Category Archives: Articles on Music

Pastors – Become Literate in Christian Culture

Pastors – Become Literate in Christian Culture

When the topic of music and worship comes up, a favorite slap-down argument against thoughtful discrimination of music is that pastors need not study music to be faithful pastors. It is beside the point to say that pastors need not become art critics. If their vocation is that of shepherding the flock, it is manifestly… Continue Reading

Why Tolkien Wrote About Middle-Earth

Why Tolkien Wrote About Middle-Earth

Some Evangelicals’ credo might be: “There is only one Tolkien, and Peter Jackson is his Prophet.” While there is no denying that the art of John Howe and Alan Lee made the films a visual feast, or that Howard Shore’s scores were moving and memorable, let us set aside the movies for a moment and return to… Continue Reading

National Anthems and the Universal Language

National Anthems and the Universal Language

While watching an Olympic medal ceremony a few evenings ago, I remembered a blog post I wrote over ten years ago (on a now extinct blog) about national anthems and the universal nature of musical communication. Here’s what I wrote (March 28, 2005): In discussing the cross-cultural communication power of music with a friend of mine,… Continue Reading

Why Christians Should Care About Meaning in Art

Why Christians Should Care About Meaning in Art

Christians claim to be concerned with meaning. They debate over the meaning of texts of Scripture, and urge particular hermeneutics, so as to arrive at the correct meaning of Scripture. Many claim to be concerned with the meaning of cultural trends, explaining their ethical significance. Some are fascinated with current events, and are hungry to… Continue Reading

On Associations

On Associations

Whenever the question is asked whether associations matter in musical choices, people usually fall into one of two camps. First are those who strongly believe that associations matter. If a particular song is in any way associated with a raunchy lifestyle, errant theology, or questionable movement, then we must avoid using that song, whether or… Continue Reading

Do origins matter?

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… Continue Reading

How Music Naturally Carries Meaning

How Music Naturally Carries Meaning

It is important in any discussions about music to understand how music carries meaning naturally. I highly recommend Stephen Davies’ Musical Meaning and Expression, which clearly articulates where the most basic meaning does and does not lie: It is not a system of conventional symbols, like a language. It is not depictive, like representational paintings. It is… Continue Reading

What is Holy Music?

What is Holy Music?

I am often asked the question, “Can a particular style of music be sinful? How do you know?” I certainly have thoughts that answer that question, and I am happy to discuss it when I have a chance. However, I think it’s actually the wrong question to ask. Scripture never insists that we “prove” that… Continue Reading

The Mortification of Spin’s Take on Secular Music (or, Calvin vs. the Calvinists)

The Mortification of Spin’s Take on Secular Music (or, Calvin vs. the Calvinists)

Occasionally I listen to the Mortification of Spin (hereafter MOS) podcast. I find the episodes largely helpful and would happily recommend the podcast to others. Recently, however, Carl, Aimee, and the other guy1 released an episode on whether or not Christians can listen to secular music.2 They largely defended the proposition that Christians can listen to almost… Continue Reading

Is music a neutral “thing”?

Is music a neutral “thing”?

One argument I regularly hear in defense of the notion that music is neutral is that it is just a “thing,” and “things” are neutral. A few thoughts in response: First, saying music is a “thing” is like saying tone of voice is a “thing.” They’re not; they are human communication, and human communication is… Continue Reading

Biblical authority and musical communication

Biblical authority and musical communication

I am teaching right now in my philosophy class on meaning in music. When beginning any discussion like this, I always find that it is important to address how the authority of Scripture factors in. I begin with 1 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for… Continue Reading

This is the Truth Sent from Above

This is the Truth Sent from Above

The carol “This is the Truth Sent from Above” is a traditional carol whose text originates from words that first appeared in the 19th century. It is regrettable that many choirs leave many of the verses out (although it is impractical to sing all 16 verses that have been discovered). Still, the carol needs several stanzas… Continue Reading

The Unproven Premise

The Unproven Premise

I’ve heard the argument many times; it goes something like this: We shouldn’t divide over mere preferences; therefore, we shouldn’t divide over music. It’s admittedly a clever argument. Who would disagree with the first premise? Who would defend dividing over mere preferences? No one would. So, the argument gets the listen to immediately agree–of course… Continue Reading

Paul, Plato, and Calvin on Music

Paul, Plato, and Calvin on Music

In 1 Corinthians 14:7-8, Paul says, ”If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” 1 Cor 14:7-8 (ESV) The “flute,” I’m told, was a woodwind instrument more akin… Continue Reading

Standards: A Shortcut for Inept Workmen

Standards: A Shortcut for Inept Workmen

It is seldom profitable, and I don’t recommend it to you as a worthwhile use of your leisure time, but every once in a while, reading folks you’d otherwise never read can reward you. It’s akin to fly fishing in the desert: if you go into it knowing that you’re not going to catch any trout, but… Continue Reading

tobyMac and the state of Evangelical piety

tobyMac and the state of Evangelical piety

Paul’s Words to the Ephesians The beginning of Ephesians 5 is striking. Paul writes to former idolaters and fornicators, reminding them of their new life in Christ. He opens with a call to holiness. Believers must “be imitators of God,” walking “in love.” To walk in love means that believers must live making personal sacrifices to build… Continue Reading

Some thoughts concerning Hymns on Christ’s Resurrection

Some thoughts concerning Hymns on Christ’s Resurrection

I know this post is somewhat badly timed, but I wanted to provide a bit of help for those who are looking for good resurrection hymns, either for personal devotion, to teach to their families, or to teach to congregations.1 Sometimes I hear the lament that there aren’t that many good Easter hymns. There are probably more… Continue Reading

Theological Issues at Stake in Discussions of Culture and Contextualization

Theological Issues at Stake in Discussions of Culture and Contextualization

Discussion of culture is an essential ingredient in any intelligent philosophy of Christian music. Especially in today’s globalized, multicultural environment, understanding what culture is and how it relates to worship and music is critical. The Standard Evangelical View J. Nathan Corbitt, in his The Sound of the Harvest: Music’s Mission in Church and Culture,1 presents an… Continue Reading