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Music has not always been considered neutral

snoebergerSince I’m in the mood to highlight other important articles, I want to direct your attention to an important article that I linked to Wednesday by Mark Snoeberger about music. Snoeberger’s basic point is the the idea that aesthetics is unimportant for Christians and purely preferential is a novel idea that runs contrary to the history of thought and Scripture. He observes,

But when it comes to aesthetics, discussion of the gray areas is increasingly thought to be off limits. The only aesthetic standard permitted, it seems, is that of contemporaneity. Popular taste and preference prevail, and public consensus can never be wrong. When waves of aesthetic upheaval shake society, we are expected to submit to them without censure or even reflection. I find this perplexing.

With regard to music in particular, he notes that the idea of music has changed from the historic view of something that engenders active participation and thought to one that sees it as passive entertainment:

Ironically, the historically central idea of “music” (fr. the Grk. μοῦσα, to muse, think, remember, or reflect) has been transformed in the last century into its own etymological opposite—an occasion, whether active or passive, for not “musing,” or, supplying the alpha privative, a venue for amusement. This is not to say that music as amusement or as a means of forgetting is always bad (see in principle Prov 31:7), but it does reflect a total reversal of the Western tradition concerning the central purpose of music.

Snoeberger acknowledges that Scripture says little about music, but like Trueman’s discussion of the sufficiency of Scripture, Snoeberger denies that this leaves musical choice to mere preference. Rather, he insists that biblical principles should guide musical choice just like in any area of ethics:

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The fact is, God never tells us why he created music, why he made man a musical being, nor why he demands music of us. It is likely that these reasons mirror the reasons why he created ethics, made us ethical beings, and demands ethics from us—to reflect his image! We all know that we should do ethics well and to that end we submit to an endless stream of books and articles that attempt to untangle the gray areas of ethics from the standpoint of both Scripture and natural law. We know that there is a right and a wrong way to do ethics, even when these prove elusive. We know further that public consensus on ethical matters is not wholly trustworthy, and at times is wholly untrustworthy: when waves of ethical novelty shake society, we scrutinize their underpinnings and offer superior alternatives.

Snoeberger’s article is common sense thought, but unfortunately rare in current Christian debates about music.

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 Culture, 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 four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

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