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Multiculturalism veiled as "Missional"

I thought I’d post a helpful discourse by Dave Doran in his journal article on “Market-Driven Ministry,” which answers well recent justification of a neutral view of culture and music by a claim to being “missional.” Doran describes the market-driven philosophy as one that is pragmatic in several crucial areas, one of which is their view of culture.

Stated simply, cultural relativism believes that because cultural matters have no absolute moral value, they cannot be considered to be normative. Since they are not normative, they may be treated with indifference. Few people, either secular or religious, doubt that cultural relativism has captured our day. Allan Bloom, a secular university professor laments that our educational system, because of its acceptance of cultural relativism, is driven to teach us the history of men’s prejudices “not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.”1

As reflected in [Rick] Warren’s argument about music, the vast array of cultural differences leads to the conclusion that it is impossible to assert the superiority of any culture—he calls it “cultural elitism.” Bloom speaks eloquently to this type of argument,

The fact that there have been different opinions about good and bad in different times and places in no way proves that none is superior to others.… On the face of it, the difference of opinion would seem to raise the question as to which is true or right than to banish it. The natural reaction is to try to resolve the difference, to examine the claims and reasons for each opinion.2

Whether intentional or not, the marketing movement practices a non-thinking, popular form of cultural relativism and multiculturalism. As James Davison Hunter points out, one of the first steps in multiculturalism is to redefine culture so that it no longer refers to norms and values which serve as the “shoulds” and “should nots” of our society. In the multicultural framework, “culture is essentially reduced to life-style (choices about how one lives) or, at best, customs (practices that have the sanction of tradition but are not insisted upon as inviolable) or possibly collective experiences.”3

These are precisely the descriptions of culture found in the marketing literature and conferences. In fact, Douglas Webster goes as far as to suggest that “the church marketer’s analysis of culture is so superficial that it is deceptive.”4

These ideas clearly form the basis of the quest for cultural relevance. Culture, in the marketing orientation, is merely a life-style factor, not an ethical or moral issue. That is why Murren can refer to their worship philosophy as striving to “be inclusive and intelligible to the baby boomer culture.”5 Working from this life-style premise, arguments are marshaled that cultural adaptation is an essential part of communicating the biblical message. For instance, Ed Dobson, defends the idea of a seeker sensitive service that utilizes “culturally relevant” forms by comparing it to the work of missionaries,

We understand this principle when we send missionaries to other countries. These missionaries seek first to learn the language and the culture of the places to which they go. Only then do they attempt to communicate the gospel.

We would never send an English-speaking missionary to a Spanish-speaking county [sic] to minister exclusively in English. That would be irrational, not to mention stupid.6

Ignoring the glaring flaws in the analogy,7 Dobson’s use of the term culture confirms the fact that it is being used to mean life-style or common experiences. He further confirms this by drawing a comparison between using basketball marathons to reach teenagers and the start of a seeker sensitive service. Again, the argument reveals that culture is viewed in terms of life-style, not as a value system.

It is not a long way from basketball to rock music, drama, and the good news about Jesus Christ. A seeker-sensitive service is an attempt to place the gospel in a culturally relevant context. The language of contemporary music, drama that engages, talks that are relevant, and answers that are honest make up the language of secular America. Just as the gospel was not compromised at a basketball marathon, neither is it compromised in a seeker-sensitive service.8

David Wells has written at great length to demonstrate that this very problem, assuming that culture is merely a matter of life-style versus a matter of moral significance, is causing great harm to the health of evangelicalism. The force of his arguments is compelling,

Evangelicals are antimodern only across a narrow front; I write from a position that is antimodern across the entire front. It is only where assumptions in culture directly and obviously contradict articles of faith that most evangelicals become aroused and rise up to battle “secular humanism”; aside from these specific matters, they tend to view culture as neutral and harmless. More than that, they often view culture as a partner amenable to being coopted in the cause of celebrating Christian truth. I cannot share such naiveté; indeed, I consider it dangerous. Culture is laden with values, many of which work to rearrange the substance of faith.… It is because many evangelicals believe in the innocence of modern culture and for that reason exploit it and are exploited by it that they are unable to believe in all of the truth that once characterized the Protestant orthodoxy.… The stream of historic orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now dammed by a worldliness that many fail to recognize as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself.… We now have less biblical fidelity, less interest in truth, less seriousness, less depth, and less capacity to speak the Word of God to our own generation in a way that offers an alternative to what it already thinks.9

The sting of these words is only exceeded by their perceptiveness. Yet, due to its fundamental principles, the marketing movement is bound to offer the consumer exactly what he or she wants. In some senses, its pragmatic use of cultural marries well to the mindset of the baby boomers, the most commonly chosen target for ministry. Douglas Webster describes the typical baby boomer as, “indoctrinated in this collegiate atmosphere, [they] feel comfortable with cultural relativism (everyone is entitled to his or her opinion) and satisfied with spiritual relationism (inspirational feelings about oneself, others and God).”10

This viewpoint cannot stand unchallenged by those who operate within a God-centered world view. Culture is not amoral. Myers speaks well to this issue,

As Christians, we insist that there are permanent standards for culture. Culture is the human effort to give structure to life. But human nature does not exist as a law unto itself. Human nature is, as part of God’s creation, a permanent standard. Men and women cannot act against their own nature without violating the standards God has established in their very being. Moreover, the rest of creation, in which culture is established and with which culture must contend, has a divinely established order. Cultural institutions, artifacts, and expressions that deny, suppress, or distort that order ought to be recognized as inferior to those that acknowledge, honor, and enjoy it.11

The most important question, however, cannot be answered by the marketing movement because it is one of truth, not pragmatics—Is the use of contemporary cultural forms consistent with the message of the gospel? or, Are those forms so value-laden that they distort the message? Pragmatism can only answer these questions based on the consequences that result from using them. The great danger is that these forms, because of their popularity in our culture, may actually yield positive results by the marketer’s standard—an increase in numbers. But this may be a short-term gain which turns to long-term losses. One writer warns of this problem,

Worship practices that only evoke good feelings and thereby foster a character that seeks instant gratification might be enormously successful at first, but the costs, though not immediately obvious, may be high. The very methods that attract crowds might also prevent the development of habits of reflection and learning. A focus on self and feelings limits the nurturing of a godly and outreaching character.12

The Movement Has Surrendered To Popular Culture

The willingness of the market-driven churches to adopt rock music as the primary tool by which they position their churches in order to be relevant clearly evidences the cultural surrender that results from pragmatic ministry.13 This choice is faulty for at least three reasons.

First, it disregards the plain fact that rock music cannot be separated from its cultural context and values. Even a cursory reading of secular and religious writings on the history of rock music and the philosophy which undergirds it reveals that rock music is a culture carrier, not merely a neutral form of cultural expression. For Rick Warren to flatly deny that there is any moral significance to music is either woefully naive or culpably negligent spiritual leadership.14 Some Christian analysts of this question acknowledge the significant role of culture in evaluating the use of rock music for ministry. Kenneth Myers calls shallow thinking on this issue into question when he writes,

In assessing rock ‘n’ roll, for example, it’s not enough to read the lyrics and find out on what beat of each measure the accent falls. We also need to consider what relationship rock has with other aspects of pop culture, what social role it plays for its fans, and how it compares with other musical options available to listeners. We need to look at the culture of rock, not just the words and music.15

Peter Wicke, a sociologist, writes, “Rock music is a mass medium through which cultural values and meanings circulate, through which social experiences are passed on which reach far beyond the material nature of the music.”16 Rock music not only springs from a particular cultural matrix, it helps establish it. The authors of Dancing in the Dark help us see this,

While neat dichotomies are dangerous, it is safe to say that for the most part rock and roll features feeling and experience more than thought and analysis; it cares more about identity and intimacy than knowledge and intellect; it celebrates the here and now, focusing on the experiential rather than the ideological…it appeals and functions primarily on broad emotional and attitudinal levels, as psycho-emotional map and mentor for many. In laying out such a generalized, affective map for great numbers of teens, it establishes for teen culture a supportive atmosphere, an ambiance with guidelines for acceptable expression and behavior, at least as far as other teens are concerned.… It is a self-contained world in which sensory experience and emotional involvement take precedence over verbal content and rational analysis.17

Contrary to the shallow viewpoint of the marketing advocates, rock music is far more than a life-style choice. It embodies and establishes a culture loaded with meaning and values, and the culture of rock music is antithetical, not neutral, to Christlike living. The fact that it can be embraced within the church for worship purposes is a tell-tale sign of contemporary evangelicalism’s inability to sense its own worldliness. At least Richard Quebedeaux recognized what was taking place,

Indeed, rock is inherently a form of music that made its way by outrage against taboo, and there are no taboos left. It is profoundly significant that evangelicals, even the more conservative among them have accepted the rock mode. The acceptance, obviously, indicates a further chapter in the death of self-denial and world rejection among them [emphasis added].18

Harold Best sums up well the curious combination of rock, worldliness, and pragmatism,

Our borrowing of rock is evidence of a loosening life-style among evangelicals. We can use anything we want to in witnessing now. That’s both a virtue and a vice. We’re in this whole pragmatic mishmash that says, If it works, it’s good. If it’ll bring souls to Jesus, it’s good. As far as I’m concerned it’s just pietized pragmatism.19

Second, and developing from the first, by adopting a stance of moral neutrality on music, the marketing movement ignores the destructive character of rock music. Allan Bloom, cited above for his warning against surrendering to cultural relativism, argues that all music is value-laden. His assessment of the character of rock music ought to jolt those who so quickly embrace it as a ministry vehicle,

This is the significance of rock music. I do not suggest that it has any high intellectual sources. But it has risen to its current heights in the education of the young on the ashes of classical music, and in an atmosphere in which there is no intellectual resistance to attempts to tap the rawest passions…rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire—not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored. It acknowledges the first emanations of children’s emerging sensuality and addresses them seriously, eliciting them and legitimating them…Rock gives children, on a silver platter, with all the public authority of the entertainment industry, everything their parents always used to tell them they had to wait for until they grew up and would understand later.20

Third, beyond the question of rock’s moral worth, the marketing movement fails to question if the musical character of rock music is compatible with the message of the gospel. Many are concluding that it is not. At the heart of this conclusion is the realization that the gospel is a message with content to be believed about a Person to be received. Rock music is inadequate for communicating the content of this message without distortion,

Perhaps the biggest limitation…is the failure to recognize that the primary mode of meaning and expression in rock is not “rational discourse.” Among the major artistic media for teens, rock in particular is a non-rational mode of communication, dealing with the sensory and the emotional, employing the figurative lyrics, musical mood, and symbolic gestures.21

Rather than surrendering to the culture for the pragmatic sake of church growth, “Christians can help society recognize the danger of its loss of reasoned discourse in the all-consuming ubiquity of entertainment. By offering worship that educates instead of entertains, that uplifts and transforms through the renewing of the mind (Rom 12:2), the Church can expose the meaninglessness of our present culture.”22 The gospel message, which is absolute and transcendent, is being tied to cultural forms which contradict it at the core, because they are forms built on the principles of relativism and immediacy.

Kenneth Myers joins this critical assessment of the marriage between popular culture and ministry,

It may have been easier for the Corinthians to eat meat offered to idols than it is for us to enjoy popular culture innocently. Idolatry is so obviously foreign to Christian values that it must be guarded against constantly. Even idolatrous ideas are not too difficult to identify and resist. But a sensibility, a consciousness, is much more evasive and subtle…while critical of some of its content, the church has a virtually uncritical attitude toward the form of popular culture. In fact, the church has adopted those forms without much resistance, in the alleged interest of promoting its message. But the message has thereby suffered, and so have its members.… Popular culture’s forms are not capable of sustaining the Christian conviction of a holy, judging God who demands repentance and promises the joy of obedience.23

Once more we see that the attempt of the marketing movement, due to its capitulation to man-centeredness, yields fruit which is scripturally unacceptable.

It seems to me that this recent appeal to being “missional” as a justification for viewing culture and music as neutral is nothing more than a regurgitation of market-driven multiculturalism.

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.

  1. The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), p 26. []
  2. Ibid., p. 39. []
  3. Before the Shooting Begins (New York: The Free Press, 1994), pp. 200-201. []
  4. Selling Jesus, p. 71. []
  5. The Baby Boomerang, p. 190. []
  6. Starting a Seeker Sensitive Service, p. 15. []
  7. There at least two—one logical, one ethical. The logical error is a classic case of comparing apples (language) and oranges (music). A missionary learns the language because it is the necessary component for communication; choices of musical style are not necessary matters of communication. The ethical error is the assumption that cultural adaptation is morally neutral—something we would not agree with if a missionary moves to a cannibalistic society. That is, missionaries do not adopt the native culture wholesale; they must put it to the test of biblical morals. []
  8. Dobson, Starting a Seeker Sensitive Service, p. 16. []
  9. No Place for Truth, pp. 11-12. []
  10. Selling Jesus, p. 63. []
  11. Kenneth A. Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), p. 30. []
  12. Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995) p. 111. []
  13. Cf. Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, p. 280; Stewart, Church Leaders Handbook, p. 21; Murren, The Baby Boomerang, p. 189; Dobson, Starting a Seeker Sensitive Service, pp. 34-35. []
  14. Ironically, one of Warren’s arguments for using rock music is its power to impact character. He writes, “Aristotle said, ‘Music has the power to shape the character.’ Satan is clearly using music to do that today. The rock lyrics of the 1960s and 1970s shaped the values of most Americans who are now in their thirties, forties or fifties… If we don’t use contemporary music to spread godly values, Satan will have unchallenged access to an entire generation” (The Purpose Driven Church, pp. 279-280). Warren, by using the terms “music” and “lyrics” interchangeably, dodges the question of how a vehicle so powerful for corrupting morals can so easily be transformed into a powerful tool for producing godliness. In so doing, he misrepresents the words of Aristotle—the very quote demonstrates that he disagrees with Warren about the moral neutrality of music. Music (what Warren defines as “an arrangement of notes and rhythms” [p. 281]) clearly communicates moral value by its character (e.g., provocative or sensual music) and associations (i.e., the images or conventions with which is readily identifiable, e.g., striptease music). []
  15. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, p. 31. []
  16. Rock Music: Culture, Aesthetics and Sociology, trans. Rachel Fogg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. ix. []
  17. Quentin J. Schultze et al., Dancing in the Dark (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), pp. 162-163). This observation is perhaps more significant in that the authors, involved in teaching/research for Calvin College, write from a perspective quite distanced from fundamentalism. []
  18. The Worldly Evangelicals (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), p. 118. []
  19. “Music: Offerings of Creativity,” Christianity Today 6 May 1977, p. 13. []
  20. The Closing of the American Mind, p. 73. []
  21. Schultze, Dancing in the Dark, p. 162. []
  22. Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, p. 72. []
  23. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, pp. 181-182. []

13 Responses to Multiculturalism veiled as "Missional"

  1. I see several flaws in the argument above:
    1. A failure to articulate the proper role of the Christian to his culture. The argument above clearly condemns a "pro-cultural" mindset where all elements of culture are simply accepted without biblical analysis. While I agree that a Christian must be "counter-cultural" by rejecting elements of the culture that do not line up with the truths of Scripture (e.g. rejecting Postmodernism rather than embracing it as the emergents have done), I would not agree with the writer's apparent "anti-cultural" views (i.e. rejection of all elements of culture as "worldly"). In other words, did Paul's ministry (i.e. the Mars Hill address, the epistle to the Colossians, etc.) target and reject the culture as a whole or did he aim to correct areas of Christian life in the culture that did not line up with the Gospel? See, for example, Paul's handling of the issue of slavery.
    2. A failure in musical genre analysis. As a musicologist, I would have thought that Mr. Aniol would have rejected the poor genre analysis given above. The lumping of all Gospel, CCM, and music used in "Church Marketing" churches into "Rock n Roll" is a gross oversimplification.
    3. A failure to understand contemporary culture. Even if the various styles and strata of worship music were to be simplified as stated above, I find it difficult to believe that we are even still addressing contemporary culture. Today "Rock n Roll" is primarily seen as a fad of the 1960's and 70's. Contemporary culture has moved on to various strata of R&B, Pop, Country, Rap, etc. Most college students and teens I know today share none of the "cultural context and values" of "Rock n Roll."

  2. @PhilipT,
    1. I don't think you're addressing the point. You're missing the point. The point is, "culture" involves more than what the current "multicultural" view defines as merely amoral, "lifestyle" choices (i.e., nothing in culture represents anything more than an individual choice – and there is no moral significance to any particular choice). You cannot argue about condemning a culture, or rejecting certain elements of a culture as being "wrong," or "correct areas of Christian life in the culture" if you see no moral significance or relevance to anything in culture in the first place. A "multicultural" (i.e., pluralistic) view provides no basis for judging anything in a culture.
    2 & 3. Calling everything "rock n' roll" may be a bit of an oversimplification, but from a broader musicological perspective, the general points still hold. It is the height of naivete to think that current popular forms of music are not loaded with meaning and values, or to think that the current, highly-fragmented "forms" of popular music do not, in many cases, still represent the basic ethos of the "rock 'n roll" movement of the 50's and 60's. The biggest difference is that the counter-cultural thrust of early rock (free love, drugs, sex, do-your-own-thing, etc.) were considered radical and counter-cultural then, whereas they are considered norms (or at least, tolerated as norms) now (perhaps with the exception of drugs, at least in some circles – although it appears that even that part hasn't entirely disappeared).

  3. @JonE,
    1. I totally get that multiculturalism refuses to call ANYTHING wrong in the context of particular cultures. My concern is that we have swung the pendulum too far and condemn (nearly?) EVERYTHING wrong in our culture (my term is "anti-culturalism"). I would argue for a middle ground approach which seemed to typify the ministry of Christ and the Apostles.

    2 & 3. I used to try explaining to teens how that their "rock n roll" was all about sex and drugs. I tried my hardest to convince them that listening to "Casting Crowns" or the Getty's albums would certainly cause them to have lustful thoughts. I tried to remind them of the music's roots in African shaminism and the counterculture of the 1960's. All the while they stared at me with a blank look on their faces. None of our 80-90 year old believers associate much of the Romantic-era and Opera music with the bawdy theater scene of the 1800's, and few of our 30-40 year old fundamentalist church-goers associate big band, swing, jazz, etc. with the 20's era vices, and few of our 13-30 year old Christians associate Country, Gospel, CCM, etc. with the counterculture movement of the 1960's. Romantic-era and opera music is now the music of the elite, the upper crust of society, and the fans of NPR. Big band, swing, and jazz reminds us now of Disney films and the out of date fashions. Asking the modern Christian teen to honestly tell you what he/she connects music with a "backbeat" to, the reply will likely be…"ummm…the mall, the gas station, the elevator, the radio, my iPod…" I do not doubt that anything with a backbeat once carried the "ethos of the "rock n roll" movement," but now it has lost that significance and we do ourselves a great disservice to attempt to artificially implant those "meanings and values" into minds of our teens as we indoctrinate them on these issues. I do not believe that this is due to toleration of the norms, it simply means that these genres or styles no longer are solely identified as anti-Christian and worldy.

  4. I hate to comment on any type of blog, and have done my absolute best to pray over rather than fester over the new avenue of self-righteous piety that has becoming much of blogging. However, because I believe I personally know both posters and respect them I wanted to offer one observation…or question rather.

    What are the ramifications in our thinking of music if these Biblical truths are really true?

    A-God created all things.
    B-God created all things good.
    C-Man/Sin corrupted all things.
    D-Christ came to redeem all things.

    What if we're missing the point? What if music is not neutral, what if culture is not neutral…what if nothing is neutral?! What if everything that exists does so for the glory of God or for the glory of man? In which case what would be the determining factor for something to either glorify God or glorify man? What would be the determining factor for right and wrong?

    I'd appreciate your thoughts to these questions…and no don't be fooled, this is more fundamental than it is postmodern.

  5. Just a quick reply to one point. I agree with A-C, but I do not necessarily agree with D. Christ came to redeem his people. This has two implications: 1) he will not redeem all people and 2) he redeems people, not cultures.

    God can no more "redeem" certain sinful cultural expressions than he can redeem a proud look, except to fundamentally change the expression itself.

  6. @Philip
    A – God created music
    B – God created music for good
    C – Man in his depraved state has throughout history used music for evil
    D – Christ can most certainly redeem music for good (e.g. Col. 1:20; 3:16).

    Glorification of God comes as a result of the Gospel (cf. Bryan Chappel, Christ-Centered Worship). Worship, then, should focus on the Gospel principles (not on a set of manmade stylistic goals – whether for church marketing or for traditionalism for traditionalism's sake). In this manner, music can be "redeemed."

    I don't follow your argument on regarding Philip's statement: "D-Christ came to redeem all things." Please explain.
    Secondly, if God cannot redeem "sinful cultural expressions" I would like to know:
    1) Are all cultural expressions of cultures in which depraved men live (even 1500's Europe) inherently sinful?
    2a) If so, then can we use any known style of music at all?
    2b) If not, then what makes the difference between a "sinful cultural expression" and a "holy (seeing as how this is what God expects) cultural expression"?

  7. There are several significant category errors in play here.

    First, the difference between neutral things and uses of those neutral things. If God creates something, it is good; it is neutral for a human until that human uses the thing, and then it becomes either moral or immoral based on that use.

    God created music. Music is good. Music is neutral until a human uses it.

    You may be surprised to hear me say that, but this is where I must clarify categories: A song is not the neutral form of music; a song is created by man (not God), and therefore has already entered the category of "use." Nothing created by man is neutral because man is not neutral. Music as an abstract concept is neutral (even good), but once man uses the concept of music to create a musical expression, that express may be judged as either moral or immoral based upon what it communicates.

    A parallel may be drawn with facial expressions. Facial expressions as an abstract concept is something created by God and is neither good or evil. But once a person makes a facial expression, that expression is either communicating something good or bad. The same is true for music.

    Next, we must discuss the issue of what something expresses. Your answer to question 1) is absolutely not! An expression is not sinful just because it comes from a depraved human; an expression is sinful if it expresses something sinful. The issue is not association or source, but what it actually expresses.

    Again, drawing a parallel with facial expressions is helpful. A facial expression communicates something negative or positive intrinsically; the same is true with music.

    Third, this issue of "cultural redemption." Once again I insist that God redeems individuals, not cultures. And when an individual is redeemed, he will start to express things that please the Lord instead of sinful things. 

    A redeemed man doesn't keep doing sinful things or expressing sinful things in order to somehow "redeem" them. He changes how he acts and what he expresses.

    That is true cultural redemption.

  8. Scott,

    I think I agree at the moment with the majority of what you have stated in your most recent post such as:

    – Morality in music (as well as other mediums, such as speech) is determined upon the message communicated through it and whether that message is in and of itself moral or immoral. Morality in music is not a product of "association or source."
    – "Cultural redemption" would be the use of such neutral mediums for the glory of God rather than for sinful purposes. The redeemed heart will express itself in a redeemed manner.

    Where I think we differ is in the application of these principles:

    – If morality comes as a result of the message that is actually communicated by music and not by association or source, then music or styles can be used from unsaved musicians for good (e.g. L.V.Beethoven's "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee"). This would be in contrast to the view that holds that any product of an unsaved individual is inherently sinful (worldly?) and useless to the Christian.
    – If morality comes as a result of the message that is actually communicated by the music itself, then the message communicated could then be judged by clear biblical precepts (e.g the Sermon on the Mount: do not lust, do not hate, etc.) in order to determine if it is moral or immoral. This would be in contrast to the view that holds that subjective elements of the music such as genre or style should be judged by subjective criteria (i.e. "worldliness or sensuality").

    I think that we leap from the same springboard, but arrive at quite different conclusions. The reasons for this difference are IMHO numerous, but I do not believe that we should so quickly call those who differ with us "multicultural" (those who fail to judge by God's standard) or "legalist" (those who judge by their own standard).

  9. I agree that a sinful source does not necessarily render something unusable, such as your example of the tune to "Joyful, Joyful." The only case in which an association might render something unusable for a time is if it would cause a stumbling block for a weaker Christian.

    I think at its base, music should be judged as to what it communicates by way of mimicking natural human emotional expressiveness. So if it expresses unbridled rage, chaos, sexuality, etc., then it is unusable. If it communicates noble virtues, it is usable.

  10. As for association being a stumblingblock (I assume that we are speaking in the context of worship now, rather than personal listening), I have heard this argument being used by many Christians. I have typically, politely, asked what sin they would be stumbling into. Usually these mature saints reply that the music will give them (or, other times – "other Christians") sinful thoughts. My question to them is then whether they have sinful thoughts when they are riding an elevator, walking in the mall, or pumping gas (places where one would likely hear such music). "Well, no!" they respond in horror. My concern is that we too often play the "stumblingblock" card when a person may have some legitimate spiritual issues driving these thoughts or reactions. Rather than dealing with the root issues, we give these people the "out" by allowing them to say: "the music made me do it." I don't want somebody to sin, but usually I have found that the individuals who claim this argument are usually 1) individuals who themselves will not stumble, but argue the case hypothetically, or 2) individuals who are attempting to cover up a real sin problem. We owe it to those who raise the issue, to question it, rather than just giving them a carte blanche.

    Stepping into the emotions conveyed by music, as you an I know, is a slippery issue. We can very clearly judge the lyrics, but analysis of rhythms and the emotions they bring is a tough subject. In this area, we have a number of problems, I will list several:
    1) The Problem of Scripture: Are emotions such as rage (Psa. 7:11; Eph. 4:26), conditions such as chaos (e.g. Gen. 1:2 – God creates chaos before creating the world), and actions such as sex (Song of Solomon; I Cor. 7:5) wrong in and of themselves? Am I condemning something that the Bible not only fails to outright condemn, but also applauds?
    2) The Problem of Subjectivity: How can we discern if music actually communicates these emotions through subjective elements such as rhythm? Will the conclusions I draw about emotions conveyed in music be universal and timeless? Which leads naturally to…
    3)The Problem of Bias: If I have grown up being told by people I love and trust that particular sounds (e.g. backbeat) elicit sinful reactions, then am I truly the best or even an unbiased judge of the issue? Are the "emotions" that I condemn merely sounds which I am not familiar with, do not prefer, or have actual misconceptions regarding?

  11. sorry it's been so long since I replied. After reading the posts I see that there is a fundamental difference in the way we approach music (which actually is rooted in the way we interpret scripture but that's another topic) However, my initial purpose was simply to consider the ramifications to music if the statements initially stated were indeed true.

    I approach music as part of God's Creation, after all music in its most basic form is waves traveling through air (God's waves, God's air)…this is what all music is regardless of who is playing it. Whether it's Beethoven, Led Zepp, or Majesty Music it's all God's "stuff" that's being used either for His glory or man's…or sometimes both.

    From this presupposition, it doesn't really matter what style or what association the sound waves have…they are God's and cannot be taken from Him only used for him or against Him. It is then my responsibility to live out the mandate God gave mankind at Creation to subdue and have dominion over his stuff to His praise and glory. And while I know that sin corrupted Creation (all of it) I also know that Christ came on the cross to redeem creation…all of it (Rom 8).

    So in conclusion my hermeneutic has led me to see that all of music (actually all of everything) is God's (it's all very, very morally charged [not amoral]). The question is whether I as His image bearer in His creation will use his stuff for it's intended purpose or for me… the "motivation" or "heart" of earthly constructor of the music has little significance to me since his motivation has little bearing on whether my heart is truly worshipful or not…this reality makes me highly, highly accountable for everything I do and use to make sure that I'm using it for the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

    Interested in your thoughts…

  12. In the same way, I approach internet photography as part of God’s Creation; after all, internet photography (if you're on a wireless connection) in its most basic form is waves traveling through air (God’s waves, God’s air). This is what all internet photography is regardless of what kind of image it is. Whether it’s Rembrandt, pictures of your kid's birthday party, or Penthouse, it’s all God’s “stuff” that’s being used either for His glory or man’s, or sometimes both.

    From this presupposition, it doesn’t really matter what final composition or what association the internet signal has; it is God’s and cannot be taken from Him, only used for him or against Him.

  13. Phillip,

    Michael well illustrates the fundamental error with your foundational presupposition.

    Did God create music? Yes. Did God create the sound waves moving through the air? Yes.

    But God does not produce songs. Humans do. And Humans are moral agents capable of producing either good or evil.

    It is true that music is sound waves moving through air; but songs are more than that. Songs are products of human creativity and an expression of their values.

    Therefore, it follows that if humans can have evil values, they can produce evil music, using the God created sound waves moving through air to do so.

    Isn't it terrible how mankind has warped what God intended for good?

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