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The Biblical View of Music

Today, we live in an age where the art of music abounds. Musicians by the thousands jam the airwaves; their recordings fill the floors and walls of music stores in America and around the world. It is hard to think of another time in history when the sheer number of musical works available on a daily basis has been equaled or even approached. The sales of recordings nationally amount to at least $12 billion annually.

  • Calvin Jones,
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The State of the Arts

Today, we live in an age where the art of music abounds. Musicians by the thousands jam the airwaves; their recordings fill the floors and walls of music stores in America and around the world. It is hard to think of another time in history when the sheer number of musical works available on a daily basis has been equaled or even approached. The sales of recordings nationally amount to at least $12 billion annually.

An entire industry has developed just to produce music for Christians. In more and more churches worship bands lead their congregations in the latest worship music produced by those in the gospel music industry.

It is time we stop and reflect on the vast amount of music our culture has produced and ask ourselves how much of it is really good. To do this we must first take a look at the Biblical basis for music and at the standards by which we should judge a musical work. (Since music is a form of art, we’ll be discussing the Biblical view of art in general and music specifically, and then delve into some standards for good art and music.)

The Biblical Basis for Art and Music

God is the ultimate creative genius. He creates by the power of His Word alone. He spoke and things came into existence from nothing. In Genesis 1 we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness....’” God made man in His image. Man is analogous to God. This means that though man is similar to God in many respects, being made in His image and likeness, he is not God. He is the creature; God is the Creator. The lie of the Devil and of humanism today is that man would like to think he is God. Being the image bearer of God in creation, man is to use his mind to order this world and have dominion over it. Like God, he is inventive and able to arrange the world God has made in an orderly way. Unlike God, his works are not ex nihilo(from nothing), but rather man’s works are made out of something, specifically out of the already existent creation.

Further, we read in verse 26, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” All of God’s creation including man and his abilities as the image-bearer of God were declared to be good, even very good. The Biblical basis for the production and enjoyment of art is simply that God declared it to be very good when He created man. Music as a form of art is good in and of itself precisely becauseGod declared it to be so. No other justification for the art of music is needed. Indeed, no other justification for art can be given that will stand up to the objective declaration of God that all of His creation is very good, including man’s creativity, which is a part of the image of God. All other justifications for art are finally reduced to nothing but the subjective claims of man.

The best works of art and music were created by Adam and Eve in sinless perfection before their fall. When man sinned and fell by wanting to be God, his works of art and music were no longer perfect, but were marred by sin. The image of God in man and specifically man’s creative ability is now imperfect. Man’s works of art and music no longer accurately reflect the order, beauty, and purity of God and His creation. Since sin entered the world through Adam, we now have good art and bad art, just as we have regenerate men who produce good fruit and unregenerate men who produce bad fruit (Mt. 7:17). Sin has blinded man so that he must now work and struggle to produce good art and music. He must use special revelation to interpret and understand the general revelation of the world in which he lives. Only by thinking God’s thoughts after him, can man judge good art from bad.

What standards has God given us to judge good art from bad art?

I will define good art as the work of man by which he uses his creativity to produce things or ideas for the enjoyment of man which meet God’s standards for human reflection. The art of music exists, as do all the arts, for the enjoyment of man. 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.”

Good Music Must be True

Good music must be true. Truth is the first standard by which to judge a musical work. This is the main problem in pop music and generally in pop culture today. Music crooning about the pleasures of one-night stands and adulterous relationships are at best half-truths and almost never include the other half of the truth of these sins. The after-effects include the guilt of lost virginity, the conception of children out of wedlock, the murder of illegitimate babies by abortion, the slavery to the state through welfare programs, etc. Humanists like to tout realism as justification for the pollution that is shoveled at us. “Everybody is doing it,” they say. Those who are not fortunate enough to live in the ghettos can now have them brought to them in the convenience of their own living rooms through the joy of rap music which describes in vivid detail all the rottenness of man’s depravity. This is the “real world,” they declare. One problem with this is that the sins that are portrayed for you are not the real world that is eternal but the temporal one which will be judged by God and burned with fire on the last day. This element of judgment is completely missing from pop music. Secondly, the reality that should be our main focus in art and music is that which is eternal, the ideal which we are to strive for on this earth and which will really and truly be attained in heaven, not the temporal and passing moment of gratified sins whose effects soon belie the pleasures promised by them. Later we will discuss further the place of sin and its effects in music.

Sadly, those who hate God are not the only ones spreading lies in music. The Christian music industry preaches the false gospel of self-salvation. The heretical Arminian idea of self-salvation dominates the churches across this country and, not surprisingly, the lyrics of the music from the gospel music industry. The typical lyrics view man not as totally depraved, dead in sins (Rom. 3:10-18; Eph. 2:1), and wholly incapable of choosing Jesus, but rather as his own ultimate savior as he opens the door to a weak and powerless Jesus who is knocking patiently, having done all that He can to save man. In this Arminian view, man is more powerful than God as he resists the Creator of the universe Who wants to regenerate his dead soul. In the Arminian view, man ultimately gets the glory for saving himself and choosing God. The true picture of salvation given in Scripture is that the sinner is instead bound in a chair guarded by Satan when Christ smashes down the door and crushes Satan, freeing the sinner who delighted in Satan’s bondage and who hated Jesus Christ with all his heart. It is Jesus who regenerates our hearts and changes our wills so that we repent and believe. The marvel of the truth of salvation is that while we were still sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10). If He didn’t set His love upon us first and change our wills by regeneration, no one would be saved. Dead men don’t open doors (Eph. 2:1).

Let me give you an example of this false view of salvation typical of Christian artists. From the evangelistic song “Somebody Loves You” (from the album Special Love) by Deneice Williams, who sings:

He’s waiting for you.

Oh, he understands the pain you’re going through.

There is no problem that my Jesus just can’t help you solve.

For He can do wonders.

Won’t you open up and let him touch you?

In these lines, man is mightier than God. God just isn’t able to save us unless we open up and let Him touch us. He is just patiently waiting for us. The message is that God helps those who help themselves. In this entire song there is not one mention of the true gospel. The true gospel is repentance of that politically incorrect little “s” word, sin. Instead of repentance from sin, which produces life’s problems, this song seems to be about salvation from the pain and trouble of life.

Another common falsehood in Christian music is the “easy love” deception. Love towards God and man is described in about every possible way except as obedience to God’s law-word. The emotions of love and sentimentalism abound in Christian music while the actions of love defined by God’s laws are conspicuously absent. Our Lord said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). Love is keeping God’s commandments with respect to God and to our neighbor. With love being the dominant subject of both pop and Christian music, why is it that I have never heard the true definition of love from either of them? I expect this from the world but not from Christians. It is no wonder when the modern church teaches that the Old Testament and all of its laws do not apply today. They’ve replaced obedience to His law with a fickle feeling that we fall in and out of. Of course, this view of love fits hand-in-hand with the Arminian view of choosing God. If, after all, the ultimate choice rests with fickle, unstable man, he can fall in and out of loving God (thus the need for regular resaving or rededication via Billy Graham). But if the ultimate choice in salvation belongs to the unchangeable God of the universe, who keeps us in the palm of His hand where nothing can snatch us away, then our salvation is permanent because His love for us is true and it never fails. It is guaranteed.

Unfortunately, the easy love deception has had severe consequences for many in the gospel music business. Many have been unfaithful in their marriages. We could talk more about this but this should suffice to recognize the importance of the standard of truth in music.

Good Music Must Embody What is Noble

Good music must embody what is noble. A good definition of noble is “having outstanding qualities.” For music to be noble it must not be mediocre, unpolished, poorly crafted, of trivial subject matter, etc. It must, instead, inspire the hearts of the listeners to courage, faithfulness, love, persistence, self-sacrifice, hard work, and other noble and godly traits. To do this it must be well-crafted, performed with excellence, readily accessible, and memorable.

The opposite of being noble is being shallow and simplistic. This is an attribute, unfortunately, not only of most pop music, but also of the gospel music industry. One has only to turn on the local Christian radio station and the simplistic shallowness is readily apparent. Christian music, like public education, too often aims for the lowest common denominator. As Christians have left the world for the ghetto of the gospel music industry, their art has been spared the critical analysis of the world at large to be judged, instead, by a small subculture of those in the gospel music industry. For evangelicals who are fed the creed “No creed but Christ,” it does not take much to impress them doctrinally. Further, as Clyde Kilby has stated: “Our excuse for aesthetic failure has often been that we must be about the Lord’s business, the assumption being that the Lord’s business is never aesthetic.”[1] Because the focus of their art is evangelism, musical excellence has taken second place. I have talked with many, who, after being converted, cannot swallow the shallowness of what is offered them from the gospel music industry. They continue to listen to excellent music from unbelievers and question me whether or not it is all right to do so. I’ll give you the answer to that question later.

The shallowness of music from Christians is not surprising, since the music produced by Christians is merely the reflection of the shallowness of the Christian church today. In their efforts to promote church growth, pastors have become ear ticklers so as not to offend anyone. A glaring example of this is the ecumenical movement, whether it be the National or World Council of Churches or groups like Promise Keepers. Whether you are Roman, Eastern, Protestant, or New Age does not really matter. After all, doctrine is not important, is it? John Calvin, John Knox, and all of the Protestant reformers would have rolled over in their graves. To give specific truth or give specific answers to problems requires the application of God’s law-word and true doctrine to our contemporary culture. It takes men who can rightly divide the word of truth. It takes men who will do what is right regardless of the consequences. It takes men who would rather offend man then disobey God.

Good Music Must Embody What is Right or Just

Good music must embody what is right or just. Most modern music today about social issues is wrong and unjust. For some reason, most artists today are socialist, egalitarian, and environmentalist in their thinking and many are also drug-addicts and perverts. Welfare, nature worship, the noble savage, and the insightful street bum are all common themes of pop music today. Bruce Hornsby spends most of his time on social issues promoting the socialist agenda. One of his lyrics goes like this, “So they passed a law in ‘64’ to give those who haven’t got a little more, but it only goes so far.” He is speaking, of course, of the so-called “War on Poverty” enacted in 1964, producing our modern welfare state. Incredibly, though many have documented the utter defeat of this war, Bruce states that he doesn’t believe it goes far enough. Bruce looks to the state as the savior of man. Far from saving the poor, however, it is ironic that in reality it is the state which has enslaved the poor to their poverty through the welfare system.

The truth embodied in a musical work must be about what is right and good and just. It must reflect the perfect justice of God found in His law, not promote the further erosion of justice in property rights and taxation, or promote salvation through education. When is the last time you heard a good song about capital punishment? Justice demands that the evildoer be punished and the righteous rewarded. Pop music today consistently reflects the wrong ideas of our culture, the unjust notion of calling good evil and evil good. Right from wrong is dulled as the relativism of humanism is propagated. Music, along with all other artforms today, reflects this graying of absolutes. When there are no absolute answers to our problems, despair and hopelessness result. Consequently, suicidal music has become very popular today in the styles of grunge and metal.

Good Music Must Embody What is Pure

Good music must embody what is pure. Music must promote purity in thought, word, and deed. Today, music is often accompanied by video in a new art form called the music video. Impure scenes abound in today’s pop videos. When is the last time you saw a female vocalist in a modest feminine dress with beautiful scenery around her and an actual story line to follow? Instead, the music videos today embody a chaotic, fragmented view of God’s world where the moment is all that matters, and sex and death are what sell best. Purity in music and video requires that human relationships be portrayed as God’s law requires us to act toward one another.

Purity in art also requires that we be pure or consistent in our worldview. Unfortunately many Christians today are ignorant of sound teaching and often communicate false theology and philosophy through their music. Zeal without knowledge will not suffice in art because art by its very nature is communication of ideas, and all ideas have consequences.

Good Music Must be Lovely

Good music must be lovely. Here God gives us the aesthetic standard of music; it must be lovely or beautiful. Although this has application to the words sung, it is most applicable I believe to melody, arrangement, and instrumentation. Before I go on, some false misconceptions of beauty need to be addressed. It used to be that to be a well-rounded, cultured man, one was trained in music and the arts. Men knew how to read music and sing. Even the sports heroes were well educated in music. The movie “Chariots of Fire” displays this. In fact, it was the boys who were taught at an early age excellence in music through boys’ choirs. I am not familiar with any girls’ choirs that were formed.

A man was educated if he was trained in the arts. In our culture today, training in the arts is for sissies. We have exchanged culture for blood. Men today crave it. The boxing matches and football stadiums feed this craving for violence. True men are, however, men of God, men who cultivate their families and take care of them, who lead their homes in the pursuit of excellence and the enjoyment of the arts. It is common today to equate beauty with “sugar and spice and all that’s nice,” meaning femininity. Power, strength, and other masculine traits are not commonly associated with loveliness. Nothing could be more false. Beauty is born of power. There would be no creation, no flowers, or blossoms if it were not for the power of God’s voice calling them into existence and sustaining them. God created the powerful and beautiful ocean as well as the delicate rose petal. The voice of God is beautiful if any voice ever was, yet it was so powerful that the Israelites asked Moses to speak with them himself lest they die (Ex. 20:19). Beauty involves both the feminine and masculine nature of man in balance.

With that in mind, what makes a song beautiful? Melody is key to the beauty of a song. Arrangement and instrumentation both follow. Great production in the end cannot redeem a poor melody. Often, simple melodic lines can have far more impact than complicated wandering riffs. An example of this is Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Almost anyone who has ever heard “Ode to Joy” is probably thinking of the tune upon the mere mention of its name. Its melody is gripping and easily recalled. Cocktail music, however, tends to obfuscate the melody with excessive arpeggios and runs. Such convoluted and verbose arrangements remind me of a poorly written term paper where the same thing could have been said clearly and easily in half the pages. For melodies to be great, they must be memorable. Good music must be able to be recalled, to be thought or meditated upon. Beauty which is forgotten as soon as it’s gone isn’t much good. Beauty that lasts for us to hum or sing throughout our day is beauty that accomplishes its end, namely to bring pleasure and joy to man.

Second, to be good, the melody must be well crafted into a finished arrangement. God says that everything must be done decently and in good order. Good music must exhibit good order in melody, arrangement, and instrumentation. Again, an analogy to writing helps to understand this. A great idea for a plot will fall on its face if it is not developed well and the story is poorly constructed. So in music, the arrangement must flow easily and logically from the melody.

Finally, if a musical work is suited for more than one instrument, the parts for those instruments must add to the arrangement. It is easy to detract from your melody by poor orchestration or too much orchestration. Obviously, it takes much skill and work to have dominion over the art of music and produce songs that are lovely. These are some of the objective aesthetic standards of music. There is obviously the subjective element in art, which is a matter of personal tastes and likes resulting from our individuality and experiences. Therefore, out of two objectively good works of music, a person may love the one and not care for the other, just as one may rather look at a picture of a mountain than at a picture of a Ferrari or vice versa.

Good Music Must be Excellent

Good music must be excellent. This is the defining difference, I believe, between God’s standards of the art of music and what proceeds out of the Christian music industry. The standard among those in the gospel music business is that of evangelism rather than excellence. As we have seen before, the best works of art were produced by Adam and Eve before the fall in sinless perfection. There was no sin and no need of evangelism. Their art was good in and of itself and brought man pleasure and glory to God. Its validity was certainly not judged by whether it was evangelistic. Today’s evangelical—-and even some Reformed believers—think that music must be evangelistic to be of value. Thus art is no longer categorized as being excellent or mediocre, good or bad, it is instead recategorized as Christian or worldly, sacred or secular. Underlying this are the assumptions that 1) only God’s Word is legitimate for use in art since music must be evangelistic and 2) that this world is somehow Satan’s and has no value for music. The truth is that the whole world is God’s, even the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10-12) and, in fact, this world is the inheritance of God’s people (Mt. 5:5). It is foolish to pit God’s Word against God’s world. Both are legitimate subjects for the thoughts and artistic endeavors of man. Francis Schaeffer, in his booklet Art and the Bible states, “If God made the flowers, they are worth painting and writing about. If God made the birds, they are worth painting. If God made the sky, the sky is worth painting.”[2] Further, he says:

...Christianity is not just involved with “salvation” but with the total man in the total world. The Christian message begins with the existence of God forever and then with the creation. It does not begin with salvation. We must be thankful for salvation, but the Christian message is more than that. Man has value because he is made in the image of God and thus man as man is an important subject for Christian art. Man as man—with his emotions, his feelings, his body, his life—this is an important subject matter for poetry and novels.... What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some sort of self-conscious evangelism.[3]

Indeed, good art does not need any utilitarian purpose or any other justification than the fact that God declared it to be good. To do what God declares to be good glorifies God. Consider the two free-standing columns that were to stand just outside the temple. In 1 Kings 7:15-22 we read:

He [Huram] cast two bronze pillars, each eighteen cubits high [twenty-seven feet] and twelve cubits around [eighteen feet].... A network of interwoven chains festooned the capitals on top of the pillars, seven for each capital. He made pomegranates in two rows encircling each network to decorate the capitals on top of the pillars. He did the same for each capital.... The capitals of both pillars, above the bowl-shaped part next to the network, were the two hundred pomegranates in rows all around. He erected the pillars at the portico of the temple. The pillar to the south he named Jakin and the one to the north Boaz. The capitals on top were in the shape of lilies. And so the work on the pillars was completed.

These pillars supported no architectural weight and had no utilitarian engineering significance. They were there only because God said they should be there as a thing of beauty. There were no Bible verses engraved in them.

Unfortunately, the evangelical myth has done great damage. The reduction in the view and place of music has resulted in the reduction of the standards of music. The standard of excellence or goodness in music is replaced by the nebulous standard of whether it is “Christian” or not. Music is judged by its evangelistic Christian clichés, not by excellence of craftsmanship and creativity. The world knows this. Since Christians abandoned the mainstream music marketplace in the early 70s for the ghetto of Christian bookstores, the world has been watching and laughing at their mediocrity, both in art and in life.

What does it mean to label a musical work as excellent? For a musical work to be excellent, the melody, arrangement, and instrumentation of a song must move or impact the listener. This means that it must affect people powerfully by stimulating their thoughts and emotions. It must capture their attention. It must be relevant to them. The opposite of excellence in the art of music is irrelevance. Music that is irrelevant is switched off. As C. S. Lewis said: “To interest is the first duty of art; no other excellences will even begin to compensate for failure in this, and very serious faults will be covered by this, as by charity (emphasis added).”[4]

The Biblical view of man and history is that they are accomplishing the purposes for which God made them. There is a purpose and goal of our lives and of history that give them meaning. History is not cyclical and man is not reincarnated. History is linear and the lives of men end either in glory or damnation. In other words, our lives have direction and meaning. Excellent music must reflect this and be directional. Our message and art must be relevant and in the front, not irrelevant and in the background. Much of new age music is ethereal, directionless, and irrelevant. It does not compel the listener to pay attention but instead is used as part of the paraphernalia of the occult to lull the mind to sleep, producing fertile ground for manipulation and acceptance of occultic suggestions.

Excellence in music also requires excellence in lyrics. They must achieve the standards we have already discussed.

Good Music Must be Admirable and Praiseworthy

Finally, good music must be admirable and praiseworthy. I’ve put these two standards into one category. These are the culmination of excellence in all the other standards. Music to be admirable and praiseworthy must lead man towards God, not towards himself. In other words it must communicate 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. The other part of the minor theme is the Christian’s defeated and sinful side. Honesty requires that we admit there is no such thing as totally victorious living. As Apostle Paul puts it, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.... O wretched man that I am! who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:19, 24). 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. Love exists along with sex, true morals, as opposed to conditioning exist and creativity, as opposed to mechanical construction, exists. The major theme is optimism in the area of being. There is also a major theme in relation to morals. God exists and has a character which is the law of the universe. There is therefore an absolute in regard to morals. It is not that there is a moral law back of God that binds both God and man, but that God himself has a character and this character is reflected in the moral law of the universe. Thus when a person realizes his inadequacy before God and feels guilty, he has a basis not simply for the feeling but for the reality of guilt. 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.[5]

There is 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 emphasizes only the major theme, then it is not true to the Christian worldview but 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. 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.

Indeed, the Biblical standards for the arts are liberating when compared to the evangelical myth. The whole universe being God’s provides countless subjects of art: the sky is the limit, so to speak. We are not restricted to God’s special revelation but have all of God’s general revelation as the scope of art. Schaeffer points out, “The Christian is the really free man—he is free to have imagination. This too is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”[6] God’s Word provides the spectacles with which we can properly interpret and view God’s world and thereby accurately reflect the Biblical worldview in our art.

Faith and Art

In contrast to the Biblical view of art, the atheist and unbeliever have no basis for art. In a materialistic universe where matter is all that exists, there can be no such thing as aesthetic beauty. After all, what is beauty as distinguished from what is ugly in a world where paintings are merely the collection of different molecules and where musical notes are merely different frequencies of sound? Further, how can we know in a materialistic universe whether there actually are different colors or different pitches? What if what we see is really not there or what we hear is all in our mind? In short, in a materialistic universe, how can anyone know anything? By experience, some would say. How then do we know that experience will give us knowledge? By experience? That is begging the question. You see, the atheist has no basis for knowing anything. He cannot make sense of the world he lives in . There are, in fact, no absolutes at all, no truth, no justice, no right and wrong and no Creator. Events are simply molecules colliding, nothing more. Only in the Christian worldview where the creator God has revealed Himself to man through His Word and world can man account for objective absolutes which are outside of himself. Only in the Christian worldview can truth, beauty and laws be accounted for as reflections of the character of the God of the Bible. All unbelievers operate on a Christian worldview when producing good art.

But, many would say, can the unbeliever actually produce good art? Once we strip away the myth that art must be evangelistic to be good, the answer is yes. There are, in fact, but four different possibilities, two producing good art and two producing bad art. The first is the born-again man who creates within the Biblical worldview. The second is the non-Christian who creates art on the basis of the Biblical worldview. Just as non-Christians like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, being influenced by the Christian society in which they lived, could write that men have certain inalienable rights, a notion derived from a specifically Christian worldview, so also an unbeliever can be inconsistent with his worldview and produce good art that is in keeping with Biblical standards. Both the Christian and unbeliever can produce great works of art. The third possibility is the non-Christian who expresses his own non-Christian worldview, whether that be the exaltation of man, nihilism, etc. The fourth possibility is the born-again Christian who does not understand what the total Christian worldview should be and therefore produces art which embodies a non-Christian worldview.

Some may find it hard to believe that good art can come from an unbeliever. They may think this because they don’t think an unbeliever can do anything which glorifies God (Rom. 14:23; Pr. 21:4). This is correct. An unbeliever cannot glorify God with his art. As the Heidelberg Catechism (one of the creeds of the Protestant Reformation) explains, good works which glorify God must proceed from true faith and be done according to God’s Word (HC #91). However, just because an unbeliever cannot produce good works does not mean that he cannot produce good art. It is imperative that we distinguish between good art and good works. Just as an unbeliever may build great houses or raise excellent watermelons, so he can also produce great art. God will not reward him, just as God will not reward the carpenter or farmer who does his work with excellence, but will tell him on judgment day to depart from Him into the lake of fire. This is precisely because the unbeliever’s work of excellence was done for man’s glory and not for God’s glory. It did not proceed from true faith.

It is appropriate here to distinguish between technical skill and a work of good art. A song may indeed exhibit great skill in melody, arrangement, and instrumentation but the lyrics are false or trivial. An artist may have amazing technical ability with his instrument but fail to create a good melody. Good art must have all of the qualities we have mentioned in order to be good. If any of its parts are lacking in the standards God has given, then it is not good art. Good art requires that all the components of a work meet God’s standards for our reflections. This is not to say we cannot experience and learn from songs which do not measure up. Just as we can read about the unbelief of philosophers or theologians to learn their arguments, so we can also analyze art which is not good, in order to critique it from a Biblical worldview or learn from its technically excellent components. Our conscience must guide us here by the Word of God. For example, we are tempted to sin when we view human nakedness in art, even though the artist might have produced it with much skill (Gen. 9:22-24). Bad art which is pornographic or vulgar must be avoided. In a sinful world we will inevitably experience art which embodies a false worldview. We may sin in our response to bad art, but it is not sin to experience bad art. The majority of the art we experience should fill our minds with that which is good, just as the majority of our reading should be books which embody the truths of the Christian worldview.

Christians, however, can and should produce good art that is also a good work. They are even commanded by God in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men...” (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31). It is most sad when Christians don’t heed this command of God in the art of music. Too often they are looking for praise from men in the subculture of Christian Contemporary Music. Actually, many so-called Christian rock groups are usually composed dominantly by men who are looking for praise from women. Too often the Christian’s art does not qualify as a good work either.

Ultimately the church is mainly responsible for the pathetic attempts at good art by Christians. When the preaching, teaching, and discipline of the church are weak, so are the endeavors of its artists. Because of the evangelical myth that music is for the purpose of evangelism, the subjects of legitimate art have been severely and needlessly restricted. Creativity has suffered greatly. How many different versions of “Amazing Grace” can be produced? How many ways can the false gospel of modern Christian artists be expressed? As the church today has lost its standard of ethics by which to judge right from wrong, it has failed to discern against the false ideas of the world, even baptizing them.[7]

Likewise, Christian artists also too often take their cue from the world. They seek to be the Christian version of so-and-so, not realizing that it is the Christian’s imagination which is truly free to soar beyond the stars. Let’s give the world something worth imitating. Let the Christians once again dominate the airwaves and culture. What we need today are true artists who will eschew the mediocrity of the gospel music industry and work at their craft with intelligence and creativity, so that once again good art will permeate the music of our time and bring honor once more to the name of Christ. Excellence in the art of music achieved by professing Christians will do much more in exalting the name of Christ than evangelization with mediocrity.

Nurturing Good Music

John Adams once said, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy... in order to give their sons a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”[8] In a society of lawlessness, good music and good art do not flourish. Art is a reflection of the values and ideas of a culture. Art is religion externalized. You see this when you look at the countries afflicted with communism. The great architecture and art of those nations came to a screeching halt when the communists took over. As hopelessness and meaninglessness have taken over, the spiritual and emotional state of the people made it all but impossible for them to produce beauty. Dr. Greg Bahnsen on his trip to Russia reported that the windows were all filthy. Life was so dismal for these people that they cared about almost nothing. They did not even desire to wash their windows. Many of our own country’s artists are also in this state of meaninglessness and pessimism because of their unbelief. As the church becomes less salty, our culture has taken on the attributes of unbelief.

When the property rights of artists and the profit incentive are continually eroded through confiscatory taxation, it becomes more and more difficult to make a living by selling one’s art. Instead of a just tax system to encourage artists as well as all other business enterprises, our government has, instead, turned to welfare for artists in the form of government grants to artists and arts councils (who fund artists with these moneys). This usually results in the funding of pornographic, weird, and shocking works which appeal to those in the socialistic arts community whose minds are as bent as the art they fund. There is a diligent effort by many in the arts communities to erode all sense of what is true and Biblical. They actively challenge their communities to accept the validity of all cultures, all beliefs, and moral relativism.

To make matters worse, we have adopted in music academia the notion of what I call the “Decomposing Composer Phenomenon.” This is the myth that all good composition ended with the classical period, and that to be a contemporary artist is automatically equated with mediocrity at best. In other words, all truly great composers are now decomposing! This has resulted in the virtual absence of compositional education in private lessons and in the attitudes of discouragement or indifference in secondary education to the skill of music composition. Even our most prominent music contests, such as the Van Cliburn competition and similar contests, test only part of a musician’s skill—that of repeating the works of others while totally neglecting the real work of a musician which is skillful composition.

To encourage great music we must once again teach music as English is taught. We must insist on teaching writing of music as well as reading of music simultaneously. We must support the works of good artists, just as we support good candidates and good businessmen. We must stop all government funding of the arts as legalized plunder. We must end the confiscatory taxation of property and income. We must encourage Christian artists to achieve their calling with excellence instead of expecting them to be evangelists and pastors. We must give Christian artists the Puritan vision of advancing kingdom of God on earth rather than the doom and false gloom of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. Christian artists must be Biblically optimistic in order to produce music that majors on the major theme of victory in the life of the Christian. In short, the church needs true reformation by the Spirit and Word of God, so that once again our whole society will experience the salt of the church. The arts in our culture will then be dominated once more by the Christian worldview and great music will again abound to the glory of God!

[1] Clyde Kilby, as quoted in Leland Ryken, The Liberated Imagination (Wheaton, IL, 1989), 59.

[2] Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL, 1973), 60.

[3] ibid., 60-61.

[4] C. S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, IL, 1989), 52.

[5] Schaeffer, 56-57.

[6] ibid., 61.

[7] For some examples: many churches accept women in positions of rule over men, supposed “Christian homosexuality” (i.e., sodomy), “theistic evolution,” government socialistic education, complete abandonment of the Fourth Commandment (the Sabbath commandment), ignore Biblical church discipline and accept the heresies of Arminianism, dispensationalism, premillennialism, and antinomianism.

[8] John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1780, in Charles Francis Adams, Ed., Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife Abigail Adams, During the Revolution (Boston, MA, 1875), 381.

  • Calvin Jones

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: He can be contacted through e-mail: [email protected], or phone (888) 561-2094.

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