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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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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.