Biblical Authority and the Aesthetics of Scripture
I’d like to take a few posts over the next several weeks to respond to one criticism of something I wrote, but did not develop, in a very brief section in By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, published last year by Kregel. In that book, I suggest that instead of our worship being shaped and formed by the culture around us, we should look to Scripture to regulate the aesthetic forms we employ today. Notably, in two recent reviews of my book, this is one point for which both reviewers asked for clarification. Here is a statement I make in By the Waters of Babylon:
What kinds of poetic expressions and aesthetic forms God chose to use in the communication of his truth should inform and regulate the kinds of cultural expressions churches use as they communicate the gospel and disciple believers into acceptable worshipers of God.
A reviewer, commenting on that argument, said this:
This begs to be fleshed out. How, precisely, could the literary forms of Scripture regulate the musical forms of the contemporary Western church? The connection between the two is too tenuous. I don’t think this is the way forward. I think Aniol is looking to the Bible to do something God didn’t intend for it to do. And I know this because of the hopeless morass we’d be in if we tried to argue that our hymns reflect biblical literary forms! I’ve encountered this idea before, and I notice that those who use it don’t adopt the literary forms of the Bible to make their arguments; Aniol’s book is not a lament or a narrative or a Gospel or an apocalypse—it is instead a fairly standard 21st century non-fiction, Christian book. If he doesn’t apply his thesis directly from the Bible (read: literature) to his book (read: literature), then how can anyone expect to apply the thesis from literature to music?
Another reviewer perhaps more positively comments,
Finally, Aniol makes the intriguing point that Scripture comes with inspired literary forms that are authoritative for our worship. This is a significant point, but it begs for enlargement. What are these forms and what are some concrete ways that they should be regulating worship at present? I would like to see some development of this idea in Scott’s future writing.
Well, consider this series of posts at least a beginning to a discussion of exactly what I meant in that point.
The other purpose behind these posts is to answer the very common charge made against those of us who defend a conservative approach to corporate worship that since the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically what kind of music we may use in worship, to make any definitive judgments about worship music is to ignore the sufficiency of Scripture. On the contrary, I will argue that a deep commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture and a proper understanding of the nature of truth in Scripture, drawn from the doctrine of verbal-plenary inspiration, demands that we be discerning about the aesthetic forms we employ in our worship. A conservative Christian believes that we must strive to regulate our worship by not just what the Bible says, but also how the Bible says it.
Stay tuned over the next several weeks as I develop this idea.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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.