the issues are, of course, far more complex than you make them seem.

The comment section of a blog is hardly the medium for a thorough treatment of the issues. I have two books and many articles dedicated to the subjects. A few sound bites will hardly answer the questions you raise.

However, I will attempt a fairly short answer to a couple of your points with the hopes that you and your readers will take the time to engage with the ideas at more depth elsewhere.

First, a couple points regarding the sufficiency of Scripture. The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that if we cannot find "a syllable dictating what style of music, meter, or instruments NT churches must or mustn’t use," this must mean that is doesn't matter what we do. You can't really believe this, can you?

Can you find a syllable dictating whether you should take marijuana recreationally, whether you should drive on the right side of the road, whether you should plagiarize, or whether you should use church money to buy up a bunch of your books to get it on the NYT best sellers list?

No, the sufficiency of Scripture means that no matter what the issue, even if you can't find an explicit syllable about it, the Bible is sufficient to equip us to make a decision that will please God.

Christian maturity is having our senses of discernment trained to distinguish right from wrong (Heb 5:14; this implies that sometimes we will need to do this in the absence of explicit syllables). It is having our minds transformed by Scripture to the degree that we will be able to prove God's good and acceptable will (Romans 12:2; the implication there is that God has a will that must be discerned, even if he has not explicitly syllabatized it). It is being able to use sound judgment to discern "things like" what God has dictated we avoid (Gal. 5:21).

But even more than that, although there may be no syllable that dictates musical style, the Bible itself addresses aesthetic form through its form. Since I believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture, I believe that not only did God inspire the ideas in Scripture, he inspired the very words, including the way those words were arranged into aesthetic forms.

Since the Bible comes to us, not as a systematic theology or mere prose (in most cases), there is authoritative weight even to the aesthetic presentation we find therein.

Now, aesthetic form doesn't dictate in the same way as discursive propositions. It dictates through shaping the moral imagination and the affections of the readers. This is the power of all aesthetic forms including poetry and music.

So not only does the Bible give us principles that should influence our decisions regarding worship music, it also informs us through the very forms of Scripture themselves.

How it informs our decisions is a task for more thorough discussions and should be the goal of good local pastors' luncheons. :) I invite any who are interested to visit www.religiousaffections.org or pick up one of my books, where you will find more explanation and direction toward other sources as well.

[character limit reached...part 2 coming]

Scott Aniol said...


This leads me to address the final point you make in your post. Ironically, I am in the middle of a multi-post series at Religious Affections that addresses the very issue you raise: whether the Psalms borrowed from Ugaritic poetry. (http://religiousaffections.org/articles/articles-on-worship/similarities-between-pagan-and-hebrew-worship/)

Again, this is a far more complex issue than you portray it to be. I'll briefly summarize what most conservative scholars would say to such an assertion, but I invite you to engage with the full series at Religious Affections.

There is no question that there are similarities in a few places between the wording of a couple of Psalm phrases and Ugaritic poetry. But what Allen Ross (Recalling the Hope of Glory), John Oswalt (The Bible Among the Myths), and John Currid (Against the Gods) point out, among mangy others I cite in the series, is that in these few cases what is clear is that the biblical authors are using such parallels as a polemic against the false religions. They are not borrowing forms for the sake of borrowing; they are mimicking some of the language of the Canaanite people as a way to mock them. "You think Baal rides upon the storm? He's nothing; Yahweh is the one who created the storm!", etc.

Do you really think that Hebrew worship forms were like those of their pagan neighbors? Are you really saying that the only difference between Hebrew worship and pagan worship was the content and intent? Just look at 1 Kings 18, likely the most clear side-by-side comparison of Baal worship and Yahweh worship. There is no similarity in form.

Any careful study of Scripture, ancient texts, and other historical sources will reveal that the pagans used different instruments in their worship (primarily percussion and double reeds) than the Hebrews (primarily strings), their music was pathocentric rather than logocentric, their forms were ecstatic and orgiastic rather than modest and driven by theological texts.

Now, again, there were certainly similarities. Pagans had sacrifices, priests, temples, and music. But where there existed such similarities, it was because the pagans had "borrowed" from elements of worship God himself had established all the way back at Creation.

Every time Israel borrowed anything for worship from their pagan neighbors, the results were disastrous.

The conclusion, then, is that our worship music doesn't need to be different for difference sake alone. If the pagans around us happen to produce something that is noble and beautiful because they borrow from our worldview and values, then our worship music may just sound like theirs in those cases.

But to imply that we have biblical warrant to borrow worship forms from the pagans is simply not true, in my judgment.

DJP said...

Thanks for so taking the time to engage so fully, Scott. It's generous of you to take the time to share your expertise.

I think your argument proves too much, though; and I don't even know what it has to do with what we're talking about.

Pagans speak and write in the syntactic arrangement Subject + verb + indirect object + object. So I'd better invent a different syntax, or I'm worldly? Unless I'm using it to mock them?

Figuring out that smoking marijuana is a species of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18) is like concluding that A Gaither style (or whatever) is OK, but a more up-tempo style is not?

Subjective responses create objective rules? So if you and I listen to the same music, and it angers and agitates you, but it cheers and encourages me — what's the Bible verse that settles that one? You say there isn't one? Then how about Philippians 2:3ff.? Do I show love by not imposing my subjective response on you?

You don't think the degree of Biblical clarity on an issue has anything to do with the degree of insistence we're entitled to in imposing our opinion?

I'm not sure it's as complicated as you make it — or, if it is, not in the direction you think.

I anticipate — and I say this with zero sarcasm — that at your point your response will probably be "read my blog" or "read my book," and that's a perfectly fair response. You've been generous as it is.

Robert said...

I find it a bit ironic that we have come to the point where the defense for what the Pyros are pointing to is overlooking an offense in the name of Christian love. Although, it isn't that ironic because most of the time what people demand from the authors/readers here isn't Christian love.

What am I to say to the guys at Grace Community Church when I go to the Shepherds Conference this year and a band plays with drums? That percussion was used by pagans and not Israelites in worship? (end sarcasm)

aaron said...

So, Scott. . .since Elvis and the Stones stole from the Blues, which came from Gospel music. . .should all modern rock/pop forms be in use since we stole it back? The Hebrew/source argument you make seems to imply that. The Pagans were just borrowing from forms they had seen in the worship of the True God.

There aren't sacred and secular instruments or music styles. . . "every square inch". Some are better for congregational singing, which is our paradigm in corporate worship. We should be wise and discerning, but not dogmatic.

Michael Riley said...


Let me just touch on one point you made in your last post, because I think that this is very significant for the discussion.

You want to tie "biblical clarity" to the degree to which we're entitled to impose our opinions. And there is a sense in which that is straightforward enough a principle.

But you certainly have to acknowledge that with enough time, even those things which are "biblically clear" can be made to seem obscure. Consider, for instance, Taylor on creation. His argument, more or less, is "Well, it isn't clear...."

And there are *hosts* of folks who agree with him. And these folks get mighty huffy at the audacity of those of us who want to say that, actually, the Bible is clear on this point.

I would suggest the possibility that, while it's the case that most people don't see issues of style (of music, or preaching, etc.) as biblically clear, it might be a failure of our age. I don't expect that future generations will be lauding our piety. Maybe I'm wrong. I just suspect that we (speaking broadly) could have blind spots here, such that something that is clear might not seem so to us.

Obviously, I'm just making that claim, not proving anything. But I want to highlight the weakness of the "clarity" argument itself.

David Regier said...

Organ and piano = double reed & percussion = pagan

Electric guitars = stringed instruments = Hebrew

Anybody who says differently is a lyre.

Jeri Tanner said...

Scott's reply illustrates the point I tried to make on Facebook. Surely God has given us clear direction on our corporate singing together in the NT so that we're not left to the chaos of all our varied tastes and subjective preferences! God gave clear commands for worship under the old covenant from Moses to David, and when Israel was doing well those commands were obeyed just as prescribed. Now God has given clear commands for new covenant corporate worship under the same principle as the old, which is that what he has commanded we must do, and what he hasn't commanded we don't have to do (and shouldn't). We are to simply sing together, and it's God's word we are to sing. David wasn't free to innovate in any way in the temple worship, and we aren't free to innovate either (but we have). We thought we were making things better by bringing back in aspects of the Temple worship back in the mid-1700's- but we were really putting ourselves back into bondage, and we lost the Psalms as a result. Lots being written and said about this of late, found easily on the internet, though supporters of Psalmody are quite marginalized.

David Regier said...

So in the New Covenant, we sing the Psalms, which tell us to praise the Lord with various instruments, which God has not commanded us to use and therefore we are not to use as we sing about using them.

No mental gymnastics there.

DJP said...

...sitting on (or standing near) pews He didn't tell us to purchase in a building He didn't tell us to build with air conditioning He didn't tell us to buy holding books He didn't tell us to print or looking at a screen He didn't — you see where this goes. Nowhere Bibley.

Jeri Tanner said...

Gentlemen. Yes, we sing the Psalms as Paul instructed in Ephesians and Colossians, which say a number of things that we will probably not do (including words about animal sacrifice). But you read them, don't you, and profit from them and understand what's meant , and that you don't have to sacrifice animals? Just as there is a doctrine of why animal sacrifice (and incense, just to name something that Hebrews doesn't specifically mention) is no longer needed or allowed in worship, so is there one concerning musical instruments, and singing the Psalms.

I know how weird it sounds! I'm just throwing this out here because we don't even sing the Psalms. I just want people to think and consider that there may be more at issue than the things commonly discussed. And Dan, I think it's very Bibley, otherwise I wouldn't volunteer to be thought ignorant or strange. Surely we don't want to be complacent and believe that we shouldn't pay closer attention to church history and what past theologians have said about what the Bible teaches on NT singing. I just believe the issue of our singing is of monumental importance (as obviously you do too).

Jim Pemberton said...

"iii." is the answer anyway. The "mellow out" crowd needs to grow up spiritually as well. There is more of a biblical reason to handle their immaturity with a healthy amount of respect, however. The thing is that any church will destroy itself slowly over time unless they worship God rather than worshiping their style preference. It's an idolatry issue.

DJP said...

Well yes.

At the pastors' lunch, we had a lively and helpful discussion of this. One of the best points made, to my mind, was a brother who read Philippians 2:3ff.

Then he said that, if we embraced that exhortation, we'd be waging reverse worship wars, instead of worship wars.

That is, Brother A would be saying to Sister B, "I am more comfortable with Style X, but if Style Z exalts Christ to you and instructs you more effectively, and singing in that way makes this church more of a family to you than a place where you're an outsider, then let's do that."

And Sister B would be responding, "Thank you, that is very gracious of you and does make me see how loved I am here; but if giving up Style X alienates you and makes you feel unwelcome in the church you've served for twenty years, it just isn't that important to me."

You see?

But then if you try to move it to the grounds of "No, look, this isn't just my preference! It's a Moral Issue of prime importance! If you don't appreciate the Gaithers (or Fanny, or Ira, or Isaac, or whoever), you're not only lowbrow, but you're evil, and we can't sell this church to the Devil just to make you comfortable" — well then, we have a real problem.

That will split churches united on every other critical vital issue and isolated in both the secular world and the Christian world.

Scott Aniol said...

Dan, while the sentiment is admirable, it assumes (without proving) that musical form is neutral. The problem is that this assumption is biblically, theologically, philosophically, and historically untenable.

DJP said...

...then I say, "Bible verse?", and you throw a chair at the lowbrow.

Except you're not saying I'm lowbrow if I like the wrong kind of music; you're saying I'm evil if I do.

For my part, I'm not saying it's neutral. I'm more inclined to say it's all good — though not enjoyed by all. Which is good — squash or hamburger? I'm forced to say both are good, though you'd have to pay me a pretty penny to get me to eat the former, while I'd pay you for the latter.

Isn't the burden on you to prove that a kind of music is (not just distasteful to you, but) inherently and objectively evil? And honestly, it doesn't bother you that you don't even have the whisper of a verse, or the least shadow of a Biblical precedent, for finding a certain rhythm or combination of tonalities to have inherent moral quality?

Scott Aniol said...

Music is communication, and there are lots of verses about that.

What if my son, after speaking to me disrespectfully, said, "Come on, dad. You don't have a verse to prove that my tone of voice was disrespectful!"

And it's not a high brow/low brow thing at all. In fact, I would advocate for much more simple, modest worship music than most. I'm just as opposed to Gaither as I am to Christian rock. What I advocate is simple, modest singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, tastefully accompanied (or a capella) in such a way that supports congregational singing and fits the sensibilities of Christian worship.

And to clarify some obvious early confusion, I'm not saying drums or double reeds are evil or strings are holy. It's more about the character of the music. Pagans desired to work the worshipers up into an ecstatic, orgiastic frenzy in order to get their god's attention and intelligible singing didn't matter to them, so the loud double reeds and drums worked perfectly toward their ends. The Hebrews were responding with appropriate reverence to what God had already done for them and intelligible singing mattered to them, so accompaniment on the lyre was the instrument of choice in the Temple.

It's all about what our musical choices communicate and how they shape the responses of our hearts.

So instead of making this a matter of preference (which assumes the neutrality of music), we ought to be working together to discern what kinds of music available to us today best facilitate modest, reverent Christian worship.

Jeri Tanner said...

"So instead of making this a matter of preference (which assumes the neutrality of music), we ought to be working together to discern what kinds of music available to us today best facilitate modest, reverent Christian worship."

Scott, that will never, ever, never, never, not ever in the world happen. It would be great if it could. But nope.

I hope it may come as good news someday (when we're finally exhausted from the effort) that we don't have to reinvent the wheel.

(I do appreciate and agree with your views on the aesthetics and effects of different musical forms, and have been helped a great deal by your writing on that.)

DJP said...

It's funny to say at this blog (given history), but I think the "tone" argument may be your best, Scott.

Yet still I think it's wide of the mark. You've probably seen this video, which humorously makes the point that German sounds angry, compared to other languages. Does that make German fleshly?

You pop some squash in your mouth and say "Yum!" I pop it in my mouth, and then right out, and say "Yuck!" Which one of us is reacting sinfully? But I'm not saying the squash is evil. I'm not even saying it's neutral. I'm just saying I don't like it.

I hear a song, and it makes me happy. You hear the same song, and it makes you angry. Which one of us is in sin? Can't the construct be the same?

Now this is all very conceptual, and that both helps and hinders us. It'd be so much easier if we pointed at a specific song. For instance, now I know you don't mean Gaithers. (Here, we agree.)

So, "Christ The Lord Is Risen Today" is moral, but Second Chapter of Acts' "Easter Song" — not? Or moral if you do piano-only, but immoral if you add drums and synth?

Scott Aniol said...

The tone argument is exactly on point.And if you had read my books or spent time on my site, you would already have encountered this explanation!!! ;)

Music is simply an extension of natural vocal intonation, so the parallels there are quite strong.

Here's one thing that might help the conversation.

When we talk about musical meaning, there are always at least two layers of meaning occurring. Both layers work by means of association.

The first layer is what I call conventional association. This is the layer I think you (and most others) have in mind in most of these discussion. On this level, what a particular song or style means to me is based upon conventions; these conventions may be unique to me personally, or common for a particular culture or time. They arise due to background, experience, etc.

So, for example, red, white and blue "mean" American patriotism, but not in any sort of universal, intrinsic sense. This is a conventional meaning that is true only of Americans. The British take the colors to mean something entirely different.

A lot (a lot!) of musical meaning is conventional, and in that sense changes from person to person and time to time. This is the "yum"/"yuk" factor you mentioned. This is what affects personal preference.

And on this level, I agree completely with the sentiment that says we must show grace to one another when choosing music for worship.

However, there is another layer of meaning that is always present, and musicologists, philosophers, and theologians have always affirmed this layer except for about 100 years from the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century in musicological circles, and among evangelicals ever since they wanted to use rock in church.

This layer still works on the basis of association, but it's what I call natural association. In other words, it is associations that exist not out of mere convention, but because they naturally occur in common human experience.

This is how facial expressions or vocal intonation communicate. We discern what a particular tone of voice is expressing because we associate it with how we naturally express.

Now I can hear the objections already: "People of different cultures express through vocal intonation and facial expression!" This is simply not true, however. Since we all share common humanity, we express things naturally very similarly. Theology should support that, but all the scientific studies do, too. Now conventions can affect this as well, but at its root, all humans express similarly.

Music, too, expresses on this level. All humans hear dynamics, timbre, pitch, harmony, and melodic contour the same. When combinations of these features mimics something that occurs in common human experience, especially emotional expression, music expresses in a natural and universal manner.

It is this second layer I'm afraid is being overlooked in these discussion. Truly, there will be many cases in which a song means one thing to me and another thing to you, but this is only on the conventional level.

On the natural level, music means what it means. And it is to this level we must give careful consideration.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

I wonder if the underlying issue has less to do with musical preference and more to do with "the future of the church." The hamburger crowd doesn't trust the way they perceive the squash crowd will run things when they come of age. And the squash crowd thinks they have the best thing going, better than the standard meat between two buns. Hamburgers have had their fill of squash, and squash haven't developed a taste for hamburgers.

DJP said...

Well, the weakest aspect of my argument is that squash actually is evil.

Jim Pemberton said...

There is a sense in which music communicates things culturally. There's nothing in the Bible that addresses this directly. Musical style is neutral as such in the scriptures. I think that may be why the music wasn't included in the Psalms. Our society has become diverse enough that what music communicates within local churches differs between different segments of society, which includes in this day different generations. That's why Dan's statement about practicing "grace, forbearance, longsuffering, and humility" holds.

When I go to India, the Middle East, South America, or even to a different church down the road for an event, I practice these things and appreciate the intent behind the style they employ if it's not exactly my favorite style. I don't judge a church based on style; I judge it based on the doctrine they teach. Then I worship God in a less-than-familiar style grateful to have brothers and sisters in Christ to gather with.

aaron said...

Scott,the Asian scales and the atonal nature of much of world music argue against a "universal" understanding of different musical intervals, devices, and such. . . You're argument could almost be called cultural empricism, even though I know that's not your heart. But, to say there are universal meanings of music, by definition prioritizes some cultures over others, and is a huge hole in this line of thinking. We don't hear it the same. Humans across the world don't. That's been proven for thousands of years. There is not a nailed down, cultural appropriate in all times and all places definition of "beauty". That's going WAY beyond the scriptures at the very least. The way my grandma hears a pentatonic guitar solo is different than the way my son will hear it. It does not have the same affect, nor bring about the same emotive and cognitive responses.

aaron said...

"This is simply not true" regarding different responses across the world to the same music. That's quite an assertion. Musicologists would disagree.

Scott Aniol said...

I'm sorry, Aaron, But what you assert has no basis in reality.

On the conventional level, absolutely.

On the natural level. No.

Asians do not have different scales. I don't know where you got that from. They have the same scales as anyone else.

And yes, there are absolutely universal principles of beauty that cross cultures. To deny this is to deny the transcendence of God himself, for he is the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty.

People love to assert that different cultures are so different and cite anecdotal examples. The problem is, the actual evidence doesn't support it.

aaron said...

Scott, I would place that comment back at you, in grace. . . . Yes, God created all the scales, and owns all the music. For instance, the Ganglan scales are different than any that are used in western music. No western songs sound like that. The tones exist, yes. But, they have a different affect (obviously) on the people making and enjoying Ganglan music. . . we see that because it's virtually non-existant in the West.

I'm not arguing different tones exist. . I'm arguing different cultures use different combinations, scales and such. . with very different outcomes and feedback from their audiences. It's very different. Do you often listen to Gamelan music? Billions do.

aaron said...

What examples would you offer that would say there's a universal, natural understanding of all music that all cultures react to the same way, cognitively and emotionally?

aaron said...

Gamelan music? Does anyone here enjoy listening to it for longer than a few minutes? Our Chinese friends do. Is that anecdotal? Are they reacting to atonal music in a "wrong" way? Are they not recognizing the beauty of western harmonic progressions?

aaron said...

You aren't aware of differing tone systems across the ages and cultures? Are you just saying that they "could" be used by all and thus aren't "different"? I'm just saying different cultures use different scales. . that's just a fact in World Music 101.

I would counter that the beauty and transcendence of God is being trivialized by your viewpoint that allows for a narrow definition of what is "beautiful". If God is Sovereign and claims every square inch, than Atonal music can be beautiful. Perhaps not to a Westerner. . but for Billions.

aaron said...

* gamelan * for all references above. . apologies for the typos.

AJM said...

You really struck a chord with this post.
Many resonate with your words.
Sorry about that.
I like Scott F.s suggestion.
Your point about honoring the vision of
Titus 2 should be like a trumpet sound.

DJP said...

Thanks, AJM. That's just the note this discussion was lacking.


donsands said...

Good stuff Dan. Our church mixes it up a bit, but we are REC, and so the hymns are 75% I suppose. I do like when Pastor David Crum mixes it up a bit and brings in some Contemporary music (with the same content as the hymn book songs); especially the Getty's. Of course, they are contemporary not like the hymns we sing now, that were contemporary at one time, but perhaps they will be in hymn books 100 years from now. Check out this simple song, (and content), and see if its content and melody doesn't touch your heart with a bit of love for our Savior (be edified): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6kJ2Y866qw

Merrilee Stevenson said...

"Well, the weakest aspect of my argument is that squash actually is evil."

Yes, I'm aware of your intolerance for squash. However, if you could see how nutritious squash is, you might find a new appreciation for its usefulness! You know, farm animals gotta eat too (cows and pigs are delicious)!

Robert said...

Music may not have been included in the psalms, but instruments were surely included. I wonder why we haven't been discussing that much in the comments on singing psalms...

DJP said...

I think the response we're getting is "because the NT doesn't explicitly say to use the instruments mentioned in the psalms."

Along with a great many other things that we do, in fact, do, I've observed.

Kevin said...

Are you familiar with Al Wolters' Creation Regained book in which he uses the paradigm of structure and direction? I think the reason Scott Aniol and DJP are talking past each other is that DJP assumes that all human sub-creations (i.e., genres) are structural (part of God's good design) when in fact only the general category of music and musical elements are structural.
When fallen humans and cultures begin to design music by combining the good, God-created musical elements into forms of communication then fallen direction (or redemptive) can occur.
The question is whether the squash and hamburger analogy squares. Is musical communication just structural (like squash and hamburger) or is it equivalent to something else that is directional (like poisoned squash and hamburger or not poisoned)?

One must also remember that all cultures are reflections of worldview beliefs and values. Therefore, the Asian culture mentioned above is going to have music that expresses their Eastern worldview (I have lived there as a missionary so I should know a little bit about this.).

Guymon Hall said...

Would you agree, though, that there is at least a general overarching principle on how to conduct ourselves in worship found at the end of Heb. 12?

"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."

How does this play out in corporate worship as regards our music? Well, let me illustrate where "style" can get us in trouble.

Consider the popular modern "Contemporary Christian Music" song "Blessed Be Your Name". A very upbeat, modern song. It's hip. In fact, quite often, we see congregations singing this song, dancing around and clapping hands.

Except, correct me if I'm wrong, we totally rip this song out of its Biblical context. Didn't the words of this song primarily come from Job 1? We see Job quoting these words after learning that his family had been wiped out by disaster. The Scripture records that upon hearing that, he tore his robe and shaved his head, and worshipped. Then, he said, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord". And the Scripture actually goes so far as to commend him for this by saying that in all of his actions, Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

So what's my point/question? My assertion is that while the words of this example song are in fact Biblical, the way in which we typically sing that song is very much un-Biblical, and the reason for that is driven by the style of music.

And thus we fall short of our mandate to worship acceptably with "reverence and awe." So while there's no specific comment in Scripture about "style", isn't there the general, overarching consideration that's always applicable for whatever we do to be done "for the glory of God."?

That doesn't mean I rule out "modern" songs in favor of "older" hymns, or vice versa, but it does mean I take into account all aspects of any particular song and how that might affect, detract, or enhance worship.

Am I off base?

Guymon Hall said...

Brother Dan, would you agree, though, that there is a general, overarching principle for the way in which we worship found at the end of Heb. 12?

"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."

How does this factor into this discussion on "musical style"? Let me illustrate with an example: consider the popular modern song "Blessed Be Your Name". Sung by many congregations, it's an upbeat, high tempo song. It's hip. And we see congregations singing this song, clapping their hands, dancing around, and generally having a good time.

Except, correct me if I'm wrong, we totally rip this song out of their Biblical context. The main lines of this song come from Job 1; we see Job quoting this after he learned that his entire family had been wiped out. His response was to tear his robe, shave his head, and bow down to God in worship. In fact, Scripture commends Job for his actions by affirming that he did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing in his actions.

So what's my point/question? My assertion is that here we have a song that because of it's particular style, we chase after that style and leave such passages as Heb. 12 behind.

Does this mean I throw away all modern songs in favor of older hymns, or vice versa? No, but even though there isn't a specific comment in Scripture regarding a particular style, that doesn't relieve us of the responsibility to do all "for the glory of God," including measure the songs we sing in view of all of their aspects, and refrain from those songs in which any particular aspect leads us afoul of worshipping God in "reverence and awe."

Am I off base?

Jim Pemberton said...

Guymon Hall, how does Blessed Be Your Name not fit Job's worship in Job 1? The song is an expression of attributing all our blessing and suffering to God and worshiping him regardless of our circumstance. Maybe I have Job 1 all wrong, but that sounds like what Job is doing there.

But it sounds as though your contention is not the song itself but the manner in which we worship using the song. Are you saying that finding joy in the midst of suffering is somehow antithetical to Job's response or is somehow irreverent? I think we often conflate a reverent mood with actually revering God. I don't know how everyone sings songs like this, but expressing joy gleefully isn't any more irreverent than being solemn is an expression of reverence.

Guymon Hall said...

Hi Jim. My point is that many treat that song in a "happy go lucky" manner, and they do so because of the style of the song. I doubt Job had a display of emotion that resembled anything like the manner in which that song is typically sung in congregations today. Rather, we're told of his emotional response in those words when the Scripture says that he tore his clothing and shaved his head; those are long standing indicators of extreme mourning. BTW, I also find it interesting that the Bible terms Job's response as "worship."

But, what we see in that song today disregards Job's situation and his response in mourning and instead results in an opposite response. We want to "be-bop" along on the radio and feel good rather than rent our garments and shave our heads in mourning.

Am I saying we need to dress up in black suits and sing a dirge? No, but this is an example in which the style of the song necessarily results in a cognitive dissonance with the context of the passage from which the song came. The point of that passage is not to engender some kind of emotional feel-good sentiment that we term “joy”, but to recognize God's sovereignty and our reliance on Him in spite of our trials and painful emotions. So, do the words of the song support the Biblical truth of this passage in Job? Yes. Does the style of the song support that? No.

"But it sounds as though your contention is not the song itself but the manner in which we worship using the song."

Ultimately I think it's incomplete to divorce a song's words from it's music. The melody of a song, along with the lyrics, should form a cohesive picture of what the song is trying to do. The song gets the lyrics right but the melody wrong. To see that, we have to talk about what joy is. Joy is not dependent on some emotional context. Yet the style of that song facilitates an emotional response that is 180-degrees out from the emotional context we see with Job in this passage. Will joy ultimately result in "joyous" emotional feelings of happiness, warmth, love, etc.? You bet. But we're not there at this point in the passage.

We can see an example of joy in the life of our Savior. As the only sinless, perfect man who has ever walked the earth, he was by definition full of joy. But he indicated just prior to his execution that his "soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." I contend that in that very instant, he was both joyful and sorrowful. That's not a contradiction, because joy is ultimately not rooted in, nor the product of, merely some emotional extreme as the result of our external circumstances. In fact, we're told in Heb. 12:2 that it was joy that motivated Christ to be able to say "Not my will, but thine." So, it is very much possible to have true joy and yet have sorrowful emotions at the same time.

I would go so far as to say this is what Paul meant when he commands us not to "grieve as others do who have no hope" regarding those believing loved ones who have died. When we have a believing loved one go home to glory, are we to celebrate with "joy", as in what we commonly term “joy”? I don't think so; I think it's right to mourn at such a time; they will be missed; we loved them so much. Jesus himself wept when he saw Lazarus' grave and the impact of his death. We can't deny the emotional impact of such an event. But we can also have true joy at the exact same time because we know they have completed their race and have heard the Lord say to them, "Well done thou good and faithful servant," and are now with Christ, which is "better by far". That's more than just an emotional response; it's a truth realized!

That's some heady stuff I guess and probably above my pay grade, but all stemming from a consideration of style in a particular song. I hope I didn't leave the reservation somewhere in there...!

Jim Pemberton said...

Guymon, it sounds like you are making two leaps of logic:

1) Job's response is prescriptive for all who recognize the level of suffering he was undergoing. I don't think it is prescriptive. When we go through such trials, I think we have any trouble acting like Job. However, those times when we aren't going through terrible difficulty, it's still appropriate to recognize the truth that God is worthy to be worshiped though he causes or allows great suffering in out lives.

2) The style of music is necessarily uniform for all people.

a) All people appropriate style the same way. They don't. I speak as a musician and a sometimes songwriter. Music is not as black and white as you make it out to be.

b) Fervency implies "happy go lucky". It does not. Actually this song is not that fast. It's slower than It Is Well With My Soul. They are both in a major key. It Is Well is arguably more chipper than this song if you break down the metrics. It goes back to content. It Is Well has some great content. I love to sing it. Blessed Be Your Name is only slightly less theologically loaded. I wouldn't have any problem scheduling both songs to be sung at the same service since they are thematically similar. They provide a great context for each other. And I would sing both just as boisterously.

GWinkler said...

After being raised in the church singing chorus songs from the 70s (Maranatha). Now I'm annoyed by the self-focused lyrics and repetitive mantras of the many of the 'hits' of the last 10 years.

I'm sort of understanding what the church goers in the 60s and 70s experienced when all the hymns were tossed out so a long hair strumming a guitar changed the order back then.

'Sing to the Lord a new song' -

But I like the old songs!!

Aden Sheets said...

Amen, content is key! The time stamp for any song/hymn doesn't automatically give it credence or condemnation to be or not to be used in Worship.

I've delt with a lot of the stuff you've mentioned on both a personal and corporate worship scale. WOW! These points/perspectives are so accurate of what is heatedly debated. Thank you for putting into words the thoughts I've had!

Looking forward to the outcome of the discourse.

Guymon Hall said...

Hi Jim, I think perhaps a mistaken assumption on my part has been made. I'm not referencing the traditional hymn "Blessed Be The Name". I'm referencing the modern contemporary song written and performed by Matt Redman; it can be found here:



Dan Freeman said...

As a "yoot" (18) who loves the hymns, I honestly do not see how this has become such a major issue.

As Dan has already mentioned, if we were all truly loving others more than ourselves we would be having "reverse worship wars." Part of that loving means that the more mature help the less mature along in recognizing junk songs or theologically incorrect songs for what they are. Beyond that, congregational sing-ability seems to really be the only other constraint.

It really should be that simple, but our unmortified misplaced affections get in the way.

Of course the claim that certain forms of music (as distinct from the words) contains inherent content which can be manifestly evil in many respects a different discussion which must be addressed differently. I don't have time to address that claim, but Lyndon Unger had a recent post regarding Hebrew use of drums (they did), which I think at least is cause for some doubt regarding the veracity of that claim. https://mennoknight.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/bible-bite-those-heeeeathen-drums/

Jim Pemberton said...

No confusion. That's the one I've been talking about too.

jimgalli said...

I've been saying something for years. If the Holy Spirit is in the worship you could sing Holy Holy Holy 3 times and there wouldn't be a dry eye in the place. If the Spirit is not in the worship, you'll never get it right no matter what you sing.

The one argument above that makes the most sense is that it seems funny to me that the generation of Laodicea doesn't think they're blindsided on this?? Really???

Robert said...


What exactly is wrong with Matt Redman's song there? He is basically saying in good times and bad, we bless the name of the Lord. Is it a problem with the vernacular? The instruments? I don't get it...can you read the lyrics and come away thinking that it isn't good?

Scott Aniol said...

So, I posted a comment yesterday before running to teach a class, and something went wrong and it never posted. So here's an attempt to recreate the comment!

I need to address a comment aaron made earlier that perpetuates a common but factually errant assertion.

The musics of different cultures are not, at their essence, different. Music is rooted in universal acoustic and biological principles. Everyone hears music the same way, and differences that do exist between musics of different cultures are more accidental than substantial.

For instance, when you hear Asian music, you identify it as Asian (and is sounds strange to you) not because there is some fundamental difference between Asian music and Western music. It sounds unique because of particular instruments and timbres that we have come to associate with Asian music.

People often note the pentatonic nature of Asian music, but do you realize that the folk music of most cultures, including American, is pentatonic? What differentiates American folk music from Chinese folk music is not something fundamental, or even different scales, but rather certain accidental sounds that characterize the music.

Furthermore, just because there are these surface level differences between musics of different cultures, and music from another cultures sounds "strange" does not mean that we interpret it differently.

Aaron raises the example of gamelan music. Allow musicologist Stephen Davies to answer him on that exact example:

“Because I hold that expressive behaviors owe as much to our common humanity as to our various cultures and that music is expressive in being experienced as like human action, I think that there is a common expressive element found in the musics of different cultures. I know of no culture that consistently expresses sadness with jaunty, fast, sprightly music, nor of any that expresses happiness with slow, dragging music. To take on example, Westerners formerly unacquainted with Javanese music are very unlikely to take the gamelan music that accompanies the weeping of puppet characters in wayang kulit for happy music, or to mistake battle pieces for funeral music” (Musical Meaning and Expression, 244).

What aaron raises is not differences in the natural meaning of music between cultures, but rather conventional associations and preference. He says "Who likes gamelan music?" I am not concerned with what you like, I am concerned with what it means, and that meaning is universally accessible.

The bottom line is this: because musical meaning is rooted in universal acoustic and biological realities, its meaning on that level is universal.

Certainly there are other meanings that are conventional. But to only acknowledge these surface level associations without giving careful consideration to the natural meaning is to ignore biblical injunctions about guarding our communication, especially in corporate worship.

Rich B said...

So, different sounding music isn't really different? Because of some underlying musicological analysis? If it sounds different, it is.
But, my bigger problem is that it seems to me that in your effort to be biblical you have actually gone beyond biblical. Are there some verses about communication? Sure. But, to press that into the boxes you do seems to betray your belief in the sufficiency of scripture. It is always a problem to take a scriptural principle and turn that into a dogmatic application. Also, communication theorists might debate your statement that "music is communication".

aaron said...

Scott's comments are all true on a very surface level. And, he's right that there aren't "different notes and scales" from different cultures. We're all using a similar "palette", you might say.

But, here's where this line of thinking goes awry. To make absolute (albeit, surface-y) statements about "upbeat music never means sad" (sic.) and the like makes or implies a judgement in the vein of "you SHOULDN'T respond to upbeat music in a sad way".

To me, that's the issue, especially as we talk about ecclesial musical realities across different cultures. Is someone "wrong" because a certain style of music moves them differently than others. Is it "wrong" to celebrate during a song of lament because it hits you at a certain way? If Scott is correct, there is a correct physical/biological response we all SHOULD have to various types of music, and thus we should regulate the kinds of music the church does across cultures and times to shepherd the response well.

I can't go there. . . too much diversity. If he wants to file all of that under "conventional" understandings of music, I would disagree, but that's his prerogative. I believe those kinds of judgements make God small in our worship, make the diversity with which he has created humans and cultures small, and basically has to call certain styles of music superior to others ON THEIR MERITS, not just on their execution, musicianship, or intent (which are more judicious ways to judge music).

Harold Best helps us here by judging music more on "complexity vs. simplicity" and other thoughtful ways of judging in "Unceasing Worship".

I appreciate Scott's expertise, and I've encountered the same line of thinking before. I've shown why I think it's misguided.

aaron said...

This statement also strikes me as oxy-moronic:

"Furthermore, just because there are these surface level differences between musics of different cultures, and music from another cultures sounds "strange" does not mean that we interpret it differently."

What is STRANGE, if not "interpret it differently"? If I think something is strange and you do not. . .we have interpreted it differently.

LanternBright said...

I think Rich B. has pointed out a big problem that I've had difficulty expressing ever since I read your debate with Shai Linne on rap music, Scott:

You say that certain kinds of music are sinful because their only fruit is that they evoke sinful emotions...but to make that argument, you routinely rely upon the opinions of a panel of experts at musicology, rather than upon Scripture--and for good reason, because Scripture nowhere teaches that words expressed at a certain cadence, volume, or rhythm suddenly accrue to themselves a quality of sinfulness. (Indeed, when we put it that way, it sounds rather ridiculous: at what volume does "Ewww! Squash!" suddenly become sinful? At what speed? Accompanied by which instruments and to what rhythm?)

But just as problematic for me is the way you seem to argue that emotions like anger or excitement are somehow sinful within a worship context. To me, this suggests a really skewed understanding of worship and of the Gospel itself. If we're serious about "worth-shipping" God--about ascribing to Him the Glory due His name--oughtn't it occasionally be the case that we're angered when the Glory of His Name is besmirched or impinged upon? Similarly, is it not rather a function of worship than an impropriety for blood-washed believers to shout joyfully, "O, Happy Day! Happy Day! You washed my sin away!" For believers to respond this way, and to encourage one another to respond this way in consideration to the Gospel, Scott, brings honor and glory to God, Who created us for this very purpose, that we SHOULD enjoy Him forever.

Anonymous said...

I've been subscribed to the religiousaffections.org blog for the last couple of years. Reading much of what they teach on music(and their type of conservatism in general) is similar to reading The Damascus Document from Qumran Literature on the Sabbath. However, I don't think their heart is in the wrong place like the Pharisees. I think they Genuinely love Jesus and desire to see Him reverently worshiped.

I think Jesus will say to us to settle the dispute in Heaven, "I made music for man, not man for music and it was to be used to the Glory of God."

DJP said...

Must be nice to be in a position to see this as so shelve-able.

Meanwhile those here on Earth who are tasked with leading congregations peopled by dear saints of clashing convictions/tastes/expectations...

Kevin said...

Not going to complain that no one engaged in my comment above (okay, so I just did).
But let's bring the conversation out of the muddy waters of the details and back to a birds eye view.
First, some have complained that Scott isn't giving them any chapter and verse regarding specific musical genres or expressions. Is this really how you utilize the Bible for other applications to specific issues? Personally, I find the prooftexting approach problematic (veering people into both a legalistic and license ditch when it comes to applications). Scott's approach is theological (or as he explains in his book an encompassing approach to Scripture rather than an encyclopedic approach--he also deals with sola scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture there).
The theological foundation for this discussion is rooted in an application of Creation, Fall, Redemption to musical communication (or structure and direction as Wolters puts it).
"Structure implies that in some sense every circumstance or condition participates in the creational possibilities God holds out to his creatures in his law [creational norms]....Conversely, everything in reality falls within the scope of religious direction: everything that exists is susceptible to sinful distortion and is in need of religious renewal (Wolters, Creation Regained, 93).
Does music exist? Have humans used their sub-creative powers to produce it? Then fallen expressions are possible. If fallen expressions are possible then we ought to be able to discern it with biblical principles (Eph. 5:10).

Second, is music communication?
You can look up other definitions of communication. But here's a simple one: to transmit information, thought, or feeling so that it is satisfactorily received or understood.
Are we seriously going to argue that musicians aren't attempting to relay ideas and feelings to others--with at least some objectivity in being properly understood. Personally, I'm okay with saying that there is a subjective element to my apprehension of what someone else is trying to communicate (and I might apprehend it more or less correctly). But certainly, there has to be some objectivity in all communication-including music.

Third, it's indisputable that musicians use objective techniques to get a desired subjective response that is at least somewhat shared by a community/culture if not universal. Secularists have no problem recognizing this.

Kevin said...

Just in case the link goes bad in the future, this is the article title I linked to so you can always google it:

Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker: Why does Adele's 'Someone Like You' make everyone cry? Science has found the formula

aaron said...


I'm not appealing to "show me the verse" methodology, except to show that the Psalms seem to contradict such a strict, evaluative approach to music and culture.

I question the science behind musical responses being true "for all times and all places" since I'm not sure how we could ever actually know that :) And, I"m not sure it's helpful in church life.

As a worship Pastor for 15 years in many different musical contexts. . there just isn't a right/wrong answer to much of the music we use. If we violate Christology/theology, or violate congregationality. . then we should be criticized on those merits, not on the supposed biological responses to the music.

aaron said...

There is a place for criticism of "pagan-ish" worship that seeks to manipulate the emotions to an unhealthy degree. Yes absolutely, and that gets into the science. But, again, the intent is the issue. You can use a similar chord progression, lighting cue, or melody line for good purposes too. Just because it's emotive or syrupy doesn't make it bad all by itself. Did you use it to manipulate emotions? Or did you use it to help people interact with the pride-crushing truth of the cross. That's a question for the Worship Pastor, not the Biologist.

Kevin said...

I did assume that most readers on here would agree that prooftexting is a bad approach.

Isn't your comment on the Psalms simply an argument from silence - unless I'm not getting what you're driving at. Arguments from silence tend to be open to unwarranted assumptions, which I think you're making.

Can you explain to me how my application of CFR/theological approach to musical communication doesn't comport with the reality that there must be fallen expressions and we must be able to discern them?

I didn't communicate very well when I wrote: "musicians use objective techniques to get a desired subjective response that is at least somewhat shared by a community/culture if not universal." I'm granting that it may not be universal. But in order for communication to work there has to be some way to satisfactorily make yourself objectively understood in a certain time and place. We are in a certain time and place that is shared so we can make objective evaluations on what is being communicated in the here and now today.

I don't dispute that there may not be an easy right/wrong answer for some musical expressions. But certainly there are other musical expressions that are clearly seeking to communicate ideas and feelings that aren't good (contextually speaking of course - I don't condemn particular emotions or musical expressions of emotions carte blanche).

My point in linking to the article wasn't to criticize the use of musical techniques to evoke emotions. Emotions are good and God-created. And all music is meant to evoke emotions so I don't have a problem as long as the emotions are the right ones in the right context to the right proportion in that context. I was simply pointing out that there are objective ways to purposely try to evoke definite subjective reactions and responses from people.

AJM said...

Sure learned a lot. Pyro is edifying among other things.
Love to sing "Redeemed, How I love to proclaim it"
Anyone, anyone?

Jeri Tanner said...

Does anyone commenting on (or who instigated) this thread attend a church that sings the Psalms at all? Not praise and worship songs that contain snippets of Psalms, but stand-alone, actual Psalms. We all want to be all Bibley, but then there's Paul telling us to sing Psalms in Ephesians and Colossians. Just wondered if anyone's church actually does so. That would be a great step in the right direction, seems.

Jim Pemberton said...

"Meanwhile those here on Earth who are tasked with leading congregations peopled by dear saints of clashing convictions/tastes/expectations..."

And that's truly where the rubber meets the road. Frankly, I don't care whether a church intones Gregorian chants, Indian Carnatic music, rap, metal, jazz, bluegrass, or has a little old lady with an autoharp singing worship songs she just wrote (I've actually seen that in a little church I visited up in the Appalachians), as long as it draws the whole congregation into worship.

My contact in Damascus today just shared a couple of photos of the church he pastors there from this past week's gathering. In the middle of all the turmoil, where someone is as likely to be killed as cross the road, Muslims are turning to Christ in droves. I don't have a clue what music they sing there (probably some stuff like what Ayman Kafrouny sings - look him up on YouTube) but people were crowding around the doorways because the place was too full for them. And they weren't there to hear the music, but to hear the Word of God preached. If we have to bicker about the music, I doubt we are desperate for God.

aaron said...

Kevin, I appreciate your clarifications and thoughts. . .

The hard thing is the "objective" intents of music (I'm assuming we're taking lyrics out for the moment) do change based on the audience. As I said a few comments back, a pentatonic based, electric guitar solo means different things to my Grandma than my son. The intent may be the same, but it's communicating different things to those two people. I don't see how there can be a deeper "meaning" of a piece of instrumental music as received. The author can have an intent, but music works different than text. Scott would disagree there.

The other problem with the discussion is that I'm assuming that you and others are intimating that certain rock/rap/pop forms have sinful roots in the intent of the music and thus shouldn't be used for corporate worship. (I realize that could be a broad brush, but I'm just trying to generalize for brevity).

One of the actual roots of all rock and pop music are the blues which has it's roots in gospel music and African-American spiritual songs, if we go back far enough. That's not the only "line" to pop music, the roots go in many directions. But, I don't know how we can seriously degrade rock music by looking at it's roots. It would actually be a point FOR rock music in church. It came FROM the church, though from a different culture than our anglo-american churches of the last 200 years.

So, the original intent of blues and rock was not sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It was co-opted for that by many, but anything can get co-opted.

So, Objectively, someone might hear a guitar solo in church and think "love song" or "bar/club". But, that's not because of the roots of rock music, and it might hit a younger person and make them think "trancendence". We need to think of this issue as more "case by case" and less universal in my opinion.

I don't think a quest for universal meanings in instrumental expressions is fruitful or helpful.

aaron said...

BTW, my comment on the Psalms was just referring to the vast array of instruments, dances, and expressions used (Psalm 150, 149, 13, .etc) I don't know how you can read these and think, "there's one instrumental style of music that's really appropriate to church".

Zac Dredge said...

Interesting bit of experience I had once: I went to a Quechua(native people of Peru) church service. Their music had no breaks, no song transitions, was in a language that I had no understanding of, and was consistently at a pitch that I generally associate with pulling a cats tail.
Suffice to say, it was an hour of my life that tested my tolerance far more than most. In all honesty, without seeking to offend their culture or worship, I hated it.
Out of context I might have thought such music was evil simply because of the toll it took on my ear drums...
But it wasn't. God called us to go forth and multiply, which lead to the creation of culture. He then separated us into language groups due to Babel, creating more, individual cultures. So what I found hard on the ear is intensely and beautifully part of Peruvian culture. There are other parts of their culture I quite adored, and even musically I enjoy the instrumental style they often employ.

Anyway, I'm not the most musical person in the sense that I haven't learnt to play an instrument. However, when I hear people denouncing certain genre's of music as non-Christian or anything like that I usually question what makes them think that. Tone communicates something, you say? Okay, let's see it your way...
Do you think the trumpets blowing around Jericho and the Israelite's singing was orderly and 'tasteful'? As if.
Furthermore, I tend to think we should be allowed to use tone in genre's such as rock to announce triumph, conviction and much more. Don't you ever just want to shout aloud that the Kingdom of God is here? Is that tone not appropriate in what it communicates? Weren't drums historically used to signal war? If a drum announces battle, so be it:
Paul clearly spoke of our Christain lives in military terms. So let's pick up the Sword of The Spirit and cut to truth; the Bible doesn't clarify any particular instruments we should use or any particular style because all music styles can be used to glorify the Lord of all(who happens to be the Lord of all music, as a sub-set of his complete authority and sovereignty).
If someone wants to disagree with that, feel free, but if you feel music has been used to communicate a less than Biblical message than blame the message and it's writer, not the language.
Dan's German example is perfect. I've met some lovely Germanic Christian's. Did you know 'puerti gott'(Swiss-German) means 'God bless'? I said that several times a day to Christian girl who was living Here(Australia) and one day she stopped me and explained that this was something not many people say in Switzerland any more. She then requested I keep saying it because it reminded her of her mother's family, who are old fashioned and God loving people. Good thing I hadn't decided Swiss-German was a harsh sounding language and I wouldn't want to learn a language with such tone. I was studying in an international course at the time; there were other languages I could have focused on without taking an interest in hers. If music is language, I say let the Church take an interest in all sorts of music, to edify and encourage those we might otherwise miss. In all honesty, I've never heard someone make an argument for specific worship without immediately following it with something petty or presumptuous.

Robert said...

Psalms evoke emotional responses. Mainly because they make us think about things when we read them. Just the same as a good hymn or spiritual song makes us think about the realities of Who God is and who we are...when we think of such things, how can we be devoid of emotion? And if you can do so, how did you pass the I'm not a robot test to post a comment on here?

LanternBright said...


I think both you and Scott are failing in a colossal way to deal with the ultimate implications of Scott's argument, namely this: if it's true that imitating musical styles not represented in the Bible is sinful, then it follows that the vast majority of evangelical churches EVERYWHERE are offering as worship to God something that is deeply offensive to Him. They are offering nothing less than strange fire that God condemns.

So don't you see how enormously troubling it is that you can so blithely condemn such an enormous population of confessing Christians, and then sniff when asked for Biblical justification for said condemnation?

Furthermore, don't you see what a disaster you're making of the biblical category of discernment by doing this? "Yes, you're committing sin, but I can't tell you exactly how or in precisely what way or how your communication became sinful with any certainty whatsoever." Who could POSSIBLY adhere to an ethical system like that?

Kevin said...

I'm not making an associational arguments about the origins of rock, pop, rap etc.

Here is my position that as of yet has been completely ignored:

The theological foundation for this discussion is rooted in an application of Creation, Fall, Redemption to musical communication (or structure and direction as Wolters puts it).
"Structure implies that in some sense every circumstance or condition participates in the creational possibilities God holds out to his creatures in his law [creational norms]....Conversely, everything in reality falls within the scope of religious direction: everything that exists is susceptible to sinful distortion and is in need of religious renewal (Wolters, Creation Regained, 93).
Does music exist? Have humans used their sub-creative powers to produce it? Then fallen expressions are possible. If fallen expressions are possible then we ought to be able to discern it with biblical principles (Eph. 5:10).

LanternBright said...


It's not enough for your argument simply to say, "Fallen human beings produce music, ergo music is cabale of fallen expressions." I'm not sure that Aaron or anyone else is denying that. That's why nobody's addressed the argument you mention here, Kevin--because it's not actually the main point of contention.

What we ARE denying, however, is that anyone can point to a genre or musical style and say, "Aha! Volume W + Rhythm X + Instrument Y at Speed Z = SIN!!!!" That's what you and Scott are really arguing for here, whether you realize that or no.

But while we're on the subject of ignored arguments, I'd still love to see you provide specific examples of the exact cadence, volume, and rhythm that communication automatically becomes sinful. I'd also like to see some discussion of which emotions are somehow inappropriate to a worship setting (you know, since God actually created the full range of human emotions), and why.

Kevin said...

This is what you say I am saying:
"Aha! Volume W + Rhythm X + Instrument Y at Speed Z = SIN!!!!" That's what you and Scott are really arguing for here, whether you realize that or no.

But this is a very simplistic (and straw man) caricature of my position.

Test this out in the realm of speech instead of music.
That's equivalent to saying that in speech my position would be volume of one's voice + cadence of one's speech pattern + speed of syllables with any combinations of any letters A-Z = Sin-automatically!!
Nobody believes that. And yet, there is a way to use each one of those elements to combine words and tones that = sinful speech communication. The only difference between speech and musical communication is that speech is propositional to the mind and music is emotive to the feelings.
Please hear me. I don't believe that any particular emotion is wrong in and of itself. But emotions can be expressed in accord to fallenness and thus so can music (which simply attempts to express those emotions).

If one does not deny that musical communication is capable of fallenness then one must admit that there will be identifiable characteristics that make that fallen communication recognizable.
Then one must also admit that there will be shared characteristics that group that kind of communication together into what we call genres.

Once somebody agrees to this then the debate can begin about what those shared characteristics are and why. And then a recognition of genres that fit the bill can be concluded. But until the above is admitted we can't even forward a discussion but will continue to talk past each other. Therefore, don't expect any future responses from me.

LanternBright said...

"If one does not deny that musical communication is capable of fallenness then one must admit that there will be identifiable characteristics that make that fallen communication recognizable."

This argument rests on the assumption that all hearers inherit an equal understanding of the shared meaning of said musical communication. You've stated this repeatedly, but have not shown it to be so.

Again, Kevin, since you seem to be missing the point here: if you allege that certain forms of musical communication are inherently sinful, the onus is on you (and Scott, since he's making the same argument) to show us in no uncertain terms from Scripture WHY those things are sinful. Vague assertions about "tastefulness" or "modesty" (which themselves you don't bother to define) will not do. Give us specific examples, show us why those things necessarily and universally evoke a specific emotional response, and then show us (again, from Scripture) why said response is inappropriate during worship.

Here's the thing: if all of this is as obvious as you and Scott are making it out to be, why the reluctance on either of your parts to give concrete examples?

Rich B said...

But what you have done is bifurcate musical sounds from lyrical content. The speech act contains words, sentences, paragraphs -- content, given through sounds, intonation etc. Sure, apprehension of the message calculates the sound with the content. But, when you separate these out in what you call "musical communication" there is a problem. It seems that you argument is that certain sounds, rhythms, tones, cadences are wrong REGARDLESS of the lyrical content. That is where I am having a hard time following your reasoning and argumentation. How can that be? If Shai Linne is rapping about the substitionary atonement of Christ, the truth of the lyrics doesn't matter because it is communicated through "rapping"? That just seems non-sensical to me, maybe you could clarify for me?

Sir Aaron said...

What if my son, after speaking to me disrespectfully, said, "Come on, dad. You don't have a verse to prove that my tone of voice was disrespectful!"

No, you're correct. However, you'd first need to show me from Scripture why being disrespectful is wrong. And then you'd need to be able to articulate in clear and coherent manner how said tone was disrespectful. And in order to apply this analogy to our discussion of music you'd need to go one step further and show how the tone, regardless of the words, context, or intent is wrong under all circumstances.

Every time Israel borrowed anything for worship from their pagan neighbors, the results were disastrous.

Here's the thing. God gave extremely detailed instructions on how they were to conduct the priesthood, the sacrifices, and their worship. They were also give strict and detailed laws on what clothes to wear and what food to eat. By borrowing from their pagan neighbors they were breaking explicit commands from God to the contrary.

Can you find a syllable dictating whether you should take marijuana recreationally, whether you should drive on the right side of the road, whether you should plagiarize, or whether you should use church money to buy up a bunch of your books to get it on the NYT best sellers list?


Do you really think that Hebrew worship forms were like those of their pagan neighbors?

Not all the churches in the NT were Hebrew.

If one does not deny that musical communication is capable of fallenness then one must admit that there will be identifiable characteristics that make that fallen communication recognizable

Leave out the music. Explain how spoken communication has identifiable characteristics that make it recognizable as "fallen." I think you'll be hard pressed to do so without context, content, and intent.

Sir Aaron said...

Here's the thing: if all of this is as obvious as you and Scott are making it out to be, why the reluctance on either of your parts to give concrete examples?

Because they are doing the same thing they are accusing pagans of doing. That is they superstitiously believe that there is a secret sauce that inherent to certain musical melodies, tempos, etc. that can be used to manipulate a person's emotions.

I always find it amusing when people say "even secularists" know this. And yet, they are completely unable to reproduce said effect reliably. Or maybe there is a conspiracy to have so many one hit wonders to cover up the fact that the music business knows the secret formula and wants to keep it concealed from the rest of us.

On a side note, we do this with all of our senses. People and companies have been trying to successfully control behavior by reproducing certain sensory inputs. The perfume industry is a perfect illustration. Funny thing is, I don't see anybody speaking against using scented candles in the church.

I say this all a little sarcastically, but truthfully I'm guilty of the same offense. I run a fair bit. When you start getting up to half marathon ranges, you are always looking for a little extra pep. I create music playlists to try to recreate the effect that "pumps me up." So I usually stick with somewhat peppy beats. But honestly, what song gets me going is often dependent on my mood. Sometimes it is listening to the Rocky soundtrack (as cliché as that might be) and sometimes it is the total opposite. Sometimes listening to "How Great Thou Art" is what I need. Never can tell. Which is exactly my point. I fall prey to such and such tempo will cause you to want to move while slow tempos will cause me to act in another way. And yet, I cannot reliably reproduce either effect. And despite this admission, tomorrow I will plug in my iphone and attempt to do so again.