Recent Posts
A biblical understanding of the corporate importance of gathered worship should impact everything we do [more]
What does the Christian imagination look like when it is fleshed out? We can imagine [more]
The medieval church suffered from a kind of sacerdotalism that removed worship from the people [more]
If Christian imagination is the best way of referring to how Christians know and perceive [more]
Kevin T. Bauder The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was founded less than a week before [more]

Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Musical Analysis

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 fourth question to me and my answer.

Shai_Bio-300x300Scott, in a previous post, you said “Since music is part of our conduct, we should discern what music expresses [holy behavior] just as we evaluate tone of voice, attitude, body language, etc.” You’ve also spoken of ”morally good music (with or without lyrics)” and you have insisted that “since music is communication, music is moral.” I have two pieces of music that I would like you to evaluate. One is a hip-hop instrumental.

Using your discernment, please tell me what this music is expressing, whether or not its morally good, and why. The other is a video of a performance.

Please do the same for the video.

Scott-thumb-300x300Let me review how I (or anyone) can evaluate what music means and thus determine its morality. First, we must distinguish between conventional (culturally-conditioned) meaning and natural meaning. I’ll set aside the conventional meaning for the purposes of this analysis since it is not necessarily universal. What I will assess is the natural meaning.

Second, by natural meaning I mean not what the composer intends or what the listener feels. Rather, music carries meaning naturally based on its resemblance to “emotion characteristics in appearance.” In other words, music sounds like (and feels like) what emotion looks like (and feels like).

Once one has determined the meaning (or meanings) of a piece of music on this natural level, he should ask the question, “Is this good? Does the Bible praise these kinds of expressions or condemn them?” Since a Christian’s behavior should be holy (morally good), he should embrace musical behavior that reflects the morally good and reject the musical behavior that reflects morally bad.

Beyond this, the Christian should also evaluate the conventional meaning, avoiding associations that will harm the gospel or cause a weaker brother to sin. Finally, if a Christian intends to use the music for communicating biblical messages, he must make sure that even what is morally good is also fitting for the truth of God’s holy Word.

One more thing: I’ve made the point several times that I think anyone can discern musical meaning at this level without a technical musical analysis (just like we can determine what tone of voice and body language mean without knowing exactly why), but I also want to demonstrate the musicological foundation as well. So in my analysis below, I will include a bit of technical jargon, but I don’t want to give the impression that knowledge of the technical is necessary to determine meaning.

On to the two examples.1

The foundation of “Judge of All the Earth” is the four note, descending base progression: C-sharp, A, B, and G-sharp, which repeats 36 times with minimal variation or harmonic development. In the context of c-sharp minor, there are no tendency tones in the chords built upon this ostinato and thus no clear linear progression. This lack of direction or resolution gives the foundation a feeling of ambiguity and uncertainty, features intensified by the minor mode, which also naturally contributes to a sense of tension. These repeated elements, combined with the low register, synth instrumentation, and descending pattern create a sense of foreboding.

The minimal melodic activity there is, with wide intervalic leaps and lack of direction or resolution, enhances this perception.

Underneath this all is the repetitive rhythmic pattern, emphasizing the off-beats in contrast to the natural metric emphasis, which adds a feeling of agitation. This is particularly potent as the piece progresses. Since there is no harmonic or melodic development, the only real development in the song is a steady intensification of dynamics and density that climaxes in the replacement of all these elements with bursts of rhythmic, off-beat shouting.

Putting this all together, the music expresses a feeling of increasingly agitated, ominous foreboding. For the musically untrained, I would suggest imagining what kind of movie scene this music would fit, such as one in which something dark or sinister is about to happen.

I would say in itself, what this music generally expresses is morally good since expressing these things is not necessarily forbidden in Scripture. I would offer caution, however, that this kind of undeveloped repetition tends to create a numbing effect, similar to how some Eastern music is designed to create a hypnotic trance. This kind of effect, especially as a regular diet, would be inadvisable for Christians, in my opinion. Furthermore, to set this up as art, something used to express thoughtful ideas and values, would be a challenge due to the lack of musical depth and dependence upon rhythm and climax as the only developmental techniques. To be fair, I would similarly criticize something from the Western Classical tradition like Ravel’s Boléro, although that work has more musical development than this song.

To the second example. The tune, EIN FEST BURG, is a fitting vehicle for communicating the lyrics of God’s strength and might. The bar form (AAB) allows for enough repetition to make this memorable for congregational singing, yet the Abgesang offers contrast and development that appropriately supports the textual ideas. The iambic metric pattern of the poetry, which naturally expresses strong ideas, is also quite appropriate for the truths. The words chosen are vivid, and the rhymes are not forced or unnatural.

In particular, Mr. Green’s a capella performance allows the theological truths to rise to the surface, without distraction, with only his performance adding to the meaning of the song.

Now a few comments on Green’s performance, since how one performs a tune and text is part of the expression. First, his strong vocal production and lack of melodic embellishment further contributes to the strength and power of God expressed in the lyrics. He mostly emphasizes the natural syllabic stresses in the words (with a few exceptions). In my opinion, the modulations up by half step each stanza tend toward emotional manipulation since there is no musical impetus for those modulations, and this borders on drawing attention away from the truths themselves and instead creating an emotional climax through the use of surface-level gimicks. But overall, I would say this is morally good and mostly appropriate for the truths expressed.

Series NavigationPreviousNext
Scott Aniol

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.

  1. I would like to thank Timothy Shafer, a friend who teaches at Penn State, who shared with me his own analysis of “Judge of All the Earth,” which I’ve integrated into my own thoughts here. []

74 Responses to Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Musical Analysis

  1. I love that a capella performance by Steve Green. It always gives me chills when I listen to it. What a minute….Is that pleasing the flesh?

  2. Though the instrumental piece was created and intended for the purpose of rap, it (not having the usual heavy beats or rap lyrics) doesn’t sound like rap at all…at least not to the untrained ear. I’ve listened to the released version of “Judge of All the Earth” (with lyrics) and I didn’t think the manner in which Shai was rapping, and especially the shouting voice echoing his, fit the background music and mood very well. I’ve heard him do better in “The Atonement.”

  3. Great musical analysis by Scott, although I have two issues:
    1) Both are morally good. The first one seems to fit a horror or at least a suspense movie but is still morally good. Can we have an example of morally bad, please? Would something that expresses not only a lack of resolution but also some sort of anger, be morally bad? Again, where is the borderline?

    2) Scott makes the same oversimplification I saw in Jared’s post a while ago: “Since a Christian’s behavior should be holy (morally good), he should embrace musical behavior that reflects the morally good and reject the musical behavior that reflects morally bad.”
    Why so? Clearly, we should embrace BEHAVIOUR that is morally good but why do we need to reject music that represents something morally bad?
    Picture me in a theater where a piece is shown that has a murder scene. The music aptly changes to enhance a feeling of eeriness, abhorrence, and cruelty – all not Christian virtues. Yet, this is what an art director must use to accompany such a scene. If he is a Christian, is he sinning each time he chooses such music to aptly enhance a scene depicting something that is morally bad? So as long as the theater piece is all roses and positive, with the music expressing that, he does not sin, and when there is an immoral scene, he does? Better not put music to a scene depicting Cain’s murder of his brother!

    I mean, am I making sense? Is it really that obvious or if not, what am I missing? Or if not, how can Scott miss this if it’s that obvious?

  4. Martin,

    I believe Scott is saying they don’t fit when applying those elements to worship music. Those sinful elements do not communicate the beauty of God. I obviously good be wrong in my interpretation of his position.

  5. Martin,

    Correct me if I am getting you wrong but it seems that you are point out that the context of the communication (whether verbal or non-verbal/music with lyrics or music without lyrics) needs to be considered in determining if the communication itself is morally good or bad. Context would be important to consider if we are going to agree that music is human communication.

  6. Scott, it seems all of your comments, both on the good and bad side of each piece, are very subjective. It’s so strange. There was a time where I wanted to understand where someone like you could be coming from to say that Christian rap is wrong, however the stretching and leaps of logic here are too much. It evidences to me that personal preference is all that is guiding you. I believe it is done with pure motives, but it isn’t based biblically at all. So I gess if there was any question before, the jumps in logic solidify that even those who really want to find biblical basis for disqualifying rap as good, cannot do so.

  7. No Steven, this discussion is about music being moral independently of the situation, and not specifically in a worship setting. What, in my mind, Scott should have stated is that music needs to be fitting (as he also did) but without limiting that to affections aspired to by Christians. He seems to mix up the actual moral/immoral behaviour and the behaviour that is only represented in music but is not actual behaviour itself. I can perfectly well play music Scott calls immoral without committing an immoral act. On the other hand, I could play music that is moral (for example, Happy Birthday – not like Monroe) and commit an immoral act – for example when I play this at a funeral where it will offend those attending. We’ve been through this again and again in previous threads.

    Lotus, I also previously explained that I don’t see how music without lyrics can be morally relevant communication since it does not communicate propositionally, as the lyrics do. Representing emotion (whether that be anger or love or something else) does not represent moral activity per se. Context is indeed required to qualify the activity as moral or immoral, which makes music itself… morally neutral just as any other artifact.

  8. Scott. Reading how you described the instrumental just hammered the point that its a matter of taste. “Agitation”. I don’t get that. I get the opposite effect.

  9. I agree with Joey Rios,

    It seems like Scott prefers the second song over the other, which isn’t wrong at all. Even though he said that both instrumentals were overall morally good, his assessment of “Judge of All the Earth” and saying that it produces agitation make no sense at all to me. I don’t hear agitation nor do I hear a sense of tension. I hear an instrumental fit for thoughtful reflection and to say that this type of music isn’t something a Christian should listen to often makes no sense to me.

  10. Kelsey, it appears to me that Scott reads into the music much more that the average hiphopper (if that’s a word). He is intent on reading the emotions conveyed by the music. The problem that Scott is likely having is that the structure of rap music differs from other genres in many ways but in this case it is the repetition of the “bars” in the compostion of the music. For Scott, this has to mean something, it has to communicate something, when it doesn’t get what it is communicating it cause him to feel tense and agitated. Scott said “This lack of direction or resolution gives the foundation a feeling of ambiguity and uncertainty, features intensified by the minor mode, which also naturally contributes to a sense of tension. These repeated elements, combined with the low register, synth instrumentation, and descending pattern create a sense of foreboding.
    The minimal melodic activity there is, with wide intervalic leaps and lack of direction or resolution, enhances this perception.”
    My guess is that for Shai the music sets the mood for the content of his lyrics. The mood being an ominous one in the sense of judgement rather than simply “something dark or sinister.”

  11. Lotus,

    Haha hiphopper is a word in my book!

    Although, I did feel like Scott was reading into music much more than the average hiphopper, especially when reading some of his assessments of the “Judge of All The Earth”. I don’t claim to be a musical scholar but as someone who has been rapping for 8 years I do know that when a hip-hop instrumental has repetition or “loops” it’s simply an aid for the rapper to rap with a consistent flow and cadence. I am not aware of any other deeper meaning than that. That’s why I didn’t understand what he meant by “These repeated elements, combined with the low register, synth instrumentation, and descending pattern create a sense of foreboding. The minimal melodic activity there is, with wide intervalic leaps and lack of direction or resolution, enhances this perception.”

    I mean if Scott feels that way about the instrumental and if that’s why he reads into the music, then that’s fine with me. My only issue is when he said that even those who lack a formal musical background can notice the exact same things he noticed in the instrumental.

    I never thought about it like that, I simply saw it as a perfect instrumental that sets the mood for the content of his lyrics like you said. The instrumental presents a serious and thoughtful tone, which fits perfectly when speaking about God’s just judgement.

  12. Wow, this is so ridiculous. None of what Scott says about the instrumental piece resonated with my reaction to it. “Dark” and “foreboding”? I’m guessing he hasn’t done any musical editing for movies. Just goes to show how wrong he is… That there truly is quite a bit of subjectivity in music.

  13. I think that foreboding is something that one would expect to feel when contemplating God as the Judge of all the Earth. I can see these emotions coming from this music, and being appropriate.

  14. I can only pray for the level of maturity Shai is expressing in these posts. Coming from this extremely conservative BJU music background I can easily get riled up and downright angry at the pathetic attempts to make these musical arguments. Even as a child hearing these things they smelled way fishy to me and made no sense, and instead of graciously challenging them I blew them off. So, I commend Shai for challenging these absurd notions in a humble and educated manner. I pray that we are all sanctified by this discussion.

  15. wow, listening to the first clip had an astounding effect on me: i wasn’t agitated and i wasn’t tense at all. wait a minute! i had inner peace and – and- i actually i was actually thinking about God and how awesome He is as the Judge of all the earth!!!! the second performance i was a little agitated by his voice and how he was totally high pitched to me at the end. well, i guess it’s all in the perception. shai’s beat was epic, btw…

  16. Clip #1. There are aspects of that piece of music that fit with God being Judge of all the earth. You can hear it in the tone, which of course says that Shai does know that music has meaning. However, it is completely ruined by the erotic style sensuality also in it. God won’t be grooving or swinging his way onto the scene of final judgment. That incongruity makes it blasphemous. Shai either allowed his personal taste, influenced by his flesh, to affect his composition, or he was attempting to “contextualize” it to an audience. The juxtaposition of the fitting communication of awe before God and the sensuality is a bit like the Hooked on Classics genre that I’ve heard. It’s like coating your vitamin with several layers of candy to help it go down, since having it go down it is of utmost importance with the audience at the center.

    Clip #2. Compared to most, and to most of him, Steve Green’s Mighty Fortress is good. The lyrics and tune to this traditional hymn were fine. He can’t completely rid his singing style of contrived performance devices. He’s pumping up the audience with a different kind of manipulation. I don’t think it’s wrong to have a microphone, but he uses the microphone to get a breathy, intimate effect in the first verse — perhaps too hard to resist for him. He knows it works. He’s accustomed to performing and it is difficult to rid himself of that, even in the presence of a God-honoring hymn.

    Jonathan’s Comment. I would guess that Shai was going for foreboding and agitation, fitting with the final judgment of the world with one aspect of his music. That wasn’t a criticism from Scott. The fact that you missed that should send you back to the drawing board. Ditto to Cheryl.

    David D. Morse Comment. You can do more than pray, if you’re a Christian, for maturity. You can actually write a comment that interacts with anything that Scott wrote, instead of deriding him personally. Do more to tell us how you smell fishiness and detect absurd notions to blow off, not because of your prodigious early genius. Your prayer for a sanctified discussion will not come to fruition with your trash-talking as if you were a certain NFL defensive back.

    Glenda’s Comment. Steve Green wasn’t just high pitched to you — he was to everyone, because he was high pitched. And I can see how he agitated you when he skyed to hit those high notes. I had two glasses shatter on my coffee table. However, I think Shai’s intentions for foreboding and scariness were lost on you from clip 1. It wasn’t a compliment to him that you didn’t hear it. You got peace out of something, I believe, he had some intention of bringing you fear. It could have been the bongo drums, however, that helped diminish that.

  17. yeah i have to say….thiis is getting a bit ridiculous. shai’s question was not. it gets to the heart of the matter. but the response was just too much. it seems there is some sort of terror that music could unsuspectingly hypnotize you into worshiping the devil if it has anything drums repeating itself whatsoever….and yet the angels repeat “Holy Holy Holy”….if we got in a room and did that, i’d be bound to be hypnotized to sleep as a listener (aside from the spiritual significance)…..seems to me this is just a waste of time…i agree in a sense….yeah if music is distracting and not doing anything edifying for you…perhaps because of a hypnotic beat…. the christian who only wants edifying music, wont listen to it. and if a beat is appropriate and helps magnify the message…. then they will. pretty easy. but to make this a complicated system is just wasteful. not to mention, i find it ironic that scott is arguing from a perspective that 110% sola scriptora.. or so he says… and yet, when it comes time to make his argument, his “discernment” is very undefined and more representative of the definition that more liberal charismatics would have for discernment….(ie discernment comes outside of scripture…. the source is on the inside of you. a still small voice)…. as oppose to scripture shaping your worldview in such a way, that you learn how to apply it to real world situations. you cant have your cake and eat it to. you say WE MUST BE BIBLICAL, AND EXAMINE EVERY BEAT, EVERY LINE, EVERY WORD OF EVERY SONG TO MAKE SURE WE DONT GET HYPNOTIZED!!!! ….and yet when the explanation finally comes around…its subjective. while they it seems the author wants us to think it is not….and yet is unable to prove otherwise. to be honest, there is a such thing as enjoyment. i dont think music should be used as an escape. but, what is more hypnotic then sleep? i mean people in the OT played the harp real real slow. i guarantee you there were people in that room who woke up drooling 5 minutes later and didnt know where they were. its a friggin harp. anyway. i agree we should be vigilant. but the truth is that there is a such thing as leisure, and we should not be terrified of comfort. my christian rap music send me to Christ, not away from him and into some whacko trance.

  18. grantrhooper,

    I do not appreciate at all your using a highly objectionable euphemism in your comments. Your frustration or whatever else you may be experiencing does not justify your subjecting other believers who are seeking to be disciples of Jesus Christ to this corrupt communication.

  19. Alan,

    You’ve introduced an interesting element here, asserting the representation of eroticism in “Judge…”. I don’t think I’d go that far. Tinny, burnished, cliche, mundane, yes. But sexy? I think I know the elements that you’re reading that way, but, that seems a stretch. I’m going to listen again, though.

  20. I for one applaud Scott for not dodging Shai’s question and actually looking at the elements of the music apart from lyrics. Since I don’t believe music can be inherently sinful in and of itself, I don’t agree with his attempt at assessing the music. However, I do have to applaud him for looking at it after he said there was a musicological way of determining the morality of music.

    When you compare Scott’s assessment of the first clip with comments in this section from others that hold to the morality of music, you see the fallacy of the argument. In reference to the first clip, Scott said, “what this music generally expresses is morally good….” However there have been comments here that have said the first clip had an “erotic style sensuality….” So we have people of the same mind concerning the morality of music, but they cannot agree on whether a clip is moral or not. This is not an isolated case, and I’m pretty sure we would see the same result if we put up more clips. It demonstrates that there are not elements in the music that can be identified as specifically moral or immoral.

    Before someone else says it, I know there are other areas where Christians will disagree on the appropriateness or sinfulness of an action. However, looking at this particular topic, one has to wonder why it is impossible to put your finger on the sinful elements that are deemed to be so terrible and so prevalent, and why people on the morality of music side can’t even agree on whether a piece of music is moral or not. I am not poking fun, it is actually sad that people are accused of sinning yet the accusers can’t say how. I’m just hoping there are some that realize this and stop holding to this fallacious belief.

  21. @Alan – Easy there bud. I didn’t personally attack Scott in any way. I attacked his argument without giving time or attention to actually derailing it because I have learned after many years that any attempt to derail an argument like this will fail miserably. I do not have that time to waste. As you can see, they have been writing back and forth for a month and neither have really accomplished anything. This post brought us completely around to post #1 and the points that were initially made therein.

    Maturity doesn’t equal going toe to toe on blog posts and comment threads, nor does it equal engaging in theological banter. It may include that, but doesn’t equate to that.

    I apologize that you apparently sensed arrogance in my statement about childhood… Certainly I was saying that I was a Little Einstein and/or the best DB in the NFL. Hmm.

  22. Rick,

    Two assessors judging the morality of a piece of music differently reveals no fallacy in the assumption that music can/ought to be judged. To so assert is non sequitur. Two assessors simply came to two different conclusions. Happens all the time.

  23. David O.,

    Indeed, this sort of different judgment/different conclusion happens all the time. However, when it does, though I agree it doesn’t mean that no judgment should take place, it should cause us to at least re-evaluate the criteria we are using for judgment, if not throw them away and start over. Further, I would argue that when such judgment comes out as differently as this did (blasphemy vs. morally good), that’s pretty much the same as saying the criteria used for judging are either completely different, or completely wrong.

    It’s fairly obvious that we are getting subjective judgments here, and not objective, since a truly clear and objective judgment could not be (legitimately) questioned in this way. If music can actually be intrinsically evil, then there should be clear, objective criteria that always work to make these judgments, and it should be relatively easy for those who believe they exist to lay those out for us.

    Until then, subjective judgment (association, appropriateness, cultural influence, etc.) are all we have.

  24. I played track #1 for a Christian whose music training is similar to Scott’s and they pronounced it a good piece of music with no objectionable elements. I played track #2 for someone else who pronounced it bad because of Green’s haircut, the microphone,the applause, and the venue (evidently a Billy Graham Crusade).

  25. David B,

    Fair enough, as long as you distingish subjective judgments (which all or nearly all judgements about art are) from decisions based on preference, caprice, parochial prejudices, etc. The latter may be a subset of the former, but the former are not always of the latter.

    I’m sure you’ve been in conversations in which parties trying to parse the meaning of some spoken or written sentences came to differing conclusions. Subjective judgments, those, but not necessarily to be discarded merely because of that.

  26. David Morse,

    Labeling Scott’s responses to Shai as “pathetic attempts to make these musical arguments” is an attack on the individual, not an attack on the argument itself.

    I appreciate your concern about wasting your time. If your goal is to simply convey appreciation to Shai for his humility and attitude, fantastic. But bombastically labeling others’ efforts to present a different viewpoint as “pathetic attempts” and their arguments as “fishy” and making “no sense” doesn’t exactly strike one as supporting that concern.

    Perhaps listening with understanding as a young person, instead of blowing off arguments that disagreed with your viewpoint, may have led to you a different conclusion. It does smack of an admission of youthful arrogance when you state that you felt as a child that a conservative philosophy of music was fishy and nonsense. Wisdom would seem to indicate that a child doesn’t have all the answers and should respectfully evaluate a differing opinion instead of dismissing it out of hand.

  27. “gives the foundation a feeling of ambiguity and uncertainty, features intensified by the minor mode, which also naturally contributes to a sense of tension.”

    This argument was to be “sola scriptura” in your own words. Yet, you spout off often how you feel about the music and its qualities. If we have learned anything from scripture it is that we are not ever to rely on our feelings.

    I can see that a lot of your arguments are telling us what the music is communicating. Being an artist myself (visual artist) I can tell you that interpretations can vary vastly. You cannot ever base whether or not a piece of art is “good” simply by one persons opinion. Therefore why are you not accepting of others opinions of a piece of music?

    Scott, you are a smart person obviously. There are however, far more important causes to spearhead with your time, mind, and energy.

    Look at the emphasis the Bible puts on music. (not a whole lot) Why would you spend your life on a minor portion of scripture?

    Did Jesus talk about music? If it was such a huge deal, don’t you think he would have made more a point of talking about it?

    Just a thought…

  28. David said: “Two assessors simply came to two different conclusions. Happens all the time.” I want to place emphasis on your last sentence where you say it happens all the time. That is exactly my point!!! This is NOT an isolated incident. Ask any college student that goes to a school with very strict musical standards (think BJU). They will have different opinions in the administration itself concerning what music is “moral” and what music isn’t. And to try to pin them down on the whys is impossible because they don’t know why. It isn’t isolated to two people here on this site. It is rampant among those that believe music can be moral apart from lyrics. Doesn’t it make you wonder why??

  29. Rick,

    Does visual art communicate emotionally? Does it convey morality? Do people disagree where lines should/shouldn’t be drawn? Does that mean we throw our hands up and consequently, everything goes?

    Does clothing communicate morally? Do people disagree where lines should/shouldn’t be drawn? Does that mean we throw our hands up and consequently, everything goes?

    Why are some so keen on drawing lines when it comes to visual communication, yet insist there is no inherent morality, and thus no lines need to be drawn re: musical communication?

  30. Rajeesh,

    Where is my euphemism?

    I’m assuming that your offended by the fact that I pointed out that the angels repeat themselves, and that by our standards of “hypnotic,” that would indeed be placed in that category. It’s only offensive if you make it offensive. In no way am I saying that the worship of God by all the saints in unison in glorification, will be anything less than good, and pure, and spectacular…. much less would I be comparing it to something evil like witchcraft, yoga, or hypnotism. I will apologize however for typing that after being woken by my new puppy in the middle of the night. I was tired and decided not to be grammatical. Perhaps that, coupled with my lack of introduction and a tone,that could be taken as sarcastic, wasn’t the best way to frame my point if I wanted to be heard. So for that, I apologize.

    None the less, I was being serious. People “zone out” in a real life. People fall asleep. Music cannot control a Christian anymore than a demon can posses a Christian, unless this believer is making a conscience decision. I agree, we must be vigilant. But this stuff about african drum beats, and hypnotism, and trance, is absolute conspiracy theory. I believe in all of it, and I agree that it is a mode that certainly Satan uses. Satan loves counterfeit. You can see people deceived away from a Biblical faith, and towards a feeling-oriented, ecstatic religion. None the less, the bottom line is that sleep is a natural state. It happens. And we zone out. I’m sure a good Christian wouldn’t even desire to listen to music that made them fall asleep and wreck the car. It wouldn’t be edifying… and anyway, it doesn’t nearly have that power.

  31. (continued…)


    First off, this argument not biblical. God doesn’t tell us not to make repetitive music that may cause someone to lose focus. God doesn’t tell us not to use drums in a fast, rhythmic manor. All throughout time, there have been Christians who have seen inanimate created objects (intended for good) use by people with depraved hearts, in all sorts of creative ways for evil…and they’ve overreacted to the wrong thing. Whether it be the Salem witch trials, or rock and roll being “of the devil” (even though this is partially true), there are always Christians who get legalistically caught up in the wrong thing. “The beat is evil. The beat is evil!” And there simply is no biblical evidence for it. In fact, Scott originally appeals to a high view of sola scriptora to essentially suggest that we must carefully scrutinize each line of each song, along with the beat, in light of scripture… Which I don’t really have a problem with. The problem is that when it comes down to it, we move away from sola scriptora and towards a subjective opinion or a “discernment” that is “just there.” To say we need to examine music in light of scripture, then trace the argument to its roots and reveal that this biblical examination is essentially using a discernment that is not based on Biblical passages, and among which many Christians disagree… is not more Biblical. It is less biblical. And for the record, Scott has put up the best argument possible for his side of things. I respect his view, count him as a brother, and it sharpened me, however, the longer it has gone on, the more it’s been revealed to be personal preference rather than Biblical mandate.

    I believe that it is a mark of immaturity, when a Christian starts forbidding objects in an overreaction to the way evil hearts have used those objects. I am deadly serious when I say that, if we weren’t aware of its place in scripture, playing the harp and singing repetitive worship would fall into the very category that folks are deeming unbiblical due to a hypnotic, numbing, distracting property. And yet is the angels worship not sincere? You see, there are people in IHOP churches, and radical charismatic groups all over the world who aren’t saved who are caught up in a trance, when they repeat themselves over and over, and yet with a heart that is not right towards God. The Angels could do differently because they meant it. They worshiped God in Spirit and truth and sang repetitively “Holy Holy Holy.”

  32. “Putting this all together, the music expresses a feeling of increasingly agitated, ominous foreboding. For the musically untrained, I would suggest imagining what kind of movie scene this music would fit, such as one in which something dark or sinister is about to happen.”

    …so….like the book of Revelation???

  33. grantrhooper,

    You wrote (1/23/14 3:11am),

    “i guarantee you there were people in that room who woke up drooling 5 minutes later and didnt know where they were. its a ——- harp.” The word is in the 4th line from the bottom in your comments.

    I deleted the word from your quote above and put dashes in place of the word. I was not commenting at all about the content of your comments; I find your use of that euphemism in your comments on this site to be intensely offensive and totally inappropriate.

  34. FINAL ARGUMENT PART 1 (The heart of the matter)

    Secondly, there’s no evidence. If you can go outside of scripture and cite experience, showing that in the past certain types of beats have been used by evil people carrying out evil deeds… then allow me to cite further real-life situations. It is not surprising that music could be an aide in getting evil people to do evil things, as they have an unregenerate heart that is prone to the enemies attacks. All the same, it is not surprising that a music could be an aide among Christians, with regenerate hearts, to worship the Lord in a good and pure way. The instruments were never bad. You would have to go completely outside of scripture to make them bad. Here’s what I mean. The whole topic here is OBJECTIVE morality. Objective morality cannot be swayed. It either IS or it IS NOT, and no circumstances can change that. The instruments being used, and the way they are being used together, to create a rap-like beat is either good or it is bad. And it has been either objectively good or objectively bad for all of time. And yet, this argument is stating its only been bad for as long as it was used for evil. If rap had never been used for evil, and if there never had been African drum circles that gave it this association, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now, because the chief argument of Scott would be nonexistent. THIS IS THE EPITOME OF SUBJECTIVE, NON BIBLICAL MORALITY. It can be swayed by culture, people, and time.

    The people who are agreeing with Shai are saying that objectively, the instruments and the music have always been good, while the human hearts using them have been the variable throughout time. It’s the same with alcohol. I don’t drink it, but Jesus clearly provided wine. It has been used for evil… to be drunk and stupid. And yet it also has been used for good, in fellowship and communion, by responsible Christians who give thanks to God. This is so subjective. And those who insist it’s not could easily be causing division, in their overreaction to the deeds of evil men. You cited concern for nonbelievers viewing my comments. My concern would be endless debates among ourselves about something that God hasn’t even told us to concern ourselves with… all while Jesus prayed we would be “one.”

    Everything has been used for evil at one time or another. Sleep has been used by the slothful, lazy, and ignorant throughout time… and yet Christians lie down, close their eyes, and recharge, so that they can be fully equipped to serve God the next morning. If repetitive drums and rap are out of the question, certainly no one would dare eat another apple, since it caused the fall of mankind, right? Please don’t take this as malicious… I’m only attempting to give some examples. Inanimate objects cannot be good or bad based on past use. The question is what are we using it for right now. And no you cannot get high, because drugs are not specifically mentioned by scripture. Being-sober minded is discussed by scripture, and I’ll cite more on this in a moment…

  35. Final Argument, part 2

    Now Scott says when these inanimate instruments are used to make music, they become good or bad… and I somewhat agree. The same way, people associate beds with sex. Beds are not good or bad, like instruments. But once people go to bed, the activity that they engage in and produce, like music, becomes a moral creation that can be judged as good or evil. People can worship themselves in their action, or worship God in their action. And yet what is that based on? Scott says it isn’t based on intent. That would be true with murder, and lying, and other things the Bible says are always evil. But we dare not add to what God has said. The fact is that, like sex, which can be between a husband and wife to the glory of God, or can be fornication… the music produced by these inanimate objects, which is not forbidden by scripture, can be judged on whether the lyrics are Biblical and can be judged on whether the intent is good or bad.

    The only discussion to be had apart from objective morality, is causing someone to stumble, and that is a personal issue between a believer and God. It’s not subjective, and yet it is not universally the same among individual Christians. This is the only time participation in something like rap, or alcohol, can be changed by outside influence, culture, and circumstance. But if that’s the case, then there is no place for a universal chastisement on the particular issue of rap or alcohol. The incredible thing to me is that those who say rap is bad, believe we are so influenced by our culture that we are incapable of seeing things objectively. And yet, while we try to objectively go outside of ourselves to the scriptures, the two main arguments against rap are subjective.First, These people over here, from the outside, came in, and changed this thing from being objectively good, or neutral, to being objectively bad… based on what they did with it. This totally appeals to the times and culture. Do I really have to tell you how this could go awry? And the second argument I’m hearing is that we have to determine within ourselves (small still voice) whether instrumentation is acceptable, since scripture doesnt address it. But this is an incorrect definition of discernment. The word of God trades and informs are discernment… Discernment isn’t that “one thing” that outside of scripture that we use on anything we can’t find in the Bible.

    And when it comes down to it, this is a bit sad, because a lot of Christians (like Scott) waste their time analyzing these things in depth in the name of protecting Christians from “being numbed” or something, when that’s not even happening. There are not Christians falling asleep, abandoning the faith, or selling their soul to the devil, because they listened to Biblical poetry (like Shai’s) that happened to have an a drum beat in the background that caused them to do it. This is absurd. If this ever happens, though, I’d be sure to tell that person that I don’t think their music is edifying for them. When man veers from the Bible, he looks like a fool when he tries to gain wisdom on his own apart from God. This is not wisdom. It’s like global warming. It’s investing time and resources into something that isn’t even real. Mature believers listen to some of this stuff, and say that they are edified and pointed to Christ. They don’t say that they just enjoy “zoning out” or “erasing their mind” or “escaping their problems.” People will tell you why they do something. All of the folks caught up in new age, mystical junk will describe why they participate in activities such as Yoga, and it isn’t to draw closer to Christ, or to meditate on God’s truth… They say things like “It just relaxes me” or I just “feel so connected to God.” These are obvious red flags. But attributing this stuff to Christian rap is a witch hunt, pure and simple.

    Best Regards,

  36. sorry. i just got on here. im sure some of that had already been discussed. i wanted to clarify, since my remarks yesterday were not handled with the best care. God bless anyone who reads that whole thing.

  37. Doug, there is a big difference. Concerning visual arts, Scripture is clear that we should set no wicked thing before our eyes. It deals specifically with what we see. If a picture is pornographic, we should not be looking at it.

    Concerning clothing, Scripture is clear that we are to dress modestly. There is not debate whether we are to be modest or not. There may be debate on what is modest, but there is a clear Scriptural command for modesty.

    In both those examples there is clear Scriptural directives about what we see and wear. It will be debated where that line is drawn but Scripture clearly addresses it. The debate comes after the Scriptural directive.

    However, there is NO Scriptural directive for what elements in music apart from lyrics is sinful. It is not addressed. So a Scriptural directive has to be fabricated and then there is even further debate about where to draw the line based on the fabricated directive.

  38. David O and everyone else,

    Subjective. Objective. The subjectivity comes in a few ways. One is in the description. People may not agree on how I described it, especially in a short description. Two is the condition or situation of the hearer. What is sort of sensual to one person is very sensual to someone else. To someone who feeds on or has fed on regular pornography or very sexual music, something might not seem sensual. Someone who has fought in real war may see a fight as not so violent, while someone never in a fight sees it as very, very violent. Last, at what point does desire (lust) become strong desire and then become inordinate and then become uncleanness? The boundaries there are not stark, but it’s all wrong as you look at Colossians 3:5.

    The picture portrayed by Shai of God as Judge had some true elements, but they were mixed with false elements that ruined the true ones. The true ones remain true, but when they are mixed with false ones, it becomes syncretistic. Scott evaluated musicologically, got very technical, and did some general assessment. Most people are not going to understand Scott’s musical language, but he has spent a lot of time studying meaning in music with the technical aspects to be able to get the wording. Again, most people are not going even to understand it. Scott did not go further than a natural meaning. He did not go into the conventional meaning. However, there is a conventional meaning too.

    The conventional meaning, and Wayne is going to love this, is African. Sometimes the sound is also associated with urban, gritty, and inner city. If you don’t think so, then try this ( ), compare it to this ( ), and the idea ( ). There are obvious reasons for this. A fight is about to ensue, like the hot, concrete jungle of the inner city is prepared to boil. In Africa, it would be a tribe, a powerful one, that is going to bring its jungle instruments of warfare against the weaker. This music is associated with the danger of the jungle, but it is also sensual, sexual, and in a sense expressing the power that is there. Someone is getting his comeuppance. The drumwork is the sound of hands hitting skin. This is not mechanized warfare, but tribal and physical. Shai brings in other elements with the synthesizer that don’t fit with the drums, unless this is science fiction, They are sounds that we associate with the cosmic our outer space. The drum beats are war drums. War is about to begin. The synthesizer is cosmic. Cosmic war coming from above.

    The rhythms excite. They are emotional. The war drums play to bring the warriors to an emotional high. This is the same reason you’ll see many athletes today playing certain tunes on their headphones before they fight their battles on the playing field. It is emotionally manipulative through a physical means.

    David O, the eroticism is communicated with the rhythm and other elements that are standard in music for communicating those, some of which you described as tinny and burnished, which I would call “shimmering,” a feature that often communicates sensuality in addition to a certain rhythm. There are heaps more of it when someone wants to be more overt, but should there by any? I don’t know that most people care any more, because they just like it. They include it because it sounds professional or artsy or relevant or knowledgeable. It is attractive. The world makes these sounds and then Christians imitate them for relevance and likeability. This is where the contextualization comes in. Music is supposed to be praise, but even in a prophetic sense, the contextualization brings in foreign, worldly elements that are not fitting of a prophetic message. However, because the music is popular, the idea is that it will work better, because the audience will be bigger. This is the pragmatism of the music.

  39. Pragmatism is a good point, Alan. Can you recommend a source (book or article) on the comments you made about eroticism & rhythm? I’d be interested in analysis on that issue, which keeps coming up in these discussions.

  40. “and Wayne is going to love this, is African”… good one! I almost came out of hiding when you said in the last series; “I’m going to say that Wayne is pretty preoccupied with race, obsessing about race in a way that he can’t see anything without seeing skin color in it. I feel sorry for him. It’s a horrible way to have to live, not befitting of biblical Christianity.”

    But now you are saying that it has at least something to do with it being African. So, now I’m really confused. Martin shrugged it off by calling it “irony”. I understand that the easiest way to defeat someone’s argument is to attack the person. So, I’m a white guy from Mississippi and my family has been in the South for several generations. My family served in the War of Northern Aggression and probably owned slaves at some point. And I can see how this disqualifies me to be able to approach this subject. And I can see how if a black person tried to make an argument tying any of this to Africa, they would also be disqualified. They are too close to the situation, especially if they are from the South. And, Religious Affections had an article “Three reasons white evangelicals defend Reformed Rap” where Mark Snoeberger diagnoses three reasons “otherwise respectable middle-aged white men [tripped] over one another to be first in line insisting that they’re not racist because they’re OK with Reformed Rap and Holy Hip-Hop as valid worship forms”. I mean, obviously, middle-aged white men, especially preachers such as Ligon Duncan, who is in Jackson Mississippi, are nothing but disqualified to approach the subject. Arguments easily defeated by attacking the person making the argument instead of the argument itself.

    Alan, just curious, how do you feel about Song of Solomon? What’s the point of the book? Obviously, you have been arguing the erotic style and sensuality angle from the beginning. Are you preoccupied with sex? Does this music stir up sensuality in your heart?

  41. HaHa, Wayne. It’s nice to read your comment. I have been continually slapping my forehead reading certain arguments. It is pretty silly to accuse anyone who doesn’t see the ‘inherent’ sensuous nature of a musical beat as being hardened by pornography, no longer sensitive to that sort of thing in music. There is nothing to back up such a statement. Even Scott called the music in example #1 moral. It seems a bit Freudian to keep going back and reading sensuality into everything. Such thoughts really just haven’t occurred to me when I listen to Shai’s music. Although, I am Indian, from a small town in the Pacific Northwest, not much exposure to cultural or racial diversity, and honestly I do think there is more racism involved in the basis of this conflict than many are able to recognize because of their immersion. But that is just my opinion.

  42. Wayne,

    You never really commented on my comment, except for the one word “African,” and then what you wrote really had nothing to do with what I said, up until you started asking the below questions. There is overlap between cultures. The American Indian culture has a lot of similarities with African culture (see this American Indian music; ). I believe it goes back further to Mesopotamia and Babylonianism. I said that in the comment to which you alluded. I don’t think it’s even African really, but an African variety that goes back even further to a particular view of the world that starts with the physical universe and nature, and worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. The mystery religion immersed Corinth later and led to that ecstatic form of worship that Paul condemned. God is separate from His creation and transcendent.

    My problem with your commentary is that African to you is code for racism. Scott grew up in Michigan with a pastor who grew up on the streets of Chicago, as northern as possible. I see you looking at much through a particular prism that I think you could better understand better by reading Shelby Steele ( as an example). Alright, now to your questions.

    Alan, just curious, how do you feel about Song of Solomon? What’s the point of the book?

    I don’t mind answering your question, except that it is off topic, which is against the commenting rules of this blog. Plus I see where your headed and I think its a waste of time. I’ll let you introduce it if you want to talk about it.

    Obviously, you have been arguing the erotic style and sensuality angle from the beginning.

    The first time I used “erotic” was in this comment section, so you misrepresented me with that. You’ve been playing your one string banjo of race, however.

    Are you preoccupied with sex?

    Most of my week is spent not thinking about it, so I’m not preoccupied, but it has come to mind several times in my over two decade marriage, within the bounds of my marriage, which has resulted in a few children. I didn’t need music to encourage me. So you believe there is erotic style? Music can communicate that?

    Does this music stir up sensuality in your heart?

    No. The sensuality part of it is contradicted by the foreboding and ominousness. There are various forms and degrees of sensuality. The question is: Should any of them be used in praise to God and to express God as Judge?

    And the fact that Shai has written music that he wishes to communicate “God as Judge,” and that he could express what many on both sides here are agreeing is foreboding and ominous, means that music does mean something. He hit target with that sound, but he added the other elements that do not fit that theme. He considers his unbelieving audience and what it would like. He adds concepts foreign to God to the mix. God doesn’t have that kind of relationship with mankind. Ever. At least according to the Bible, which is how we know God. Mormonism, which relates to Babylonianism as well, I think, introduces that as a concept of God’s relationship to men, but not even a whiff is found in the Bible.

    Shai knows how to communicate foreboding and ominous. Would the following style of music communicate God As Judge?

    Is just any music suitable for God As Judge?

  43. Well Alan, I had said I would defend even you from the charge of racism because I didn’t think this had anything to do with race.

    After that piece you wrote there, I take my words back. In fact – you have forced me to eat my words. What you wrote is full of ethnocentrism with definite racist undertones. It would be virtually impossible to defend anyone who wrote that from the racist charge.

    The sad part is that you truly think you made a real argument, don’t you?

    Don’t bother answering Alan. I really don’t care to respond. I only wanted to write what I just wrote so that no one would think I’m so stupid as to defend what you wrote as worthy to be heard, even if incorrect. No way.

  44. I was referring to what Alan wrote at 3:32…. Although I am not quite sure he cleaned it up at all with his latest comment…

  45. Nick,

    I’ve not ever thought you knew what you were talking about, so I won’t have to eat any words, but, again, you don’t know what you are talking about. You’re also typical — delusional, so you just call someone a racist with no evidence. And there is no evidence in a thing that you wrote. You wrote five paragraphs posing as if you were writing something, a total snow job, like a Far Side comic — blah, blah, blah, blah, racist, blah, blah, blah, racist, blah, blah. You show zip for analysis, perhaps because you couldn’t analyze your way out of a wet paper bag. Did you know that Shelby Steele is black? A fellow at the Hoover Institute? He’s got you pegged perfectly. You should read him for some self-exploration. I’m happy to hear you are done responding two comments too late.

  46. Alan,

    I’ve read you’re last couple of comments and I am still not entirely sure how you hear erotica and sensuality coming from those drum beats. I’ve even gone through my 10,000 or so Christian rap songs and still have yet to hear what you hear. I hear foreboding and ominous but not erotic and sensual.

  47. Rick,

    Please spell out where the Scriptures exhort us to “set no wicked thing before our eyes”? You’re confusing a testimony of the Psalmist with a Biblical command, which is horrible exegesis.

    The Word is full of admonitions to avoid adultery and fornication, but I don’t see anywhere an express command of God to refrain from visual pornography. Numerous Biblical principles apply, but can’t the same be said about music? Much more is said in the Bible about what we hear than what we see. Shouldn’t that tell us something?

    Furthermore, as Alan has correctly pointed out, everyone has differing standards of what could be visually appropriate. Where do we draw the line? Some of you have even said that some baser emotions like anger and rage are permissible in the right context. Some have also said as a way of justifying sensuality in music that sensuousness (lust) is OK in the context of marriage. If audible sensuality is OK, why not visual?

    You’re right. The Scriptures do encourage women to dress modestly. How about us guys? Do we get a free pass because we’re not addressed on the subject? Apparently so, according to the standard of some if they wish to remain consistent. Furthermore, what does that modesty look like practically? Covered head to toe? Burka? There is a growing outcry from many in the same crowd that defend CCM that bikinis are perfectly fine because their definition of modesty is to not draw attention to oneself; therefore, covering up at the beach is immodest.

    So, you see, these “cut and dry” issues just aren’t “cut and dry.” Art and dress are just other forms of communication, just as music is. Why maintain different standards? Your approach is entirely inconsistent and without merit.

  48. Hi Kelsey,

    Technically, I believe there is a difference between the noun “erotica” and the adjective “erotic.” I said an erotic kind of sensuality, not that he was producing erotica. I wouldn’t want to encourage you to listen to music that is erotic, that the originators and listeners agree is erotic, but if you did do that, you would find some of the same elements or devices used in Shai’s song. If he wanted just to create foreboding and ominous, he was on track with that in his piece, but he mixed that with rhythms and percussion that were erotic, i.e., the same elements used to create that tone and feel in erotic songs, except here in a lesser way. I’m not saying that aspect was all that was wrong for a worship song, but that it was in there.

    I can’t really speak for what you own or have heard. Your research is amazing though—listening to 10,000 songs to see if you could hear what I’m talking about, and out of 10,000, finding not a pinch, a speck, of erotic sound. There are 10,080 minutes in a week, and at two minutes apiece, you would have been non-stop listening for 13 plus days. You fit that into less than a day. Kudos my friend.

  49. Doug M.,

    You write:

    “Does visual art communicate emotionally? Does it convey morality? Do people disagree where lines should/shouldn’t be drawn? Does that mean we throw our hands up and consequently, everything goes?”

    For this comparison to be useful, it makes a difference what kind of art you are talking about. (Disclaimer: I’m not an artist, so the terms I’m about to use are non-technical, but I believe they will get the point across.) If you are talking about art that is “realistic” in nature, i.e., where what is portrayed is something we can see and describe accurately, then indeed, it can easily communicate a moral or immoral act.

    Music is a bit more like those completely abstract artworks, that look to me like blobs or slashes of color, or like they were painted by a 3-year-old. The painter may intend for the painting to portray an orgy or something else sinful, but the viewer may see instead a battle from the civil war, or a bunch of things dropped on a floor, or even nothing at all. Intent matters, and I wouldn’t purchase a work that was intended to portray evil, no matter what I thought it portrayed, but we have to admit that such artworks don’t get the intent across in an unambiguous fashion, and I believe another artist could use abstract art and intend something good.

    So let’s say another abstract painter paints a scene he describes as the crucifixion of Christ. What some of you are saying to Shai is quite similar to saying to that artist, “you can’t use that form, because others have used it to intend to portray evil,” and all you can see in it is evil because of how others have used that form. Of course, I’m sure some of those educated in art might say that a particular style of abstract art is *always* violent, or always “erotic,” or something else like that, but that will not change the fact that to the uneducated in art (at least), that will not be obvious in the works at all, and unless proven otherwise, not an indication of inherent meaning.

    However, even if music’s emotional impact is clearer than in abstract art (though again, it can’t communicate in the same fashion as more “realistic” art), portraying tension, joy, sadness, or indeed more negative emotions like anger, jealousy, hatred (all of which are expressed by God in appropriate contexts), none of that makes the music at all moral or immoral until it impacts a person, and even then, it will be context dependent. (I can see context also having an impact on the abstract art example above — depending not only on the person, but on the mood of the person, the art could be seen in different ways, and this also happens quite often with music.) It simply hasn’t been shown that music can communicate propositional truth, either good or evil.

    But again, if we take all the contextual part of the perception of music away, and try to delve down to its “intrinsic” meaning (which by definition means that it has that meaning to everyone and in all contexts), then there must be objective rules for evaluating this meaning, which will mean that any two people using those rules to evaluate the intrinsic meaning will get the same result. If that is not happening, then those rules are either wrong, or they are being misapplied (or the intrinsic meaning doesn’t actually exist). Either way, there is a lot more work to be done if those rules are to be found, or to convince anyone. Simply stating that the principles must be obvious because we have to judge and because it’s not true that “everything goes” won’t get the job done.

  50. Alan,

    Thanks for the response. And my bad, I accidentally added an “a” to erotic, but I see what you’re saying. You heard small amounts of an erotic type of sensuality in the music because of the rhythmic drum patterns. I’m still not sure if I hear what you hear but I’ll leave it at that.

    And thanks for the Kudos but I could never listen to 10,000 songs in one day (that would be cool if I could).Before these comments and before the NCFIC panel discussion, I’ve heard from some other people that they could hear an erotic type of sensuality in Hip-Hop instrumentals, so over time I’ve gone through all my songs to try to understand what they’re talking about.

  51. Also I do have another question, based off what you said in your earlier comments are you suggesting that Hip-Hop’s drum patterns has communicated and will always communicate an erotic type of sensuality? Or in other words, are you saying that the distinct drum patterns in rap music have an inherent sensual quality to them?

  52. David, although I agree with most you wrote, I was wondering if you have been following this discussion over the past few weeks. You wrote:
    “I’m sure some of those educated in art might say that a particular style of abstract art is *always* violent, or always “erotic,” or something else like that, but that will not change the fact that to the uneducated in art (at least), that will not be obvious in the works at all, and unless proven otherwise, not an indication of inherent meaning.”

    This has been discussed before and is a moot argument. The fact that some training is necessary is no argument against universals in music. It only shows that our current school education neglects the arts and that we are sadly lacking the knowledge to make good artistic choices. May I refer to Heb 5:14, which shows that we need to train ourselves to make good ethical decisions. Does this mean that morals are relative and there are no universal rules? Of course not. The same applies to our topic.

    “there must be objective rules for evaluating this meaning, which will mean that any two people using those rules to evaluate the intrinsic meaning will get the same result. If that is not happening, then those rules are either wrong, or they are being misapplied (or the intrinsic meaning doesn’t actually exist). Either way, there is a lot more work to be done if those rules are to be found, or to convince anyone.”

    It would be nice to at least recognize that work that HAS already been done, such as the essay on rap by Brigitte Stougaard Pedersen. Would you care to address my attempt to provide evidence of intrinsic meaning in the article linked towards the end of the previous thread?
    Subsequently, feel free to state that more work needs to be done – which is certain, of course. Agree with mostly everything else you wrote.

  53. Doug M., I don’t care to strain at gnats. I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about. There is no argument about whether we should look upon things that are sinful. There is no argument about whether we should dress modestly. However, as evidenced by these discussions, there is great argument about whether Scripture addresses the elements of music that are sinful.

  54. Rick, please reread your response.

    “I don’t care to strain at gnats. I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about. There is no argument about whether we should look upon things that are sinful. There is no argument about whether we should dress modestly.”

    Of course, there is no argument, because you’re on the conservative side of these issues and discount those that disagree with you as not having a leg to stand on. It’s interesting how dogmatic a position can become even when the Scriptures don’t directly address a topic because that’s just the way it is.

    Of course, there are no arguments about whether we should look upon things that are sinful. Of course, there are no arguments about whether we should dress modestly. Now let’s reframe your paragraph for the sake of consistency. Of course, there are no arguments about whether we should listen to things that are sinful. Can we all agree there?

    Isaiah mentions the song of the harlot. Is it not reasonable to understand that the song of the harlot was not just one song with certain words, but indicative of the type of music that characterized loose morality? What did that sound like? Should it have been embraced by the Jews back in the day (“Meh – it’s OK…it’s just a cultural thing – probably from Africa”)? Was it integrated into the temple worship? If so, would God have been pleased? Is there a song of the harlot today? If so, what does it sound like? I’m guessing it wouldn’t be all that different than music that characterizes loose morality today. Perhaps we’ll find someday the “Song of the Harlot” in the tune index in the back of our hymnals…why not?

    “However, as evidenced by these discussions, there is great argument about whether Scripture addresses the elements of music that are sinful.”

    There are disagreements about what things we should/shouldn’t look at and what makes them sinful. Is it cultural? What was the artist’s intent? There are disagreements about what dressing modestly means. Is that cultural? What’s the standard? Aren’t standards of modesty and what is appropriate for the eye informed by extra-Biblical sources? Essentially, all the same arguments that you make regarding music can be made by those with differing standards regarding modesty and what we allow through our eyegate. Why do you discount them? Why the inconsistency? Why the pharisaical hypocrisy?

  55. Martin,

    I have indeed been following all the posts and comments, though it has obviously been going on for a few weeks and it can be easy to get lost. However, I have not followed all of the links posted as part of the comments. I’ve now read your blog post and am digesting it. In the mean time, I’ll just respond to your last comments on my post, though it will refer a bit to your post.

    On the first section you quoted, though I may have stated it poorly, I’m certainly not against using whatever education we can get to learn more to discern what is right and what is wrong, and I don’t believe that ignorance is an excuse. My point was that *if* they are right, those with the education in the arts or music must still demonstrate that their point is true, and not simply assert it and make the claim that their assertion without proof is valid when those to whom they are speaking don’t have the proper education to evaluate what they are saying. If their claims about truth are not obvious (and regarding music, they are not), then they must be proven or shown to be true.

    On the second quoted section, I don’t disagree that some work has been done in this field. I’m still mulling over your post, and I haven’t read the source documents you quote in it, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that Pedersen is right in what she argues about the mood of the hip-hop beat, and that it’s “laid back.” If so, while it might not be the best music for say, declaring holiness, it might be appropriate for themes like “resting in Him,” or other similar ideas. However, even Pedersen’s quotes have things in them like “in my opinion,” or “related to” which indicates that her lines of thought are either not yet fully developed, or they are not completely agreed upon. As such, they are at best theories (even if good ones), not facts.

    In any case, in spite of the fact you mention “semiotics,” it still seems like a number of the arguments in your post are more dealing with context-sensitive aspects of the music, like worldliness, association, syncretism, and other similar ideas. I mostly agree with you there, and they are how I generally evaluate music anyway, since I don’t believe in the inherent evilness/goodness of music. Because of the strong association and appropriateness aspects, I struggle with the idea that HHH as described can even exist, but that is in no way related to the arguments about and evaluations of the “inherent” properties of HHH that are clearly contradictory, even as expressed here in the posts and comments, but according to you also among the experts, whose evaluations are “not 100%.”

    All that to say, I’m all for more study, but while that is taking place, we still need real-world methods to use day to day, not questionable and contradictory theories. And for that, the contextual elements are usually enough, especially when even Scott admits that those elements often overshadow the “natural” meaning. I think it would be a rare piece where the “natural” meaning (assuming such exists) *can* overcome our context.

  56. Thanks David – fair enough.
    When you talk about ‘contextual’ in your last paragraph, do you mean associations, such as hip hop culture?
    As for the methodology, I just found it interesting to see how Ms Pedersen shows this is inherent in the music. Actually, I would agree with Scott that you don’t need to study musicology to figure this out since it can be felt in the music and seen in the music videos. Reading the technical analysis only seemed to confirm what I already knew – like, yes, makes sense. So then the laid-backness is something that is there, and is not overshadowed by other meanings. It may simply be part of those other meanings, such as associations.

  57. Doug, thanks for your thoughts – this all makes sense, apart from that I would like to point back to my first post in reply to Scott above. To give an example, are you saying that the recording of Monroe’s birthday song to Kennedy is inherently sinful?

    Let me ask specifically:
    1) Was Monroe’s singing for Kennedy sinful?
    2) Is the song itself as sung by her sinful?
    3a) Is it sin to listen to this song on Youtube for our discussion?
    3b) Is it sin to use this song in a documentary on Mr. Kennedy?
    3c) Is it sin to play this song as a parody during a friend’s birthday party?
    3d) Is it sin for my wife to sing this song to me in a very similar fashion as Ms. Monroe did on this video?

    If you answered YES to 2) but NO to any of the questions under 3), please can you also explain how a sinful object can be used in a non-sinful way? How then can it be called sinful if it can be used for good or for evil?

  58. Martin,

    Yes, I was thinking about things like associations in my last paragraph.

    In some small ways, I find I can also agree with Scott — I thought the Shai piece he evaluated also sounded foreboding (though as others have pointed out, that’s not really a bad thing when thinking about the seriousness of the judgment of God), but I can’t see what features make the piece “morally good” (or blasphemous as another evaluated it). After reading the arguments, I see where the arguers are coming from, but I believe that they had to stretch beyond what the music actually warranted to connect the dots and make those conclusions.

    But let me give you another example to think about. This is one I discussed with Scott years ago on another site, but we didn’t agree then either. Take the hymn “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken” which has been in most of the hymnbooks I have used since childhood. It is usually set to the tune “Austria.” The reason I think associations overshadow the natural meaning here is because of what I have seen in my own experience. I grew up singing that hymn, and not really thinking about other uses of that music, and as a result, it sounds completely appropriate to me as a hymn tune.

    My wife, a German citizen, thinks completely different things when she hears that tune, as it is the German national anthem. Every time she hears it in church, instead of thinking about the glory of God’s city, she thinks of patriotism, the fatherland, brotherhood, and so on, and as a result, she is completely unable to sing that song as a hymn. No matter what the natural meaning of that song is (again, assuming there is one that is easily determined), the “associational” meaning is stronger. This might seem odd to most of us, unless we would try to conceive of a hymn set to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “O Canada!” I can’t speak for you, but I know I wouldn’t be able to think the right things when singing such a hymn!

    In regards to Pedersen’s thoughts, I’m not sure I hear “laid-backness” in hip-hop either, so when I hear such music in public, I think my associations are overshadowing that meaning as well.

  59. True, David. Of course, this is exactly the accusation of those in favour of HHH: since they are immersed into the subculture, they do NOT have the same associations that you or I may have. I think your wife could get used to singing that hymn and recognize it predates its use as the German anthem (I know many who DID get used to it), and usually such strong associations are the exception (even if it applies to whole nations). So the natural meaning of music would have more merit to examine and evaluate. Clearly, associations need to be taken into account and I would appreciate that a church with converted Jews in the congregation would exclude that hymn from their repertoire.
    See if Doug can help us all out with respect to the morality of music.

  60. Martin,

    Yes, I’m aware that at the time that tune was written, it was actually for Austria as “Gott, erhalte Franz, den Kaiser” (God, keep Franz, the Kaiser), but that use was clearly also national rather than spiritual, so I find it interesting that it was eventually used for a hymn tune.

    I’m aware that people can learn or unlearn some associations over time, but as you said, in some cases it might be best not to try, to avoid being a stumblingblock. And I agree that many associations might not be as strong as that one, but for me, for example, not being a part of hip-hop culture, and whose listening is much more Bach than Bacharach, I would find the negative associations of HHH to be too high for me to use it as worship music.

    But I see your point — where such negative associations do not exist, then other judgments will have to come into play, even down to natural meaning. However, while it might be easy to avoid some music based on our interpretation of natural meaning, that’s a far cry from calling for prohibition of its use for everyone based on that meaning, unless the “natural” meaning is one that is agreed on by everyone. If it isn’t (by those that are honest), then maybe that meaning isn’t so natural after all.

  61. As you may have seen from my essay, I agree with you that prohibition is not warranted. Yet, knowing natural meanings will enable much better artistic choices than what we are seeing with HHH.

  62. Martin: thought-provoking questions. I’m familiar with the recording. Here’s my best attempt at answering them.

    Let me ask specifically:
    1) Was Monroe’s singing for Kennedy sinful? Without question. She’s singing in a sexual manner for someone who is not her husband. The breathiness and quiet whisper-quality of the song suggest an intimacy that should only be enjoyed in the husband-wife relationship.

    2) Is the song itself as sung by her sinful? Not necessarily. As described above and in my answers to the questions below.

    3a) Is it sin to listen to this song on Youtube for our discussion? I’m uncomfortable listening to it. Years ago, I listened to it and I don’t want to subject myself to listening to it now. I guess my position is that it wouldn’t be sin to listen to a brief portion to understand what’s wrong with it (much like the Scripture reporting facts regarding various sins – e.g. David and Bathsheba. The author of 2 Samuel recorded that it happened, but I wouldn’t want to replay the scene in my mind and dwell on it). I’ve taught some Sunday school series on the topic of music in the past and have debated whether or not to play a song similar to this is appropriate. I have decided in favor of it for illustrative purposes only and I only play a snippet of it – just enough so that people understand what I’m talking about.

    3b) Is it sin to use this song in a documentary on Mr. Kennedy? What would be the purpose? That would probably involve playing the whole song and not just a short portion of it, which would be inappropriate. Here, I’d say yes.

    3c) Is it sin to play this song as a parody during a friend’s birthday party? Without question, yes.

    3d) Is it sin for my wife to sing this song to me in a very similar fashion as Ms. Monroe did on this video? No. This is where the intimacy belongs. That’s just between her and me. This is where it’d be appropriate. Now, would I play the song with Ms. Monroe singing it as a means of setting the mood? No – that strikes me as involving another person in our love life, which is sin. I’d equate that with watching pornography with my wife.

  63. Doug,I am sure we agree on more than we disagree on. I concur with your answers on the Monroe question.

  64. Thanks Doug; I concur with Wayne. I sure got a different impression from your other post above, so this clarifies things. Since you said that 2) may or may not be the case, am I reading you correctly as saying that there is no inherent immorality (or morality) in Monroe’s song but that it depends on the situation, i.e. its use, and that the song itself is, by consequence, morally neutral since it can be used for either good or bad, as any thing can?

  65. Martin,

    That’s not unlike the question, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Of course, we now know the answer to that question based on one of the current Geico commercials. In fact, I’m almost wondering now if the teaching regarding sensuality in music could now become known as the Monroe Doctrine. And yes, I’ll be here all night.

    As I see it, the only legitimate use (and I tread verrrrry lightly with the word legitimate here) of the song is to demonstrate what is wrong (read: sinful or immoral) with a particular singing style (method of communication). Any other usage of it isn’t appropriate for the Christian. I certainly wouldn’t put it on the level of being “used for either good or bad, as any thing can.”

    Another illustration (beyond David and Bathsheba) would be the word picture painted in Proverbs 5-7 of the “strange woman.” Enough is described (e.g. smooth talk, flatterer, physical beauty, batting of eyes, attire of a harlot, seductive) so that the reader understands exactly to what Solomon is referring without becoming salacious. Are the Scriptures sinful? Was Solomon painting the picture to tempt his son? Of course not. He was teaching a lesson that he hoped he would never forget. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if he never had to address it? Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if I didn’t have to warn my son about the attire of a harlot? And yet, as a Dad, I have to have those conversations. I might call them a “necessary evil.”

    If the story of David and Bathsheba were written as a story in classical literature and nothing was mentioned about the consequences of sin, the righteous judgment of God and the confession and restoration of a fallen man, I’d consider it immoral literature. But it wasn’t. We have the full story.

    If Solomon had described the “strange woman” without it being a warning to his son, I’d consider it immoral literature. But he didn’t. The consequences are clear.

    If I played the whole song or even just a portion of it and didn’t explain why it is inappropriate for the Christian, I’d consider it immoral. But I don’t. The musical picture is drawn and applied and the teaching is clear.

    “Happy Birthday” as sung by Ms. Monroe only has two usages. 1) Immoral communication. 2) To illustrate immoral communication. Based on that, I certainly wouldn’t call the song/singing style moral. I don’t agree that it is amoral, though, due to the same reason. If you have to press me – and you are – I’d say the song was immoral; yet it can be legitimately used to teach a moral lesson. Some may consider that fenceriding. I consider it a balanced, Scriptural approach.

    Thank you for answering the question, though. It has helped me to work through some challenging questions while remaining consistent, I feel, with my approach all along. Generally speaking, I’m a black and white kinda guy and dealing with this much nuance has me cross-eyed. Gonna pour me a nice cold, tall glass – of ginger ale – and settle down for the night.

  66. Thanks Doug – fair enough, and enjoy your giner ale :-)
    I guess we’re almost aligned here, only that I would indeed say that song without the context it is in is amoral. If it were immoral, it would have to be activity (which is Scott’s claim, of course). Given that it only becomes activity once it is used and that the context of such a use determines whether the activity is morally good or not (e.g., sung by Monroe to the president or by a wife to her hustband in private), I would confidently say it’s morally neutral artwork: it can be used for evil or for good, so is not morally determined – especially if I add the private use as a third option, but even without that, your option #2 would suffice. It’s meant for evil but I can use it for good. Any action will be either morally good or evil. A song used in any action is only subjected to action, but not the action itself, and hence, not moral or immoral. Anyways, that’s my logic, trying to be consistent. If I’m wrong then it would be great if someone could explain why and where.

  67. Hi Martin,

    There are a couple of areas in which I think we may be still not be entirely there.

    Here’s #1 – Once the song has been performed, it becomes an action – the playing of it, the re-performing it, the listening to it. It becomes excruciatingly difficult to divorce the song itself from any action. Without getting all high-falutin’ philosophical about it, if I don’t play/perform the song, does it really exist? In a sense, I don’t see how it can, without being acted upon, whether physically played or mentally rehearsed in the mind.

    That’s where the difference lies between music and meat, music and holy days, etc. Those are literally things. The meat is just that – meat, whether it’s eaten or not. The holy days happen, whether observed or not. The music exists only to the extent that it is played/performed/heard – hence, the concept of music being an action (communication) and not a “thing” and I do agree with Scott here. This is also why a song that may have been initially disagreeable to me because of certain contemporary elements can be “cleaned up” to the point where they become acceptable (e.g. conservatively arranged versions of “Power of the Cross,” “In Christ Alone,” other/similar Getty/Townend pieces).

    #2. This may just a clarification, but I wanted to address your statement: “It’s meant for evil but I can use it for good. Any action will be either morally good or evil.” Numerous examples exist in Scripture of immoral actions being used for good. That fact in no way changes the morality of the action. It is/was still bad/wrong/immoral, e.g. Joseph’s brothers’ actions. The fact that God “used it for good” in no way changed the moral standing of their actions. Moses striking the rock, the birth of Solomon (the circumstances leading to his birth), the deception of Isaac are all other examples. As my childhood pastor used to say, “God’s blessing does not necessarily indicate His approval.”

    #3. Just to distinguish. The private use option really doesn’t exist in a sense, because it doesn’t involve a 3rd party. My wife singing it to me privately changes everything about it.

    Hope that’s helpful and doesn’t muddy the waters. I appreciate the iron-sharpening and am sorry for the delay in responding.

  68. Don’t worry – no rush.
    #1 – indeed, as I pointed out in my original post on this issue ( – Dec. 4): it is somewhat artificial but I think will help our discussion greatly to distinguish between the music itself and its use. Let’s say the action is communication, and music is USED in communication; the song is used in an action but is not the action itself. If there are no lyrics, music can only communicate metaphors or emotions; yet, none of these are taking on moral connotations without being in a specific context. If there are lyrics, music shapes these lyrics just as manners of speaking do, and can even invert the meaning of lyrics (think, “Yeah, right!” and how you say that).

    Your argument that music does not exist outside a use is one I sympathize with, yet you could say the same about a statue: it’s not there unless someone sees it! Or a book would not be communication unless someone reads it. Yet, nobody would say they don’t exist apart from being used. So the argument has no traction.

    #2 – agree (but had left this out not to complicate things even more), God can use evil for good (think Joseph), but that does not make evil good. Yet, that was not what I ment and neither does it affect our discussion, as long as we agree that any action is either moral or immoral. What happens after that is not our concern here.

    #3 – the song does not require a third party, does it? If Monroe had been Kennedy’s wife, she could have sung this to him privately and although a little odd, it would not have been immoral. I’d even submit this WAS a shamelessly private song, and the spectators were incidental. My point being, the song (and its specific style) remaining and exchaning personae and situations, you can get either moral or immoral uses of the exact same song. This, in my mind, makes the song a thing (communication tool) and only its use an action. If the song were a secular hip hp song with immoral lyrics, the two uses you listed above would be the main ones it could be used for (one could stretch it and say you can also use it as a parody of something without it being sin, or you could use it as a soundtrack without sinning – even though it would remain immoral communication per se).

    Now I am arguning for this in our discussion context. Surely, in everyday conversations I see the utility of speaking of immoral music, immoral literature, etc. Everyone knows what’s meant by that. Yet, we can see that Marilyn singing the song or a writer writing say, a book that incites towards racism, are immoral acts. Yet, when I read the book I can discern the author’s immoral intent and it will teach me to be more vigilant, prepare better arguments, or teach a class on the issue using book excerpts. This tells me that the book is not necessarily immoral, even though the original intent was so. The book is a thing that carries information intended for communication, and is as such amoral. When we say the book is immoral, we really mean the author’s intent was immoral and that the undiscerning reader may be corrupted by the ideas expressed in the book. Invertedly, I can use a good book (the Bible) and use it to control people and operate a cult. The thing itself does not determine the moralilty of its uses.

Leave a reply