Tag Archives: Contemporary Christian music

Is Modern Music Appropriate? – Part 1

In this audio, I examine some of the moral criticisms of modern musical styles and explain why I do not find anything inherently immoral or unbiblical about modern music.

My previous commentary on this subject can be found here.

 

 

Christianity and Popular Culture – Part 4

We’re continuing the series on Christianity and popular culture, and this time, I want to discuss the approach of reinterpreting themes of secular media to fit Christian principles. This approach is very prevalent in the Contemporary Christian Music industry, although it has been applied throughout history, including the early church, and even in the Bible itself.

Let’s consider Christian pop music. The lyrics of Christian pop music are often similar to their secular counterparts. The Christian songs about God’s love sound a lot like secular love songs. The songs about resisting the devil and temptation sound like the post-breakup songs of the secular music scene. In other words, the themes of secular music become an analogy for Christian themes. An advantage to this approach is that you make Biblical themes more relatable to people who are interested in spiritual life but not theologically minded. Instead of bewildering people with theological detail, you can give them a practical illustration to help guide their lives.

Let’s examine the love story analogy in detail. Jesus is the “perfect boyfriend/girlfriend” who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving up His life us. By doing so, He inspired us to run from our old, bad lover (Satan) and commit our lives to Him instead. This way of thinking about the Gospel can be supported by Biblical passages such as:

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Romans 5:10 – “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”

When the Gospel is understood in terms of human love, some traditional Christian doctrines get reinterpreted. For example, judgment and condemnation take on a new dynamic. Instead of the hellfire preached by “classic” Evangelicals to depict God’s justice, contemporary Evangelicalism tends to imply that unbelievers are not condemned by God, but rather, their condemnation is the anguish and despair that they experience when they isolate themselves from God and His love. In other words, all those sad pop songs about loneliness become a metaphor for hell.

I don’t have a problem with the love story analogy thus far. But here is where I think it steps over the line: When people like myself come out and suggest that Christ’s death and resurrection actually has the power to save all mankind in the fullness of time, they get argued down with the claim that God cannot save everybody because He would be forcing a relationship on people. There is this idea that a relationship of love cannot exist without the possibility of one entity eternally resisting the other. Whether people agree or disagree with me on human destiny is irrelevant to the topic under consideration. I am just trying to highlight what I think are influences for popular culture on theological debate. If the romantic analogy is taken literally, some Scriptures have to be reinterpreted from their face value meaning. For example:

Romans 9:16-21 – “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses. You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?”

I have never heard a love song with lyrics like this. Now, I am willing to admit that when the Scripture speaks of God hardening one’s heart, it does not have to mean that God specifically determined the state of one’s heart or the course of one’s life (although I personally see predestination in Romans 9, some other commentators do not – see the links at the end of the article). However, this semantic issue does not obscure the core idea that pops out at me, which is that utilization of our will is not the ultimate, driving force behind our lives, for we cannot make ourselves set our will in just any way imaginable. I think that is the key idea in Romans 9; without it, the whole chapter doesn’t make sense to me. Whether God is involved or uninvolved with that is a secondary matter in my opinion.

Notice that, in the passage above, Paul predicted an objection to what he just said: “Why then does he [God] still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

Suppose that Paul really meant to say, “God makes us fully capable of either accepting or rejecting Him.” If that is what Paul meant, I think he would have responded to the objection by saying something to that effect. But instead, Paul responds with,

“But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”

To make Paul’s writing fit with the type of free will found in the love story analogy, you have reinterpret Romans 9 (and other similar Scriptures) to a considerable degree.

Having said everything in this article, I should emphasize that I do not have a “problem” with the Contemporary Christian Music industry. They create songs with great analogies for Biblical themes. I just think we need to remember that the lyrical themes are analogies. If taken too literally, they can cause confusion or frustration. In my own life I have had many spiritual analogies which were helpful at a particular time. However, as circumstances in my life change, prompting me to look at certain Scriptures a more closely, I periodically realize that my analogies need to evolve. It’s an ongoing, lifelong process. All you need to realize is that it’s an unfolding process, and the developments in understanding will unfold on their own.

Commentaries on Romans 9:
http://www.freewill-predestination.com/romans9.html
http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles/romans_9.html

Is Modern Christian Music Unholy?

 

Modern genres of music, such as pop, rock, techno, etc. are sometimes accused of having an unholy character, even if the lyrics are explicitly Christian. In Romans Chapter 1, the Apostle Paul describes the problem of taking pieces of nature (which may portray something of God to an extent) and portraying God as being confined to it. I think a similar principle can be applied to music and the character of God.

Some claim that traditional hymns have a soothing, relaxing character that creates a Godly atmosphere, whereas a lot of modern music has a character that stimulates aggression and rebellion. I respect the convictions of the opponents of contemporary Christian music. I certainly would not want to entice people to listen to it if they really believe that it is immoral. However, Paul writes in Romans 14 that if people can do things in honest thanks toward God, then they need not be bound by the convictions of others.

We know that God is love (1 John 4:8). The character of some traditional hymns does reflect something of the loving character of God. But, God’s love doesn’t always work the same way as emotional human love thinks it should. Music conveys emotions in the relative, human sense rather than the absolute sense in which God exists. God sometimes operates in ways that do not appear so warm and fuzzy (even though He has a redemptive goal in everything He does), for we do not live in a perfect world where everybody gets along. If we are to imitate the character of God to the best that we know how, on our end it takes strength and power, not only emotional love, to resist temptation. Sometimes, living according to Biblical principles feels like a life of rebellion against the world system’s immoral influences. Jesus says in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;  and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul writes that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” In 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul says to “fight the good fight of faith.” I think it takes powerful sounding music to portray the spiritual warfare that believers are in, and I find that some kinds of Christian rock music fits that subject well.

What modern pop music often conveys to me is a mood of excitement and energy. How are these moods incompatible with our Christian lives? We are new spiritual creations with a heart that takes delight in things that are noble and pure, but the Bible indicates that this is not the case for everybody. In Romans 1: 28-31, after describing how people were committing idolatry by worshiping nature instead of God, Paul wrote,

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers,  backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful;”

Opponents of contemporary Christian music often point out that the secular rock and pop music industries are dominated by the types of people on that list above. But that doesn’t mean that there is any inherent connection between the music and the immoral activities of those people. The problem is that those people have “debased minds,” as Paul put it, so they can hardly find pleasure outside of immorality. So they personally associated exciting, energetic music with immorality because that is what they’re passionate about. But we who know Christ are not like that. We don’t have to associate energetic music with sinful passions. We know where true joy comes from.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts about different styles of music.