catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 7 :: 2005.04.08 — 2005.04.21


Music in the name of Christ

Music has always defied neat and tidy categories. From the dirges and dithyrambs of Plato?s Greece to rock and hip hop of today, music continues to resist confining monikers. Throughout its history, music has faithfully disavowed any loyalty to the names placed upon it, moving from one bed to the next, giving birth to bastards, mixing genres and styles wherever she went. So why would we even try to tie music down with more words?

Because it gives us such pleasure! And pain. And pleasure again.

The unresolved tension between music and words promises no release, but that doesn?t stop us from trying to pin music down. We are not content to let music do what it does to us. We have to understand it. We want to make it answer our questions so we can squeeze it into tight categories. Much to our agonizing delight, however, music continues to escape our grasp. So, with eager anticipation, we will try once again to capture music with our words, this time exploring what could be said about music in the name of Christ.

Exploring this issue requires the clearing of a few obstacles that often get in the way. The following questions often come up as soon as the idea of ?Christian? music is presented. Though the question and answer format might seem a bit catechism-ish, it appears to be the most expedient way of getting into and out of the problems presented.

Provocative Statement: Yes, I believe there is such a thing as Christian music!

Question: Why is it necessary to designate some music as ?Christian?? Why can?t we be satisfied with the assumption that all good music is God?s music?

Response: Though it is true that God?s sovereign rule over all creation makes Christ the Lord of all music, it does not follow that all good music therefore glorifies God. Music that is excellent?well-formed, beautifully crafted, exceptionally communicative, richly emotive?loses its excellence when it glorifies man. Though it may be well crafted, such music triggers God?s gag reflex. It has the same putrid odor as Israel?s meaningless sacrifices [Isaiah 1:13]. Though it is difficult to deny the particular excellence of Wagner?s ?Tristan und Isolde,? Beethoven?s Ninth, NIN?s Downward Spiral

, Robert Johnson?s blues and Leonard Bernstein?s ?Jeremiah Symphony,? we must discern the true from the false. Music that glorifies the resilient spirit of man or presents a despairing portrayal of modern life is not humble worship rooted in God?s Word. This does not mean we should avoid listening to such music; only that the particular excellence of the music is not ?Christian? excellence.

Question: Doesn?t trying to separate ?Christian? music from other music set up a sacred vs. secular dichotomy?

Response: All of God?s creation is sacred. The idea that some areas of life are secular?i.e. worldly, non-religious?belongs to the spirit of secularism. Christianity, with its belief that all of life is religious, stands in radical opposition to the spirit of secularism and to its brainchild: the sacred vs. secular dichotomy. So when Holy Spirit-filled Christians root out the spirits underlying music, they are directly undermining the claim that certain areas of life (in this case, music) are secular. All music must pass by the judgment seat of God. As we wait for the Kingdom of God to fully come, there are many spirits still battling over God?s territory. Christians share in Christ?s reclaiming of music when they make music that opposes non-Christian spirits. When Christian listeners discern the spirits behind the music, the religious nature of our music-making is
revealed to people possessed by the spirit of secularism. And the myth of the sacred vs. secular dichotomy is subverted.

Question: Our judgments about music are so subjective, though?so much a matter of taste. How can we all agree about which music comes from a Christian spirit and which does not?

Response: Get thee away from me, vile questioner who thinketh truth can only be had in the objective world! It is precisely this kind of bias toward objective truth that has made music so misunderstood for century upon century. Yes, our judgments about music are wrapped up in our own feeling-world. But this world is just as true (or untrue) as the ideas in our thinking-world. Humanity has been working overtime the last several hundred years trying to develop the kind of reasoning capacity that would guarantee peace and harmony among all peoples, but to no avail. Wars and strife continue, even among reasonable people. But the minute one suggests we make a few decisions based on feeling or taste, half the world (the Western half) gets really frightened. I would suggest that it is not only possible for millions of people to feel things the same way in a unified sense of taste, it has already been achieved and continues to occur from generation to generation. Entire nations can be distinguished and are defined by their taste in government, their taste in architecture, their sense of style, manners of speech, sense of humor, taste in music. It is not too bizarre a notion that Christians could develop a unified sense of taste when it comes to music. It might take several generations of dedicated listening and talk about music, but such unity is possible and is a worthy task.

Question: Are you saying Christians should develop an official canon of songs, albums, operas, symphonies etc. that meet certain Christian criteria or communal approval?

Response: No. That?s not my intent. I?m just saying that redeeming music requires a communal effort. We can?t accept the notion that taste is restricted to our own individuality. Music is a communal experience. Music speaks for its community?music is what makes its community a community. The redemption of music is not dependent upon individual efforts or opinions. Christ?s victory over sin and death assures us that redemption will occur in the response of the Christian community to music. A Christian musical response will make it possible for the Christian family, despite all its diversity, to share a common music, to make music in the name of Christ, to listen to music that is defined ?Christian? not by secularism or the institutional church or individual taste, but by the Word of God in Creation, by the very Spirit that holds the community of God?s people together.

Question: Why can?t we just say that all music made by Christians is music in the name of Christ?

Response: I wish we could, but unfortunately being a Christian in name does not guarantee Christian work. Sadly, what is called ?Christian? music in America is not music at its best. Part of the problem is that Christians in the contemporary Christian music industry seem to think their work is done when they, and their friends and neighbors, accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. The Lordship of Christ does not seem to be evident, though, in the safe-for-the-whole-family escapist individualistic evangelism-obsessed music that comes out of that industry. What kind of Lord limits his reign to the innermost secret place of individual hearts? Musical evangelism means more than persuading people to let Jesus into their little heart-shaped boxes. Christ is not content to stay inside our little red beating organs. The Lord wants to bring that beat to the people, to share His joy, anger, resurrection, strength and struggle musically, whether they want Him in their hearts or not!

Question: Can non-Christians make Christian music?

Response: I?m not sure how to respond to this one yet. I believe it is possible for non-Christians to have a Christian marriage without acknowledging that God?s Word makes their good marriage possible. The same could be said for non-Christians making Christian music. If this is the case, then it would seem Christians have an important responsibility, like Paul, to give these non-Christian musicians a name for the unknown god they?re worshipping. We must not be satisfied just to whisper the name of Christ in our own community, especially if His Spirit brazenly shows up on the radio, Mtv, awards shows and hit records. If Christ?s Lordship is displayed in music, we might as well call it what it is. If it is music in the Spirit of God, then we can boldly proclaim that music in the name of Christ is not only possible, it is already upon us.

Question: If music in the name of Christ is already upon us, what should we do now?

Response: Crank up the stereo and groove to Kanye West, growl with Bob Dylan, ache to Al Green, rejoice with U2, Rage Against the Machine and come home with Johnny Cash.

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