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Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Example of Sinful Music (Rebuttal)

Shai Linne and I are having a conversation between Christian brothers about Christian rap. This post will not make sense unless you start at the beginning of this discussion and read through all the posts. You can find the other posts in this discussion on this page or on the right hand side of this post. This is Shai’s rebuttal to my recent answer and my reply.

Shai_Bio-300x300In my last question for you, I asked you to provide me an example of music (apart from lyrics) that is inherently sinful and to explain why. You then posted a clip with short snippets from a number of different “Christian Death Metal” songs, most of which have lyrics. You dismissed the songs having lyrics by saying you couldn’t understand them and that the lyrics are part of the music anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Well, it does matter, because you said earlier that “music apart from lyrics can be sinful in itself”.

Here’s how I interacted with the clips you posted. First, I listened all the way through. Second, I contacted a good friend of mine. He’s a godly brother who enjoys Christian Hardcore, which I believe is the proper title for that genre. I sent him the clips to get his opinion. Third, I listened to a few songs from other bands that he mentioned, making sure I read the lyrics as I listened to what they’re saying. It’s not my cup of tea because of the harsh sound of the vocals, but there are things about it lyrically and musically that I can appreciate. You said:

“This music is incompatible with Christianity for a few reasons.” After quoting parts of Galatians 5:19-21, you said “There are musicological ways to explain this, but I don’t even think that is necessary…”

I absolutely want to hear the musicological way to explain how drums, electric guitars, bass and keys in themselves can express the things in Galatians 5:19-21. Here’s the the entire passage:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21)

This text has the particular acts (works) of people in view. And those works spring forth from a heart that is in rebellion against God. Scott, you have not proven that that the music of Christian Hardcore is a work of the flesh. You said:

“Third, this music is not holy (1 Peter 1:16)”

Of course, now I want to hear what a “holy” instrumental sounds like- and what makes it holy. You also said:

“it is not conduct worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27)”

According to the rest of verse 27, a manner of life worthy of the gospel is seen as believers are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”- not the tempo or loudness of drums. As for saying that it doesn’t accord with sound doctrine or sound speech from the Titus 2 passage, how can you make that claim apart from evaluating the words, which you said you couldn’t understand?

Christian Hardcore is not my preference, but I can think of many song topics for which that style might actually fit better than other styles. A song about Rev. 6:16-17, for instance. You have asserted that the music is inherently sinful, but you have yet to demonstrate it, brother.

Scott-thumb-300x300Thanks, Shai. I’m really benefiting from this exercise, and I appreciate the challenge to communicate my convictions with clarity and biblical integrity.

First, I recognize how frustrated you must feel with my answers. But let me try to illustrate why the kind of “proof” you are looking for is beyond what even Scripture demands for making wise decisions about our conduct.

This morning I had to have a talk with my daughter because she was rude to some guests we had in our home last evening. She did not say anything inappropriate to them, but her manner itself was rude.

Now suppose my daughter had said to me, “Dad, I did not feel rude. I did not intend to be rude. That’s just the way that I am. Prove to me from Scripture that how I acted was rude.” How would I reply?

Well, I would not be able to cite chapter and verse that proves certain features of her demeanor were rude. I might frustrate her with a lack of “scientific evidence” that proves she was rude, even though the science does exist. I would simply point out that this is what rudeness looks like. Whether or not she meant it, that behavior is rude because that is how rude people behave.

The same is true with music, especially since it is an extension of vocal intonation and human behavior. The science does exist that explains how music expresses specific emotion, and ironically the secular musicians themselves acknowledge what their music means. But it is enough “proof” to simply point to examples of what “fits of anger,” for example, look like, and observe that a certain kind of music sounds like that.

Second, I never said that “drums, electric guitars, brass and keys in themselves can express…” I also never said an instrument can be holy. I said that the music expressed those things; drums, guitars, and keys are not music; and I said that music can or cannot be holy since human behavior can or cannot be holy.

Third, you note that Galatians 5 speaks of “particular acts (works) of people.” Exactly. Music is a human act. Furthermore, I agree that evil works “spring forth from a heart that is in rebellion against God,” which is why I do find it at least instructive when certain musical forms are birthed out of the context of, and with the intend toward, rebellion against God. However, I would also insist that it is quite possible for someone with a heart of love for God to unintentionally act immorally.

Fourth, as to what is meant by “conduct worthy of the gospel” (Phil 1:27) and that which “accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), those passages specifically refer to things like sobriety, dignity, and self-control. It is instructive that Paul does not refer to their motives or the hearts; he is referring to their behavior. These kinds of character qualities do not directly refer to intent or doctrinal content; they refer to dispositions, characteristics, and sentiments, which can easily be expressed (or not) through music.

Fifth, while it is certainly valuable to ask the opinion of someone who likes a particular kind of music, I do firmly reject the belief that only people who like or are part of a kind of music can judge that music. In fact, I think that people outside my own culture often have a more objective perspective to evaluate my cultural preferences. My preference for a kind of music and my familiarity with it may cloud my ability to objectively evaluate it, and I may be desensitized to its actual meaning and effects.

Sixth, I simply want to note that you did not address whether music should reflect God’s beauty.

Finally, Scripture never insists that we “prove” that something is evil; rather, the burden of proof upon a Christian who desires to be holy in his conduct is to “prove” that his behavior is holy, profitable, and appropriate. We are to prove the good and perfect will of God (Rom 12:2), prove things that are excellent (Phil 1:9-11), test everything and hold fast to what is good (1 Thess 5:21), and train our powers of discernment to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:14).

All of these passages, and more, imply that we must actively evaluate everything to determine whether it is really good.

We’ve been asking, “What makes this sinful?”

I believe we are asking the wrong question; instead, we should be asking, “What makes this good?”

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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.

103 Responses to Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Example of Sinful Music (Rebuttal)

  1. Scott,

    In light of what you just said, can you please address the section of Albert Mohler’s article on how the church deemed Bach’s music as being worldly?

    Everybody I ask, avoids that question and makes it about there is no scripture that music should be used for evangelism. I’m not asking about evangelism. I am asking about how the church thought Bach’s music is worldly. Unfit for our God. Why were they wrong then and you are right now?

  2. Scott – great reply but you did not try to engage with the on-going discussion as to whether ‘music’ is an act or not. Making music is, as is listening to it or using it in other art forms, such as movies. I’d agree that music that sounds like someone having a fit of rage REPRESENTS an immoral act. Yet, this is completely appropriate for art to do (in some situations)! Art may represent immoral acts without itself becoming immoral! It then depends on how this art is USED to see whether that use is also immoral or not. Surely you won’t say that the use of hardcore to accompany a violent scene in a movie would be immoral because the music itself is immoral? We need to come down on that the HUMAN ACT is immoral but not an artifact that only represent is or associated feelings. Dancing to hardcore in a mosh pit may be judged immoral (?) and also creating such music to engage in senseless rioting or to express social critique in an unchristian way could be deemed immoral. Yet, what the music represents is not necessarily immoral – it is simply part of the human experience as reflected in artistic activity.

    So we need to ask, What makes it good to carry Christian messaging in terms of artistic best practice, not confounding representation with actual moral feelings or acts.

  3. Wow, so Shai tries to nail Scott down on his own words, and then Scott tries to semantically disown them. This is getting embarrassing.

  4. Just to give another example: when Anthony Hopkins plays a sick psychopath who commits horrendous crimes, we do NOT consider him to be immoral. Rather, we celebrate him as a great actor because he can slip into a role and make us believe that he is a criminal albeit we all know he is an actor impersonating an immoral personality. Same with music: it can be called good art when it represents well – Bach’s pastoral symphony represents a summer day on the countryside; Beethoven’s Fifth represents the hour of death, and some other forms of music may represent feelings or ideas that are per se immoral but are nevertheless well represented. This does not mean the artwork itself IS immoral but what it represents must be taken into account in its use, and WILL make it unsuitable for many Christian uses (but not all).

    Does this make sense or am I up the wrong creek without a paddle? If so, please can someone give me a GPS and a paddle!!!

  5. Actually, Shai makes at least one semantic error of his own when he says:

    You dismissed the songs having lyrics by saying you couldn’t understand them and that the lyrics are part of the music anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Well, it does matter, because you said earlier that “music apart from lyrics can be sinful in itself”.

    What Scott actually said was:

    the way in which the lyrics are sung is part of the music

    Meaning the vocals as sung, regardless of the actual words, are part of the musical communication.

  6. Cliff Notes:

    Shai: “the works of the flesh are evident” (Gal. 5:19).

    Aniol: offers ambiguous argumentation to explain why music he doesn’t like is a work of the flesh.

  7. Martin,

    Your comment gives me hope. Thank you. That is the exact question to ask. “What makes it good to carry Christian messaging in terms of artistic best practice, not confounding representation with actual moral feelings or acts.”

    For instance, I remember watching a man painting a picture of Christ on the cross. He began by doing it in accompaniment to very peaceful, very uplifting music. He drew calmly and smoothly, painting a flawless human figure.

    And then things took a turn. The music turned dark and jagged, and the smoothness of his motions vanished, replaced with savagery. He literally savaged the painting, dashing and smearing it with red paint over and over again.

    And then he stepped away, and there was Christ on the cross: A flawless lamb slaughtered for our sins. Music and actions that represented anger and discord was used to paint a beautiful, yet haunting and convicting picture of Christ.

    As a PS: You may recall a song that I earlier linked to by Beautiful Eulogy: Here’s another song by them.

    You might or might not be interested, but I discovered yesterday that they are literally giving away their second cd here:

    If you’ve ever wanted to give an entire Christian rap cd a listen, this would be the perfect starting point.

  8. Scott is really good at obfuscating the issue, doing a bait and switch, and deflecting his answer, in that, he answers but doesn’t say much.

  9. Scott,

    It strikes me that one thing you do in this conversation is go from a specific example of music, and then generalize it to a whole genre.

    It is likely that Shai would agree with much of what you said about a specific example of music. If I were him, I would, just for the sake of argument, grant you that music without lyrics can be sinful if done with sinful intent. And we all know some genres started with specific songs that had sinful intents. I wonder if not the majority (all?) genres started that way, since perhaps the majority, all?, music genres were birthed by people who were not really born again believers. I also wonder if that would make a difference to you, but I digress from my main point.

    The problem is taking those specific examples, and applying them to the whole genre. If you are giving arguments for that generalization, then I am missing them. It seems your arguments apply to specific examples, but hardly to the whole genre.

    Even if the examples you gave of Christian Death Metal proved your point, those are just specific examples. They would still not prove your point that the whole genre is sinful.

    You make the analogy between music and language. If music is like language, then music genres are to music what particular languages (English, Greek, Spanish, etc.) are to language. And particular music compositions are analogous to particular books. It is relatively easy to prove a particular book is evil, and perhaps you can make the same argument about a particular music composition without lyrics. But can you generalize that to whole languages? Greek, as far as I know, was birthed by Pagans. It was definitely used by Pagans in thought and worship for much of its early beginnings before Christ. Was it OK for the Apostles to use Koine Greek, after so Pagan a history, for the communication of the Gospel?

    God bless,


  10. Brother Phil,

    I might suggest that Brother Linne has misused/misunderstood the intent of the Holy Spirit in the use of the word “evident” (φανερός). He in essence proof texts (just as some dislike Scott doing with his various passages).

    In a hopefully concise attempt to demonstrate the misunderstanding I will ask a simple question and make a few comments. If the every work of the flesh (not the broad categories mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21 but the specific manifestations in the details of our lives) are so evident then why is it that we struggle so much with self-deception and subtle justifications of our flesh (ie Galatians 6:3, 7; 1 John 1:8; ect.)? For that matter the issue of Galatians was flesh driven, but a whole book was written to reveal what according to you and Brother Linne appear to believe was obvious. Paul was not saying that each work of the flesh will be beyond subtlety, but that categories are quite clear and undeniably fleshly. Examples of what I mean would for instance be his mention of heresy. Heresy which when identified is obviously a work of the flesh, but it takes work to identify and prove it. Similarly, idolatry is obviously a work of the flesh, but who would have guessed that something like covetousness was idolatry (Colossians 3:5) without further revelation or demonstrative proof. Who would deny that murder is a work of the flesh, but can one really believe that Paul is saying that all murders will be obviously murder? Furthermore, even adultery is subtle in that lust is adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:28). Our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiahs 17:9) and we do not always see what maybe should be clear (Deuteronomy 11:16); I do not think Paul was denying this in his statement that the works of the flesh are manifest.

    For His glory,
    Christian Markle

  11. Scott,

    One more thing. You asked Shai:
    “I simply want to note that you did not address whether music should reflect God’s beauty”

    Shai already answered, I think:
    “Christian Hardcore is not my preference, but I can think of many song topics for which that style might actually fit better than other styles. A song about Rev. 6:16-17, for instance.”

    Why can’t music reflect on all the attributes of God? What about God’s wrath?

    God bless,


  12. Scott, once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. In your books and in other posts on RA, you’ve nailed the intent of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 when Paul lists a number of sins and then goes on to say “and such like” (KJV) or “things like these” (ESV). Obviously, Paul was not limiting the works of the flesh to just the sins listed in those verses, but left the door open to include other sins, including those that mimic the aforementioned list. It’s obvious that some view the Scriptures as a checklist and only those things mentioned in the list of sins are off-limits. That thinking is unfortunate among God’s people, especially among those that would present themselves as mature believers – because the thought process is indicative of a lack of maturity.

    I especially appreciate the last final point because it’s one I’ve attempted to make in Sunday School classes, one-on-one conversations, etc. The Biblical model is to prove what is right about something that is questionable, not wrong. To date, I’ve seen not one shred of evidence from Biblical principles, commands or examples in Scripture that condone the Christian embracing elements of pop culture (the world) to express the worship of a holy God. If utilizing music and art born in crassness, rebellion and sensuality are befitting of the Christian, there must be plenty of Biblical evidence to state such, I would think.

  13. Doug,

    >>>”I’ve seen not one shred of evidence from Biblical principles, commands or examples in Scripture that condone the Christian embracing elements of pop culture (the world) to express the worship of a holy God.”

    You realize that you’re making a couple unwarranted assumptions here…

    Assumption #1: That evidence from Biblical principles, commands, or examples in Scripture condone the Christian embracing elements of *high* culture (the world) to express the worship of a holy God.

    Assumption #2: That pop culture is monolithic and is synonymous with what the Bible speaks to as “the world.”

  14. >>>”If utilizing music and art born in crassness, rebellion and sensuality are befitting of the Christian, there must be plenty of Biblical evidence to state such, I would think.”

    Paul quotes poets who were writing pagan hymns to Zeus in his sermon on Mars Hill. How does that fit within your paradigm?

  15. One interesting note: According to Genesis 4, direct descendants of Cain are explicitly credited with inventing the pipe and lyre (flute and harp), as well as being the first to forge instruments of bronze and iron.

    I don’t know what you in particular believe, but most people name Cain’s descendants as firmly evil, seeing as none of them survived the flood and were participating in the wickedness of the earth. Therefore, it seems fair to say that the flute, the harp, and even metal-working were all “born in crassness and rebellion.”

    I wish someone had told David that…maybe then he wouldn’t have written all those pesky psalms that used the harp.

    Now, I know Doug and Scott won’t admit that. But it’s an interesting thing to think about, in any case.

    And hey, do we know what the first sculptures were made for? Because from a quick internet search, it looks like the earliest statues and sculptures we’ve found were almost certainly for religious (read: idolatrous) purposes. I hope none of you did a sculpting class in high school, because sculpting was birthed from idolatry and is inherently sinful now!

  16. Doug, you wrote: ” If utilizing music and art born in crassness, rebellion and sensuality are befitting of the Christian, there must be plenty of Biblical evidence to state such,”

    Isn’t all music, at some point, representative of pop culture? (Not current pop culture but past pop culture(s))

    We most certainly utilize music and art born in crassness, rebellion and sensuality from yesteryear.

    What we listen to and participate in today was scandalous at one point. When was it acceptable to start participating? 25 years after? 50? 100?

  17. Doug,

    What genre of music can you assure us has not been “born in crassness, rebellion and sensuality”? What genre of music has not been tainted by sin? What genre of music has been birthed by born again believers? Do you know of one example, so that if you were a betting man, you would bet the house that whole genre of music was birthed by born again believers?

    Note I said born again believers, not people living in a “Christian” culture. There is a difference, and if you are acquainted with VanTil’s ideas of knowledge/culture/world view, you probably know what I mean.

    Maybe there is one, but to use your own standards, the burden of proof is on you to prove such a musical genre was birthed by born again believers, and hence not conceived in sin. For if the musical genre was birthed by a person who is in rebellion against God, how can you expect such a person to not express his rebellion through the genre (however “muted” that rebellion may be)?

    God bless,


  18. “Paul quotes poets who were writing pagan hymns to Zeus in his sermon on Mars Hill. How does that fit within your paradigm?”

    It fits perfectly, Phil. Paul quotes those poets to illustrate a point. It would be like anyone making a point by quoting Frank Zappa when he said, “Rock Music is sex. The beat matches the body rhythms.”

    Do you find Paul at any point embracing the style or the hymns of these Greek poets?

    You do realize that in stating my assumptions, you’re actually assuming what my assumptions are, right? You’re off on #1. As I understand God’s design for this dispensation, He created a completely new entity, the church, out of Jew and Gentile, bond and free, man and woman, to break down the walls of partition and to build and foster its own unique culture. In relation to any culture, whether high or popular, what I find Biblically, is the admonition that Scott referenced at the end of his response, to prove those things that are excellent, well-pleasing to God.

    As to #2, you’re mostly on. While pop culture may not be monolithic, by and large, its overall bent is one direction – and that one direction is not directed Godward. Is it synonymous with the “world” found in Scripture? Quite frankly, I can’t think of anything else that more closely resembles it. What do you believe that the “world” of Romans 12 and 1 John 2 refers to?

  19. @theDave,

    We have to be careful what we fling the label of “pop culture” at. Many have made the case that there was no “pop culture” prior to the advent of mass media.

  20. Doug,

    “Quite frankly, I can’t think of anything else that more closely resembles it” Is this a refernce to the Reformed Rap?

    κόσμος kosmos

    John 3:16, same word in I John 2:15-17.

    John explains what we are not to love of the World…Verse 16

    So do you believe that what these Reformed Rappers are conveying are the sins in verse 16?

    Lyrics Sample from Instruments of Mercy “Beautiful Eulogy”

    Verse 1

    I acknowledged my sin to You and I did not cover my iniquity
    There’s no way to hide from Your all seeing eyes
    You know everything I can’t tell you a lie
    You know my own heart much better than I
    You know when I sleep and You know when I rise
    You know all the thoughts that go through my mind
    From morning to night every moment of pride Hey
    I acknowledged my sin to You and I did not cover my iniquity
    You know what I’ve done, you know what I do
    So I open my mouth and confess it to You
    And Your making me new, it’s Your Spirit at work
    To convict me of sin so I know where to turn
    And I know where to run,
    Run to Your arms to be cleansed of my sin by the blood of your Son Hey
    I acknowledge my sin, I know I can’t kill it with a knife or a gun
    It must be crucified on the cross with Your Son
    Then I can know that it’s finished and done
    Then I can know that I’m truly forgiven and get to the business of living for you
    And it’s not for my glory but only for You
    And it speaks of Your mercy, Your love and Your truth
    Give me the faith to believe what You say
    And to trust in Your Word when I’m tempted to stray
    And to patiently wait for the day You return
    I hate my sin it burns but

    Verse 2

    Oh God my sin is great, there’s no escaping it
    I hate my sin but i still partake in it
    I’ve become numb to the touch of feeling it
    Ive learned the art and skill of concealing it
    I might pretend and keep my composure
    Hoping never to disclose the truth that exposes it
    And even though nobody around me knows it
    God you notice it
    And when I alone it shows it
    I do a good job doing good deeds
    Look the right part because I say the right things
    Trust your word, and whats best for me
    But it seems that I still live in disbelief
    I begin to better understand confession
    When I understand the weight of my sin and its effect
    How it’s a direct reflection of my selfishness
    And recognize God correct assessment
    I don’t have to hide behind my own pride
    Tear myself up from the gilt inside
    Because I’ve been given everything I’ve ever needed
    To stand clean and forgiven when I received Jesus


    The old will pass away, while I’m still here You hear my prayer
    Please, wash my sins away oh Lord release me from this snare

    Grace and Peace,


  21. Drew, he’s not going to bite. It’s much easier to talk generically then specifically, because it’s the only way their arguments can stand.

    Why talk specifics when they can just imagine this generic beat that somehow encompasses every sin they can think of? If they listened to an ACTUAL song, then it’d be a bit harder to come to that conclusion. They might have to concede that some rap music is different from other rap music, and that would be unthinkable.

    BTW, here is the song to listen to if anybody’s interested. Doug or Scott, want to put your arguments into action?

  22. Without addressing all comments uniquely, I have to say that I’m somewhat perplexed. I understand that all of humanity are beneficiaries of God’s grace and that we are all created in God’s image. I’m not saying that everything created by the unregenerate is inherently wrong. That’s preposterous. I am saying that aspects of culture purposefully conceived and executed expressly and purposefully in rebellion to Biblical principles don’t meet the Phil 4:8 standard and are not indicative of children of the light (Eph 5). Why are we so shy to take the “Greek poets” as Phil alluded to at their word when they talked about the origins of rock and what it means?

  23. “Why are we so shy to take the “Greek poets” as Phil alluded to at their word when they talked about the origins of rock and what it means?”

    Wow. Just… wow. Unbelievable.

    “Hey guys, we need to be really sure to discern truth and error properly. We need to look at the evidence and the biblical passages and weigh it really carefully.

    Unless someone said something once that goes with what I’m saying. Then we should take that statement at face value without any more questions.”

    Unbelievable. Did you seriously just make that move?

    Also, you’re not just talking about “aspects of culture” anymore. You’re talking about an entire genre of music that you define at once incredibly broadly and incredibly narrowly.

    When defining what is “rap music” and what isn’t, you define it as a generic beat and rhythm of speaking.

    But when you’re talking about why rap music is sinful, it suddenly gets a whole lot bigger: it was created to express evil, it’s sensual, it’s inherently sinful.

    Your two definitions need to get closer together. Either stop defining what Shai and the rest are doing as “rap music”, and keep the evil definition…or admit that some rap music doesn’t share the attribute of being “purposefully conceived and executed expressly and purposefully in rebellion to Biblical principles”

  24. @Doug Merrill,

    You said that “[only] aspects of culture purposefully conceived and executed expressly and purposefully in rebellion…”

    Are you saying that there are acts done by unbelievers that are not in rebellion against God? Can you mention one act done by an unbeliever that is without rebellion against God?

    See: Rom. 8:6-8, Isa. 64:6, 1 Cor. 10:31.

    As to your question, the Greek/rock poets are talking about what they did — and I personally don’t care for their own compositions. Why do you think what they did applies to a whole genre, and to specific songs they did not compose?

    God bless,


  25. Scott, I appreciate the question you ask. “What is right with it?” One might ask this question about all of the cultural elements around us. It points to a general attitude of heart, that in all things, Jesus Christ is Lord, and there is nothing outside of His dominion. Every thought, every act must be taken captive to the obedience of Christ.

    Regarding death metal, Scripture has something to say about it in the book of Proverbs, where Christ is personified as Wisdom. He says this, “All they that hate me love death”. Death metal, by it’s very name and nature, glorifies and/ or portrays death apart from God. It stands in direct opposition to the wisdom of God.

  26. Brother Mackman,

    Regarding your request for clarification: There are a whole host of apparently unspoken assumptions that are being made starting from the OP and throughout the thread. Sorting it all out is getting mind boggling, but Brother Mackman your most recent lengthy post lost me. Engaging with what each other is actually saying rather than what we think each other is saying will allow for a more edifying discussion rather than the alternative. For now I am stepping back going in order to observe and evaluate whether this is a profitable conversation to continue or abstain from (as per 2 Timothy 2:14, 16, 23; as well as 1 Timothy 6:3-5, 20).

    For His glory,
    Christian Markle

  27. I have to admit my mind is boggled. I appreciate Shai trying to engage Scott on this topic, he a better and more patient man than me. This is much more simple than Scott is trying to make it. All music, including rap, is a form of communication and artistic expression and can be, and has been, used to communicate love, joy, hate, anger, lust, peace, rebellion, trust, faithfulness etc etc. It’s lyrical content has been used to promote all of those things as well. The same as every other genre. It can be done well, or poorly. Like all genres it was creatively developed by sinners. Like all genres it can be used by those walking according to the Spirit to bring glory to God, or it can be used in the flesh to rebel against God. This is not complicated.

  28. Fair enough: Let me explain.

    After stressing the importance of proper biblical thought and action, Doug made an appeal to the authority of a secular rock-star and suggested we “take him at his word.”

    That’s what he said. And it is indefensible.

    Then he attempts to defend his assertions, saying that “all he’s doing” is condemning something that was created for a sinful purpose.

    Which would be fine, if that’s all he was doing.

    But he’s not. He’s also condemning other musical compositions that bear a superficial resemblance to those sinful compositions. He’s condemning musical compositions that were created to glorify God, because they share a similar beat, and a similar fashion of speaking.

    Which is also indefensible.

  29. Yes, this discussion is going no where fast.

    Mr. Aniol’s statements are confusing to me and seem inconsistent.

    For example, rather than providing an example of a sinful drum beat, he interpreted Mr. Linne’s request as the item of a drum itself. I though this whole thing was based on Mr. Aniol’s belief that music is not a ‘thing’ but a communication that can be inherently sinful. Did Mr. Aniol forget the basis of the conversation, or did he purposefully misinterpret the question?

  30. A couple questions regarding this discussion:

    First, if rap/metal are sinful forms of music, is listening to them an act of sin or is only performing them sinful? So did, Scott sin by listening to the clips of “Christian Death Metal,” or is that allowed for the sake of discussion?

    Also, what practical changes could Shai make to his music to make it less sinful? Would he have to sing the lyrics instead of rap them? Or would he have to remove the beat from his songs? Given the idea that rap is sinful, how SHOULD Shai create music?

    Finally, are all sections of a rap song sinful? For instance would an instrumental intro be considered sinful, or would the song only become sinful once the lyrics came in? With some rap songs one wouldn’t even know it was a rap song until the lyrics came in. So is a soft piano intro to a rap song also wrong?


  31. I was really excited when I read Shai Linne’s questions. It is exactly what so many of us have asked over the years. I was hoping Scott Aniol would actually deal with the questions that were asked. Unfortunately, Mr. Aniol tripped over semantics and used the opportunity to speak in generalities instead of addressing the specifics of his questions. If this music is so sinful then it is extremely important that we know how to identify music that is unholy. Shai said, “I absolutely want to hear the musicological way to explain how drums, electric guitars, bass and keys in themselves can express the things in Galatians 5:19-21.” I wish he would have addressed what he knew Shai was asking.

  32. So now Scott has essentially forced Shai Linne into a position where he can discredit anything Shai has to say that doesn’t answer the question “What makes rap good?” Of course, Shai can’t appeal to any verse that explicitly justifies rap as a gospel-worthy genre (nor can Scott, to his music, for that matter). So Shai is left with what? Explaining the practical advantages of the genre (which he has done compellingly elsewhere). But where will that get him in this discussion? Scott will just come back with a priori arguments from the “works of the flesh” verses and the origins of rap. Scott won’t concede validity to any positive argument for rap because, in his mind, it doesn’t matter if there are any merits—rap is sinful by definition. He is the one who has put Shai on the definsive and requires that he be on the offensive. If Shai responds offensively, Scott’s response will force him back to the defensive. Then Scott can get on Shai’s case about being defensive again. Scott’s pretty slippery, and I think he knows how to put his opponents in a lose-lose position. Clearly an effective tactic, but he has not exactly endeared himself to me… But then, this is all conjecture. We’ll see how the convsersation goes…

  33. Once again this is very disappointing. How can someone in Scott’s position think and reason as he does? He is unable to break free from his own assumptions. Lets take his example of how he knows what rude (actually he is begging the question here by declaring the action rude at the get-go because we all consider rude as being wrong. He should have used the action itself and then proved it was rude, but this is typical of his reasoning. He assumes what he hasn’t proved) is without Scriptural proof and substitute rap music in the argument.

    “First, I recognize how frustrated you must feel with my answers. But let me try to illustrate why the kind of “proof” you are looking for is beyond what even Scripture demands for making wise decisions about our conduct.

    This morning I had to have a talk with my daughter because she was “listening to sinful rap music” in our home last evening. The lyrics did not say anything inappropriate, but the rap music itself is sinful.

    Now suppose my daughter had said to me, “Dad, I did not feel the rap music was sinful. It just has a strong beat and portrays many different emotions. Prove to me from Scripture that it is wrong.” How would I reply?

    Well, I would not be able to cite chapter and verse that proves rap music is wrong. I might frustrate her with a lack of “scientific evidence” that proves it was wrong, even though the science does exist. I would simply point out that this is what sinful music sounds like. Whether or not she thinks it is sinful, it is sinful because that is how sinful music sounds.”

    There you have it. Nothing but a big circular question begging argument.

  34. This all sounds so familiar. I remember asking what was sinful about facial hair, denim, wire rim glasses, and Disney movies (and, believe me, there was no doubt in our minds that such things were considered evil) and getting the same type of “round the barn” answers.

  35. To Joey – Right on!
    This is not a bad discussion to have because all believers want to honor our Lord in all of life.
    However – it seems that Scott does not want to be very specific regarding unholy music because it would exclude nearly all music genres from his “acceptable” playlist.

  36. Mackman

    Starw man argument:
    “Straw man” is one of the best-named fallacies, because it is memorable and vividly illustrates the nature of the fallacy. Imagine a fight in which one of the combatants sets up a man of straw, attacks it, then proclaims victory. All the while, the real opponent stands by untouched.

    I don’t know what side of this discussion Christian Markle places the “Strawman” and I believe in his last post he has left the conversation, so will most likely get no clarification.

    Grace and Peace,


  37. Would it not be useful if Shai asked Scott to critique one of his songs and explain exactly why a) the music does not fit the message and b) where sin comes in (e.g., is it sinful to create such a song, listen to it, use it as a soundtrack, all of the above)?

  38. Martin, I was thinking along the same lines.

    In particular, I was thinking about my favorite Shai Linne song: The Cross. I find it better than most Christian songs from past or present. The mood is just right, the lyrics are powerful.

    I honestly cannot find anything wrong with that song. I can see some brothers complaining about the music I listen to the most (metal), but that song?

  39. Martin,

    That would be a really great idea…if Scott didn’t think that “it is enough “proof” to simply point to examples of what “fits of anger,” for example, look like, and observe that a certain kind of music sounds like that.”

    Because no matter what song Shai brings him, Scott can just say, “Well, this music sounds like an angry, divisive orgy, because this is just what angry, divisive orgies sound like.”

    Or he’d say, “Well, this is just a disrespectful manner of speaking, because this is what disrespectful speaking sounds like. ” (by which he’d mean, “Hey, this isn’t a hymn!”).

    He stays away from any argument that has the potential to be falsified. Unjustified blanket statements are much easier.

  40. I realize that some of what is below is not new to many of you. To me, it helps to fulfill the biblical injunction to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” concerning music. What is below is a very small portion of a message that I have preached concerning rock music. I also realize that this is a discussion about rap, I believe this applies to rap as a subset. Whether you agree with that or not, I think it serves to demonstrate that there is no question in the minds of the artists, that music is not amoral. It seems about the only folks who don’t recognize this are those who defend CCM. What’s below is only a fraction of similar statements.


    Huey Lewis and the News sang in their 1983 hit The Heart of Rock and Roll that “It’s still that same old backbeat rhythm, that really, really drives ‘em wild.”

    But the rock and roll movement was NOT just about a different kind of music. This music was intended to change our way of thinking and to change our culture in America. And it certainly has.

    Rock pioneer Little Richard said the following:

    “Rock’n roll doesn’t glorify God. You can’t drink out of God’s cup and the devil’s cup at the same time. I was one of the pioneers of that music, one of the builders. I know what the blocks are made of because I built them” (Little Richard, The Dallas Morning News, Oct. 29, 1978, p. 14A).

    “Don’t listen to the words, it’s the music that has its own message. … I’ve been stoned on the music many times” (Timothy Leary, New Age guru and promoter of LSD, Politics of Ecstasy).

    And just what is that message, John Lennon?

    “Rock music has got the same message as before. It is anti-religious, anti-nationalistic and anti-morality. But now I understand what you have to do. You have to put the message across with a little honey on it” (John Lennon, spoken not long before his death in 1980, Pop Goes the Gospel, p. 84).

    “[Our music is intended] to change one set of values to another … free minds … free dope … free bodies … free music” (Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane, cited by Ben Fong-Torres, “Grace Slick with Paul Kantner,” The Rolling Stone Interviews, 1971, p. 447)

    “… rock ‘n’ roll is more than just music–it is the energy center of a new culture and youth revolution” (advertisement for Rolling Stone magazine).
    “Pop music is the mass medium for conditioning the way people think” (Graham Nash of Crosby Stills & Nash, Hit Parader Yearbook, No. 6, 1967).

    “What is undeniable about rock is its hypnotic power. It has gripped millions of young people around the world and transformed their lives” (William Schafer, Rock Music, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1972, p. 79).

    “In a sense all rock is revolutionary. By its very beat and sound it has always implicitly rejected restraints and has celebrated freedom and sexuality” (Time magazine, Jan. 3, 1969).

    “[Rock music] is the strongest drug in the world” (Steven Tyler of the group Aerosmith, Rock Beat, Spring 1987, p. 23).

    The book Rock Facts, which is published by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, admits that rock is not just a type of music, IT IS A LIFESTYLE. “… rock and roll has truly become a universal language … rock and roll also refers to an attitude, a feeling, a style, a way of life…” (Rock Facts, 1996, p. 7).

    “Listen, rock ‘n roll AIN’T CHURCH. It’s nasty business. You gotta be nasty too. If you’re goody, goody, you can’t sing or play it…” (Lita Ford of heavy metal group The Runaways, Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1988).

  41. Here’s the problem, Mat: You’re not “proving” anything. You’re just appealing to a few people who happen to share your views.

    I did, admittedly laugh out loud when I read your claim that a book about rock “admits that rock is not just a type of music, IT IS A LIFESTYLE.”

    So my question to you is this: For all these Christian rock artists who self-evidently aren’t living that “LIFESTYLE,” is their music still “rock”? Since you’ve just claimed that the music is inseparable from the lifestyle…what kind of music are they playing, if they aren’t going along with that lifestyle?

    Fair warning: If you say that all Christian rock artists ARE living the “rock lifestyle,” nobody is going to take you even a little bit seriously.

  42. The point isn’t whether or not they are living the lifestyle. The point is, what is the nature of the music itself? Does everybody who gets drunk partake in the typical lifestyle that comes along with drunkenness? Does everybody who is involved in the occult partake in the typical lifestyle of the occult? That is the point, the music represents something that doesn’t fit the lifestyle of a Christian.

    It’s always nice to pull out one quote and pick on it, but the question is, are the hundreds of rock artists and experts who tell us the nature of the music wrong, or are they right? Can you find any rock artists who describe rock ‘n roll as something resembling Philippians 4:8, or do they virtually always say that it is something opposite?

    Before I was saved, I was into rock/pop music more than anybody I know. It was my #1 god. After I got saved, I fought it for awhile, but I knew what it was all about. Back then, about the only defense the CCM crowd had was that it was being used to attract the lost. Only recently have they been trying a different tact. I am not “appealing to a few people who happen to share my views”, they virtually ALL agree with this. I actually really, really wish I was wrong about this. My flesh loves rock music. There are hundreds of more quotes where that came from–from songs that I recall, interviews, books, etc.

    (BTW, “prove” there refers to testing something, not proving your case.)

    A couple of questions for you: Since we are to “prove all things”, how have you proven rock/rap music to be good? Could you show me some evidence that it is indeed good, and the founders and experts of it are wrong?

  43. My argument is simple: I have listened to Christian rock, Christian ska, Christian rap, and Christian metal, and I have found much of it to be true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Not all of it is like that: Some of it is bad art, some of it is bad theology, some of it poorly combines the art with the theology and creates a disconnect. But not all of it does that.

    Take the Supertones’ “The Wilderness,” for example.

    This song addresses the anguish and doubt that many Christians feel when they’re in “the wilderness,” which is a reference to the wilderness of the Jews and the wilderness that Christ himself endured. When the lyrics call for peace, the music is peaceful. When the lyrics call for a slightly more “chaotic” sound, then the music follows.

    In every way, the song portrays biblical truths and applies them to the Christian life, and the music aids in that portrayal and application.

    That’s my argument. What’s yours?

  44. Matt,

    Those quotes were very telling. The pioneers and stars of rock understood the moral messaging of the genre well! I’m surprised that so many in Christian circles are unwilling to take seriously what has already been made known by them. It is also sad to me that the music of the church is, in many respects, no longer distinctive from the music of the age (except through the words).

    What we often don’t understand about music is the extraordinary influence it has upon us. In fact, we do it a great discredit when we think that a change of words will sanctify it , somehow fundamentally altering its overall intended message. Music is much more powerful and driving than that. Because it stirs us on every level (emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually), it is impossible to change its overall context by merely changing the words. Words can certainly add to a context, but we WAY overemphasize the power of the words. They are no match for the super language of music. Music has meaning, and thus cannot be amoral, nor has it been shown to be.

    One question, Matt. What did you mean when you said, “My flesh loves rock music”. How did it affect you? Did the words affect you? Did the music affect you?


  45. The argument regarding the comments of secular musicians has long perplexed me. Frankly, I find it to be very weak. Why should their opinions matter so much to our theology of music? Put another way, in what other cases would Christians hold to the opinions of unbelievers as so uimpeachably authoritative? I find this troubling.

    Regarding their opinions: what if I find secular musicians who disagree with the above comments? Am I justified in rejecting the argument then? Does it simply become a matter of what the majority of them say? To be completely blunt, it seems to be little more than an indicator of how weak the argumentation is that some people rely so heavily on those comments to support their case.

    An unrelated question for those who argue that rock/rap is inherently immoral: consider a Christian that had grown up listening to it, and was used to it. Imagine that this fellow believer enjoyed listening to it, and did not see it as immoral. Indeed, imagine that he finds it to be spiritually edifying and uplifting. How is this person supposed to know that the music he listens to is immoral? How will he know that he is in sin?

  46. I have another comment. I find it telling that, regarding what moral things this music (heavy metal, for example) communicates, that no counter evidence is ever permitted.

    Here’s what I mean. Scott described the metal he linked to as clearly expressing “impurity, sensuality, enmity, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, orgies, and things like these.” I have listened to heavy metal for years, and continue to do so. I speak with absolute confidence when I say that I have NEVER, not once, experienced any of the things that he lists. (Including the first time I heard such music.) And I say this in light of the fact that I recognized literally all of the bands in that compilation video that Scott linked to. And yet my experience in this regard is somehow totally invalid. I would expect my comments to be dismissed because, clearly, I have simply been desensitized to it.

    It strikes me as a rather unfair stacking of the deck, this a priori dismissal of any competing evidence.

    I was amazed that Scott listed the things he did. Orgies, really? Is he serious? I would hope that he wasn’t just giving a list of extremely provocative acts in order to exploit them for their emotional impact, but I’m not sure how else to take such a list. In my experience, which is not particularly limited in this regard, his assertion was ridiculous.

  47. Rajesh,

    Thanks for that article! Wow! I appreciate you having grounded your thesis well by the Scripture. Excellent! Read it, everyone.


    You mentioned that you had never once heard ….(the whole list of evil things) in the music..Really? Never? Do you think music has that ability to communicate…at all, good or evil? I’m just curious. Have a look at the article by Rajesh. It reminded me of a “Christian” moshpit (the 2 ideas are not even compatible). I’ve heard sensual music before. Once in a church, I heard a “Christian” song that was so vile, the words didn’t make much difference to it. My mind was easily able to fill in the gaps (such as your mind can do when you read a book or watch a movie). I got the message, and it was far from sanctified Christianity and incredibly inappropriate. It was all about sex…not the Savior! I’m not an expert on music, but it was there and I could discern it. Too bad I don’t remember which song that was…it was some years ago. (Maybe it’s better I didn’t anyway.) There’s power in music, brother!

    A question I keep asking is this: Is there a need to be discerning AT ALL in our style of music? I would hope for a yes answer. You need to answer that for yourself. God bless you.


  48. BTW, about that song…the words didn’t sanctify it. In fact it worked in reverse. Syncretism doesn’t work in the Christian walk. God asks of His people to be separate, and touch not the unclean thing. “Be holy, for I am holy”. Scriptures against syncretism: (Ez. 22:26; 44:23; Haggai 2: 12-13)


  49. Adam,

    I believe that there is plenty of Bible to build a good case against Christian use of music that was created and popularized by evil people for specifically evil purposes. Part of that case is to note that Scripture itself teaches us to reference what secular authorities have said concerning the human evils that characterize a society (Tit. 1:10-13).

    As far your experience goes, consider that prior to his conversion the apostle Paul was persecuting Christians zealously in all good conscience before God (Acts 22:4-5; 23:1). When he was saved, he realized how great his evil had been back then (1 Tim. 1:13-15).

    Even as believers, we have to be trained to discern between good and evil (Heb. 5:12-14). Such growth in discernment depends on our immersing ourselves in the Bible so that God can renew our minds continually (Ps. 1)
    I listened to lots of pop and rock music as an unbeliever and loved it. After I was saved, God has progressively sanctified me and renewed my mind to learn what music pleases Him and what does not.

    He will do the same for you as you immerse yourself in His word and submit it to wholly.


  50. Thanks for the encouraging feedback, Reuben! The Bible has the answers; we have to search diligently and prayerfully, and God will provide them to us, as it pleases Him.


  51. Mackman, I’ll do you the courtesy of assuming that your argument is deeper and wider than what you have expressed on this blog. But if what you wrote here is representative of your argument, it is a very poor one. The extent of it is, “I have listened…” and “I have found…” That is a very subjective approach. If I had taken that approach, I can assure you, I would still be rockin’ today.

    I can give you some subjective, experiential arguments of mine, but they don’t hold as much weight as the objective evidence that will follow. After Christ saved me, I struggled with first secular rock/pop/rap, and then CCM. We attended a church at that time where the “worship” increasingly resembled the rock concerts I had attended as a lost man. I was/still am desperately longing to see my parents saved. We were having a baby dedication for our son and so I invited many family members to church. The music was fairly mild that day, but still light rock. A couple of weeks later, I took my dad out to eat, determined to preach the gospel to him. As we talked, he said the following about the church, which basically removed any credibility I had to continue; he said, “Mat, if I wanted to hear that kind of music, I would just go to a bar.” It was around this time when I attended a summer CCM concert event called Lifest (where they now do Catholic masses, which is another danger of CCM). As I looked around, I began to question many things in my heart—the attire, the mosh pit, the complete and pathetic aping of everything I used to be involved in, etc. The final straw (of many things) was when I was sitting in “church” one Sunday, and the music was rockin’. I no longer felt like I was honoring the Lord in participating, and this thought came to my mind, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed…” (Romans 12:2). I thought, “Lord, if this is not being conformed to this world, what is?” I don’t think that the above is the best argument, but I’m just giving you a little bit of my testimony.

    If we are going to put something to the test, if we are going to “approve things that are excellent” (Phil. 1:10), if we are to “prov[e] what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:10), if we are to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:21-22), if we are going “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2) we have to be able to objectively know something about what we are testing. These verses and many more imply that God gives us what we need to evaluate in this way (2 Pet. 1:3), and to put a difference between the holy and the profane. We are told in the Bible that there is behavior that “becometh saints” (Eph. 5:3), that “becometh holiness” (Titus 2:3), that “becometh the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). All of this and more, imply that we can and must evaluate and draw biblical conclusions. Without this approach to Scripture (recognizing its authority and sufficiency in every area that pertains to life and godliness), we could come to any conclusion we want about moral standards, and that is what is happening and has happened in evangelicalism.

    I also start with the recognition that the Bible does not ever refer to anything as morally neutral. Even when it comes to meat, God doesn’t say, “every creature of God is neutral”, He says, “every creature of God is good” (I Timothy 4:4). It doesn’t say “prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil; ignore that which is neutral”, and so on. And so I approach the music issue to try to determine whether or not it is acceptable to God by lining it up with the principles of scripture.

    I read your rant on your site, Mackman. You know, the one where you said, “That these men who surround themselves solely with those who agree with them, who retreat from the world and withdraw into their own little circle”. I could make some sweeping generalizations about the CCM crowd, but I’ll refrain. After reading that rant, I know where this discussion is likely heading (or not heading), so, with whatever discernment I might have to redeem the time, I don’t intend to continue much further after this, if at all.
    I do want to explain something that I suspect you already understand, but here goes. On your site you said, “Then come the strange appeals to authority–not to the authority of scripture, but the authority of secular rock musicians. Then comes the death-rattle, the “WELL IT’S ON YOU TO PROVE IT I DON’T HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING.” Let me explain how testing something works. There is an authority (a plumline) and an object (the object being tested). In order to test something, you have to know what it is, so that you can see if it passes the test. So, quoting secular musicians and other experts, we are merely giving evidence as to what the thing is that we are testing. As Scott stated, we don’t necessarily have to do this to understand the nature of something, but the evidence does exist. (You seem to want the evidence, but then you don’t once you are given it.) The Scripture is the authority by which it is tested. Therefore, when the evidence shows that something is by nature sensual, rebellious, and falsely religious, it fails the “hold fast that which is good” test. I am a computer programmer. My code is tested regularly. We have standards that we must adhere to. These standards are documented. The documentation is the authority, not the code. Now, when it comes time to test my work, if one of my coworkers points to a line of code to compare it to the documentation (authority), can you imagine if I said, “But my code’s not the authority, the documentation is, why are you referencing my code?” I’m trying here.

    I have done a few studies on this issue based on Ephesians 5 and Exodus 32. I would be happy to send them to you if you wish. They are probably too long to post here. Basically my approach to this and other issues is to do exactly what God said: put it to the test. So, I take whatever objective information (and even some subjective secondarily) I can and compare it to the plumb line of scripture, and see how it does. From that I can make application as to what I will allow into my life. When doing this with rock/pop music, it doesn’t even come close to passing the test. Everything about “rock and roll” and its offspring, leads to the conclusion that it is evil. Rock and roll has always been about three things: sensuality, rebellion, and false religion. I encourage you to research what the term “rock and roll” means. Why do you suppose that phrase was applied to this particular kind of music? Why did the terms “sex, drugs, and rock’n roll” so obviously fit together? All the evidence points to the fact that the music expresses these evil concepts—BY DESIGN. Rock artists, experts, and architects of various stripes readily admit that the music itself is designed to communicate these things and was intentionally used to revolutionize our culture. Rock & roll had plenty of help, but it was the catalyst in the changing of the culture from a biblical worldview to a humanist worldview one mind at a time. It is not hard to see that this is exactly what has happened. There are literally hundreds of testimonies of this from rock experts and artists that this is the case, yet none that I know of that testify otherwise. What objective evidence do you have that it is good?
    I understand your point about the Overtones song that you linked to. It is possible for rock music to express peace and chaos, etc, similar to how classical music does. I could make some points concerning those elements and how they are expressed in this song and where that pattern came from in modern rock and roll (hint, it isn’t flowing from a biblical perspective, but copied from the ungodly world), but that really isn’t my point. My point is (and the point of rock musicians themselves) is that there is an underlying foundation to rock music itself that creates the desired effect. The “credit” there goes primarily to the backbeat (anapestic). The musicians claim that they are communicating sensuality, rebellion, and religion through this (along with heavily syncopated rhythms and other effects) – BY DESIGN (IOW, it’s not that they just interpret it that way, they make it that way—see Turn the Beat Around by Vickie Sue Robertson). I don’t wish to be crude, but when people dance to rock or rap, what does it look like they are doing? Even when attempting to express peace or chaos or anything else, these elements are still there underneath. Much more could be said, but all of this and more led me to the obvious conclusion that these types of music (apart from the lyrics) are not of God.

    Sorry, for the long post, and for the delay in posting an answer. I hope you are having a blessed Lord’s Day.

  52. Reuben, Rajesh, Mat, and others,

    It was against my better judgment that I involved myself, albeit in a very limited fashion, in this discussion. As I’m sure we’ve all observed, it’s a discussion that generates much more heat than light.

    I appreciate the thoughtful responses that have been posted here, and the willingness to engage with believers who hold such a wildly different position than yours (such as myself).

    There are several things I’d like to say, but I don’t believe I would be going about it in the right way. (i.e., I fear that I would be responding in pride largely for the purpose of “winning” the argument, which is not edifying for anyone involved.) I am reminded of my natural argumentativeness in a setting such as this one. I hope this response is not disappointing.

    I pray that we will all continue to seek God’s guidance in this issue.

    I think it is worth a reminder that we are far from enemies; rather, that in Christ we are brothers. As both Shai and Scott said early on, we have far more in common than a discussion like this might suggest.

    That said, I will, as always, continue to lurk. :)


  53. Mat,

    The Bible doesn’t use the words “morally neutral,” but it sure as heck implies that pretty much everything, in and of itself, is morally neutral.

    When the Bible portrays anger in both a righteous and a sinful light, it shows us that anger is morally neutral.

    When the Bible portrays desire in both a righteous and a sinful light, it shows us that desire is morally neutral.

    When the Bible tells us that the Romans whipped Jesus, but that Jesus also used a whip to drive out the money-changers, it tells us that even violence is morally neutral.

    When the Bible tells us that the Israelites worshiped both God and the golden calf, it shows us that worship itself is morally neutral.

    The words aren’t there, but that doesn’t change the fact that many, MANY things are morally neutral. It all depends on context, which broad, sweeping statements almost always miss.

    It’s getting tiring rehashing the same arguments over and over again. All you have are people affirming that yes, they used rock music for a particular purpose. Just the same as a violent culture might affirm that a forge is only useful for making weapons of war. It doesn’t hold a whole lot of weight, especially when it’s probably the only thing that you and they agree on.

  54. Mackman, I was a little perplexed to read this answer of yours. I realize I have made similar points before but I believe you are going too far with the ‘neutral’ claim, and we need to understand this correctly if we ever want to get anywhere.

    I would strongly disagree that ‘worship’ is neutral because it can be correct or false worship. I think we need to stick to exactly that: it’s either morally good or morally wrong – worship is an action by morally responsible beings, and as such, never morally neutral. Claiming it is as you did above (maybe be mistake) is erroneous.

    I am not so much basing my neutrality argument on the Scriptures (maybe that could be done but I did not try) than on logic. My claim is that once we distinguish between THINGS and ACTIONS, we can say that things are neutral whereas actions are not. So from your list above, anger is not neutral because it is either righteous or not – anger is a feeling and more, a thought, and as such, is mental action even if we do not act out on the anger (as Jesus condemned lust even if we don’t act on it). Same for desire or violence – they are actions, not things. The whip is an artifact and indeed neutral – it can be used both ways, but its use is never neutral. So I think you have carried this argument too far.

    In the music discussion, we keep running against the idea that music is action, not a thing. This is why I posted my distinction of these issues graphically in an earlier thread. Once we realize that music (as sheet music or recordings) is an artifact, it can be compared to other artifacts as being neutral. Yet, it does not remain so for very long: as soon as there is an action involved (and that includes the simple act of listening to music), we are back to the moral realm. I admit this sounds a bit artificial since music hardly exists if it is not heard but I am convinced that this distinction would be really useful in this discussion.

    Reading Mat’s post above I sympathize a lot with what he says. Yet, his argument against rock music is not so much directed against the music itself but what it represents, its associations, and what the artists want to express and what their worldviews are. The music here is a vehicle that represents these aspects of rock culture as a whole but that’s is only part of the picture. As he wrote, rock was taylor-made to express the values of rock culture. His dad, then, seems right when he points out that he would not expect this style to be used in Christian worship – which is a specific application of rock that must be judged as any other application/use of it.

    The thought that styles express (or are most compatible with) specific worldviews was made repeatedly in this discussion, including by me. Maybe we can go on in that direction: if a style was created to express a non-Christian worldview and we want to use it to express biblical messaging (a specific use different from worship and I’d also like to stay away from evangelism in order to closest represent what Shai is trying to do with his music), then should we
    a) reject the style altogether because it represents a non-Christian worldview
    b) trust that changing the lyrics and not living the same lifestyle is enough to link it to biblical messaging,
    c) create a sub-style that differs from the mainstream of that style but sounds different (in what way – which changes are necessary – how much is enough?) so this sub-genre is then compatible with biblical messaging.

    Mackman, you already posted a few songs and commented they were at least partly achieving the expression of truth – yet, that is not the same as reinforcing biblical messaging, such as a psalm, for example.

    So shall we keep it really precise and answer the challenge (to everyone following this thread) whether rap could represent the intent and meaning of Psalm 137 well, and how? I would say that the lyrics will unlikely remain exactly as in any Bible translation, and that’s fine. Feel free to suggest something better – or ignore my suggestion altogether :-(

  55. Martin,

    The Bible does not support your claim that things are neutral but actions are not. Deuteronomy 9:21 says that the golden calf that Aaron made was a sinful thing. When God judged Egypt with the plagues, He did not just judge the Egyptians because they were sinful; He also judged Egypt’s idols. In the conquest of Canaan, God demanded that the Israelites destroy not just the wicked people but also their wicked objects of worship.

    When people produce pictures of totally unclothed children in sexually provocative poses, it is not just their action that is sinful. The photograph that they produce is also inherently sinful.

  56. By “neutral,” I mean that there is nothing about “Worship” in and of itself that makes it ALWAYS wrong or ALWAYS right. Of course, every SPECIFIC instance of worship will be sinful or righteous, depending entirely on the context that action takes place in. But the concept of worship is morally neutral.

    Using your terminology, I’m considering it as both a “thing” and an “action”: The “thing” of worship is neutral, but the “action” of worship is right or wrong depending on context.

    Does that make sense? That’s how I’m using “neutral,” at least.

    Now, concerning your “can we use something that was created for a specific purpose by a specifically evil culture: Here’s an argument that I used on another blog, that seemed to be helpful. Here it goes:

    Let’s do a hypothetical Stone Age. A violent people invent a tool that allows them to sharpen rocks into flint knives. This has never happened before, and soon they’re cranking out knives by the dozen. That’s all they’ve used that tool for, so in their minds, it is ONLY a tool for creating weapons. They use it to kill and maim people, and they talk about how great it is that they’ve discovered this awesome knife-making tool, a tool that, as far as they know, is only for making knives.

    There’s also a pacifistic people. They hear about this new tool, and they abhor it as an instrument of violence. However, someone soon discovers that the tool, which had previously been known only as an instrument of violence, can also be used to sharpen hoes, shovels, and other farming implements.

    The tool, which came out of a culture of violence, that had previously only known one use–an evil use of violence and death–was actually revealed to be a lot less specific. Instead of a tool for making knives, it was merely a tool for sharpening. It could be used for good or ill, to make weapons or plows.

    I think that rock most certainly was created to express emotions in a way different from other musical styles. But I also think that Christianity can use that emotion to reinforce biblical messaging.

    Working on the second half of your post: The “challenge.” I think it might be easier to choose a song that already exists and explain how it uses the musical genre to reinforce the message that it proclaims, rather than explain how a hypothetical song might do so for a particular passage (I am no rapper, and I really doubt there are any rappers reading this comment thread right now).

    Working on an example: Keep an eye out.

  57. Quick clarification: When I say “the “thing” of worship is neutral,” I mean the hypothetical, theoretical “thing” of worship, not worship linked to any particular ACT. Make sense?

  58. Martin,

    I am all for precision in our discussions. That requires clarification so we do not talk past each other and speak against things that someone is not saying. Thank you for your appeal to such precision. I wish I had the time to work through the lengthy posts above, but alas I am removing my pastor “hat” of ministry to don a different form of ministry for a few hours and it is already late; I need to be quick…so let me say again, thank you for the commitment to precision!


    I sympathize with your golden calf illustration, but I see some possibly issues too. So let me ask…does the result of the incident with the golden calf forever label all calves made from gold to be sinful or are you simply saying that this is proof that “things” can be sinful? If you would to assert the former, I think I would have to disagree. If you would assert the latter, I see potential warrant in the passage; but what made the thing (golden calf) sinful? The process by which things become sinful (if that is possible) or labeled “sin” (for who can argue that that is what it is being labeled) is important to our conversation regarding music.

    Others (who disagree with Rejesh’s view of Dueteronomy 9 21),

    I understand that some may assert that this might be better translated “object of sin” (although no English translations I have checked do that — on the other hand Gill says the following: “Which was the object of their sin, which lay in making and worshiping it; see Isa 31:7” [John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, n.d., Dt 9:21.]). Even if that is the best way to view this passage, could you help us see how this passage/event helps in dealing with the issue of objects that are used for sinful practices. If they do not become evil, what other mechanism should we understand to have happened that could cause such a drastic reaction as is recorded in Exodus 32:19-20? Was Moses wrong to react in such a way? If he was right, what should our sentiments be towards those “things” that are used for evil? Maybe a more precise way to ask would be, why couldn’t the golden calf be “redeemed” and used actual worship of Jehovah?

    Please know that I am not trying not to give too much ground to either side. In trying to understand each side’s approach to this passage, I want to know how this passage applies to our situation…to be sure I believe it does apply in some way. I do lean toward a certain perspective on whether it should be used to demonstrate the possibility of things being evil, but I think it may be more profitable to see how we ought to react to them either way.

    For His glory,
    Christian Markle

  59. In response to Martin’s Challenge: I welcome any and all comments that engage this:

    Take “Wilderness,” by the OC Supertones. ( with lyrics)

    This song addresses the biblical theme of doubt, of the wilderness, of questioning God when enduring hardships.

    We see this theme explored most thoroughly in Job, where the most righteous of fallen man is put through the wringer.

    He remains strong at first, insisting that “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But as time goes by, and the situation grows worse, we begin to see cracks. He NEVER sinks to his wife’s proposed plan of action: he never curses God.

    But he most definitely questions God. He hurls complaints at the Creator of the universe, saying that God has hedged him in (Job 3:23). The arrows of the Almighty are in him, poisoning his spirit (6:4). He questions whether God understands what it is like to be frail and weak, whether God remembers how fragile he created humanity to be (10:8-10). He questions why the wicked prosper (21:7).

    He questions God, because he is hurt, and in his pain he does not understand. I think that’s something that resonates with everyone who has experienced tragedy in their lives or in the lives of others. We see it in the Psalms as well. We do not understand, and sometimes that leads to questioning God.

    So we open with “Wilderness.” Although it opens a little rambunctiously, possibly chaotically (which serves the overall purpose of the song), it quickly subsides into a much gentler tone as the singer begins.

    “The rain falls on the righteous and the wicked/ And mine is not to reason why this is./
    In this I rest, in this I find my refuge/ That my thoughts and ways are not His.”

    In this, the singer speaks from a Christian perspective. He acknowledges what God proclaims to Job, and what Isaiah makes explicit: “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55:8-9).

    The singer’s tone accurately supports this sense of hope, of acquiescence to the higher ways of God and the assurance that God’s ways are best. This is the right answer, the answer that is legitimately correct. We can assume that Job, too, knew this answer…although it could not comfort him forever.

    The singer continues, and the music moves up a notch in intensity.
    “I spend my life on looking up the answers/ It’s rare that I can’t find a reason why/
    But reasons fail in children without mothers/ His plan is more than I can know.”

    This stanza acknowledges that we can *know* that God is higher than us, that we can *know* that he has a higher plan…but it also acknowledges that it can be very hard to feel it, to transfer that cerebral knowledge into something that actually impacts how we live. The singer’s tone takes a definite shift here, taking on some of the pain that such an admission brings. Why are their children without mothers? Why is God’s plan so hard to understand?

    The music moves up another notch in intensity as we enter the chorus. The guitars give a hard edge to the music, which emphasizes the straightforward tone of the lyrics: This is a question that demands an answer.

    “Have you ever held in doubt/ What this life is all about?
    Have you questioned all these things that seem important to us?
    Do you really wanna know /Or are you a little scared?
    You’re afraid that God is not exactly what you’d have Him be.”

    The tone of the voice shifts towards the end, indicating that the singer, too, shares in this question. This is confirmed in the rest of the chorus:

    “And what should I hold to and what should I do /How do I know if anything’s true?
    I’m somewhere in-between Canaan and Egypt/A place called ‘The Wilderness’”

    The singer, like Job and so many others, questions what it means to be a human, to be a servant of God, when you just can’t answer all the questions bubbling up in your hurting heart. And with the last two lines, it brings us to another biblical theme: That of the Wilderness. The singer references Israel, saying his own life feels like Israel traversing the hard and difficult wilderness in search of the Promised Land. Here the anguish is evident in his voice: The wilderness is not a pleasant place to be.

    Moving on to the next verse:

    “I’m not one who always trusts their feelings/I don’t believe in what you’d call blind faith
    But faith that you can do all that you promised/And you said it all works for good.”

    Feelings can deceive, and blind faith isn’t what Christianity advocates. This is why the singer quickly turns it around with the adversarial “But,” saying that it is NOT blind faith to believe that God CAN do all that he promised, to work all things for good.

    “It’s safe to say I don’t see the big picture/ I can’t see the forest for the trees
    And if five hundred lives were mine to get to know you/ All could be spent on just this…”

    He doesn’t see the Big Picture: None of us do, really. That’s why God asks Job if he was there at the beginning of the universe, if he were there when God laid the foundations of the earth. We all lack the divine perspective that is necessary to make sense of the chaos on earth. And as for the “this”, I believe that comes after the chorus.

    The chorus returns, carrying the same emotions that it did before. But then comes something unexpected.

    “And God, do You really understand what it’s like to be a man?
    Have You ever felt the weight of loving all the things You hate?
    Have You struggled? Have You worried?
    How can You sympathize?”

    I believe that these questions lie behind many of Job’s complaints, his constant comparisons between God’s majesty and Job’s fragility. In any case, this most certainly is a question that many Christians can struggle with (in fact, it was so important to the audience of Hebrews that the author felt the need to spell it out explicitly!). It can feel at times (as it certainly did to Job), that God is remote, uncaring for the troubles of fragile humanity.

    And then, following some of the most intense music yet, it suddenly goes quiet, and the singer speaks almost in a whisper.

    “I have spoken much too soon/ Put my hand over my mouth/I can’t contend with you.
    Your ways are so much higher/ We pass through fire/ That Christ endured before us/When you were in the Wilderness.”

    He uses the same words as Job at first (Job 40:4-5), but then it goes further. The ultimate answer to Job’s complaint—and the ultimate answer to all our complaints—is that God is NOT remote and uncaring. Whatever we endure, Christ has endured 10 times over. God is not JUST high and almighty, enthroned above the earth (although he is that, always). He was (and is) also a man, and he understands our suffering.

    That went a little long, but I hope you get what I was trying to get across. This song combines many explicitly biblical themes, especially Old Testament themes, and brings them to their conclusion in the Incarnation and suffering of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father.

    Could those themes be reinforced by other styles of music? Sure. But are they reinforced by THIS song? Undoubtedly.


  60. Christian,

    Deuteronomy 9:21 is explicit biblical proof that “things” can be inherently sinful. Anytime a human being forms a material representation of God, he knowingly sins (Rom. 1:21-23), and the object that he creates is an inherently sinful entity.

    The calf did not become sinful only when they bowed down to it; it was already a sinful object made in sinful violation of God’s command. Everything about the production and use of the calf was sinful: those who made it sinned; their actions were sinful; the product of their actions was sinful; what they proclaimed about the product was sinful; and what they did with the product was sinful.

    Any statement that a “thing” cannot be sinful is unbiblical. Every idol ever made by a human being has been (and is) an inherently sinful object.

    Moses was not wrong to do what he did with the calf. God was prepared to annihilate all the people for their wickedness at this time, including even Aaron. Moses knew God in a personal way that no other person in his day ever did. From his special knowledge of the mind and will of God, Moses carried out what God later directly commanded (through Moses) all His people to do with all such sinful objects: obliterate them (Deut. 7:5, 25; 12:3).

    Godly kings David (2 Sam. 5:21), Josiah (2 Chron. 34:4, 7), and Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4) obeyed God in doing so. Jehu also did so (2 Kings 10:26-27).

    Your quote from Gill says, “their sin, which lay in making and worshiping it” (bold added to original). Gill recognizes that making the calf was also sinning.

    God is the One who makes the rules, and we are obligated to obey Him. He has never allowed the “redemption” of any idolatrous objects that man has made. We can waste a lot of time uselessly speculating why the calf could not be redeemed; the bottom line is God demanded that it be destroyed.

  61. Christian, the major difference between redeeming music and redeeming the calf for worship use is that we have clear scripture preventing the use of any such idols in the worship of God. Note, however, that that did not preclude the making of any images (e.g. cherubim) for use in the temple for non-worship purposes.

    What about the bronze snake that Moses was commanded to make and that the people were to look upon? Later in Israel’s history, it became a problem because people were misusing it so it was destroyed. It wasn’t destroyed because the object itself was evil, however.

    I can’t see how there would have been any good (non-worship) use of the golden calf at that time, given the false worship the people had left behind in Egypt. However, just as an object, I can’t see how it could be evil where the snake and the cherub were not. None of them were to be worshiped, though.

  62. Thanks David. I won’t reply to this again here, given I already engaged with Rajesh’s ideas: (my comment at the end)

    I’ll offer Rom 6:13 as a verse contradicting what Rajesh sees in Deu 9:
    “and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

    I can’t see any other way than understanding members of my body as THINGS. Here we can see they are neither sinful (though used for sinning, sadly even after we are saved) nor good (in a moral sense) – it depends on how we use them. This seems to logically apply to all things.

  63. Martin,

    I see a very important flaw in your logic in using Romans 6:13 to controvert Deuteronomy 9:21. God created our human bodies and all their members as inherently good. In fact, Psalm 139:14 shows that our bodies are the greatest divine masterpiece in His material creation.

    God did not create the golden calf; sinful men with sinful intent took a good substance and formed it into an entity that was inherently sinful. Romans 6:13 does not contradict what Deuteronomy 9:21 shows about the calf because God made the one and sinful men made the other.

  64. Mackman, on the Beautiful Eulogy song: after hearing the Shai song that Jonathan posted I must say this one does not jive as well. I find he is speaking as if he were a soldier, like some sergeant who is giving a speech to a group of soldiers who he wants to drill into realizing what their duty is and what is expecting them. That may be appropriate in some instances but I don’t think this is such a case. Sorry, just what I thought…

  65. Mackman, did you not post ‘Wilderness’ before? I remember listening to it.
    First, as far as I understand this is a rock song, not rap or hip-hop, so it’s taking us a little off track but maybe not off topic.

    No critique on the lyrics – I agree with what you say and find it a good attempt at processing Job. It somehow resolves as well, which is nice. Artists can leave things open to reflect the lostness we can feel as Christians in the face of trials but I’m more at ease with the Psalm 22 type of poetry where a question is raised but also answered in a positive way, bringing us back onto a firm foundation. In this case, they try less to answer the challenge than to find solace in the fact that Jesus went through the same temptations as we all do. And this will sometimes be what we must be content with, unless we can find a direct answer.

    Yet, the genre is way too unruly for me to represent these lyrics (the rock music provokes an image of the lead singer jumping up and down on the stage in my mind that is simply inappropriate in this context). Artistically, the music does not reinforce the lyrics in this case but trivializes them somewhat (though not completely) because of the style that shapes the lyrics into a shape that sounds a bit boyish, playful, and creates more of a party atmosphere than an ambiance of contemplation more suitable to the theme. So I would say it takes away from what the lyrics COULD provoke if this were done better by the artist – and I think it would require another genre (hymns always work well with this stuff but maybe there are others).

    Which leaves us with two opinions, of course! And I don’t have the musicology to show any of this in more detail. Yet I guess it’s out there somewhere? Seems we might all be musicologists by the end of this discussion :-)

  66. Martin,

    I’m starting to think that to someone who doesn’t listen to rock (or rap), all rock (or rap) does indeed sound the same. Which brings us to the question:

    Group A is made up of people familiar with the genre. To them, Hypothetical Rock/Rap Song (known henceforward as HRRS) speaks to an issue with an appropriate sense of gravity. They fully recognize the importance of treating the issue with respect, and they feel that HRRS does that. As a result, the song legitimately moves them to worship with both their spirits and minds, with appropriate reverence and awe.

    Group B is made up of people unfamiliar with the genre. To them, HRRS lacks all dignity and propriety, and they feel it does a disservice to the message contained in the lyrics.

    Who’s right?

    I think you have to give it to Group A (as long as they understand the issues and can argue their case). And this doesn’t mean that Beauty in song is ultimately subjective…but it does mean that it’s CULTURALLY subjective.

    Someone who doesn’t speak Russian will wonder why Russians are so angry all the time…just because he’s wrong about that doesn’t mean that Beauty and respect in language isn’t ultimately objective. But it is CULTURALLY subjective.

    I think we have to give it to the people who are familiar with it. After all, when young people say that hymns are boring, don’t we tell them (and rightly so) that they need to learn to appreciate them? By what right do we say that, if not because, through familiarity, we have discovered the beauty of hymns?

    With regard to WIlderness in particular: Everything about the music reinforces my interpretation of the lyrics. The rising intensity, the challenging guitar, the brazen trumpets…it all fits together to ask the question, to demand an answer, and to reveal the true complaint for what it is: How dare God remain safe on his throne, and expect us to follow his impossible commands?

    It all works together. And at the end of the challenges and the defiance, there is only a hesitant whisper and an admission of guilt.

  67. Mackman and Martin,

    Your analysis that puts people into two groups does not account for many people like me, who have listened to rock for years, loved it, know a lot about it experientially, and think that it is entirely inappropriate for Christians. We believe that we do not need to hear any more rock music because we have heard “tons” of it. We have heard CCM and know that putting Christian words to the same music does not sanctify the rock music in any way. Even lost people who know rock well have heard CCM and say that the combination is inappropriate.

    Your assertions simply do not properly account for many dedicated believers who reject rock music based on Scripture, their own prior experience with both secular rock and CCM, and the testimonies of many other believers and also of lost people.

  68. Rajesh,

    I haven’t seen you use ANY scripture to show that rock or rap is wrong. All you’ve shown to attack the music has been Titus 1:10-13, which is laughable. Paul started with biblical reasoning and arguments, and THEN he made a cultural reference, NOT an appeal to authority: You’ll notice that his argument is just as strong without that reference.

    Your group, however, STARTS by appealing to secular authorities and then ASSUMES that the music is evil, based on their testimony alone. You guys just have a list that you trot out, and then you sit back and give yourselves a high five. “All rock music is sinful because these guys said so, and the Bible said we should trust everything they say about this subject! Good job, everybody!”

    Which is really, REALLY odd. Because secular authorities also say that the Church is bigoted for not allowing same-sex couples to marry. Secular authorities also say that the Church is stupid for relying on the Bible. What in the world could your justification possibly be for rejecting the other assertions out-of-hand, but accepting the one assertion (the one assertion that you happen to agree with) wholesale and without question?

    Could it be that you don’t really have any other arguments? Could it be that once that argument is taken away, you’re reduced to throwing random sins at the music and hoping that it sticks?

  69. Rajesh, but ALL you wrote is based on experience. The aim of our discussion is to go BEYOND experience to more objective criteria. Experience is something we should not ignore but it can’t be the basis of our argument since it has a strong subjective element.

    Mackman, good points. We’re all culturally subjective. Yet, isn’t the aim exactly to transcend that and seek objectivity? Surely it’s difficult NOT to be familiar with rock music. Unlike you live in a monastery, you grow up with it. It’s at the mall, on TV, and pretty much everywhere. So at least talking about soft rock, I think a large majority of people have become familiarized with it, and listening to it often, you eventually grow to like it (as for WIlderness, I think it’s actually a pretty good rock song as far as the music is concerned – just I find it’s bad art as it does not combine with the lyrics). We just watched a documentary about the ‘teenage brain’ and it’s amazing how significant it is what one does during adolescence. I’m not an expert in this field but knowing you can get addicted to cigarettes for life during that period, I would not be surprised if you also get wired to develop certain likes and dislikes that pretty much stay for your entire life unless you make a conscious decision at some point.

    Agreed, you can appreciate art forms better if you know more about them. And I think we don’t need to be exposed to pop culture since it’s already ubiquitous, but to learn to appreciate so-called ‘high culture’ or even jazz or whatever else does not fill the air constantly, we need to purposely expose ourselves (or our children, for that matter) to create an appreciation for those art forms. The idea has always been to educate people to appreciate the most valuable things – which, in turn, presupposes that we can make judgments as to what these actually are. Lots of discussion around the value of pop culture, I know, but to say all art is created equal is, as far as I can see, groundless.

    So, is there a way to get beyond subjectiveness in this discussion?

  70. Here’s the thing: I don’t think that having it at the edge of one’s hearing is the same as actually listening to it, is it? Is having one type of music wash over your ears as a nuisance to be avoided really the same as listening to it to find its merits?

    I don’t think it is. And I don’t think that making the issue primarily one of musical taste means that all Beauty is subjective.

    If there can Beauty in the Whirlwind and Beauty in the quiet whisper, Beauty in the pillar of fire and Beauty in the glory of God that filled the temple, can there not be Beauty in different kinds of music? Those differ from each other FAR more than rock does from hymns: Are we to debate which of those is more beautiful?

    Can the Beauty of God not be illustrated by rock? Can the Whirlwind not be voiced by the guitar, and can the joy of creation not be heralded by the trumpets of ska?

    Must everyone listen to Bach, and only Bach? What if there’s another composer more beautiful still? Would we then be at fault for listening to Bach when we could be listening to something better? Must the music of all tribes and peoples bow down before the “superior” Beauty of the music of the West?

    I don’t think that’s what you’re saying, but I think that’s where your line of reasoning leads.

    I will grant you that it’s entirely possible–even probable–that I like it in part because I was exposed to it young (in fact, I’ve written about my history with Christian music here:

    The question is, is that a problem?

  71. We should keep beauty out of the discussion. It seems rather important when we talk about corporate worship and music created to reflect God’s Beauty but if we keep it more general then the question is not what is beautiful music but which style and then, which specific arrangement for a composition, expresses best what the lyrics are intended to convey? The answer to that is not always the most beautiful-sounding music, although it may be the answer in many cases. But beware of sentimentality, prettiness instead of beauty, clichés, etc.

    I believe the furthest RA have gotten so far in terms of discussing objective criteria (though even that discussion was not as exhaustive as it would need to be) is this series of posts by David DeBruyn:
    (I left out the into and conclusions but they’re easy to find with the side bars)

    In my view, this is where we need to go with this discussion, but further.

  72. Martin,

    I don’t think we do need to go there, merely because it’s obvious that rock expresses liveliness and energy in a way different from any other music. And if we acknowledge that it is theoretical possible for the the truth of God to be appropriately conveyed through the music of rock, then all that’s left for us to do is get out of the way and exhort the best of Christian Music artists to make their music better and better…not look at their efforts and say, “Eh. It would have been better as a hymn.”

    This discussion will not lead us to objectivity, because it will STILL always boil down to “it’s too loud, it’s too boyish, it’s too rambunctious, it’s too immature, why can’t it all be hymns?” But surely it’s absurd to say that God can only be accurately expressed through hymns?

    When we listen to the same song, we hear DRAMATICALLY different things.When I listen to Wilderness, I can’t NOT hear what I describe. It is part of the song.

    I honestly think that your desire for absolutes and objective criteria might be blinding you to the beauty and truth of styles of music not your own.

    We might be done, because I don’t know if we can move past this. I’ll just leave this explanation of my difficulty in explaining myself:

    “It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up.

    Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, “Why do you prefer civilisation to savagery?” he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, “Why, there is that bookcase … and the coals in the coal-scuttle … and pianos … and policemen.” The whole case for civilisation is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.”

    -Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

    Christian rock and hip-hop has done so much in my life. It has so many awesome things going for it. It expresses truth and beauty in a way that can’t be done by any other style of music. Everything that I see proves it to me. The fact that you do not see it bewilders me.

    No, it’s not subjective. I think you are wrong, just as I am wrong in not liking vegetables. And I don’t think all of the discussion in the world will change that.

  73. Martin & Mackman,

    Just my two cents in your otherwise interesting discussion.

    I think something has received very little attention in this debate, and it is that sometimes we are conditioned to associate certain sounds with certain topics and/or actions. And that conditioning is totally and completely subjective.

    I am talking of the same conditioning that happens when someone trains a dog to associate a whistle sound with a particular action. There is absolutely nothing objective in that — it is all subjective to that dog. A pretty whistle sound could mean “byte the neck of the person in front of you and don’t let go” so the sound need not correspond to the action — the dog could be conditioned to associate pretty sounds with death. Completely subjective.

    We associate police sirens with… police. Why? Is there something objective about sirens that have to tie them with police? Not really, except they are usually heard in a very loud volume, which tends to make them obnoxious and attract attention (which is their purpose — I am in no way criticizing police). But someone that has never heard them could perhaps think of them as part of a song — maybe even a pretty song, because he has not been conditioned to associate them with police and with being loud and obnoxious (for me it would make no sense, but I’ve been conditioned). The examples could be easily multiplied: school bells, church bells, traditional watch alarms, traditional marriage piano, etc.

    If my background includes always listening to music X when I am sinning then it is very likely I am going to associate X with sin. It doesn’t matter what that music is. This is normal and should be expected. It doesn’t seem to me this has played a part in this overall discussion between Scott and Shai, or perhaps not as much as I think it should.

  74. For the record, I am not advocating with my last comment that there is no objectivity in beauty, etc.

    All I am saying, in summary, is that there is a very real subjectivity, sometimes unknown to us, that makes it very hard to get to that objectivity. And since we don’t have explicit chapter and verse to define that objectivity (e.g., how it should sound like), I don’t know how far one can go in this direction.

  75. Nick, there is more to it, though. For example, your siren example is of course learned association but it’s not as subjective or arbitrary as you make it out to be. Just imagine: if police sirens were playing (even if loudly) a lullaby melody, we would find that absolutely ridiculous and it would be correctly identified as unfit for the role and authority the policy have.

    Before you now say that lullabies are also conditioned, I would submit that no mother would sing ‘Highway to Hell’ to her kiddo to lull them into sleep – this is not conditioned; it simply won’t work very well! So lullabies all sound sweet and nice BECAUSE this works best to help babies fall asleep. Likewise, the sirens sound obnoxious because they WANT to sound obnoxious, disturbing, and different from any background noise so you can hear them coming and get out of the way.

    There are musical laws and principles at play here, not just culturally conditioned association, even if the latter also comes in somehow. Certainly, police sirens could sound different than they do but an appropriate sound will always sound obnoxious to signal alarm.

    Even IF something is understood one way within a given culture, then this consensus does not change the fact that these associations exist. Those foreign to that culture will likely quickly pick up on such meanings as well. So at the end of the day it does not even matter if we are culturally conditioned or if it’s a culturally-transcending, universal effect or meaning that is common to all humans – whenever there is a shared understanding of what certain styles of music convey in terms of how they are shaping lyrics, we need to deal with that somehow in compositions and make judgments as to whether their use is appropriate. There really is no way of getting out of this dilemma.

  76. Martin,

    Have you ever inspected some of the lullabies lyrics? I mean, talk about conditioning! How can we take something like lyrics, which do have objective meaning, and condition them as well? See . Take rock-a-bye baby. It talks about a baby falling with his cradle from a tree, and even the cradle breaking. The baby presumably gets hurt or dies! I don’t know about you, but I call that conditioning par excellence. In no other form of song I know of can we get away with lyrics that are so in-congruent to their purpose and musical context. Yet, we are totally and completely conditioned to sing those, without giving them a second thought.

    If that can happen with lyrics, how much more with music?

    Yes, there is group conditioning within a culture. But I think you underestimate the number of subcultures there could be in a place, particularly in a place like the USA. I know you hail from Canada. I am a hispanic, and even I sometimes wonder if I am in another country when I visit Miami (which has a huge population of Cubans). I recently heard Voddie Bauchman preach, and he said when he goes to Europe everyone looks like a European, and same in Japan, etc. But the US? How does an American look like in 2013?

    Finally, if there is cultural conditioning, it doesn’t mean one cannot understand the associations in another culture. Yes, of course one can.

    What it means is that I don’t necessarily make those associations my own. I will of course, not try to offend others with it. But in your example of a foreigner coming from another culture and recognizing the conditioning in this culture, that person will likely be even more aware of its subjectivity and will just be careful to not offend those who have not been raised like him. That doesn’t mean that person will stop liking some aspects of his own culture (as long as he sees them as agreeing with the Word of God).

    At least that has been my experience as a foreigner.

    God bless,


  77. Te entiendo – still, all Americans will understand the symbolics of the police siren, whatever culture they may come from. On the lullaby, there is worse than the example you gave but we’re switching from music to lyrics now. Agree, this may be a good example of incongruence between music and lyrics but in that case, the baby is unlikely to understand the lyrics and will not get upset :-) It’s all about mom singing, not actually about what lyrics mom’s using, so this is maybe not the best example.

    The fact that we can tell the lullaby lyrics are inappropriate just tells me there are rules for these judgments which are universal. Otherwise we could not even tell if something is culturally conditioned or not! (well, it would follow that everything is conditioned but that’s certainly not the case)

    As I argued in an earlier post, I don’t quite believe that a changing of meaning in a sub-culture means something loses its original meaning in the overall culture. Sub-cultures often purposely attribute new meanings to things just to oppose mainstream culture and values. And surely there will be differences between ethnic groups in the US but how large are those, and how long does it take until they are weakened as everyone is being assimilated into American culture? At the end, ethnic differences may fade whereas we replace that with sub-cultures that a purposely chosen and artificially create their own meanings and associations. But if that’s artificial then there must also be a larger context to these things which is universal! Back to conditioning, i.e. we can be conditioned to understand things in a certain way despite the fact that there is a more objective and universal understanding which we simply oppose but don’t actually annul or eliminate by joining a sub-culture. Not sure if that’s clear but otherwise I’ll have to write an entire essay…

  78. Mackman and Martin,

    My most recent comment prior to this one was made only because Mackman asserted that there were two groups, and I did not fit into either one. As an unbeliever, I eagerly listened to rock music for years and not just incidentally while I happened to be in a store, etc. Now as a Christian, I reject it categorically because I believe that it does not honor God for me to listen to it or use it.

    So far, I have only been commenting to refute assertions that many others have made along the lines that music without words could not be inherently evil and that a whole genre of human “artistic” endeavor could not be evil. I have not presented a Scriptural case against rock because there isn’t one; that was not my purpose to date.

    I reject rock music for many biblical reasons. For any who are interested, here is one of my foundational arguments: Scripture nowhere mentions “rap” or “rock music” by name, so obviously we have to use what Scripture does reveal about music and what it teaches about many other subjects to form our views about whether these genres of music please Him or not. To that end, I have studied every passage in Scripture pertaining to music at some length in the past two or so years.

    Based on my study, I believe the Psalmists would categorically reject CCM:

  79. Oh, the tired “It came from ungodly people so it can’t be good” argument.

    Did you know that the harp came from the descendants of Cain, not of Abel? (Genesis 4:21). Oh noes! Don’t tell me that David’s favorite instrument came from heathens!

    Thought Experiment: Posted this earlier, but you must have missed it.

    Let’s do a hypothetical Stone Age. A violent people invent a tool that allows them to sharpen rocks into flint knives. This has never happened before, and soon they’re cranking out knives by the dozen. That’s all they’ve used that tool for, so in their minds, it is ONLY a tool for creating weapons. They use it to kill and maim people, and they talk about how great it is that they’ve discovered this awesome knife-making tool, a tool that, as far as they know, is only for making knives.

    There’s also a pacifistic people. They hear about this new tool, and they abhor it as an instrument of violence. After all, that’s all they’ve ever known it as, and that’s all they hear about it. However, someone soon discovers that the tool, which had previously been known only as an instrument of violence, can also be used to sharpen hoes, shovels, and other farming implements.

    The tool, which came out of a culture of violence, that had previously only known one use–an evil use of violence and death–was actually revealed to be a lot less specific. Instead of a tool for making knives, it was merely a tool for sharpening. It could be used for good or ill, to make weapons or plows.

    Please: Stop using that awful, awful argument from origins. It holds literally no weight, not even a little bit.

  80. It sure would be nice if you could discuss this subject without being so ungracious.

    Of course, I know what Gen. 4:21 says; so what? An instrument is different from a musical style.

    I saw your thought experiment earlier and decided it was not worth engaging at that time. As I have time, I’ll respond later to it; perhaps, after I come back from church tonight.

    You merely assert that the argument is awful. You do not interact with the biblical text at all to show why. Are you asserting that the inspired writer(s) of Psalms 1-2 were wrong about what they counsel concerning rejecting the counsel of the ungodly and learning their ways? Are you saying that God needs the ungodly to teach His people how to worship Him by copying what the ungodly are doing or by borrowing from the ungodly an essential feature of proper worship (musical style)?

    You need to prove biblically that the argument from origins is fallacious in this case. It is not legitimate for you to merely assert that it is.

  81. This is probably my last post responding to you.

    You’re still not making any arguments. Why in the world do you think “style of music” fits into “the counsel of the ungodly”? In using that method of argumentation, you’re little better than the people who come in here saying, “Guys, why do we need to talk? Wouldn’t this be easier if we all just recognized the inherent evil in rap? Kthxbai!!!” You’re bypassing literally the entire discussion, and then you’re pretending to have solved it.

    And with my example, I just did prove that your argument doesn’t work. Neutral things, things that can be used for good or ill, can come from evil people. They can even be created for specifically evil purposes, as with my example. But that means literally nothing at all when judging the inherent morality of the thing itself. Specific instances of it might be evil, but not the larger category. ‘

    The Golden Calves that Israel created, at various points in their history, were evil, but that doesn’t mean that all statues, or all images of calves, or even all images of calves made of gold, are evil.For that matter, I’m fairly certain that statues, in and of themselves, were originally created for the purposes of idolatry. But since the Bible records the Israelites making statues, you’re going to find some reason why that couldn’t possibly apply.

    If someone created the telephone so they could transmit sexually-explicit messages, would the telephone be off-limits? If the internet really was invented for pornography, would the internet be off-limits? Of course not.

    Your argument from origins is all you have going for you, and it would be utterly nonsensical when applied to literally anything else (like when you refuse to apply it to the harp just because).

  82. Since you have already communicated the likelihood that you will not respond to me, it seems best not to prolong this discussion with you any turther. May the Lord of peace direct you in all your ways to live a life pleasing to Him.

  83. Martin, like you I am struggling to keep my comments short. I am not going to comment on everything you wrote, but only on a few sentences that seem to bear commenting on.

    >> “And surely there will be differences between ethnic groups in the US but how large are those, and how long does it take until they are weakened as everyone is being assimilated into American culture?”

    I think your argument about assimilation is a bit off the mark when it comes to the cultural context of the USA, which allows more freedom than many other countries (for which I am grateful).

    For example, have you been paying attention to the storm caused by this panel on rap? My wife and I homeschool our children, and she tells me Geoff Botkin is a recognized figure in the homeschooling movement. Yet he was the one who called Reformed rappers “disobedient cowards”. Did he mean wrong? I don’t think he did. I can imagine where he is coming from, and given what he thinks rap means, he was probably concerned about the next generation. Do I agree with him? No.

    Thabiti Anyabwile, a recognized Black Reformed brother who writes on the TGC blog, said of the NFIC video “It’s a digital monument to the intractable idiocy and nearly invincible ignorance of folks almost entirely irrelevant”. Do I agree with such strong statements? No, I think Thabiti’s comments are as much out of line as Geoff’s, if not more so. Yet, I can see where is coming from. I thought I read somewhere that before his conversion he was a Black Muslim. If that’s the case, my understanding is that Black Muslims in the USA tend to be violently pro-black culture (Black Panthers type I think). Yet this brother was able to have a cordial conversation with Douglas Wilson and talk about Doug’s book “Black and Tan”, so it is not like he doesn’t try to reach out to those who are different from him.

    So, if I am going to judge my brothers charitably on both sides of this issue, I can only conclude the issue is profoundly cultural as much as anything else.

    Please note I am not advocating multiculturalism. Polygamy is wrong, period. But neither is the opposite extreme correct. It just depends whether Scriputure speaks to some cultural aspect or not.

    >> “At the end, ethnic differences may fade whereas we replace that with sub-cultures that a purposely chosen and artificially create their own meanings and associations. But if that’s artificial then there must also be a larger context to these things which is universal!”

    Sorry Martin, but this comment rubs me the wrong away — all the way through. Yet I think you did not mean to say the larger culture is always right. And if the larger culture is not always right, then who decides which music style is “artificial” in that case? Or are you saying music is right/wrong relative to “large” cultures but not “smaller” ones?

    BTW, the conservative Christian community in the USA (e.g., us that are homeschoolers), are a subculture that purposefully has chosen to go against the larger culture due to biblical convictions. Is that “artificial”?

    >> “The fact that we can tell the lullaby lyrics are inappropriate just tells me there are rules for these judgments which are universal.”

    Yes, I think there are some rules like that. Are they revealed in Scripture? Are they all equally self-evident? Or are they self-evident only in the most obvious of cases?

    Also, say we consider music genre X more appropriate than music genre Y for a certain subject, does that mean Y is “inappropriate”? Or is it just “less appropriate”?

    The larger context of this conversation has been about whether or not a music genre can be inherently evil. How does appropriateness relate to that?

    God bless,

  84. You’re right – I hardly can write short posts :-)
    On the last point, I am waiting for an answer as much as you are!

    There probably is a spectrum from appropriate all the way to inappropriate – bad art, mediocre art, good art, and great as well.

    I see that it’s difficult to explain what I mean about American (or Western?) and sub-cultures. No, I don’t mean majority rules. I was thinking of musical sub-cultures that purposely oppose the ‘mainstream’ and sometimes rebaptize what is generally (universally?) accepted as good or desirable. I guess I was stuck on the punk example I mentioned in an earlier comment on a different thread, such as adopting rats as pets whereas most people abhor rats. Or trash metal being purposely obnoxious while claiming they find it just beautiful to have a blast with their music. So whenever such a sub-culture tries to redefine meanings it seems to me they are not changing perceptions so much as to differentiate themselves from the rest (from the mainstream and other sub-cultures) but the ‘true’ or universal meanings are still intact, at least among the rest of society.

    Maybe this is not well worked out and still rudimentary but it revolves around the idea that there are universals that transcend whatever this or that culture may deem appropriate or inappropriate. Paul gives the example of head coverings in Corinthians as appropriate but also tells us to judge this for ourselves, so this both indicates some flexibility but also that there is a way to decide these things. Just wish Paul were still around to help us out sometimes :-)

    And for rap/hip-hop, I think we can clearly observe a transition from a black cultural form towards one that is a lot more mainstream and which develops a much wider cultural meaning and reach – which is happening in just about one generation (stereotypes notwithstanding).

  85. I have to say that I find it somewhat amusing, yet somewhat disheartening that those who demand specifics and argue about generalities don’t hold themselves to the same standards.

    Much has been made of the “origin” argument, referring back to the offspring of Cain as the originators of musical instruments. We’re presented with the line of reasoning that states, “Therefore, it seems fair to say that the flute, the harp, and even metal-working were all “born in crassness and rebellion.” The author of the argument forgets to include cattle-farmers in the mix.

    Unfortunately, the entire argument is specious because it’s all based on assumptions – e.g. “I don’t know what you in particular BELIEVE, but MOST PEOPLE name Cain’s descendants as FIRMLY evil, seeing as none of them survived the flood and were participating in the wickedness of the earth.

    1) Do we know that Lamech’s offspring were evil? What proof do we have of that? Genesis 4:26 goes on to say that it was around this time, at the time of birth of Seth’s son Enos, that men began to call on the name of the Lord. Which men? Could it be that one of them was Jubal? Or does that not fit the narrative?

    2) Why are exclusively focused on just Cain’s line as evil? The fact that they died in the flood in no way proves this – all of Adam’s descendants from all his sons died in the flood save one and his family.

    So, the argument that musical instruments were absolutely first forged and played by “heathens” dies an ignominious death. As should any argument built on assumptions held dear because they buttress our opinion.

  86. A further comment on the song, ” ” as posted above.

    Some of the lyrics to the song are theologically confusing to be generous. They are apparently from the perspective of the child of God. Yet, we have these lines:

    And Your making me new, it’s Your Spirit at work
    To convict me of sin so I know where to turn
    And I know where to run,
    Run to Your arms to be cleansed of my sin by the blood of your Son Hey
    I acknowledge my sin, I know I can’t kill it with a knife or a gun
    It must be crucified on the cross with Your Son
    Then I can know that it’s finished and done
    Then I can know that I’m truly forgiven and get to the business of living for you

    “Run…to be cleansed of my sin”?

    If I’m in Christ, that’s already done. Positionally, I’m justified. There’s no more cleansing of sin to occur. Why frame the words in such a way that indicates as if it still needed to happen? If I sin, confession needs to take place and forgiveness is granted based on that confession.

    “I acknowledge my sin, I know I can’t kill it with a knife or a gun
    It must be crucified on the cross with Your Son”?

    Really? First of all, the word-picture is just silly – “can’t kill it with a knife or a gun.” Sin is inanimate – why would we even go there? Furthermore, the way it’s worded makes it sound like sin hasn’t been dealt with yet. Replace “must be” with “was” and it makes sense.

  87. I think it’s also directed to people who are not Christians yet, or reminding young Christians of what they have. In any case, if we get into theological debates about content, we will veer off topic quite far. Let’s assume we are dealing with biblical messaging and then ask, does the rap talk or the music (if any) fit that or not?

  88. For anyone who might still be interested, here’s my refutation of the “thought experiment” presented to me earlier about how differing uses of the same sharpening tool by violent people and pacifistic people shows that an argument from origins is invalid:

    This “thought experiment” does not establish that the argument from origins against Christian rock is invalid.

  89. Agree, Martin. I don’t want the conversation to get sidetracked either. My concern is that if a song is going to be touted as a great example of something, I find it difficult to objectively analyze the entire piece if bottom line the lyrics are at best questionable. I’d ask the question, “Why even consider the music when the words present a confused theology?”

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