Category Archives: Articles on Music

How Poetry Forms Us

How Poetry Forms Us

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series Sing to the Lord a New Song You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

Singing both helps us express right affections to God in response to God’s character and works, and it also helps to form those affections when we make present through the art realities that are past, present, and future. But our affections are also formed by the art itself; in the case of Psalm 96, the… Continue Reading

Two Views on Christ’s Invitation

Two Views on Christ’s Invitation

Below are two works of Christian imagination. Both attempt to depict what it means for Christ to invite sinners to Himself, and how sinners should understand themselves. On closer examination, however, they are nearly opposite in meaning. We do not see the same Christ, the same Gospel and the same dilemma of the sinner in… Continue Reading

Fine new album of Buxtehude’s sacred cantatas

Fine new album of Buxtehude’s sacred cantatas

I keep an eye on the classic charts, and recently noticed at this week’s #14 spot an album entitled Buxtehude: Abendmusiken (Evening Music | Amazon). I was glad I did, so I pass it along to you too. Performed by the vocal ensemble Vox Luminis led by Olivier Fortin, the recording features a fine selection… Continue Reading

The Unproven Premise Strikes Again

The Unproven Premise Strikes Again

The Gospel Coalition recently published an excerpt from a new book by Brett McCracken in which he makes a very common argument about music in worship that may sound pious at first glance, yet has a fatal flaw. Here is the core premise of McCracken’s argument summarized in two pull quotes from the post: “We… Continue Reading

Using Song to Shape Hearts of Repentence

Using Song to Shape Hearts of Repentence

This entry is part 11 of 13 in the series Out of the Depths You can read more posts from the series by using the Contents in the right sidebar.

Up to this point in our study of Psalm 130, we have talked only about the poetic part of a song, but Psalm 130 wasn’t read; Psalm 130 was sung. So I’d like to address the music side of things. Clearly the music—the melody, the harmony, and the rhythm—doesn’t make a clear statement like words… Continue Reading

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