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Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Can Music Be Sinful? (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 the right hand side of this page. This is a rebuttal by Shai and reply by me to yesterday’s post.

Shai_Bio-300x300Thanks for your answer, Scott. I want to interact with a few of your points. In describing what music is, you said:

“Music is not a thing; music is an action. Specifically, music is an action of moral human agents. While God created the “stuff” of music (sound, pitch, rhythm, timbre, etc.), moral human agents create songs.”

I don’t want to spend too much time on the distinction you’re making here. I agree that the making of music is a human activity. But my question was about the final product, so to speak. By way of analogy, one could speak of the activity of painting, as well as the actual paintings themselves. I’m speaking of the latter. Recorded music, the kind used in Hip-hop, is indeed a “thing”, in that sense. We agree that human beings are moral agents accountable to God for our activities. But the byproducts themselves are not moral agents. Paintings and chairs and knives and recordings will not have to stand before God on judgment day. But the people who made them will. That’s an important distinction that must be made. You said:

“Yes, I believe that music, apart from lyrics, can be sinful in and of itself.”

I wholeheartedly disagree and I believe Scripture clearly refutes that notion. A few relevant texts:

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5 )

“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself…” (Romans 14:14)

Those are amazing statements coming from the Apostle Paul, a Jewish man who was familiar with the many old covenant dietary restrictions. The key phrase in Romans 14:14? “in itself”. Paul is saying that food doesn’t have inherent moral value. The heart of the one eating it determines how God views the act, not the food itself.

You yourself said, “God created the ‘stuff’ of music (sound, pitch, rhythm, timbre, etc.)”. Agreed. Music is simply the result of human beings arranging that “stuff” that God created. Can it be arranged with evil intent? Sure. And the person who does that will have to give an account for it. But no matter how evil a musician’s intentions, he doesn’t have the power to transform something that God created and called good into something inherently sinful. Finally, here’s my summary of 3 points you made:

  1. Scripture at least implies that music communicates.
  2. Scripture says that human communication must be evaluated
  3. What Scripture says about communication must be applied to music

Can you clarify what you mean by “music communicates”? If you mean that music is a tool that can aid in the expression of human emotion, I agree. Most of the Scriptures you mentioned indicate that. But I would argue that how people respond to music is culturally conditioned and not universal. This very debate is evidence of that. I look forward to your response.

Scott-thumb-300x300Thanks, Shai. A couple responses:

First, saying music is a “thing” is like saying tone of voice is a “thing.” They’re not; they are human communication, and human communication is always moral. I didn’t say that the “byproducts” are moral agents; I said that the communication of moral agents is moral, and since music is communication, music is moral. Sounds are “things.” But once I begin to, as you say, arrange those sounds into words, sentences, thoughts, and tones of voice, I am now communicating, and that is moral.

Second, no, music is not a “tool” of communication; it is communication. Again, music’s connection with vocal tone is instructive: tone of voice is not just a tool of communication; it is part of the communication itself. How I say something to my children, my wife, my boss, or my God is just as important as what I say to them because how I say something is part of the communication. This is why the Bible commands that we speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15); “in love” refers not just to what we say, but also how we say it. This is why God commands us to worship reverently (Heb 12:28); reverence refers not just to the words we say in worship or even the object of our worship; it addresses how we worship.

Another biblical illustration of Paul’s concern over how we communicate is 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul contrasts two different ways of communicating the gospel: with “lofty speech” or “in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” I won’t make any more of this at this point than to say that Paul is indicating that how we communicate something is significant and must be evaluated as to its worth and appropriateness.

Third, you are making a very common category error in these discussions. I agree completely, of course, that whatever God creates is good. God created music. God created meat. These things are good.

But God did not create rap. People did. For that matter, God did not create Gregorian chant, German chorales, Appalachian folk tunes, country western, jazz, or rock ‘n’ roll. People did. And because these are all human communication, they are moral.

It is very dangerous to ascribe to God something that he did not make.

Communication is categorically different than something like food, and thus the passages you cited are not directly applicable. They are applicable only if someone were to argue that the very act of making music is immoral. If someone said that, I would agree with you that since God created music, music is good, and therefore we must not call something evil that God created.

In the context of the passages you cited, which is Mosaic dietary restrictions, the Law did not restrict those things because they were inherently sinful; that’s Paul’s point. So the categories you are using in your argument are these:

Meat   =   Rap

That is mistaken, rather, here are more equivalent categories:

Meat   =   Music
Spoiled meat   =   Forms of music that communicate in an immoral way
Healthy meat   =   Forms of music that communicate in a wholesome way

To summarize, what we communicate is important, and how we communicate it is equally important. Music is the how we communicate something.

Now, of course, none of this proves that rap or any other kind of music is immoral; that is not my point. I would simply insist that since music is communication, we must be willing to carefully and critically judge music itself to determine how it communicates, and we must then actively apply what Scripture says about communication to our musical communication.

Next: My first question Shai.

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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.