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Do origins matter?

One common argument used today in defense of using pop music styles for Christian purposes is that origins and associations don’t matter. Christians can redeem something that comes out of a sinful lifestyle and instead use it for good.

I do agree that the sinful origins, roots, sources, or associations of something do not automatically and in every case render it sinful. This is certainly not always the case. Because of the common grace of God, even good things can come out of bad. For example, a godless composer can indeed produce music that is honorable, noble, and beautiful. Furthermore, good things can be co-opted by sinful people for sinful purposes, but that doesn’t render those things necessarily sinful.

However, the origins of something do present strong indications of what that thing is fitted to do. This is particularly true for a medium of communication. Communicative forms are developed to carry certain kinds of messages well, and by nature they don’t do other things well.

smokeLet me give an example: Smoke signaling was created to be able to send short messages over long distances very quickly. The form of communication itself is suited to its purpose. But, because that form does short messages over long distances well, it is incapable of doing other things well, such as theological discourse. On the other hand, written prose is very well suited to theological discussion, but it doesn’t do quick, long distance messages well. There would be no point in ignoring the origins of smoke signaling and insisting that I can “redeem” the form and make it do theological discourse well for those who prefer smoke signals. In other words, the origins of a form of communication can give us good indications of what kind of communication it is able (and not able) to express, and we cannot somehow change what a form of communication does well, no matter our good intentions.

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More on Musical Meaning

So, when something is produced out of a sinful value system in order to communicate sinful sentiments, that should at least cause us to pause and evaluate that thing before embracing it. If a particular form of communication is originally designed to express sinful messages, there is great reason to assume that the medium will naturally express those values. There are exceptions to this, but it should at least motivate us to carefully consider the medium before using it to communicate Christian truth.

The second reason that sinful origins should at least raise red flags for Christians is that biblically speaking, associations do matter. Associations with sinful activities don’t necessarily render something sinful itself, but the Bible is clear that sinful associations may indeed be reason to reject something.

This was certainly true for Paul with meat that had been offered to idols. Paul was clear that the meat itself was good. But did Paul tell the Corinthians to “redeem” the meat that had sinful associations? No, he told them to avoid eating the meat for the sake of the gospel and the weaker brothers.

No, origins and associations don’t automatically prove that something is sinful. But as Christians we would be unwise to simply ignore them.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Cutlure, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and three children.

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