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The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum: Music

This is the first in a series of posts about formulating a biblical mindset when establishing a Christian curriculum.  Too often there is mindset (whether explicit or implicit) that there are areas of life and learning that are neutral.  This concept is a myth because there will always be a commitment to a philosophy or worldview.

The following excerpts (pp 80-84) from RJ Rushdoony's book The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum,first published in 1981, outlines a biblical view of music. It is a book that should find a prominent place on the shelves of Christian homeschooling parents because of its usefulness in establishing a curriculum that honors God.

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The humanistic philosophy of music is ably summarized .... in these words:

Music, as one of the fine arts, is an integral part and an enriching force in the life of the individual. As a required part of the elementary school curriculum, the music program includes learning opportunities for children of varying levels of musical abilities and achievements (those who create, those who perform, those who enjoy and those who may become professional musicians). The instruction emphasizes the development of aesthetic sensitivity, creative capacity, cultural awareness, musical competence, and intelligence.

One of the aspects of the music program is to relate "music and other human experiences."

Unhappily, all too many Christians would find no fault with this statement. Their own philosophy of music is so saturated with humanism, that they find it difficult to understand why this statement is so wrong.

The focus of humanistic music is ... on "the life of the individual."  By means of music, the individual is to find his emotional self-expression, development, and enrichment.

Music in the modern era has had this focus and concern to an increasing degree. It began very much under the influence of Christian music, so that, whether on the classical or the popular level, music, from the Enlightenment on, shows the clear but waning impact of Christian music. In the 20th century, this influence has become more remote, and, in fact, a contrary influence began to appear, the influence of non-Christian music on church music. This was far from new. Much earlier, operatic and romantic music had exercised its influences, but with the 20th century, the determination of church music by secular music became especially dominant.

Meanwhile, humanistic music had also taken two directions which reflected the schizophrenia implicit in its nature. First, in popular music there came in full bloom from jazz to acid rock music the concentration on the use of music to exploit feeling for the sake of feeling. Music had never been devoid of emotion, and it had always been the function of music to arouse emotions and to enhance them. This emotional function of music had always been subject, however, to a specific purpose other than feeling as such. The emotions aroused could be awe, reverence, joy, or whatever else was desired, in terms of a religious, festival, martial, marital, or other purpose. ... Now the emphasis is on feeling for its own sake. Not surprisingly, in acid rock, music is allied to narcotic to produce an emotionalism which cuts all ties to reality to enter into "pure" emotionalism. Of course, this goal is an impossible one. The individual cannot escape from God's reality; he carries it into the drugged world of music and hence the radical results of such music. The desire is for increased drugs and escapist music, and a wilder flight from reality. In all this, humanism's emphasis on the individual and his autonomous self and enrichment is very much in evidence.

Second, in "classical" music, a similar emphasis on the individual has been in evidence, but in a different direction. Composers have produced a rationalistic, overly intellectual music, one in which emotions are sometimes squeezed out. Experimentation is made with new scales, dissonance, and new sounds, and also with distortions...

The new music is different. It denies the unity of mind and feeling. It strives for autonomy from accepted and expected canons, reactions, and feelings. It seeks to communicate little other than a revolutionary sense of autonomy. ...

However, Christianity, if true to Scripture, must be the leader in music, not the follower. It must insist on its own musical canons. First, the biblical faith is unique in its strong emphasis on music. An entire book of the Bible, the Psalms, is a hymn or song book. In both Old and New Testaments, believers are commanded to sing.

Second, the title includes the support of musicians as a necessary part of worship. This fact, together with the summons to sing, has given Christendom an emphasis on music not found elsewhere in the world. Historically, one of the more potent instruments of evangelism on mission fields has been music, and pagan faiths, such as Buddhism, are now trying to copy Christianity and to use music to hold their believers.

Third, in Scripture the function of music is not man-centered by God-centered. Man does not sing for his own self-expression, nor for his enrichment but because he has been enriched by the grace of God unto salvation....The commandment is always, sing unto the LORD. ...

It follows, certainly, that Christian music which meets this requirement calls first of all for God-centered musicians, men whose life and thought are governed by the sovereignty of God and His majesty.




Topics: Education, Media / Arts

Andrea G. Schwartz

Andrea Schwartz is Chalcedon’s family and Christian education advocate, and the author of eight books including: A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven FamilyThe Biblical Trustee Family: Understanding God’s Purpose for Your HouseholdEmpowered: Developing Strong Women for Kingdom ServiceWoman of the House: A Mother’s Role in Building a Christian Culture, and The Homeschool Life: Discovering God’s Way to Family-Based Education. She’s also the co-host of the Out of the Question podcast, and Homeschooling Helps (weekly live Facebook event). She can be reached at [email protected]

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R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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