The Day the Music Died
The Biblical View of Music, Part II: Some Errors Considered
Not Previously Part of the August 1999 Issue
In a previous article, "The Biblical View Of Music,"1 I discussed the key Biblical requirements for good music. Art, by its very nature, is enjoyed by being reflected upon. It occupies our thoughts through the stimulation of our senses. It must be experienced to be enjoyed and to bring pleasure to man. God has given us specific qualifications for the objects of our thoughts and reflections. Paul in Philippians 4:8 gives us by divine revelation this brief but comprehensive list for God-honoring art: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think [or meditate] on such things."
In this article, I want to focus on some of man's erroneous standards for judging music and the consequences of these standards.
A Gothard Fallacy
In an effort to critique the flood of contemporary music being produced, many evangelicals have come up with their own standards for music rather than apply God's standards. Just as many legislators rely on their own sinful minds to come up with their ideas of right law, so also many Christians mistakenly substitute their own judgments for God's in the area of art and music.
One of the mistaken ideas heard often in the evangelical world is Bill Gothard's comparison of music with other disciplines such as chemistry, language, math, and art. In his book Research in Principles of Life Advanced Seminar Textbook (p. 124), Gothard makes the following comparisons and analogies:2
|H2O + CN||Truth + Lie||Solution + 1|
|= Poison||= Untruth||= Incorrect|
Then Gothard gives the analogy to art and music on the next page (p. 125).3
|Figure + Nudity||Rhythm + Imbalance|
|= Pornography||= Acid Rock|
As Dr. Gregg Strawbridge has pointed out:
It assumes what must be proven. Namely, no one has shown that "acid rock" music style (whatever it is) is evil. Further, the implied argument rests on an analogy between the different disciplines. "Accurate evaluation of music is only possible as we integrate it with the related disciplines of mathematics, science, history and medicine. The laws of these disciplines act as an authoritative reference to confirm that the musical expression is either following or violating established principles....Just as there is balance of power in the three branches of United States government, so the laws of related disciplines provide checks and balances for music." (p. 123). The perceptive reader will see quickly that until one can prove that a music style is analogous to poison, falsehood, mathematical inaccuracy, or pornography, the indicting conclusion is fallacious. The fallacy is the called the fallacy of false analogy.4
The analogies do not have the impact intended when scrutinized. For example, what is poison in large quantities may be medicines in small quantities; mathematical inaccuracies are quantitative measures, not qualitative measures (as music is). Further, "Imbalance" in the last of the series (rhythm + imbalance = acid rock) must be defined. If "imbalance" essentially means modern popular music, the argument has not advanced beyond circularity; if it can be defined so as to prove that a particular style is morally evil, then it must rest on a Biblical definition of "imbalance" in music. Gothard does not show it Biblically.5
WAITing for the Cows...
Another false argument for judging music is the so-called bad physical effects argument. A popular idea is that music with a drumbeat (actually all music has a rhythm or beat) causes certain undesirable effects in animals or plants and that soft relaxing music produces desirable effects. A sample of this type of argument follows:
In Chicago a very unusual experiment was performed by radio station WAIT to verify that rock music actually does trigger adverse physical reactions. This station broadcasts the type of gentle, soothing music heard in doctor's offices, and the radio station wanted to demonstrate that this music could even tame the savage beast. In a display area of a large department store, a miniature cow barn was erected into which two cows were placed. Both cows had an earphone attached through which music was piped into their ears. One cow was treated to the music of WAIT, whereas the other cow had the "privilege" of listening to a local rock station. After 13 days, the cow listening to WAIT produced 617 lbs. of milk, whereas the cow listening to rock music only produced 511 lbs. Furthermore, the cow listening to rock music also chewed up the earphones and became very ill. A very unusual experiment indeed, but I do believe it drives home a point: Rock music is harmful to living organisms!6
Now this is all very interesting (and even somewhat amusing). However, it begs the question. Does music affect man? Certainly. What type of effect are you trying to produce? Who defines what are desirable and what are undesirable effects? If relaxation or sleep is the desired effect, then don't listen to exciting music. However, just because some type of music does not produce sleep or relaxation does not prove by any stretch of the imagination that it is bad. The argument here is that some kinds of music do not relax you while others do. So what's new? The purpose of different kinds of music is different. If you want to go to sleep you may want to listen to relaxing music. If you're driving truck at 3 a.m., it would be detrimental to your health and the health of others to be listening to relaxing music. If you want your cows to produce lots of milk, then find the kind of music that helps them do this. However, if you are trying to signal the cavalry to charge, don't play Brahms' Lullaby.
There is a time for everything under the sun (Ecc. 3:1-8). There is a time for many different styles of music that reflect the different activities of man. A steady diet of one type of music is not necessarily a good thing. Variety is the spice of life.
This specific kind of argumentation does nothing to encourage good music and even less to guide our analysis of what is good music. Rather it promotes unjustified restraints on composition, restraints that haven't been authorized by Scripture.
There is indeed legitimate criticism for certain songs that contain percussion, electric and bass guitar, just as there is legitimate criticism for certain songs that do not contain these instruments. These instruments in and of themselves are good. God made them good. He commanded His people to praise Him with loud percussive instruments. "Praise him upon the loud cymbals..." (Ps. 150:5).7 (I wonder if crashing cymbals are good for milk production.) He commanded them also to praise Him with stringed instruments (of which guitars are one).8 There is a time and place for all these instruments. Psalm 150:5 commands the use of loud cymbals while 1 Corinthians 13:1 compares speaking in tongues without love to "clanging cymbals." Which is it? Is the playing of loud cymbals good or bad? The answer is both. In one situation they are good, in another they are not.
The standard for good music is the principles God gives in His Word, not the fallacious ideas of men. If God's requirements are not met, then it is not good music, with or without these instruments.
One of the most common problems with contemporary music is that it majors on the minor. Next, we shall examine the music from a contemporary band which fails this scriptural test.
In the Name of Evangelism Majoring on the Minor
Another myth used to justify or condemn music is the myth of evangelistic worth. In my previous article, I discussed the fact that before the Fall, perfect music could not have been evangelistic since there was no sin and no need of evangelism. Further, God's requirements for the objects of our thoughts and meditations in Philippians 4:8 do not include evangelistic content. Certainly, evangelistic content is fine and good, but it is not necessary for good music. Further, evangelistic content cannot be used to justify music that does not meet God's standards of good music.
Take for example the music of the group "Saviour Machine." Their style is what is known as Christian Gothic. Goths in general are enamored with darkness. Their clothing is most often black. Black eyeliner and lace commonly adorn both sexes. Images of blood stained articles abound at their websites. The Christian Goths attempt to add Christ to the dark despair of the unbelieving Goths to come up with an evangelistic ministry to these disaffected youth. As such, they embrace the darkness of the unbelieving Goths in an effort to reach them for Christ. According to Joseph J. Kopnick, "There really is no single sentence that can sum up in complete the tie between Gothic and Christianity. But if I was forced to try, I suppose this is what I would come up with: Christian Gothica is a physical manifestation of the fact that only through death can life be gained, only by knowing what darkness is can we fully enjoy the light, only by understanding suffering can we completely appreciate salvation."9
While it is true that only through Christ's death may we have life, it is not true that Christ has called us to walk in darkness in order to appreciate the light. He has called us, rather, to "walk as children of light" (Eph. 5:8). "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light" (Eph. 5:11-13).
Notice first that Scripture commands us to have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness. To be part of a subculture that embraces darkness is not an option for Christians. Second, instead of walking in darkness to appreciate the light, Scripture commands us to live in the light which exposes the darkness. Further, attempting to wrap up the light of the gospel in the darkness of the Goth subculture is not the message of the gospel. In Matthew 5:14-15 our Lord commands us, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house." God's people should not be cloaked, but rather be as a light set on a hill which cannot be hidden, but shines for all to see. Whether this method appeals to unbelievers who loathe to have their evil works made manifest by the light is not important. This is the means God uses to change irresistibly the hearts of those He has chosen to be His own. Unlike the Arminian who is always trying to make the gospel palatable to the unbeliever, Jesus and the apostles boldly preached against men's sinfulness, never adopting their sinful practices in order to be heard (Lk. 5:27-32; 6:6-11).
Thomas Woodroofe, another member of the Christian Goths, describes his subculture as follows: "I equate it with having a darker, and perhaps more serious view of life and the world."10 In other words, if you have a serious understanding of reality, you won't be an optimistic, joyful person, but rather a melancholy, pessimistic person obsessed with a dark outlook and aesthetic. According to Christian Goths, the Christian who is joyful must be hiding something or ignoring the reality of the darkness of our existence. He must be wearing a mask. Saviour Machine wrote a song called "The Mask." Here are the lyrics:
Sounds in the attic
See inside the show
Watch as you go
Watch as you go
Trapped in some place
The entity fades
Watch them crawl on me
They're coming to your town
There's nothing inside
There's nowhere to hide
When the mask came off
Lurking in the doorway
I saw him hang by the power
Covered in scabs
Covered in scabs
Covered in faceless masks of men
When the mask came off
Now you begin to get a picture of the darkness of the Christian Goths. When you hear the song's very ominous foreboding music with the vocalist wailing "Watch them crawl on me," "They're coming to your town" and "Assassination" you certainly get the message of darkness here.
Another Saviour Machine song is called "Killer." Here are some of the lyrics:
Killer lies in frightened eyes
Obsessed with words that terrorize the earth
Killer hides inside of the dead
Killer walks in fear of his own
Killer judges all that is said
Killer doesn't see what is shown
Killer is dying within
Killer is taking the soul from the man
Killer is stalking again
Killer is breaking the heart of his plan....
As with all Gothic music, the tune is foreboding and desperate. The lyrics here focus on the "killer." It is not clear just what exactly this "killer" is. However, it is certain that this song, like the previous, does not major on the major theme of life, but rather on the minor theme of life.
In my previous article, I discussed the fact that for a song to be admirable and praiseworthy, it must be centered on God and reflect the Christian worldview. Francis Schaeffer rightly divides the Christian worldview into a major and minor theme. The minor theme is the abnormality of the world in revolt against God. This consists of the unregenerate who have revolted against God and who self-consciously convey the meaninglessness of their worldview in their art. There is, of course, another aspect of the minor theme, namely, the Christian's defeated and sinful side.11 Schaeffer explains:
The major theme is the opposite of the minor; it is the meaningfulness and purposefulness of life.... God is there. He exists. Therefore all is not absurd.... Man being made in the image of God gives man significance....The major theme is optimism in the area of being.... Man's dilemma is not just that he is finite and God is infinite, but that he is a sinner guilty before a holy God. But then he recognizes that God has given him a solution to this in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Man is fallen and flawed, but he is redeemable on the basis of Christ's work. This is beautiful. This is optimism. And this optimism has a sufficient base.12
There is certainly a place for both the minor and major themes in the Christian worldview. Good art must not leave out the defeated aspect to even the Christian life. If our art only emphasizes the major theme, then it is not true to the Christian worldview and is simply romantic art. On the other hand it is possible for a Christian to so major on the minor theme, emphasizing the lostness of man and the abnormality of the universe, that he is equally flawed in his communication of the Christian worldview. In general, good art must be dominated by the major theme.13 For music to be excellent and praiseworthy it must have this balance. It must major on the major theme and minor on the minor. Music which majors on the minor is not worthy of our praise and admiration. It is not in proper perspective. It does not have the proper balance.
This is the fundamental problem with the music of Saviour Machine as well as other composers who major on the minor theme of life. But, some will object, they are a Christian band trying to reach others with the gospel. Since when did evangelization become a criterion for good music? Fathers, this is a crucial point in judging the music your family purchases and listens to. Let me repeat this: Nowhere in God's standards for good art given by divine revelation in Philippians 4:8 is there any mention of being evangelistic. This has no bearing on whether a song is judged to be good or bad, worthy or unworthy of your thoughts and reflection. It makes no difference. Music can be good with evangelistic content or without it. Don't be fooled into thinking that all music by Christians is good and all music by unbelievers is bad. This is simply not the case.
Autonomy and the Death of Excellence
Autonomy (that is, substituting your law for God's law) in music has resulted in the derailing of good music among Christian artists. Because of the expectation of evangelicals, many musicians have been sidetracked into being evangelists instead of being great musicians. The pressure to preach when you've been called to play is very common. For example, churches, when considering musicians to come and perform for them, are always looking for some kind of evangelistic message or, at the very minimum, some testimony to justify bringing in an artist to perform for their congregation. Artists who have more exciting testimonies ("I used to be a drug addict, but now I'm a Jesus addict") have more appeal than those who offer great music without the big conversion stories.
In the bigger picture, the goal of evangelism in music has caused an entire industry to evolve. The gospel music industry is driven by this goal of evangelism, resulting in mediocrity in the name of evangelism. The standard of excellence in music is subordinate to evangelistic merit. Worse yet, bad music is excused or even promoted as good music because of its supposed evangelistic worth.
Speaking where the Bible has not spoken, others wish to condemn the music they don't like by other erroneous criteria, including Gothard's fallacious analogy and arguments based on a song's beat or rhythm.
Only when we come back to God's standards of good music will we again be liberated from these false ideas and produce an environment that fosters true creativity within the bounds of the Christian worldview.
Be a Good Patron
Have you ever purchased a recording of music or gone to a ticketed concert? If so, you have been a patron to some musician. In times past, wealthy nobles, kings, and other dignitaries would support musicians, leaving them free from earthly cares to focus their attention on composing and performing for them. To a large measure, this has been replaced in modern days by the free market and the ability to mass-produce recorded music. The record companies and consumers now have become the patrons of music. Everyone can be a good patron by searching out and supporting artists who create and perform music according to God's standards. There are many ways today to do this. The Internet is full of music samples so you can listen to almost any artist before you purchase a recording. Many stores have demos of different artists where you can listen to an entire release before purchasing it. Word of mouth is still one of the best ways of finding good music. Be a wise patron and share your findings with your friends. Purchasing good music is the best way today to support it.
1. The reader can review this article online in the August 1999 issue of the Chalcedon Report by going to http://www.chalcedon.edu/report/99aug/music.htm.
2. Bill Gothard, Research in Principles of Life Advanced Seminar Textbook (Oak Brook, IL, 1986), 124.
3. ibid, 125.
4. Dr. Gregg Strawbridge, Toward a Biblical Philosophy of Music: An Analysis and Critique of Music in the Balance by Frank Garlock and Kurt Woetzel, (unpublished article), 3-4.
5. ibid., 4.
6. Bartel Elshout, Rock Music Innocent Entertainment or Deadly Poison? online at http://www.hnrc.org/html/rock.html
7. See also Nehemiah 12:27 and 1 Chronicles 13:8.
8. See 1 Chronicles 13:8, Psalm 150:4, Isaiah 38:20, and Habakkuk 3:19.
9. Joseph J. Kopnick, quoted from an article excerpted from What is Christian Goth online at http://www.christiangoth.com/gothview.html.
10. Thomas Woodroofe, quoted from an article excerpted from What is Christian Goth online at http://www.christiangoth.com/gothview.html.
11. Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL, 1973), 56-57.
12. ibid. 56-57.
13. There are many references to the fact that as Christians we are overcomers, even of death, which for the believer is the entrance into complete victory. The major theme of taking dominion over all creation while living on earth and then reigning with Christ in heaven is the focus of the Christian life (Gen. 1:28; Is. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54-57; 1 Jn. 5:4).
Calvin Jones is a concert and recording artist and a member of the Emmaus Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins, Colorado. Calvin has four piano albums released internationally as well as many soundtrack credits. Hear his music at his web site: www.calvinjones.net. He can be contacted through e-mail: email@example.com, or phone (888) 561-2094.